Having picked up a map highlighting all of Sweden’s UNESCO sites, the plan is to see as many as possible on our journey south. Today that has us heading west in search of the painted farmhouses of Halsingland.
It’s clear as we travel through the farm trail that this is an area rich in history
The farms are large and prosperous by any European standard. Most have a series of impressively large buildings on them, we learn later that each building serves a specific purpose. Most are painted in the classic Falun Red and often on stone footings. Set against the grassed fields and late summer golden grain crops, it’s very picturesque.
Dotted throughout the farm trail are hundreds of privately owned farm houses featuring the richly decorated interiors from the 17th and 18th centuries. Seven of these have been listed as World Heritage sites. The plan is simple enough – pick a central, listed house, then work our way around to as many as possible. TomTom, usually so reliable, let’s us down again. Actually, it might also be the UNESCO website – clear location advice is not a strong point. It’s not the first time I’ve wished for detailed guidebooks for both Finland and Sweden.
We make our way to Alfta, so far so good, but then find ourselves on a dirt road, forest all around. Clearly, no farm house in sight. Re-entry of the GPS coordinates shows that the farmhouse is either 500 metres up an even tinier dirt road…or when entered in degrees, feet and inches, 73 km away. Which method of entry is correct is not clear. Hmm. No, on both counts, not 500 metres, not 73 km.
We retrace our steps to Alfta and head instead for tourist information and it’s here that our luck changes. The tourist information site is also one of the painted farmhouses, Halsingegard Ol-Anders. Linda, our very knowledgeable guide, advises us: there’s good and bad news.
The bad news is that the summer season, when most of the private homes are open for viewing, is over. As of yesterday! The good news is that despite being on her own, Linda is kind enough to let us have a peek at the house on this site and share her knowledge.
The house we see was used only for celebrations, weddings, christenings etc. It has a beautifully decorated wooden porch and the biggest iron front door key I’ve ever seen. Inside, the walls are painted in rich detail.
One room is wallpapered, then a seriously luxurious affair, the room reserved for the most important of guests. We learn that farmhouses were painted by either travelling painters or sometimes itinerant travellers in exchange for food and accommodation. A large corner open fire serves as both for heating and cooking. Even the floorboards are on a grand scale, each the width of an old tree. Linda tells us that great care was taken in selecting the best trees when building. It’s a very beautiful house – we’re very grateful for the opportunity to see it, especially after the season has closed.
The second farm house, Halsingegard Loka, is more modestly decorated, with pale blue walls with stenciling. It does have a stunning polished cast iron fireplace though, and a great barn full of ancient wooden farm tools, wagons and best of all, a series of decorated sleds.
I still think it’s a magical form of travel. We also see the milking barn and a film showcasing the houses we’ve missed. Our host here is fascinated that we’ve come so far and whips out a map to have us point out Melbourne to him.
I’m so glad we were able to see a couple of the houses. The brochures later detail the history of the area, the tradition of farms passing down the generations – some in the same family for 400 years.
We also learn of a great fire that occurred in Alfta in 1793, wiping out over 200 houses and most of the parish buildings leaving over 180 people homeless. In light of that, we’re extremely fortunate to have this beautiful period in home decorative history preserved for us to marvel over today.
We leave Alfta in the late afternoon light. It pools and reflects across the river, challenging my action photography skills from a moving vehicle.