Category: Freetime

Blue mountains

West of Sydney are the Blue Mountains, spectacular and of major significance in the history and development of European colonisation of NSW. West of Örebro there is a range of low lying hills which is also sometimes called den blåa bergen – the blue mountains – which is of significance in the history and development of Sweden in the 18th and 19th centuries. For Australia the Blue Mountains represented a barrier to westward expansion from the sea, where the colony of Port Jackson had been founded. For Sweden, the blue mountains, being part of Bergslagen, represented rich deposits of iron ore which were of a major source of wealth if only it could be got out of the ground.

But nowadays Örebro’s blue mountains are mainly a recreational area, and yesterday morning in the crisp Spring sunshine I went for a few hours hike up into the hills, in the area around Klockahammar and Lockhyttan, up to one of the most spectacular viewpoints, a rocky outcrop called Rusakulan. I parked the car at Blankhult, where there is a stuga (lodge) for vandrare (hikers) and headed northward along Berglagsleden (the Bergslag trail). The track, mostly dry but in some places muddy, first skirted around a wooded rise, among birches just bursting into leaf. The sun was warm on my shoulders and although the temperature was not more than 5 or 6 degrees I was soon unzipping my cotton jacket to cool down. 

The gatekeeper
The gatekeeper

A wooden sculpture appeared ahead, vaguely menacing, an image of a woodcutter strategically placed where the trail suddenly dropped steeply down, down into a darkly forested gully, the so called Trolldalen (troll hollow). I read the plaque nailed on the tree stump on which he stood – “Portvakten” – the gatekeeper. I descended the trail, into the forest glade, glimpsing a tiny lake through the trees to my left, and at the bottom crossed a rough bridge of birch trunks over a crystal clear beck. There was not a troll in sight. The lake, I discovered, was one of many dams built some time in the far past to provide a steady water supply for the forest industry surrounding the getting of iron.

The track then climbed through darker woods of towering firs and pines. The forest floor was soft with moss, the track mostly dry, as I hopped over roots and rocks, winding between the endless trees. Another lake appeared on my right – Stora Klockahyttesjön – the water glittering in the morning light. A sign marked the location of a former kolbotten (coal bottom) where once men worked to produce charcoal for the smelting of iron. There were thousands of these dotted throughout Bergslagen at one time in history, when the processing of iron ore required vast quantities of fuel. I tried to imagine the life of a charcoal burner, living out here in the forest, cutting wood, living in a little hut with maybe one companion. These men were crofters – they paid the rent for their croft in charcoal – so this was an important part of their daily existence, but by no means the focus of their lives, which was to produce enough food for their families. The old wooden houses – “torp” – of the crofters are still to be seen all through Kilsbergen, which is the name by which the blue mountains are known here outside Örebro. 

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Trolldalen

Eventually I found the steep winding track up to Rusakulan and climbed panting up and out of the trees to the rocky top. I had not passed another human on the way, but there on the top were two men who had come up by another way, on motorbikes. One of them recognised me – it seemed odd to be greeted by name out there in the middle of the wilderness – and we chatted idly as we gazed out over the vast landscape of the Närke plain. In the distance we could see Örebro and the big lake of Hjälmaren, but closer we spotted the spire of Närkes Kil’s mediaeval village church. Tysslingen lake also glinted in the sun, and all around the fields lay brown and ready for the growing season ahead – a tractor was ploughing with a cloud of dust behind.

I descended the stony knoll on the other side and came eventually back to the track I had come on. Back through the forest and the troll gully, across the whispering beck. Past the gatekeeper I took a different route, upwards over higher country where the forest had been cleared and the land was covered with stumps and new growth. Clusters of tiny white flowers – vitsippor – quivered in the gentle breeze, one of the “signs of spring.” Some old towering pine trees had been left, standing lonely in the barren landscape. I found myself thinking of “lone pines” and battlefields of WW1. It was Anzac Day after all, though no Swedes I had asked knew what that was. I descended to where the car was parked and drove back into town, refreshed and energised by my few hours in the blue hills.

Rusakulan
Rusakulan
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Back to Loka

One of the houses at Loka Brunn, with the yellow house “Finnhyttan” behind.

