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Life in a Small Swedish Town PDF Printable Version E-mail

Life in a Small Swedish Town

Hammerdal, Stromsund Kommun (Municipality), Jämtland County, Sweden

Margaret Williamson
September 2017 

Introduction

Two visits to Hammerdal in central Sweden, and friendship with the couple running the town's campsite, have given us information enough to write something of the town's story. Typical of Socially Democratic Sweden, there are splendid amenities for the local people, an education system England should seek to emulate and a campsite with every facility.

The Town of Hammerdal

Hammerdal is a small town about halfway along the 750-mile (1220-km) E45 Inland Road (Inlandsvägen), that connects the southern Swedish port of Gothenburg (A) to Sweden's northernmost town of Karesuando (B), up against the border with Finland. The E45 crosses by ferry from Gothenburg to the Danish port of Frederikshavn, and finally terminates in Gela on the south coast of Sicily. At 3,057 miles (4920 km), the E45 is Europe's longest north-south route.

e45-sweden-8.jpgOnce Hammerdal was served by Sweden's Inland Railway (Inlandsbanan) but the line now goes through Sikas, a few miles to the west. Hammerdal was known as a scythe-making centre with many blacksmiths and was once more important than Stromsund.

Today - with a population of about 1,000 - it has a doctor, dentist, vet, pharmacy, old people's home, hairdresser/barber, fuel station, taxi, 2 electricians, a plumber and a recycling depot. The local fire brigade are all trained paramedics and respond to local emergencies, as the nearest police station and hospital are in Ostersund.

There is a fine riverside church/graveyard and a school for 200 children (age 7-16) with its own indoor swimming pool and library that are used by the community. Next to a Red Cross charity shop is the ICA supermarket, housing an ATM bank machine and a post office counter.

The town has a splendid English-run campsite by the river (www.camproute45.com), where James cooks a great breakfast in the summer months; also one hotel, two pizzerias and a tasty grill café by the bus station. We can recommend the latter for the Turkish chef's weekday lunch menu known as Dagens, with a hot dish of the day, salad bar, soft drink, coffee & biscuits (or choose burger & chips if you must). A Thai takeaway van appears in the summer. But there is no pub! Book ahead for the annual Joel Mässan festival in mid-August (www.joelmassan.se) when campsite and hotel are full.

Sports facilities include an ice rink, ice hockey pitch, ski club, BMX tracks, football, gymnasium etc. There is a large meeting hall (the Folkets Hus) with many rooms used for dances, meetings etc. It even has a theatre upstairs and a place for parties in the basement, freely available for community use, with a small charge for money-making activities. Julie (of Camp Route 45) plans to run a course of dance lessons there. The choir, which rehearses in the church, is subsidised by both church and Kommun. Another huge hall at Svartviken by the lake hosts dances, bingo etc. In summer they play 'car-bingo'!

Buses run north to Stromsund (20 miles) or south to Ostersund (40 miles), where there is an airport.

The Swedish Education System

There are no private schools and home-tutoring is not allowed. Children attend their local school from age 7 to 16, with the emphasis on co-operation and team-building rather than competition. Classes are not streamed and all children are encouraged to work together. This greatly reduces any risk of teasing or bullying. Teaching assistants help those with special needs.

Day care for the very young, pre-school for 6-year-olds and after-school care for children up to 13 are all available for a small charge. School starts at 8 am, with a free lunch provided for all at around 11 am or noon. The school day ends at 2 pm or so, depending on sport or other after-school activities on certain days.

Swedish compulsory schooling (age 7 to 16) consists of three stages: lågstadiet (years 1–3), followed by mellanstadiet (years 4–6) and then högstadiet (years 7–9).

Gymnasium (upper secondary school or high school, years 10–12) is optional, free of charge, from age 16. There are 18 regular national programmes of 3 years to choose from, 6 of which are preparatory for higher education such as university, and 12 of which are vocational. This may involve travel to a larger town: Stromsund or Ostersund from Hammerdal, for example. All school bus transport is free.

University places for those who pass the entry exam offer free tuition, only charging affordable accommodation fees for students living away from home.

At Hammerdal, all children have free swimming lessons until they can swim (essential in this country of a myriad lakes and rivers!) The pool is also open outside school hours for pupils, their families and local business people to use for 5 hours per week, term-time only. Pupils also receive free tuition on one musical instrument of their choice (guitar, piano, etc). Some sports and all school trips are free. One afternoon per week is spent in the forest, with activities such as art class, orienteering, flora and fauna recognition, berry and mushroom picking, fire-making, skiing and ice fishing in winter. An optional single payment of SEK 70 (about £7) per child per year covers extra after-school activities such as chess club, gymnastics, indoor hockey, football, etc.

English is on the curriculum from age 8, with a second foreign language later (Spanish or German are popular). Non-Swedish children begin with special lessons in that language, aided by teaching assistants. Foreign adults can attend free Swedish lessons if available (nearest to Hammerdal are in Stromsund); they are compulsory for new immigrants, who are paid an allowance to attend.

Above all, schools avoid competition, rivalry or jealousy. For example, at Hammerdal if a pupil has a birthday party they must invite the whole class of about 20, with no exceptions. There are no sports days or prizes, no written reports. There are national exams at age 10, and again at 16, but no publicising of exam results, no league tables. Parents' evening is for parents to discuss any difficulties a child has and test results must be kept private, given only to the pupil concerned.

The Luxury of a Stuga at Camp Route 45, Hammerdal, Sweden

Hammerdal_(17).JPGA popular feature of most Scandinavian campsites is the Camping Cabin or Holiday Cottage, known in Sweden as a Stuga, in Finland a Mökki and in Norway a Hytte. They range from small simple huts with bunks for 2 or 4 people to fully appointed family holiday cottages sleeping 4 or 5. They usually have electricity and heating, and some come with a fridge and hotplate/cooker or microwave. If not, campsites always have a kitchen equipped for cooking, dining and washing up. The larger holiday cottages may have en-suite WC and shower, otherwise the campsite facilities are available to all. Pillows and duvets or blankets are generally provided. Guests bring their own linen and towels, or hire them at extra cost.

Our second visit to Camp Route 45 at Hammerdal in September 2017, was memorable 45-Hammerdal_(72).JPGfor several reasons. Renewing our friendship with the owners, James and Julie; enjoying James's blueberry pancakes; picking lingenberries to make jam; a gift of chanterelle mushrooms foraged along the Wilderness Road; the farewell Fika with traditional coffee and pastries – and a complimentary upgrade from motorhome to Stuga number 15.

The campsite has 13 simple Camping Cabins, with bunk beds for 4, electric heater, fridge and hotplate, table, chairs, water carrier, crockery and utensils. Their occupants have the use of all the communal site facilities (toilets, showers, kitchen equipped with two full cookers, free WiFi internet, coin-op laundry with washer & drier).

Click: Pictures of Hammerdal Camping

Click:
Pictures of Cabin Life at Hammerdal Camping

In a separate area overlooking the swimming/skating pool are 3 fully furnished Holiday Cottages with a lovely view across to the river. The largest will accommodate 5 people; one sleeps 4 and one takes 2. Each has parking space alongside.

Our charming 2-person Stuga (no 15) comes with a comfortable double bed, 2 easy chairs, a table with 2 chairs, a TV and electric heating. The kitchen corner has a fridge, coffee maker, microwave, electric hotplate and washing up sink. There is also a full range of pots and pans, crockery and utensils. The en-suite comprises a shower, toilet and wash basin. With good WiFi internet, it provides a very cosy lodging for two – not forgetting the resident (red) squirrel that lives on the roof!

For current prices, see www.camproute45.com.