Saturday, 22 October 2011

A sunset in Øresund

This evening we enjoyed a nice sunset over the Zealand coast. The small dark spots in the sky are jackdows, which often gather here this time of the year.

Travelling to Finland by a steamer a hundred years ago

Mr. Scott does not mention the name of the ship he travelled on, but it could have been the brand new SS Titania, which began sailing the route Helsingfors (Helsinki) - Hull in 1908. The 100,6m x 13,65m ship had a steam engine that produced 4000 hp. There were cabins for 98 first class and 62 second class passengers, and third class accomodation for 550 emigrants (on their way to America). The fate of the SS Titania was sad. She happened to be in Hull when World War 1 broke out and was expropriated by the Royal Navy in 1916. In 1918 she was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine about 50 miles east of Aberdeen. 

Alexander Maccallum Scott (1874-1928) was an MP for the UK Parliament constituency Glasgow Bridgeton during the years 1910 - 1922. Two years before Scott began his parliamentary career, he published an excellently written travel book, "Through Finland to St. Petersburg".

The Finland Steamship Company promoted the Helsinki-Hull route using posters like this one

In the second chapter of his book Scott describes his voyage to Finland on one of the Finnish steamers. Of particular interest is Scott´s description of the "smorgasbord" meals served on board: 

"The excellent passenger steamers of the Finland Steamship Company (agents, John Good & Sons, Ltd. Hull) run weekly between Hull and Helsingfors (Helsinki in Finnish, NoNN) and Hull and Åbo (Turku in Finnish, NoNN). The Sea is crossed in a short voyage of thirty-two hous, and thenceforward the course lies along the islands-sheltered couasts of Denmark and Sweden, and across the shallow Baltic, the Northern Mediterranean. Those who desire to spend part of their holiday in Sweden, or who wish to save a day and do not mind the railway journey to Stockholm, may leave the steamer at Copenhagen and cross by ferry to Malmö. From Stockholm steamers belonging to the same company run several times weekly to Hangö, Helsingfors, and St. Petersburg, and daily to Åbo. These, of course are the summer sailings. In winter there are regular services to Åbo and Hangö, the only ports which are not closed by the ice.

All the Finland Line steamers are luxuriously fitted and most comfortable. The captains and chief officers are Finns who have served a long apprenticeship in British vessels, as so many of their compatriots have done, and who speak English with perfect fluency. In the dining-salooon the traveller, if he has not already had that pleasure, will make his first acquaintance with the Scandinavian menu. In the centre of the room is large table covered with an immense variety of dishes, chiefly cold. There are smoked salmon, pickled herring, sardines, anchovies, slices of hard-boiled egg, smoked eels, caviare, sausages, salads and pickles in great variety, custard, meatballs, cheese, butter, and great piles of cut bread (white and black), and a hard crisp cake (knäckebroa), somewhat like oat-cake. At the end of the table is a large urn with taps which yield various liqueurs. This is the smörgås bord, which precedes every Scandinavian meal. The diners choose their seats and then proceed to help themselves from the smörgås table, loading their plates with portions from a weird variety of dishes. They either eat it standing or return to their places at the table to enjoy it at their leisure. Novices have been known to take their places at the dining-table, disdaining to join the procession round the central table, and wait to be served. Minute after minute has gone by and still no sign of a ´proper´meal being served. Finally, after quarter of an hour, having exhausted their patience, they hurry to the smörgås bord and find sufficient to make an exceedingly hearty and satisfactory meal. Then just as they are thinking of going on the deck again, in march the waitresses with the first course of the real dinner!"

Compare the smörgåsbord served 100 years ago on a ship like Titania with the kind of "meal" you get on a budget flight from Helsinki to the UK nowadays! The trip of course takes a lot less time now, but If I could choose, I´d prefer the 1908 alternative any time!

The S/S Oberon was the pride of the Finland Steamship Company on the route Helsinki - Copenhagen - Hull in the beginning of the 1920s. Sadly she sunk in Kattegat in 1930 after colliding in dense feog with another of the company´s steamers, the Arcturus.

"SS v Döbeln cruising among the islands". The 55,46 x 7,96m von Döbeln was primarily used on the route Stockholm - Finland - St. Petersburg until 1914.

This photo of Helsinki is from 1892, but the view must have been almost the same when A.M. Scott arrived some years later.