I’m here for the second time this year, but this time at a two day diabetes conference. It’s still winter, the snow is deep, the air crisp and icy, but the days are thankfully getting longer. Its evening and I am sitting in my room, one of 150 (Loka Brunn can house up to 300 guests) hotel rooms in the scattered buildings of this old spa resort. The building that contains my room bears the name Finnhyttan, and is a big old yellow wooden house dating back to the 19th century. But the history of Loka Brunn goes much further back, at least to the 1600s. Even in mediaeval times the springs of Loka were a much appreciated resting place for pilgrims travelling to the holy shrine of St Olaf in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, the most important pilgrimage site in Northern Europe.

Loka really took off as as a health spa in the 1760s, when the king of Sweden, Adolf Fredrik, came to drink the waters. The king had long suffered from migraines which were cured after a two week stay at Loka following a prescription of 4-6 liters intake of spring water per day, as well as mud baths and cold water bathing. Massage was added later as part of the standard treatment regime.

The area grew into a little colony of houses during the 18th and 19th centuries, and new buildings were added throughout the twentieth, so that there are now over 50 buildings her, one of which is the spa centre or “Water Salon”. Although contemporary medical treatment is far removed from the treatments of the 1600s, Loka is still linked closely with health care through its use by the Örebro Health Authority for conferences and educational events, like the conference which I am currently attending.

And there are the added attractions of a relaxing spa or massage in the evening, and an excellent restaurant which serves gourmet meals, to look forward to after a long day of lectures and discussion.

Loka Brunn

Back in November I wrote a blog about conference centres in Sweden. A week or so ago I stayed overnight at one of the centres I mentioned in that blog. I drove out to Loka Brunn in driving snow, in the darkness of the evening. Loka Brunn is located in a valley between forested ridges. There is a lake on each side, but the water was frozen and the lakes were just wide expanses of snow. The centre has a rather newly built spa centre, but people have been coming here to “take the waters” for over a hundred years. In summer, of course, you can swim in the lakes, but it seems that every time I have been to Loka since my first visit around 5 years ago it has been winter. Loka feels to me a bit like the Narnia depicted in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – a place where it is always winter. The local health authority, which is my employer, often uses Loka Brunn for its educational events. It is a lovely place to spend a few days. But I have not had time to take advantage of the skiing tracks, or even the spa, on recent visits. I did manage a quick stroll around the grounds this time, and got a few pictures of the beautiful surroundings. The house above was the one in which my room was located, with one of the lakes beyond.

Epiphany

Today is a public holiday in Sweden. Epiphany. Most Australians have no idea what Epiphany is, but here in Sweden the common name for this day is Trettondagen – “thirteenth day” – so people realise it is somehow related to Christmas. It is, in other words, a religious high day, and even non-Christian Swedes, at least the older generation, know that it is the day when the arrival of the wise men is believed to have happened.

But why should it be a holiday? I suppose it harks back to the days when Sweden saw itself as a Christian nation, and notable Christian days were marked on the calendar as times for rest and reflection. Nowadays it is just a day of rest, but reflection on the nativity and the wise men is possibly not a major focus for the majority. Holidays are taken very seriously in Sweden, as they are in Australia. But here we have 6 days off during the Christmas season – Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years Eve, New Years Day and Epiphany – whereas in Australia there are only 3 – Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day.

It is notable that there are still so many public holidays in Sweden that are Christian festivals. As well as Epiphany there are the Easter Days, and also Ascension Day. Until recently there was also Pentecost, but it was replaced by Swedish National Day. Many were upset about the removal of Pentecost from the holiday calendar, but not, I suspect, for religious reasons. Sweden is surely one of the most secular “Christian” countries in the world, and certainly sees itself as the most modern. Apparently a recent survey of a large sample of young people in Sweden showed that only 10% believed that faith was important in life. 45% believed that faith was irrelevant, not important at all. Another survey that someone mentioned to me the other day showed that 20% of people in Sweden don’t know why we celebrate Christmas.

But both believers and non-believers were off work today, at least as many as could be spared from the essential services that keep the nation running. Our whole family had the day off too. We went for a walk in the early afternoon. The ground was bare and the branches black against the sky. The winter has been too warm for snow to stay around more than a day or two – I have been thinking of it as our English winter, because it reminds me of my childhood winters in England. Many days have been foggy and damp, but for the few hours of daylight today the sky was blue. We wandered through the forest and down to the university, then back up the hill and home again.

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