The recent summer solstice had me thinking about the time two years ago when we were in Sweden with my family celebrating my aunt and uncle’s 25th wedding anniversary at Midsummer. I decided that I wanted to take a short break from the current blogging topic at hand and work instead on a post about one of the highlights of our June 2018 visit to Sweden: the night we stayed in the mid-19th century village of Västeräng.
Västeräng is a traditional Swedish farming village and cultural reserve situated in central Sweden, 317 kms (196 miles) northwest of Stockholm. The village and its surrounding landscape look largely the same as they would have 100 years ago. Västeräng consists of four different farmsteads, three of which are located in the village core: Ol Ers, Ersk-Mickels, and Schäffner. The village contains 54 buildings: these include 23 barns, as well as 3 manor houses whose construction dates from 1840-1860. The oldest structure is a hay barn that dates back to 1580, and the newest is a cow barn from 2003. Although the village was originally established in 1542, there is a nearby Viking gravesite that attests to a long history of settlement in this area.
Västeräng was inaugurated as Gävleborg county’s first cultural reserve in 2002. It is privately owned by a family whose members have called Västeräng home for more than 300 years. They care for the land and its buildings in collaboration with the County Administrative Board. Västeräng continues to run as a family farm, with two current generations (Maj-Britt and Lennart Persson, along with their son Lars) sharing the work required to manage the buildings, the land, the animals, and the forest. Maj-Britt and Lennart are the 13th generation of the family to live and work at Västeräng; their son, Lars, is the 14th. If one of Lars’ children later decides to take on the operation of Västeräng, they would become the 15th generation of the family to do so.
Västeräng is part of a greater Swedish cultural heritage site that is known as “The Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland.” Hälsingland is a small historical province of central Sweden in which Västeräng is situated. The 18th and 19th centuries were prosperous times for many of the farmers in Hälsingland, thanks to their location in the long, fertile valleys of the Taiga forest landscape. During this period, local farmers began to use their wealth to build large timber farm houses and outbuildings. The interior decoration of these houses became a way for these farmers to assert their social status, and so they commissioned artists from Hälsingland and the neighbouring province of Dalarna (where the Swedish Dala horse originated!) to paint elaborate murals in their new residences1. The combination of local building styles and folk art traditions resulted in these distinctive decorated farmhouses that Hälsingland is now known for; in Swedish, the name used to refer to these farms and houses is Hälsingegård (gård = farm, thank you Christina for the translation!). Some of these houses featured rooms that were so elaborately decorated that they were used only for special occasions, such as weddings. Today, over 1,000 of these decorated farmhouses2 have been preserved as cultural heritage sites—including Västeräng. In 2012, seven of these farmhouses were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites3.
Visitor accommodation is available in Västeräng at the Ol Ers farmstead from June through September, and at Ersk-Mikels all year round; Schäffner is closed to the public, as it is where Lars resides with his family (Schäffner was purchased by Lennart in 1998, and it is named after a Lieutenant who once lived there).
We had the opportunity to explore Västeräng because my family had spent time earlier that day in the city of Hudiksvall (located 35 kms/22 miles east), which was the nearest major centre to where my great-grandfather lived before emigrating to Canada in 1910. My aunt and uncle also knew that their Canadian visitors would enjoy seeing Västeräng. They had previously brought my grandmother, another uncle, and another cousin here to stay during a trip they made to Sweden a few years earlier. We all spent the night in one of the houses that were part of the Ersk-Mikels farmstead, and we were given a key so that we could also explore the main house at Ol Ers, which was unoccupied by other visitors at the time. My mom and I instantly fell in love with Västeräng, and we both spent the evening photographing the beautiful houses with our respective cameras (several of her photos have been included in this post).
The Ersk-Mickels farmstead is situated in the middle of Västeräng. It was purchased by Lennart’s father in the 1950s. Maj-Britt and Lennart live in one of the houses that make up this farmstead, while a second residence serves as a guest house that is rented out to visitors.
