About the trail

The Iron forms the theme of the trail

The Iron Trail is a 30 km long unique hiking trail through beautiful countryside that is also of historical interest. The route of the iron forms the theme of this trail; parts of it are the same as those used in the early 17th century when iron was transported southwards from the Bergslagen mining district to the coast of the Lake Vänern and the town of Kristinehamn. The trail stretches between Hytte and Kristinehamn. You walk through varied countryside past small lakes and ponds, across marshes, through woods and pastures and along an old country road. The surrounding woodland, which is mostly coniferous with some deciduous trees, is a mixture of old and new trees. On your journey you pass several historical sites and places of interest, such as two old iron mills and an Iron Age hill fort. You will catch a glimpse of a manorial estate with deep historical ancestry and will see the unique chapel of Östervik.

Kristinehamn was the centre of iron exports from the Bergslagen district for 100 years, from the middle of the 18th century and onwards. It was from the harbour of Kristinehamn that the iron was shipped out onto Lake Vänern on its way out into the world.

Here follows some information about certain points of interest along the trail.

Hytte

This is the northern most starting point of the Iron Trail. During the second half of the 16th century the homestead Hytte Hemmanet was a place to which iron was brought via water transport from the mining district of Värmland. Duke Karl appointed a general manager, known as a “Factor”, to take charge of these operations. The iron was reloaded from boats/barges either onto land transport heading south or it was stored, awaiting transport. It was here that the returning vessels were reloaded with essential goods for the increasing population of the mining areas, such as grain, butter, salt, spices……. The importance of Hytte for the transport of iron ceased when the demand for iron, and the following increase in its production, required more effective means of transport. A vital factor in this process was when the Norsbäcken canal was dug in the 1630’s.

Bergsjötorp

The smallholding Bergsjötorp, one of the first farms in the area, was built in 1560. The trail passed by here, from the reloading site at Hytte. Both the ore and the iron then continued their journey down to Lake Vänern. There were a number of smelting works and ironworks in operation in Värmland’s mining district as early as in the 1540’s. After Bergsjötorp the Iron Trial makes a turn to the west, before turning south to pass by the old ironworks at Niklasdamm and Älvbron. Traffic was maintained between the Bergslagen mining area and Lake Vänern along this trail up until the 1640’s. Once the canal at Norsbäcken was opened in 1642 the iron was then transported by water to the loading point at Sjöändan, at the southern end of the Bergsjön lake. It was from here that one of the first railways in Sweden was later built, making it much easier to transport iron to the newly founded town of Kristinehamn.

Varrvikshöjden

Advice to all walkers on this present Iron Trail: sit down on a bench, take a deep breath and drink some water before you set off for Varrvikshöjden! As you walk, try to imagine the difficulties and hardships that faced the people who transported the iron over land in the early days. In countryside with almost no paths at all, they had to transport the iron either on heavily loaded packhorses or on some kind of cart that they pulled. When they reached the highest point, here at Varrvikshöjden, they then had to negotiate the downhill section, which was almost as difficult! This was one of the most difficult parts of the journey on the way to the port on Lake Vänern.

Norsbäcken

The iron, which began its land transport at Hytte, was freighted from the southern end of Hyttsjön lake on the western side of Norsbäcken before continuing along the western side of Bergsjön lake. It was on the initiative of the Kroppa mine that the Norsbäcken canal was widened and deepened in the 1630’s to cope with the increasing amount of iron being shipped from the mining districts of Filipstad and Karlskoga to Bro (today’s Kristinehamn.

It was thanks to the immense amount of hard work, carried out under primitive conditions, that the slow-flowing stream between the Hyttsjön and Bergsjön lakes was turned into the Norsbäcken canal. It had a width of around 5 m and was deep enough for vessels loaded with iron to be rowed or, to some extent, sailed on. Their destination was Bergsjöände, which became to be known as Sjöändan, at the southern end of the Bergsjön lake. It was when the new canal was opened that ‟our” ir

on trail began to lose its importance as a transport route, since the iron could then be freighted by water all the way down to Sjöändan.

Bromossen

A “log road” was used to reinforce the existing road that crossed over the Bromossen bog. The use of log roads is an old method of securing transport over waterlogged terrain and involves logs being laid very close together at an angle of 90 to the direction of the road. The logs then distribute the weight of the load and stop it from sinking into the bog. The log road also allows a certain amount of water to flow from one side of it to the other. Today the log road is replaced by a footbridge.

