Going to Church at Hvalsey

It may be around 600 years since anyone attended a service at Hvalsey church. Even if you are in a hurry, and I wasn’t, the journey to this outpost of Nordic life still takes a little while.

So I set off from Scotland for some days of travelling. The first was on a large jet plane full of visitors going home to America but, in the middle of the second day, I arrived with 30 or so others on the twice weekly little flight to the nearest airport. The sun shone from a clear sky, and a warm and persistent breeze blew from the higher ground. Low willow bushes covered the hill sides like grey-green fur. The ground was covered with a profusion of yellow, blue and purple flowers and icebergs glistened in the bay.



Harebells (Campanula Gieseckiana) at Narsarsuaq

That night I spent near the airport and next day took a boat across the loch, for there is no road around it, to the small village on the opposite side. This is where, some 1,000 years ago, Eric the Red set up his farm and called it Brattahlid, though they now call it Qassiarsuk. It is set in an area of gentle slopes where it catches the warmth – sweet peas are to be found growing wild – and is now the centre for the area. There are three or four sheep farms. There is a well-stocked shop selling groceries and ammunition, a primary school and a dormitory as well as a bright modern church. Behind the village there are hay fields and some turnip crops. Scattered amongst all this, are the foundations of the Norse buildings. They must have been made of turf above a couple of courses of stone.  It is these stones that remain and that trace the outlines of the long house, the farm buildings and the original church.



But, it was still a long way to Hvalsey. The slow boat, more of a miniature ship, takes around 5 hours to go down the loch to the small town of Narsaq. It is both a charming village of brightly painted wooden houses set under a steep and striking mountain, and something of an industrial centre with its abattoir and fish processing factory. We will hear more of it in years to come as the valley behind has strategic minerals which have attracted the attentions of the US and China.


The journey continued the next day on the regular boat to Qaqortoq.  In the second Nordic colonisation of Greenland this was known as Julianehåb and was a centre for the whalers, some of whose houses remain around the central square. A kayak regatta was in progress and later some of the participants were to be found celebrating. Their resilience had almost matched that of the children paddling and splashing in the sea while their parents watched the races.

Central Qaqortoq

The next day was the final leg of the journey. Early on there was some mist but this had cleared during yet another calm, sunny morning. Dressed in stifling survival suits, the few passengers set off in a small rubber dinghy equipped with an enormous engine. It roared at a tremendous speed along the coast jumping between the crests of the, fortunately very small, waves. We weaved between the icebergs but then, after an hour or so, entered a large, ice-free bay backed by high, and surprisingly green, hills.  At the very head of the bay, almost hidden by a substantial island, stands the church.

The Church at Hvalsey

It is a modest enough building. A rectangle of thick dry stone walls, now entirely lacking a roof, set in flower filled grassland a few yards up from the shore. There is an arched east window, and a small west window above the door way, but it must have been a dark place when it was used. No tower nor grand pillars nor flying buttresses. It was built for the local people. Archeologists tell us there were maybe 30 farms in the neighbourhood and there are some traces of the main one close by the church. Despite its favourable position, only one small, isolated farm remains today some way off to the east.

They say that the last record of the old Norse colony in Greenland concerns a wedding here at this church in 1408. And then silence.

Svenska Skolans besök på IKEA Edinburgh

I slutet på September blev Svenska Skolan inbjudna till IKEA Edinburgh på en guidad tur bakom kulisserna. Besöket på Ikea var en succé för alla eleverna. Vi fick inblick i deras verksamhet på ett nytt sätt samt att eleverna blev väldigt medvetna om Ikeas miljötänk. Här är några reflektioner från eleverna efter deras besök på Ikea:

Min Mamma köpte min säng från IKEA.Den va kul at bygga och den är jätte god at sova i.Jag har haft den i 1 år.Jag tycker om möbler på IKEA och maten.


Ikea är bra för att de gör väl gjord möbler som människor behöver. Alla kan köpa deras möbler för att det är billigt.  Alting är plat packerad därför det är jätte lätt att transportera och behålla. Alla möblerna är lätt att bygga så man kan göra ens egen hemma som man vill bo i. Ikea gör fina möbler med vackert design så att alla har råd att har fina saker i deras hus.


På IKEA var det jätte bra för at alla som jobbade där var underhålla och snäll. Dem hadde så många kreativa saker, som att alla rum var gjort som nån faktisk bor där. Allting hade små detaljer som gav personlighet till rummet eller sakerna. Allting var återvinningsbar och det var jätte bra, för att jag hade alltid trodde att det skulle inte bry om det men det är motsats år det. Dem hade en stor rum för det också. Jag skulle aldrig hade trodde at dem hade det! Allting var så kreativ, för andra affärer är tråkigt. Allting var jätte bra och smart och var jätte billigt!


