Fifty-nine huge sandstone boulders in the shape of a large ship stand proudly in a grassy green headland that pokes into the chilly waters of the Baltic Sea in the southern-most part of Sweden. Scientists are undecided as to the real purpose or timing of these rocks but the most popular theories suggest a construction date of around 500 – 600 A.D. just before the start of the Viking period. Some claim it is a burial monument (though no evidence of bodies have been found) while others claim it is an astronomical clock. As for a number of monuments around the world from such early times, this one highlights the remarkable affiliation and comprehension that older civilisations had with the cosmos as the stones aligns with the summer and winter solstices. Mid-summer dawn is highlighted by the sun streaming directly over the largest stone in the ship.
Ales Stenar (Ale’s Stones) is in the tiny fishing village of Kåseberga (population around 100), a scenic and comfortable bike ride over flat farmland of around 18 kilometres through flat farmland from the historic town of Ystad (bike hire is easy from Ystad). The medieval Ystad is probably best known as the home town of Henning Mankell’s fictional police detective, Kurt Wallander and boasts a lively town square and beautifully preserved houses, churches and buildings.
Almost 70 metres (220 feet) in length, the height of a person and 20 metres (65 feet) across, in true Scandinavian spirit this unusual travel wonder is open for all to see – no fences, no entry charges, no souvenir stands and no tacky trinkets. Reassuringly, there was no graffiti on any of the stones. Probably horrifying to local archaeologists, children climb on the rocks for that ultimate family photo while cattle graze contentedly on the rich pastures.
Near to Ales Stenar in the small harbour area overlooking a pebbly shoreline is the irresistible offerings of the local smokehouse and fish-shop. It is difficult to imagine anything more relaxing than feeding on super-fresh fish or sampling the traditional flavours of smoked mackerel, salmon or pickled herring while watching the impossibly long summer days meander into the evening. They even sold knäckebröd, a kind of crisp rye bread which was supposedly eaten by the Vikings, as it stayed edible for the length of their voyages. A chilled beer would have been perfect but there was sadly none to be found (though probably a good thing from the viewpoint of the 18 kilometre return ride!).
Whether fascinated by the capabilities of ancient civilisations to construct complex calendars or host ornate burials or you’d simply enjoy a pleasant afternoon eating and drinking to the sounds and smells of the Swedish foreshore, Ales Stenar is a worthwhile diversion in travelling southern Sweden.