Text by Steve Vickers
It’s a long way from the Shire, but a farm in the Stockholm archipelago is doing all it can to help fans of JRR Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy feel at home.
Sweden-based British entrepreneur John Higson plans to build a hobbit village on his property on the sleepy island of Muskö. “I’ve always been fascinated by different, weird-ish houses,” he says.
Muskö is an old military site. In the 1950s, 1,500,000m3 of rock was scraped out from beneath the west side of the island to build a secret underground naval base the size of Stockholm’s old town. It had hospitals, workshops and enough space to hide entire warships.
Its existence is no longer a secret, but soldiers and civilians still work there beneath the ground. Getting hold of the farm, though, was a bit of a nightmare.
After Higson spotted a newspaper advert for the property and fell in love with it, the military withdrew it from sale – twice – before finally agreeing to sell. “During that time I looked at 120 other farms around the Stockholm area,” he says. “There was nothing that matched this place.”
Working with Simon Dale, a self-taught architect specialising in fantastical eco-homes, Higson hopes to have his first hobbit house ready for visitors next summer. Partially buried in the sandy subsoil, it will be designed to blend in with the green forests and gentle slopes that stretch across the island, just 50 minutes’ drive from Stockholm.
If the first property is a success, Dale will oversee construction of another 29 hobbit houses over the following three years, creating an entire village fit for wannabe Bagginses. Plans are also being drawn up for a hobbit pub and brewery, where beers will be made from local barley.
“We’re going to have fun making the houses really creative and playful,” says Dale. “But behind it all is the more serious agenda of making buildings that are highly sustainable, using low-tech methods and traditional building techniques.”
To protect the houses from the cold Swedish winters, walls will be insulated with straw and clay, and roofs will be made strong enough to support heavy snow – “these straw-bale buildings have fantastic thermal value,” Higson says. Doorframes and beams will be shaped from timber already on the island, and each building will be dug partially into the ground to provide shelter from the wind.
Higson also has ambitious ideas for the rest of his 260-hectare site, called Drömgården (the Dream Farm). The plan is to transform it into a green community that combines eco-friendly “villages” with a working organic farm, and encourages shared ownership.
In addition to the hobbit village, Drömgården will have up to 270 other places to live or stay, including circus wagons, traditional timber houses and modern apartments, all aimed at giving residents and short-term visitors the chance to share their passion for food, farming and the environment.
“You can be part-owner in a horse, a brewery, a dairy, or a house… Anything,” says Higson. “It’s your dream of the countryside.”
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Three more places under Swedish soil
The secret airbase
Hidden near Gothenburg City Airport is a vast underground airbase, built at the start of the Cold War. Once top secret, the site has been transformed into an interactive aviation museum, complete with flight simulators, a coffee shop and planes kids can scramble on.
The room without a view
This old silver mine at Sala, 120km north-west of Stockholm, has a suite hidden 155m beneath the surface. Temperatures in the tunnels hover just above freezing but the “mine suite”, said to be the world’s deepest hotel room, is kept at a relatively balmy 18°C.
The underground church
Working deep beneath Västerbotten County in 1946, a miner discovered a 2m-high image on one of the walls resembling Christ – apparently caused by detonations in the mine. The space was eventually filled in, but in 1985 a church was built 90m below ground in Kristineberg, close to the original spot. It’s still open for worship, complete with a replica of the Jesus-like image.