The Ersk-Mickels guest house is where we stayed. This extremely charming house was built in 1850, but has since been equipped with modern amenities to make it comfortable for visitors. There are three bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom (with a sauna!), and an upstairs lounge. We rented the whole house for the night since there were eight people in our group, but the bedrooms can also be rented out individually; the common spaces would then be shared with other guests.
You may have noticed from a previous picture that the Ersk-Mickels guest house is very long, and that it has a ramp leading up to a pair of barn doors. That’s because when this farm house was originally built in 1850, it also served as a barn! Many of the outbuildings at Västeräng were designed to be dual-purpose: we’ll see a couple more later on in this post.
I think part of this former barn space was renovated to create the large modern bathroom and its sauna.
The gallery below shows a few of the other buildings located around the Ersk-Mickels farmstead. I’m not sure what any of them are, so if you have any ideas please let me know!
A large barn, shown in the gallery below, can be seen on the edge of the Ol Ers farmstead.
The Ol Ers farmstead is located a few steps to the east of Ersk-Mickels. It is the oldest part of Västeräng and has been owned by Lars Persson’s family since the 18th century. Its name is derived from a previous owner named Olof Errsson.
In 1846, Jon Larsson and his wife, Kerstin Zackrisdotter, built the large manor house that is part of the Ol Ers farmstead; they tore down an 18th century farmhouse that had been standing on that site in order to do so. The new manor house has two main floors, with a large hall situated at the eastern end of each, as well as an attic. The house is supported by a natural stone base, and has two symmetrical lines of windows circling all four of its sides. Most of the manor house’s present features date to the 1930s-1940s when it was extensively remodelled by Lennart’s grandfather, Per Olsson. For example, the green paint on the exterior doors and the windows was added in the 1940s.
Visitor accommodation is also available in the Ol Ers manor house. The whole house can be rented out, or the four bedrooms can be booked individually with shared use of the kitchen. Cold water and electricity are the only amenities available in this residence. There is no bathroom in the manor house itself: a shower can be used in an adjacent building, and there is an outhouse located nearby. History comes first at Ol Ers!
Let’s begin our tour by heading up the steps to the front door.
All of the iron fittings found on the old doors (the handles, locks, bolts, keys, etc.) were made by a forge in the Ol Ers courtyard.
We’ve now taken a couple of steps back from the front door further into the front entry hallway. Note the old rotary phone sitting on the bookshelf to the left!
Below are three pictures that show the layout of the front entry hallway from left to right when standing at the front door, facing north towards the stairwell. The first picture shows a cupboard squeezed in between the door to the kitchen (on the left) and the stairwell to the second floor (on the right). This cupboard contains the kitchen pantry.
The front entry hallway also features a plaque mounted overtop two of the doorways, one leading into the stairwell and one into a bedroom. The brass letters and numerals on this plaque contain the year of the house’s construction and the initials of its first owners: J.L.S. for Jon Larsson (S=?); and C.L.D. for Christina (Kerstin) Larsson Zackrisdotter. This is one of the few remaining original features of the mid-19th century house.
The first room we’ll tour is the first floor hall, which is located at the east end of the residence. The decor of this room is very typical of the 1940s. A large dining table sits in the centre of the room. The walls are lined with various cabinets, dressers, and chairs as well as a white ceramic fireplace and a piano.
We’ll now look in the bedroom that is located immediately to the west of the first floor hall. This bedroom features a single bed and a stove tucked away in its southeast corner. The closed door connects to the first floor hall.
We’ll move onto the kitchen next, which is situated in the southwest corner of the first floor. It has many features that are well-preserved from the 1930s and 1940s. There are two stoves: a modern one is available for use by present-day guests, and an older range can be found beside it. A small closet is located to the right of the two stoves, and serves as a pantry. A doorway to the left of the stoves connects with a sitting room.
Also on display in the kitchen is a cute piece of needlework, shown below, that features the days of the week in Swedish (note: the hard English “g” is not pronounced at the end of each word).
The northwest corner of the house contains a sitting room. A pair of chairs and a round side table are located by two windows, while a white ceramic fireplace can be found in the corner opposite to them.