Eskiltorp

Southwest of Bromossen bog lies Eskiltorp, a settler’s cabin from the 1650s, that originally was a part of the Bergsjötorp properties. It was probably built as a resting place for travellers. The forest often stands thick around the Järnleden “Iron Trail”. It was very important for the survival of the mills, too. Many settlers made a living from coaling, using both deciduous and evergreen trees taken from the forest. Many charcoals beds (the remains of small areas where coal stacks were built to produce charcoal) can be found north of Eskiltorp.

Niklasdamm

Niklasdamm was founded in 1666. Before it could be constructed it was necessary to obtain legal documentation confirming the purchase of the land and forest as well a permit, issued by the inspector of mines, stating that there was sufficient forest to meet the needs of the mill and assuring that the mill would not cause problems for any other mill. A conflict arose, however, with Inspector General Crispin Flygge, the owner of the two forges downstream, Älvbron and Spjutbäcken, and later with his widow Sigrid Ekehielm. This time-consuming conflict meant that the tilt hammer at Niklasdamm was not certified until 1687. Iron was forged at the Niklasdamm mill in various forms until the 1860s. Most of the production was exported to England and Germany via Kristinehamn and Gothenburg. When iron was no longer being produced the mill owner turned his interest to the forestry industry after a saw mill was built in 1860. This development, which was typical of that time, followed in the wake of the dying iron industry in Värmland. In 1928 Niklasdamms AB was acquired by Uddeholm. Today only ruins remain of what used to be a sizeable place of work that produced considerable amounts of iron.

Bråne and the Varnan watercourse

The Bråne homestead probably dates back to the 1660s. The name is derived from the word for “burn” in the local dialect; it is assumed to refer to the burn-beating agriculture that was once practised here. The cottage was regarded as belonging to Östervik from the 1690s onwards.

Just south of Bråne the Iron Trail turns down towards the Varnan watercourse and follows it for a short while. The Varnan flows from Niklasdamm in the north, where the two streams Niklasdammälven and Flottmossälven meet. Along and around Varnan there are lovely leafy forest glades, waterside woods and ravines. Varnan is also a reproductions site for trout. From Niklasdamm down to the town of Kristinehamn the watercourse changes character from a fast-flowing stream to a calm river. Beaver and birds are examples of wildlife that can be seen in and around the watercourse. The rich flora includes plants such as ostrich fern, marsh stitchwort and large bitter-cress.

Älvbron

Here, at Älvbron, there was a Crown Mill (i.e. owned by the State) that came into private ownership in the 1650s. It was a small foundry that produced hammered iron up until 1862. Between 1873 and 1890 a narrow-gauge railway track connected the foundry to the railway line that had been constructed between Kristinehamn and Persberg.

The foundries at Älvbron and Niklasdamm used a technology known as “German forging” (tysksmide), which required great amounts of charcoal. The rapid rate of deforestation, however, threatened the existence of the mills so they were allocated special areas of forestland from which they were allowed to take wood to be coaled. A decree in 1846 meant that the mills could buy charcoal from areas farther away, thereby securing production for several decades to come.

Älvbron has an agricultural landscape with fields and leafy groves of trees. The vegetation today around the old tilt hammer is green and lush, and includes trees such as aspen, alder, birch and bird cherry.

Fornborg

The Fornborgen hill fort lies in a part of Sweden where this type of ancient monument is rare. The area south of the fort ruins, built around the Varnumsvik bay, is a reminder of early human activity in the area as well as of historical features such as burial grounds, buried silver treasure and rune stones. Many travellers passed by here on the early, but important, trail between Lake Mälaren and Norway. Situated on an elevated spot, reinforced partly by a dry stone wall and possibly a wooden palisade, it may be that this hill fort was a safe place where people could seek refuge. Although the hill fort is now surrounded by mature forest, its original environment would have been open fields. This would have helped the people to keep watch and sound the alarm when enemies approached. Unfortunately, no archeological finds have been made here. However, the area of the fort has been estimated at approx. 75 x 35 m. It is likely that it was constructed in the Iron Age between 400 and 600 A.D. The fort is No. 53 in the Värmland register of ancient monuments.

