History abounds in Sweden’s southern corners. Ancient burial sites, stone monuments and Viking meeting places mingle with medieval churches, castles and manor houses in Skåne County.
Glimmingehus is ‘Sweden’s best-preserved medieval chateaux’, interestingly neither French in design nor truly intact in the interior, it is deeply beguiling. Built in 1499 as the prime residence of a ruling Danish knight, Jens Holgersen Ulfstrand it is highly defensive. It was a family home that expected to come under attack.
Tiny windows, some glazed, shed little light but prevented slings and arrows fired from outside from penetrating. ‘Murder holes’ for pouring boiling pitch over attackers, a deep moat and drawbridge tell of insecurity.
We entered through its low stone doorway and realised that, although a skeletal ruin inside, the tall five storey home was peppered with false entrances and dead-end corridors. Someone clearly was anxious.
The knight Jens was a wealthy member of the feudal nobility and lived a luxurious life. Finds in his massively fortified stronghold include Venetian glass and Spanish ceramics imported at a great price. Comforts of hot air channels which funnelled heat throughout the house purport to a high style of living.
Jens married a teenage wife and bought up a family of eight children who enjoyed a happy high-end medieval life. But just who was Jens afraid of? It turns out to be the local disgruntled peasantry. Never attacked, the house rather ignobly became a grain store by the early 1600s.
Today it welcomes curious school groups and coach-borne visitors from around the world. A thought-provoking place.
Driving through the wide open and coastal landscape, we saw white step-gabled churches dotted across the skyline. Their style is similar to Danish Churches rather than the tower-topped Swedish Churches we had been visiting.
It was busy on the land, with farmers in massive industrial tractors spreading excruciatingly smelly manure across next year’s agricultural fields. Cows, dairy and livestock, were grazing contentedly on steep, green hillocks. At sunset flocks of sheep massed together into the last rays of summer’s warmth. The season was turning.
Ales Stenar is an extraordinary cliff-top site of giant granite boulders, thought to be built in a ‘ship’ shape. The 59 stone boulders, each of which weigh around five tonnes, are placed across a site that is 70 meters long and 19 meters wide. The stones are mainly granite, but the middle section of each side is sandstone.
On several of the boulders there are channelled depressions called ‘cup marks’. These suggest that the stones were collected from earlier megalithic tombs and reused for a different purpose.
Exactly what that purpose was is a mystery. The alignment of the stones to the sunrise, sunset and constellations of the stars makes an astrological solar calendar a likely theory. However, their placement in a ‘ship’ shape, for Vikings, meant a burial or important meeting place.
The dating of the site is confusing as although the publicity refers to the Iron Age, the archaeological dating is in keeping with the far later Viking age, probably between 500-1000 AD. So, despite the claims, this seems likely not to be ‘Sweden’s Stonehenge’.
At a blustery September sunset, it was mesmerising. Not recorded in writing until 1624 the Ale’s Stones were by then a long-held mysterious mark on the landscape. In the first year of the First World War, the first known ‘tourist photograph’ was taken.
The stones survived both World Wars and in 1956 were restored. Later archaeological excavations showed that because of that effort, several stones were removed from their rightful places and repositioned wrongly.
It wasn’t until carbon dating became available in the 1980s that the stones were dated scientifically to before 1000AD. Also discovered underground were cremated human remains and clay and charcoal residues. These were carbon dated to before 500AD suggesting that the later Viking site had previously been used for burials.
We were alone at sunset, but for a flock of determined sheep who had joined us earlier but had soon hurried downhill in a blustery rain. Sheltering behind the giant granite stones and with hoods up we weathered it out until the setting sun burst down through the blotchy cloud line and the rain dried up.
Soon, the sheep regrouped and charged toward the end of the cliffs to stop abruptly, graze and gaze at the setting pink sun.
The stones were magical, but the sheep seemed so too. We enjoyed the moment with them as two of their flock.