If you want to enjoy a nice - and inexpensive - voyage between Stockholm and Helsinki (or Turku) it is still possible. There are a number of ferries on these, particularly in the summer season, extremely beautiful routes, although the smörgåsbord is probably not quite as fancy as in 1908.

Navigating in the Åland archipelago a hundred years ago

Shipping has always been an essential activity in the Åland Islands (population 28000), an autonomous, monolingually Swedish-speaking region of Finland, situated between Sweden and the Finnish mainland. A look at the map (from  1910) above makes it easy to understand that navigating among the altogether over 6700 islands and skerries is not easy. That is why there were already in the beginning of the 20th century several lighthouses and lightships in the Åland waters, as the map below (also from 1910) shows.

The position of the lightship Storbrotten, which was operating between the years 1908-1922, can be seen in the northwestern part of the Åland Islands.

Storbrotten (34,1x7,6m) was destroyed by a mine and was later replaced by a bigger lightship with the same name. Finally the ship was replaced by a light buoy in 1958.

The lighthouse Märket, located in the middle of the Åland Sea, was inaugurated in 1885. Märket became unmanned in 1976.

Gisslan, an unmanned lighthouse south of Märket

The Bogskär lighthouse, in the southernmost corner of Finland, was badly damaged by the Germans in 1915. After the first world war it was converted to an automatic acetylene-operated lighthouse .

During the winter months icebreaker asssistance was often needed - as it still is today. Murtaja, Finland´s first icebreaker, was described as "the newest, biggest and strongest icebreaker in Europe", when it arrived from Sweden on April 1, 1890.

Work on a commercial sailing ship was often hard, but the crews of these two Åland galeases must have enjoyed this beautiful summer evening in the archipelago. In the year 1908 268 of Finland´s altogether 383 ships in the merchant fleet were still sailing vessels.  

A view from Mariehamn´s  Western harbour

(More information about the maritime history of the Åland Islands in a previous post here.)

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Kronborg Castle and the Sound Toll

Øresund in a map by Willem and Johan Blaeu (about 1635)

Øresund (or also often just the Sound),  the strait that separates the Danish island Zealand from the southern Swedish province of Scania, has always been a busy seaway. The Danish kings soon realized the importance of the sound as a trade route connecting Western Europe and the countries around the Baltic. In 1429 king Erik of Pomerania (who ruled over Denmark, Sweden and Norway) introduced the Sound toll or dues that had to be paid by all ships sailing through the Sound.

In the latter half of 16th century the number of ships passing the sound increased rapidly. Still in the 1550´s only about 1300 ships annually sailed through the Sound. In the 1590´s the number had already increased to close to 6000. The Baltic region was in the 16th century Western Europe´s most important provider of agricultural products and raw materials.

Kronborg castle
and Kernen (Kärnan) across the strait in Helsingborg guarded the narrowest point of Øresund, and helped to enforce the payment of the Sound toll.

The Sound toll, which existed until 1857, become a veritable goaldmine for the the Danish kings - and Denmark in general. In the last decade of the 16th century, its share of the Danish state income was two thirds. And even in its last year (1857) the income from the toll was 1/8 of the state budget.

Strategically located at the narrowest point (only about 4 km) of Øresund, the castle in Elsinore (Helsingør) has always been closely connected with the Sound toll - it was built in order to help to enforce the payment.

Originally the fortification, built by king Erik in the 1420´s, was called Krogen. In 1585 it got its present name Kronborg after king Frederik II rebuilt it into a grand renaissance palace.

In the year 2000 the Kronborg Castle was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as "an outstanding example of the Renaissance castle, and one which played a highly significant role in the history of northern Europe."

Kronborg, known all over the world from Shakespeare´s Hamlet, is the most popular castle in Denmark with over 200 000 visitors annually.

The Sound Toll Register, kept by the Danish National Archives in Copenhagen, is one of the most valuable sources of early modern history of Western and Northern Europe. The archives have been preserved for about 300 of the 360 years from 1497 until 1857, when the toll was abolished. They the contain information about 1,8 million passages - names of shipmasters, their town of residence, ports of departure and destination, the composition of the cargo and the due toll per commodity.

This is how the old toll house in Helsingør looked like several hundred years ago. (Detail from an old print)

The income from the Sound to ll was kept in coffers like this one  (Gothenburg  Maritime  Museum).

