Kalmar and Öland

Well, the big news from here is that after many hours with our noses in books / maps / websites, we have come up with a general plan for our route through Poland and have booked our ferry. This dossing is harder work than people realise; all those choices of where to go and what to look at…😎  To sort out a ferry crossing, we needed to know our general route through Poland, but to know our general route through Poland we needed a vague idea of how we’re planning to get to Greece. Out came the insurance documents (which countries are we insured for?), the breakdown cover documents (ditto), the Europe maps, then the Poland maps and guide book…. eventually, we started making some progress 😎

Our ferry is on Monday 28 August from Trelleborg in Sweden to Swinoujscie in Poland, which leaves us enough time to finish off our list of places to visit in Sweden without having to rush….

We’ve spent the last few days visiting Öland, which is Sweden’s second-biggest island but is linked to the mainland by a 6km long bridge (the longest in Europe when it was opened in the early 1970s), and Kalmar, the town next to the bridge on the mainland.

We headed into Kalmar for an afternoon on arrival, and visited the local museum which had fabulous exhibitions on the Kronan and an archaeological site called Sandby Borg (which we’ll come back to later).

The Kronan is another Swedish warship disaster story…… It was completed in 1672 in the English style (the Vasa was in the Dutch style) which apparently means that it had a deeper draft and more V-shaped hull. It was designed by a well-known and highly successful English shipwright, Francis Sheldon.

The ship was twice the size of the Vasa, and carried between 124 and 132 bronze guns on three gun decks, ranging from 300kg to 5 tons in weight and with a wide range of dates from 1514 to 1661 (so a new ship in those days didn’t mean new guns).

The interesting thing about the guns is that around 40 percent were “trophy guns”, having been captured during the 30 Years War (1618-46) and other conflicts. Given the different sources and ages, all of the guns we saw were different. Here’s Mark looking at one bearing the coat of arms of Gustav II Adolf (who was king at the time of the Vasa catastrophe):

Around 60 guns were recovered from the sea bed in the years following the sinking of the Kronan using early diving bells. Here’s Mark in the reconstruction, trying to hook a rope onto a bronze gun:

The Kronan came to grief after just 4 years in service at the Battle of Öland, part of the Skåne War between Sweden and Denmark. The Kronan turned sharply to face and engage the Danish-Dutch fleet.

Unfortunately, sea conditions were poor and the ship was carrying far too much sail. It heeled over and we know from the Vasa what happens next – water poured into the lower gun deck and the ship capsized. Things didn’t end there for the Kronan, though. A lantern ignited the ship’s gunpowder store and the ship was blown in two and sank rapidly. Only around 40 of the crew of 850 survived, with most of the crew at their battle stations down on the gun decks when disaster struck……

Blame for the disaster was traditionally handed to the General Admiral of the fleet, Lorentz Creutz, who was on board and did not survive. He was from a very rich family and had successfully held a number of administrative positions in goverment – so he was made Admiral without any military or seafaring experience whatsoever 🤔 He’d only been at sea a week when the disaster occurred. The story here was that he had ordered the manoevre against the protests of the crew, so keen was he to engage the enemy and prove himself.

Later historians point out that the Swedish navy was pretty useless during this period. There are records of the officers arguing among themselves just before the disaster over how much sail they should have up, and whether they should be attempting to turn at all given the conditions. Also, the manoevre may have simply been carried out because another ship in the line signalled that it was going to turn – but surely the other ships should have been following the lead of the Kronan, the biggest ship and the one carrying the commander, not the other way round?. General ineptitude among the officers of the Swedish navy may well have played a big part.

The wreck was found in 1980 by the same guy who had earlier discovered the Vasa. It’s 3.7 miles to the East of the island of Öland at a depth of 26 metres and at first sight is one of those “pile of bits and bobs plus some wood on the sea bed” kind of wrecks. Apparently a large chunk (40m by 20m) of the port side of the ship is in one piece, having lain flat on the sea bed since the sinking, and may be raised at some point (there are also plans for a special Kronan Museum in Kalmar, similar to the Vasa Museum in Stockholm). Work is still continuing each summer to recover the artefacts strewn around the wreck site; over 25,000 items have been recovered so far.

One thing we really liked about the Mary Rose was the opportunity to see so many of the sailors’ personal effects. This is also true of the Kronan, but we didn’t get to see anything like this at the Vasa (we don’t know why).

This is Admiral Creutz’s chair, from his cabin:

A chest also thought to belong to Admiral Creutz was recovered, containing 6500 silver coins, 800 buttons, and some clothing.

This is another cabinet, from the officers’ quarters, containing a sundial, compasses, coins, a ruler, protractor, pen, inkpot and other sundries:

A violin:

Some bottles (round ones for wine, square ones for spirits, small ones for medicines):

The leather cover of a book (“Cleopatra”, apparently a well-known bestseller in the 1660s!):

Here’s Mark’s favourite: twelve pewter flasks and case. One flask still contained a 41-proof barley-based alcohol. Each lid only fitted one flask, which probably caused no end of difficulties after a heavy drinking session……

Various other bits and bobs:

From Kalmar we moved on to Öland.

Öland is a long thin low-lying island with plenty of archaeological sites to look at. Rather like the area to the East of Lake Vättern, there’s nothing that’ll take a long time to look at, but they’re close enough together that you can happily pootle from one to the next to the next.

Some of the most interesting things we saw were the ring forts. Öland has 20 of them, built around 400-500AD during the Migration Period (which was glossed over when I was at school with the sentence “The Angles, Saxons and Jutes arrived in Britain”….). Originally, the interiors were packed full of dwellings, though in some cases the stone was later taken away by the locals and “recycled”.

This is the biggest ring fort, at Gräborg:

The ring fort at Ismantorp is particularly impressive as you can still see the outlines of the 95 houses:

We also hunted down the ring fort at Sandby Borg not because there’s much there to see above ground, but because we’d learned all about it in the Kalmar Museum:

There is still plenty under the ground here, including the bases of the various houses. Excavations have taken place intermittently since 2010 and produced some amazing finds. Just under 6 percent of the area has been excavated so far, producing five separate caches of jewellery (gilded brooches, beads etc).

24 bodies have also been found, none of them buried. The accepted explanation is that the fort was overrun and the inhabitants massacred and left where they fell….

Here’s Mark helping to demonstrate the positions of the bodies found in one of the houses:

Öland also has plenty of burial fields (cue more assistance from Mark!). The first two photos are at Gettling; the last one is “Noah’s Ark” at Karums Alvar:

Near Karums Alvar is Odens Flisor, a big upright stone said to have been split when Odin stuck his sword in it to tether his eight-legged horse:

Öland also has a heck of a lot of old windmills:

We’ve now crossed back onto the mainland, ready to continue our journey South.

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