Skåne in autumn

NB Autumn slipped into winter before I could complete this little picture essay. Since then we’ve been to Malmö again, for the Christmas lights, the Konsthall (Art Gallery) and the shopping! The exchange rate for Swedish crowns has been very favourable recently…

Southern Sweden has been a favourite frequent destination; each trip brings new discoveries. It’s easy to get there, twenty minutes across the Øresund Bridge linking the island of Amager – where Copenhagen airport is – and the suburbs of Malmö. There are lots of container ships sailing under the bridge to and from the Baltic past slow spinning offshore wind turbines.

The landscape of gently rolling hills and flatlands in Skåne is probably the most fertile and farmed region of the huge country. There are settlements everywhere, isolated homesteads surrounded by fields. In the autumn when the harvest is over some of the fields are brown and bare, but winter crops have been planted too, so there are also shades of green.

By contrast the trees in the region are explosions of colour. A short autumn excursion turned out to be an exploration of rainbows, with the bright sun in the blue sky and the vegetation blazing yellow, red, light brown and gold. The pine forests are always green! It was a good time of year and an excellent coastal location for photographing sunsets and sunrise.

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The first stop is Ystad, a small port through which we’ve passed on a couple of trips to the island of Bornholm. The large harbour blocks the town from the sea. Behind there’s an interesting central district dominated by the tower of St. Maria’s and a monastery. It seems that the latter was established by the Franciscan order, spreading the word of Saint Francis northwards from Assisi in the 13th Century. But the monks were kicked out in the 16th Century when Luther’s reformation undermined the authority of the Catholics in Scandinavia.

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In addition to the church and monastery there are some market stalls on the central square in Ystad, but the biggest attraction for many visitors are locations used in the stories and films about Henning Mankell’s detective Kurt Wallander. The tourist office has produced a guide to Skåne, which focuses on the adventures of the depressive policeman as he tracks down all manner of criminals and deviants in the beautiful countryside and coastal resorts between Malmö and the Baltic. The tidy, pretty town seems an unlikely setting for such wild goings-on. However, it appears that under the well-kept surface lurk the forces of darkness!

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Further east along the coast in the region called Österlen we check into a very comfortable bed and breakfast and then proceed to the beach. Several nature reserves enclose mixed pine and oak forests planted to stabilise the sands blowing inland from the windy Baltic. The fine golden sand is quite easy to walk on. But the water is too cold for swimming even in the summer as we’ve discovered on previous trips. Tropical beaches are lined with palms and sometimes bougainvillea. Sandhammaren and the beaches of Österlen are fringed with dunes, heather, sharp grass and the wind bent pines.

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En route back to Ystad we stop at the coastal village called Kåseberga. There’s a tiny harbour and some old houses below low cliffs. The main attraction is on a hill above the village and is best described in an extract from the website of the National Heritage Board:

“Ales Stenar (Stones) is Sweden’s largest preserved “ship setting” – stones set in the layout of a ship. We do not know for certain what function the stones have had through the ages, or what the ship setting symbolised for the people who created it. 67 meters long and 19 meters wide, Ales Stenar is one of the largest ship settings in the Nordic region. It comprises 59 carefully selected stones weighing between 500 and 1800 kilos.

Ship settings date from two periods – the late Bronze Age (ca. 3,000 – 2,500 years ago) and the early Iron Age (ca. 1,600 – 1,000 years ago). Archaeological tests can be used to determine the age of Ales Stenar. The Carbon-14 dating system for organic remains provides seven results at the site. One dates the material at around 5,500 years old, whereas the remaining six indicate a date around 1,400 years ago, probably the most likely time that Ales Stenar was created.

Ship settings are generally regarded as burial monuments, and many of the settings found in Scandinavia do contain one or more graves. Yet no grave has ever been positively identified in the limited area that has been subject to archaeological research at Ales Stenar. If the site is not a grave, what function can the monument have had? One theory is that the ship setting was constructed to honour the crew of a ship who perished at sea. Another theory is that the ship was built to determine various times of the year. The alignment of the stones in relation to the sun is such that the sun sets over the north west tip of the monument at midsummer, and rises at the opposite tip at midwinter.”

We look at the shadows behind the stones, at the sun in a clear blue sky and wonder about the mysteries of pre-history while taking some photos.

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Our trip concludes in Ystad. We have booked to stay at a huge resort hotel with a thermal spa. In the afternoon and evening and again the following morning we lounge in hot tubs, sweat in the sauna, splash in the pool and generally do as much as we can to get ultra-squeaky clean. Close to the hotel is another beautiful beach with colourful bathing huts and more woodland.

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Many sporty locals are out and about biking and jogging or walking with their kids in the unusually warm sunshine. The great outdoors form an important backdrop for Swedish healthy lifestyles. From trekking and skiing in the mountainous central and northern regions, to canoeing on the lakes and sailing amongst the thousands of islands along the coasts, not to mention the more leisurely pursuit of country rambling, Sweden has vast spaces and varied landscapes to suit all tastes.

In the distance we can see the ferries crossing the Baltic. Downtown we find a stylish restaurant in a little park and wind up with a tasty lunch special of cod and pumpkin sauce with salad and freshly pressed apple juice. Then it is time to drive the caravan home.

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