Warm summer days beckoned us with a languid finger to Southern Sweden. I’d noticed the blue hills of the Kullen peninsula many times, looking out across the Kattegat from the northern reaches of Sjælland. The idea was to forsake the flat lands of our home in Denmark for something hilly, mysterious, rugged… and cheap.
Great intentions, but sadly that lack of budget forced us to pack the aged family saloon with camping equipment. Also, to leave all trace of negativity, and the internet at home – all while wealthy friends posted golden Catalan sunsets on Facebook, slurped rosé wine from chilled glasses and agonized over which restaurant to try for lunch.
But the hills of Kullen were a marvel; the sunlight was honeyed, the gradients were steep, the Swedish kroner gave us a good return and our three children writhed in social media withdrawal symptoms, and then meekly wandered into a new and sparkling internet-free world. In this bright new universe we came across the miraculous Nimis sculptures in the independant nation of Ladonia. It blew our minds and scrambled up and down sheer cliffs of scree to worship it at sea level. (Blog post to follow in a short time)
We camped for a few nights, but the hard ground, our barking dog and mutual ratty moods soon forced us to forsake rustling canvas in search of a wooden stuga (hut). Nice idea, but not in peak holiday season. We drew a blank, declined more loathsome camping and opted to simply have a jolly day by the sea… then drive the 80 minutes rapidly home for the comfort of our soft Danish beds, and the internet.
Our hopeless stuga search brought us to a bleak looking campsite outside the fishing village of Torekov. We gathered our beach towels and headed past caravans with picket fences for the sea. Only to be met by a miserable stony beach, a scattering of fat campers and feral blonde children. We walked onwards, sure that we didn’t need to settle for a pocketful of fluff and small change. The hunch paid-off, and we sighed with relief as the charming mediaeval village of Torekov filled our pockets with gold and my camera full of delight.
But the treasure trove that ticked all the boxes for me was the Sjöfarts (sjö means maritime and farts translates as travel) museum. With my happy family devouring crisp pizza by the tinkling harbor, I wandered into an understated shed stuffed with shipwreck paraphernalia. All tragically driven and destroyed on the sharp rocks of Hallands Väderö, the rugged island that made this coastline so hazardous for shipping for thousands of years.
The faded information from the 1930s told of more than two hundred ships wrecked and countless souls lost from 1800 to 1910. A badly preserved crocodile hung from the rafters whose story was hard to guess, and all around the shed the exquisite nameplates of Scandinavian, French, Dutch, Russian, English and American merchant ships bleakly stated their tragedy.
A bosun’s chair, anchors and brass compasses were casually attached to the walls; silent now, but if you listened hard enough you could capture the screams, the sound of splintering wood and the fist of the sea slamming into the stricken vessels.
Amongst all these treasures the exquisitely carved and decoratated figureheads glowed; with their proud faces gazing towards far horizons and proudly proclaiming the character and dreams of all those once on board. Along the North Sea coast they have long been seen as the holder of the spirit of the ship, in Friesland as the Kaboutermannekes. The spirit guardian lodged inside the figurehead and guarded the ship from storms, rocks, and sickness. If the ship sank, then the kaboutermannekes guided the sailors’ soul to the Land of the Dead. I peered into their luminous eyes and walked thoughtfully back into the bright day.
Heather Gartside 4th August 2014
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