THE FUN BEHIND THE BORSTAL
A water park, borstal and abandoned village near Tanum.
Sommarland is located behind an art house that many years ago was a borstal. The house itself is a sight to behold, in the middle of nowhere just beyond an old chapel of sorts carved into the rock face and surrounded by a lake and forests, inside the enormous house are countless bedrooms some of which were once cells, an old bakery in the basement, some exhibition spaces for the artists that now occupy it, and a cluster of neighbouring cottages along a dirt track on the approach.
The area of Sweden, Tanum, was the first municipality to require urine-separation toilets which combats the global shortage of phosphorus. That requirement isn’t one that the borstal pay much mind to given that there’s not even running water here.
Not far from the house you can find the largest Greby in the region - an iron age graveyard, and an UNESCO word heritage site covering 18km at Tanumshede; a site full of bronze age rock carvings. Whilst staying at the borstal I met a lady who was staying there as part of her promise to her husband to visit all the UNESCO sites in the world, something they had planned to achieve together but her husband had died suddenly only a few weeks before and she was continuing on in his memory.
It's not far from the house that you could also visit the Lars Lerin museum at Laxholmen - Lerin is perhaps the greatest artist you've never heard of. Notable for his dark watercolours, and focussing on a tiny fragment of light in an otherwise blackened canvas, Lerin makes the mundane appear dramatic. Lerin's works have since been relocated to Sandgrund in Karlstad, an hour's drive south.
Vrangsholmen, a former borstal
Behind the house however is Sommarland, an abandoned theme park. The park was a wonderful and haunting thing to find in the woods behind the house.
Sommarland was closed in 2004, I first visited the water park in 2010 and as exciting as it was negotiating the rotten climbing frames and water slides it was the houses surrounding the park that I was most drawn to.
The cottages that you first encounter on the road to the borstal and theme park look lived in but on closer inspection it’s clear that they’re empty, they were once occupied by the owner and workers of Sommarland.
Sommarland was opened in the mid 80s but closed due to financial problems, it’s easy to read more into it than that should you properly explore - in one of the caretaker’s houses a passport is left in a top drawer and the beds are made, it looks like someone fled in a hurry.
The same house, tiny from the outside, has an attic kitted out as a bar with a sound system and several rooms branching off from this central bar all which contain mattresses strewn about the floor. It looks like a dingy old brothel, with its 12 beds, but I guess it’s more than likely it was a place for the Sommarland workers to get some sleep during the summer season rather than travelling the many miles home every night.
The small abandoned village near Sommarland
These decaying theme parks that can be found around the world are strange sites to behold - costly to open and almost impossible to claw back any money from the expensive equipment once the companies go in to insolvency, the frames and slides remain in situ until the land is eventually redeveloped.