My favourite item in this room is an antique cupboard mounted on one of the walls. It has been painted a pale blue with delicate floral details, and is inscribed with the date of its creation: 1821 (nearly 200 years old!). The “H&D” are likely the initials of its first owners. I saw many examples of these painted wood-furnishings while we were in Sweden, and fell in love with them. They date to the 18th and 19th centuries and are beautifully decorated with folk motifs. Similar items were found elsewhere in the manor house, but this cupboard was the one I liked the most.
The final room on the lower floor is a second bedroom, which is located underneath the stairwell to the second floor. The bedroom is furnished with a single bed, a dresser, and a chair.
On the wall hangs another decorative needlework. Translated, it reads: “Happiness can never be taken, we can only love each other.”
We’ll now move the tour upstairs. The stairwell opens onto a landing, where a few more pieces of painted antique furniture can be found.
The landing leads into a south-facing room, possibly used as a study, that contains a desk and several pieces of furniture that look like they’re related to weaving. The black and gold wallpaper in this room dates to the 1900s.
One of the walls in the study features a framed gold medal certificate awarding “The Farmhouses of Hälsingland Project” with the “European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage” in recognition for its “Dedicated Service to Heritage Conservation.” Västeräng became part of the Hälsingland Farmhouses Project in 2002, with its designation as a cultural reserve. The framed photographs show members of the Persson family meeting with a dignitary, presumably in 2003 when they received this award
The desk located in the study provided us with a further opportunity to explore, with some fun historical items hidden away in its drawers.
I was most excited to discover a leather wallet full of old ration tickets dated from 1941 to 1944!
The next room we’ll visit is the second floor hall, located on the east side of the house. I think this is the most fascinating room in the residence, as its appearance dates back to the 1800s. During this period, meetings were held in here by Delsbo’s newly-founded missionary assembly (Delsbo is the closest town, located 3 kms/1.5 miles away). Some of these meetings may have ended up running too long for some weary attendees, who found it necessary to lean their heads against the walls; the pomade these members applied to their hair left greasy prints behind on the wallpaper!
There were a lot of beautiful things to photograph in this room!
Sadly, the wallpaper in this room is deteriorating due to moisture damage. Unfortunately, restoring it will cost a lot of money. To acquire the funding needed for the project, the Persson family would need to apply and be approved for a grant with the County Administrative Board. I hope that they’ll be able to save the wallpaper, as it is really beautiful!
Before we leave the second floor hall, we’ll take a look through one of its windows to the courtyard outside.
We’ll now move to the southwest corner of the second floor (crossing back through the study, which we’ve already seen), where we’ll find a third bedroom furnished with two beds, a rocking chair, a sofa chair, and a white ceramic fireplace.
My mom and I noticed that a lot of people in Sweden like to put small pots of red geraniums in their windows. I don’t know when and where this tradition started, but it’s sweet all the same!
Our tour of the second floor now includes a bit of a mystery! There is a room located in the northwest corner that neither my mom or I photographed. All I have to show of it is a glimpse through an open door, shown on the left side of the photo below. I can tell that the room has a wooden floor, but that’s about it.
It is possible that I did take photographs of a couple items in that room, such as the two old trunks shown below (they were both located in a room with a wooden floor, like the mystery room, and I haven’t been able to place them elsewhere). During our tour of the manor house, I ended up mostly taking pictures of individual items in each room and often forgot to take a photograph of the room in its entirety. Thankfully, I had my mom’s photos to back me up! (She has a keener photojournalistic instinct that I really need to hone). Anyway, it’s possible that this mystery room was set up like a sitting room at the time of our visit, similar to the one below it on the first floor. I know it was not set up as a bedroom, because my mom and I did take pictures of the fourth and final bedroom—which is the next stop on our tour!
The fourth bedroom is situated on the north side of the second floor, between the landing and the second floor hall. It is similar in size to the first bedroom, which is located beneath it on the first floor. This bedroom has a small single bed and a green ceramic tiled fireplace. A door connects it with the south-facing study.