Gustafsvik

The farm Vik, later the manor farm Västervik, became Gustafsvik in 1772. It has a long history, situated as it is, at the inner part of the Varnumsviken bay that was populated very early on. This area has traces of settlements dating as far back as the Younger Iron Age. The manor has a place in Swedish history: it was here that Georg Adlersparre came to live after leading the revolution in 1809. His gravestone, along with those of his family, can be found in the cemetery at Gustafsvik. The main building was destroyed by a fire in April 1967 but its two wings still stand. Today it is the home of a modern riding stables, which also has a café. Down by the bay there is a tower for bird watching and admiring the views.

Östervik

The name of this farm originates from the 1660s and is the result of a division in inheritance of Vik farm. A chapel/school was later built here on the initiative of Rudolf, the son of Georg Adlersparre. A member of the upper chamber in the Swedish Parliament, Rudolf became interested in issues concerning children early on in his life. The combined chapel/school was built for the local people: he made sure there was a vestry, a class room with accompanying living quarters, a school kitchen and facilities for bathing. The school was in use from 1872 to 1892. Permission to hold religious services in the chapel was, however, withdrawn for several periods of time.

Between 1922 and 1961 the chapel was the home and studio of the artist Eric Rafael-Rådberg. The building resembled an old haunted castle more than a chapel in the early 1960s, which prompted the enthusiast John Engvall to start a rescue operation. The chapel is now managed by the foundation Österviks kapellstiftelse and the museum in the old dairy shows Rafael-Rådberg’s work. Nowadays, the chapel Österviks kapell is very popular for weddings. Both Östervik and Gustafsvik, just southwest of Östervik, are areas of botanical interest. Some smaller stands of natural forest are now classified as habitat protection areas. The masses of hepatica (blue anemorte) that flower at Östervik in the spring are a delight to see.

Marieberg / Galgviken

At the beginning of the 1700s the shoreline at Marieberg went further inland. All kinds of material were used to fill the area in during the century that followed. Originally, there was a small farm here, in an area that was mostly wooded. Permission was sought in 1720 to build a brickyard but various problems and conflicts regarding property boundaries and land ownership, however, meant that work didn’t start until the 1750s. Judge Bleumer, who then owned the brick works Tegelbrukshagen, changed its name to Marieberg in honour of his wife, Maria.

Purchases and mergers undertaken from 1770 onwards resulted in the estate becoming a manor. Around 100 years later the State intervened and bought the area with the intention of building a mental hospital. This news was not, however, greeted positively by everyone in the neighbouring counties. Once the process of appeals came to an end, building work began in December 1884 according to the plans drawn up by the architect Axel Kumlien. The first patients were admitted in the middle of 1887. For a period of a hundred years Kristinehamns Hospital was one of the biggest mental hospitals in Sweden before changes in mental health care meant that it had to be closed down.

The area has since been remodelled with the help of financial assistance from the EU. Today it includes the art museum Kristinehamns konstmuseum, a housing estate and a centre for small businesses. Much of the original architecture of the area has been preserved.

Just south of Marieberg is the gallows hill Galgbacken. As the name suggests, this was a place of execution/hanging and was well visible from both land and water. At Galgviken there was a transhipment terminal for iron that was in use up until the 1640s. The iron was rowed out to boats waiting on Lake Vänern in the times before the weigh house and town harbour had been established.

Kristinehamn’s Harbour

Kristinehamn was the centre of iron exports from the Bergslagen district for 100 years, from the middle of the 18th century onwards. It was from this harbour that the iron was shipped out onto Lake Vänern on its way out into the world. The iron trade in the town was at its liveliest around the annual Fastingsmarknad market, which was held at the fasting time of Lent, just before the siling season began. This was where the country's mill owners met tradesmen from places such as Gothenburg and, thanks to the great volumes involved, the agreements that were reached came to play a deciding role in the world market price of iron for a long time.

A centre of trade and commerce, Bro was an important 

port of shipment for the iron products of the Bergslag

en mining district. It was here that the original Järnleden iron trail ended. When Bro became the town of Kristinehamn in 1642 trade and industry became centred around shipping and related activities. A harbour and warehouse for iron and grain were built in the town, which also became a storage place for products that were to be transported northwards along the same route.

Most of the bar iron was exported whilst the pig iron was taken to harbours on the west coast of Lake Vänern.