More information on the Sound Toll Register here.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Fishing in Øresund

Fish was originally the most valuable source of affluence in the Øresund region. Already in the 13th century merchants from Lübeck, Rostock, Hamburg, Utrecht and Kampen came to by herring and other fish at such commercial centers as Falsterbo, Skanör, Malmö and Dragør in the Sound. In the 14th century Øresund attracted merchants from still farther away, e.g. from Scotland, England, Flanders and Normandy.

In the famous Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (History of the Northern Peoples) by Olaus Magnus (published in 1555) the importance of the herring trade in Øresund was illustrated by this picture.

Already in 1200 the Dane Saxo Grammaticus described in his history of Denmark how the Sound sometimes had been so full of herring shoals that the fishing boats were unable to move. "On such occasions fish can be cought be bare hands", wrote Saxo.

There are still a number of small commercial fishing vessels operating in Øresund, but the big trawlers, like this Russian stern trawler, only pass by on their way to their regular fishing waters in the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans.
Some of the old fishing boats are now taking sport fishermen on day tours in the Sound.
Another of the boats
You do not need a boat in order to try your luck in Øresund.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Krapperup - a beautiful castle in Scania

Sweden´s southernmost region Scania (Skåne in Swedish) has an impressive number of castles, manors and other historic buildings. The oldest ones are of Danish origin  (Scania was Danish until 1658).

Krapperup, situated about 3 miles to the north of Helsingborg, dates back to medieval times, but the present castle is from the 16th century (except for the wings).

The seven-pointed star, which is the Gyldenstierne (Gyllenstjerna) family´s coat-of-arms, was added to the facades at the beginning of the 1600s.
The Castle, the old farm buildings and the castle park are since 1967 maintained by a foundation. The estate as such is operated by the Gyllenstjerna family as a modern agricultural holding consisting of about 5000 acres.

In the 19th century Krapperup was white

The old farm buildings now house a museum and art gallery, a music hall and a small café and shop for visitors. The well maintained 80 acre gardens are freely accessible throughout the year. If you want to visit the manor house you have to book the visit.

For more information on Krapperup, visit the castle´s home page.

The first sign of winter

A couple of days ago we had the first clear sign of the coming winter - early morning frost on the lawn.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The Kullaberg Nature Reserve – "the Pearl of the North"

Kullaberg - a photo of the information board at the lighthouse

The Kullaberg Nature Reserve on the Kulla peninsula (about 30 km north of Helsingborg) is without doubt one of the most spectacular places in southern Sweden. No wonder then that it has been awarded a prestigious three star rating by Guide Michelin.

The beauty of Kullaberg was described already in a tourist brochure in 1915:

“As if flung out into the foaming waves of the Cattegat lies Kullaberg, that celebrated, much sung peninsular – the Pearl of the North – to which thousands of tourists from Sweden and abroad flock each summer to seek repose and recreation in a living natural landscape. Few places in the North can match Kullen for the beauty of its natural landscape. /.../ With its breezy forests of beech and fir, its romantic grottoes, its vertiginous cliffs that plunge straight into the sea, its cliff-top views out over mile upon mile of bright blue water, Kullen has each year attracted a steadily increasing stream of visitors from far and near.” (Visit Kullaberg 1915:3-4)

During the summer Kullaberg is, not surprisingly, invaded by tourists. If you want to enjoy the unique natural sceneries in a more peaceful setting, then a visit in the spring or in the autumn is a good alternative.

The cliffs of Kullaberg look quite dramatic on this litograph from 1856
The Kullen lighthouse in the early 1920s

Here are a few photos from a recent visit:

The Kullen lighthouse - with the brightest light in Scandinavia - lies almost 80 meters over the sea level. There has probably been some kind of lighthouse on Kullen since early medieval times. The first confirmed information about a lighthouse is from 1560. The famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who was in charge of the lighthouse in 1577-1601, built a new lighthouse tower.  The present tower was erected in 1899-1901.
A nice day for fishing at Kullaberg

The view from Kullaberg over the seaside resort Mölle is rather spectacular

You can roam among the other roamers on top of  Kullaberg

Or you can watch the geese fly close above the water surface

From the top of Kullaberg you can also watch freighters passing by. On a clear day, you can see the Danish island Anholt, over 60 km away (visible here on the upper right side).

Or just relax, have a coffee and enjoy the day

These "pirates" did not have any wind to speak of, but they probably had a good day on the boat anyway

For more information about the Kullaberg Nature Reserve, click here.