That’s it for the second floor! We’ll now go up one more level to check out the attic. There’s not much to see there, as the attic is largely an unfinished space used for storage of miscellaneous items.
Our tour of the Ol Ers manor house will conclude with a look through one of the attic windows. After that, we’ll move outside to the courtyard.
There are two outbuildings located on the west and east sides of the manor house. They were also constructed in 1846, the same year as the residence. Both of these structures were designed to be dual-purpose. The building located to the west of the manor house contained a horse stable as well as a shed for carpentry work. The building on the east functioned mostly as a cattle barn, but also had a room in its upper level where a maid lived. We’ll take a look at the building with the stable and the carpentry shed first.
Jon Larsson had several reasons for building both a stable and a cattle barn as close to the manor house as possible. Wolves were a real threat to the livestock, as evidenced by a wolf pit that was built in the fields nearby (we’ll visit it towards the end of this post). Jon Larsson would have wanted to keep an eye on his horses not only because they played an integral role in the work carried out on the farm, but also because they were good companions and prominent status symbols.
Jon Larsson also had a cattle barn built close to the manor house on its east side so that he could better protect one of the farm’s main sources of income during the winter. In the summer, the cows were taken out to graze in a pasture. The barn was big enough to house 10 cows, and has a fireplace with a brick boiler. There is a maid’s room situated on the upper level. There is also an outhouse located in an attached shed (seen below on the right side of the building, beneath two doors).
The cattle barn and maid’s room were closed during our visit so, unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of the interior. Interestingly, it seems that some decorative elements of the demolished 18th century farmhouse were reused in the maid’s room, including a beautifully painted door and some wallpaper. You can see two pictures of these in a Swedish-language article featured on Västeräng’s main website (they are located on the last page of the article, in the top left corner). Below are some exterior photos of the building, including some images of the outhouse.
The three main buildings of the Ol Ers farmstead (the manor house, the horse stable/carpentry shed, and the cattle barn/maid’s room) were designed to be perfectly symmetrical in size and layout. Together, they formed a central courtyard, which served as a useful workspace (a metal forge was located here at one time). In the 1890s, part of the courtyard was turned into a garden.
There is one last building that we photographed from the Ol Ers farmstead, shown below, found just south of the courtyard. I do not know what it is used for; it looks like a barn, but could be a bakehouse.
After dinner, we followed a marked walking path that led us to the Viking Grave Field. Here are a few pictures of things we saw along the way.
During our walk we came across the remains of a former wolf pit, which was used until 1865 when catch pits such as these were prohibited. The wolf pit would have been covered with a thin layer of rice, straw, and moss. Bait was placed in the middle of this cover, which would have tempted the wolf to cross over and fall through. The pit beneath was deep with steep, rocky sides that made it impossible for the wolf to escape.
Here is the final stop on our tour, the Viking Grave Field! It kind of impresses me that Sweden has so many sites like this that there is not a lot of signage or fuss made about this one. I wouldn’t have even realized there was anything special about it if I was just passing by.
That’s it for Västeräng! A big thank you goes out to my aunt and uncle for bringing us here. Thank you to my mom, for letting me use her photos in this blog post. And thank you, dear reader, for making it through this post. Happy Midsummer!
1 In the 1850s-60s, these folk artists also began to create and install hand-painted and printed wallpaper in these Hälsingland farmhouses.
2 The majority of the decorated farmhouses were constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries, but there are some buildings that date back to the 1600s! I honestly can’t imagine a historical site that would appeal to me more. Anyone up for a road trip through rural Sweden in a year or two when this pandemic is (hopefully) over?
3 The seven farmhouses that were designated UNESCO World Heritage sites are: Gästgivars (in Vallsta, has a visitor centre); Kristofer (in Järvsö); Pallars (in Alfta); Jon-Lars (in Långhed); Beyond Åa (in Fågelsjö); Bommars (Letsbo); and Erik-Anders (in Asta, has a visitor centre). (There are also visitor centres at Ol-Anders in Alfta and Stenegård in Järvsö).