De återvinner mycket och är väldigt miljömedvetna. Deras plat packet är lätta att transportera och sätta ihop. De använder alla skrap material. De är väldigt uppfinningsrika.


Ikea var väldigt cool. Det var tre saker som gjorde det så intressant:

  1. Vi fick se hur de gjorde deras produkter.
  2. På slutet fick vi “goodie-bags”.
  3. Det var roligt att se var de jobbade.


Jag tycker att vårt besök på IKEA var bra eftersom de är mycket miljövänliga. De verkar väldigt organiserade. Jag tror att IKEA-produkterna är väldigt bra för att de är plana förpackningar, så du kan lägga mycket mer i din bil och produkterna är starka och lätta att flytta.


Det var spännande att få chansen att åka till Ikea och se hur allting fungerar bakom kulisserna.  Den bästa var att få se hur Ikea återvinner – absolut allting!  Det var också intressant att få chansen att se Ikeas designrum.  Man kan se en av Ikeas första stolar – en enkel brun fåtölj.   Man kan också se Ikeas lättaste produkt – ett litet kaffebord.  Om du få chansen att se bakom kulisserna på Ikea jag rekommendera du tar den.

  1. Ikea är ett stort globalt företag. 
  2. Ikea säljer möbler.
  3. Ikea grundades i Sverige. 


Ett jätte STORT tack till IKEA Edinburgh från Svenska Skolföreningen i Skottland

Pea Soup and Pancakes

On 22 October the Society held the customary Pea Soup and Pancakes evening.

This year we met at Söderberg’s cafe at the Quartermile in Edinburgh where Åsa had arranged a lovely and traditional meal in the very pleasant surroundings of the Pavilion.

When we had enjoyed our food and a good chat, we listened to a talk by our longstanding member, Birgitta Sugden. Her talk was called “My Jämtland”. She described how, around 20 years ago, she and David, her husband, had bought an old farm deep in the hill country. They had done it up with great skill and taste, and visit it in both summer and winter. Britta showed beautiful pictures of the farm, the landscape and the life they lived there, a sample of which are shown below.

Sailing Adventures by Harris Keillar

A couple of years ago a friend of mine asked if I would be interested in sailing across the Atlantic. He is an experienced sailor and I had previously been on his boat, so he knew my distinct lack of sailing capabilities. 

I said “yesssss” and in February 2017 went on a weekend keel boat sailing course on the Forth.  “What is a keelboat?” I hear you ask. “It is a yacht without a kettle” or indeed any cons, whether mod or not. 

 That soaking experience did not put me off, though I heard nothing more about it until much later, last year, when he said that his plans had changed and he was now aiming for New Zealand. 

His brother had died from an allergic reaction to mammalian blood from a tick bite on Mull and his fiancée, unbeknown to both, was pregnant and she returned home to New Zealand, hence this final goal. 

Richard sensed my reluctance and said there would be shorter passages, so I signed up for the West of Scotland and Shetland with an option to go to Norway and then down to see my sister in Sweden. 

Richard’s father had been a renowned Viking scholar and lived in Sweden and Richard’s son currently live there as well, so lots of Swedish roots. 

 The sailing was astounding! Great weather, tremendous crew and lovely food – in addition to skippering, Richard was also the chef. There were also lots of wildlife including otters, sea eagles, seals, dolphins and porpoises and even a minke whale that swam under and around the boat!

Under Richard’s watchful eye I skippered ‘Equinox’ past Ardnamurchan Point and got her up to her highest speed until then! This entitles me to pop a sprig of heather on any boat I now go on!

Eventually we got to Stornoway and once there, I had to go and ask the coast guard a question. Their office was abuzz about the sole Swedish female sailor who had had to be towed into harbour earlier that day. 

Coincidentally we were berthed opposite ‘Caprice’ and her sailor/owner Emma from Gothenburg. Emma tells her story far better than I can in her blog: SAILING ALONE ON S/Y CAPRICE, press the link to read it in her own words.  

In short, Emma sailed from Gothenburg across the Atlantic on to Brazil. She had intended to go further south to the Falklands, though her boyfriend suggested she possibly return as her engine broke down. 

The engine could not be fixed in St Helena, so she then set sail all the way up and round St Kilda, until she almost ran aground on the Butt of Lewis.

Caprice was towed in and astonishingly two of her parent’s friends were berthed in Stornoway and they fed Emma up. She had been living on pulses for weeks and was down to virtually no food. 

Richard suggested she would pop on board Equinox and I was tasked with making that most English of teatime foods – cucumber sandwiches! I’ve never made them before but they passed the test. 

 The following day we caught the evening tide and towed Caprice out of Stornoway into, what is usually, the windy waters of the Minch. Not quite flat calm, although close to, but just enough wind for Emma to be underway under her own. Still, I think it took 12 days to get back to Sweden thanks to the very unusual weather patterns.

