From Östersund to Kiruna: Impressions of Lappland in the 1930s

Collections - Posted 20-12-2021

The National Library of Wales is home to the papers of the travel writer Dorothy May Fraser (1902-1980), who wrote prolifically under the pen-name of Maxwell Fraser. Born in London, Dorothy Fraser travelled all over the world for her books, but also wrote several volumes of Welsh interest following her marriage to Edgar Phillips of Pontllan-fraith, Monmouthshire, also known as the poet ‘Trefin’ and Archdruid of Wales.

Fraser’s papers provide a unique insight into travelling around the world from the 1920s to the 1960s, but it is her personal letters sent whilst journeying that are the most intriguing. In particular, her letters that were sent home during her travels through Norway, Sweden and north to Lappland in the 1930s can’t help but evoke a bit of Christmas spirit.

Travelling from Stockholm, Sweden to Östersund in 1937, she notes the ‘beautiful food and very kind people’ (Maxwell Fraser Papers, O/43), before continuing on to Skellefteå. Here Fraser recounts a comical story of taking the post-boat to the island of Ulnô (O/51), where the engine of the boat set on fire (maybe reindeer are more reliable?).

Sweedinsh stamps on letter O/65

Apparently this incident did not deter Fraser from her travels, as after meeting her guide, a Mr Holmquist and his dog Ludde (O/55) in Lappland, she returned in 1938 to explore the area further. A letter dated the 12th January (O/73) describes a fairytale reindeer sleigh ride at Jörn, Sweden, for her birthday, noting that ‘the country looks like fairyland’ with ‘heaps of snow’.

Coloured picture of reindeer pulling sleighs

After staying in Örnsköldsvik, Fraser travelled further north to Gällivare where she encountered ‘snow 3 or 4 feet deep and no shops within a hundred miles’ (O/74) before continuing to Trondheim, Norway. In June 1938, Fraser again returned to Stockholm where she described a traditional woodcarver, Erik Elenius, who presented her with a woodcutting and Lappish carving, before carrying on a long journey up to Kiruna in the far north of Swedish Lappland. Kiruna provided Fraser with what appears to have one of her favourite experiences – canoeing with Ludde the dog on an Arctic lake ‘just like glass… & a most beautiful shade of blue’ (O/86).

Fairytales, snow, reindeer…. it certainly evokes a little Christmas magic.

Lucie Hobson
Assistant Archivist

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