April 17, 2007. Ekerum Camping.West coast of the island, looking across to the mainland. The sun is setting behind the trees. The kids are in bed. Maria has gone into Borgholm to buy milk, which we forgot about earlier.
We arrived last night, planning to stay at Kapelludden Camping and Caravan Park in Borgholm, but it was closed, opening for the season the 27th April. Thankfully the tourist bureau was still open and they were able to tell us that we could stay at Ekerum, which was, however, 10km out of town. We had passed it on the way there. Maria remembered it as the site of one particularly cold and windy family holiday when she was a child.
Sunny, but windy. The weather has been extraordinary for the middle of April. Temperatures around 20 degrees, blue skies, with just a suggestion on wispy cloud this afternoon. The kids were determined to swim, a reaction no doubt to a long cold winter, so this morning after a late breakfast we headed to the beach – a stony margin, but once in the shallow water a sandy bottom. The beach here at Ekerum is in a little bay, giving some protection from the wind blowing in off the channel between the island and the mainland. The kids were hot when they went in, since they had been running and jumping a lot on a huge inflatable platform near the playground back from the water. They lasted at least 10 minutes or so in the icy water before rushing back shivering and then heading for the hot showers to revive.
The caravan park has been largely deserted since we arrived. There appear to be only one or two other guests, in a camp with hundreds of sites. It is quiet (apart from us). The kids have raced around on their cycles. We had a brief drive through the other camp, in town, this afternoon and decided we were glad to be where we are. It is more beautiful here, especially tonight. The sun has set now and the night is settling in. The wind has dropped as has the temperature.
We drove over the 6km bridge to Öland from Kalmar yesterday afternoon and headed north to where we are now. There are old wooden windmills everywhere. The island seems to be covered with them. Lonely Planet puts it like this:
Like a deranged vision of Don Quixote’s, Öland is covered in old wooden windmills. Some are spruce, repaired and cherished, others stand forlorn, sails broken and dangling like dead daddy long legs. All-in-all its a surreal scene…
I wondered what function they could have served, and was surprised when Maria told me that most of them served no real function. There was apparently a time when everyone wanted one and they were built by the hundreds. No doubt some of them were used for milling of various kinds, but most were purely decorative. The kids made a game of spotting windmills, but it soon turned into a competition, and after a while there were tears and accusations of cheating flying around, so the game had to be stopped. Today while driving around the game was resumed, but thankfully it did not degenerate into a shouting match and we all had a good time. We drove over to the other side of the island, the Baltic side, and came upon a row of seven mills in a small village called Störlinge.
The island seems grey and dead as it emerges from the winter dreariness. The whole landscape seems to consist of a barren plateau of short brown grass, lifeless grey trees, and endless ancient dry stone walls dividing the land into fields empty but for the scattered boulders. But when we have stopped the car and walked into the forest we have seen that life is bursting forth everywhere, with green leaves budding on every barren branch. The forest floor is covered with tiny spring flowers, white and yellow and blue.
Today we walked a little in the forest beside the mighty fortress of Borgholm. There is a sealed road which leads from Borgholm Slott southwards a few hundred metres to another parking area. There we parked and followed the trail over the edge of the escarpment into the trees, where we found the imposing iron gates of Solliden, one of the royal family’s holiday residences. In summer the gardens are open to visitors, but today they were closed, as were the cafes and gift shops. We caught only glimpses of the white royal mansion down the garden lined driveway.
We were able to go into Borgholm Castle, however, which turned out to be a lot of fun for us all. There were workmen getting the place ready for summer, but they hardly disturbed us in such a massive place. Everything about the ruin is massive. The walls are huge, the gaping windows are wide and tall, the halls and towers are enormous. We climbed sweeping stone staircases and narrow winding ones. We crept through low dark passages and peered into the cavernous depths of the castle well. We wandered through the ancient stables and massive stone bakehouse and peered into dungeons and cells. We walked the parapets like mediaeval guards, the kids clutching onto an array of wooden weapons, swords, shields, bows, spears. We marvelled at the expansive views over the town of Borgholm and the glittering blue sea beyond to the Swedish mainland.
Borgholm itself is an enchanting place, especially the wonderful wooden houses, many with towers. We resolved that our next house should have a tower. The main street is cobbled, lined by small town shops, and leads down to the little harbour where a few small fishing boats were tied up to the pier. There were hardly any pleasure craft to be seen, but I imagine that the harbour teems with them in the summer months. The town today was noticeably sleepy, waiting in anticipation for the summer season which starts, it seems, in May.
Much of Öland seems to be closed at the moment. May to August is apparently the time to come here. Museums are still closed as are many restaurants, cafes, camping grounds and attractions. Borgholm Slott (castle) was an exception to this, being open for restricted hours in April and September. I asked the caretaker what he does during winter, but he said there was always a lot to be done during the six months when the castle was closed, including an occasional concert, which seems to be one of the major contemporary uses of the ruined fortress, and various markets such as the traditional julmarknad.
Late this afternoon we found our way to the remains of an iron age settlement called Ismanstorps Borg, an extraordinary collection of grey rocks surrounded by a circular wall, constructed by an unknown people some 1600 years ago. The interior was clearly the remains of a huge number of rectangular dwellings, with paths and roads between; there were several obvious gates in the crumbling walls. Unfortunately Isak started to show signs of a hypo while we were wandering between the ruins, and our visit to the ancient settlement was cut short. We headed back to the car and drove back into Borgholm for a meal of hamburgers, chips and pancakes.
Our brief visit to Öland ends tomorrow with a long drive back to Örebro with the caravan. Öland is an amazing and special place, and this taste, as short as it has been, has inspired us for later visits, perhaps even this summer.