You’ve had your say

First of all I’d like to thank everyone for responding to our Events Survey which was sent out during the summer. We are excited by the great participation and all the great suggestions.

The aim of the survey was to get a better understanding of what activities and events members want to see during the coming year. Participants wanted to see more family events and events with Swedish traditions but there was also an interest in evening events.

Despite over 70% of respondents wants to see events organised in Edinburgh there was an interest in seeing events organised in Glasgow and other places. If you are based in Glasgow or elsewhere in Scotland and would want to be part in organising events for the society outside of Edinburgh please get in touch.

There was also a wish to see events organised at places which are easy to get to with public transport. As well as a wish to make sure that we arrange private venues to assure it is easy to hear conversations. There were a lot of great suggestions for future events including business networking, Christmas market, film nights and opportunities to hear Swedish authors speak (let us know if you have any specific suggestions).

For the Peas soup dinner October 22nd we have arranged for Söderbergs to be dedicated to the dinner to assure there will not be any issues with noise levels. The speaker Britta Sugden was also a suggestion from the survey.

We are hoping to get more family/children’s activities arranged in the new year and are keen to get a group of individuals together to organise this. If you are interested in supporting us with family/childrens activities please get in touch.

We are also hoping to organise some business networking and Brexit information sessions. If you have your own business or know of any businesses who might be interested in networking with Swedish businesses please let us know.

Anyone who would like to be involved, help organise an event or in any other way be interested in helping please get in touch.


Sweden’s Elections in Edinburgh

Many members of the Society came to vote in person at the Edinburgh polling station on the first or second of September. They will have seen some familiar faces behind the desk as the Society’s committee had been asked to help with the arrangements. How did this all come about?

We were first approached several months ago with a request for volunteers as the Edinburgh pollingstation was not going to be managed by the Consulate. We were pleased to help out, and it was not difficult to find people glad to work alongside Anna Brodin who came up from the Embassy as their
official representative. We then had to study an extensive manual and work through a demanding on-line training system. At the end of it we emerged knowing more than we had imagined there was to know about the operation of the Swedish electoral system, the forms to be filled in and the reference numbers to check. Not to mention the detail of who can vote in which of the three levels of election taking place. One or two voters came up with problems we had still not foreseen, but we managed, with expert help from Anna, and we hope people felt their encounter was as it should be.

This note is being written before the outcome of the election is known – the voting in Edinburgh took place a week ahead of the election day in Sweden to allow time to get voting papers back to the right place. A few points struck us very strongly. The sheer number of voters coming along was much higher than we had expected, so it was just as well we had plenty of voting slips. In the last election around 85 people voted in person in Edinburgh. This time it was nearer 250, nearly three times as many. Many electors said they felt it was a particularly important election and they had to make the effort to cast their vote. Some had travelled a long way to do so, including one woman whose train had been delayed and phoned to say she was anxious she might be too late. She just managed it!

We also noticed how many young people were among the voters and quite a number said they were voting for the first time. We imagine that many of the longer-established Scottish Swedes vote by post, but the numbers of young voters was nevertheless very heartening.

For those more accustomed to the British voting system, it was also notable how the Swedish system makes great efforts to ensure that everyone who is theoretically eligible to vote is indeed able to do so. That requires quite a complicated system behind the scenes, but it seems to work with admirable efficiency.

Helping at the polling station was an interesting and rewarding way to spend the weekend. However the election turns out, it was something to which we were all pleased to contribute. For the Society, it was good that we were able to demonstrate our role as a focal point for the Swedish community in this new way.

Kanelbullens dag

Kanelbullens dag infaller den 4 oktober. Den är en i Sverige årlig temadag, instiftad 1999 av Kaeth Gardestedt. Hon var vid tidpunkten projektansvarig för Hembakningsrådet, historiskt en sammanslutning av jästtillverkare, mjöltillverkare, sockertillverkare och margarintillverkare som numera drivs av Dansukker.  Syftet med dagen är att uppmärksamma bulltraditionen som finns i Sverige, med speciellt fokus på kanelbullen. Kanelbullens dag förekommer även bland svenskar i Nya Zeeland och på många orter inom Svenska kyrkan i utlandet.

One of the more recent additions to the Swedish calendar is the “Cinnamon Bun Day ” which is celebrated on 4th October. The theme day is the brain-child of Kaeth Gardestedt (seen in the picture below to the right with Carina on the left) to bring attention to Sweden’s long tradition of baking sticky cinnamon buns.

Kaeth loves baking and has written a wonderful children’s book called: “Kalle Bagare får en ide” about the man that “invented” the kanelbulle. The book is published by SOLEKA förlag, Malmö.

This article was originally published in the Scottish Swedish Society’s Newletter Autumn 2015.