In an enchanting corner of the county of Gävleborg, near the border with Dalarna are two hidden gems: The Hamra National Park and Bortom Åa, a Hälsingland decorated farmhouse and designated UNESCO Heritage Site. The north of Sweden is beautiful and particularly rich in culture, folklore and tradition. Carl von Linné, the famous biologist, described Hälsingland as a microcosm because of the variety of different habitats found within its borders. There are lakes, rivers, wetlands, forests and mountains to explore, a fabulous coastline with sandy beaches and the enchanting islands of the archipelago. Hälsingland is in Gävleborg county in Norrland (North Sweden) and sits about mid-way up the country, less than 3 hours from Stockholm.
Hamra National Park
This corner of Sweden is bear country and Hamra has one of the densest bear populations in the country as it provides the perfect habitat for their populations to flourish. Hamra National Park is special; it is covered by ancient woodland that has never been managed. This is unusual in Sweden and it is estimated that some of the trees are over 400 years old. There is a very special feeling to ancient places and it is a rare privilege in Europe to walk in such ancient woodland, surrounded by thick carpets of moss and tall spruce trees. The park is well organised for visitors and offers a selection of different walking trails of varying lengths through its different environments. Almost half the park is wetland with a
mixture of forest lakes, streams, marshes, fens and small islands with pine trees. These areas are accessible via wooden walk ways that give a visitor access to a unique habitat usually out-of-bounds to people. The Svartå River runs through the park and is home to otters, fresh mussels and the pretty white-throated dipper. The wetlands attract a variety of different birds and in spring Cranes come to the lakes to mate and in April you can hear the mating calls of the black grouse. Bears live here all year round; however they are notoriously shy and if you really want to go bear watching one of the best ways to see them is to visit the Vargas Wilderness Lodge, run by Sweden Wildlife, and use one of their hides (www.swedenwildlife.se).
Bortom Åa – A UNESCO Heritage Site
Hidden away on the borderland between Dalarna and Hälsingland, a few kilometres west of Hamra, is the forest village of Fågelsjö, the home of Bortom Åa one of the 7 UNESCO Hälsingegårdar heritage sites. The farmstead (Hälsingegårdar) is the oldest in the village and was first established when the Finns came to the area in the 1600s. Bortom Åa means “beyond the river” and its name comes from its location, as it sits on the opposite side of the river to the rest of the village.
The setting is idyllic and there is camping and boating facilities, as well as a cafe and shop at the farm, but it is the original farmhouse that has been designated a UNESCO heritage site. The farm was owned by the same family for 7 generations before being left to the local council for preservation. The main building was built in 1818 and it is beautifully preserved, the original wallpaper and ornately painted walls still in perfect condition. The farm has an interesting and eccentric history. In 1910 the family built a new modern house opposite the original and when they moved out of the old house, they took nothing with them; they simply walked out and locked the door, leaving the old house intact. This is fascinating to see, the entire house is preserved complete with furniture, decorations, ornaments, toys, clothes and household items. The rest of the farmstead is well-preserved too and provides a rare look at rural life and its traditional working practices; there are the original workers quarters, the gun smithy, the bake house, storehouses, threshing barns, cow sheds and stables. The stories associated with the farm and family are fascinating too and the guided tours are excellent. A visit to Bortom Åa gives one a glimpse into the past in a way that no traditional museum ever can.
For more information on these two fascinating destinations visit:
Bortom Åa: www.fagelsjo.nu and for an information sheet in English click here .
For more information on Hamra National Park, including directions click here .