Vassbygdi

“The parishioners that live above this body of water are called ‘Vassbygder’, and the parish continues to stretch east up where the road leads to Hallingdal in Aggershus, straight over one of the branches of the Filefield mountain area. The village’s dead cannot be brought to Vangen’s churchyard without carrying them down the narrow footpaths and over the terrible abyss, either straight on their backs or without a coffin on the carriers of horses or mares until they reach the flat where the dead is finally put in a coffin” (Parish priest Wigeboe on Vassbygdi and the valley of Aurlandsdalen in the 1790s)

the border to the east

At the eastern end of the lake of Vassbygdevatnen you find Vassbygdi’s eastern borders, and here it divides into the three valleys of Aurlandsdalen, Midjedalen and Stondalen. Out of the thirteen farms that make up Vassbygdi, only five of these are found by the water, whilst six of them can be found in the valley of Aurlandsdalen. The farms in the valley are considered hill farms, a type of farm generally found high up in the terrain. The village has always been as focused going eastward as westward in regards to connections and communication. This is due to the road from the hill farms down the valleys and towards the urban area or Aurlandsvangen being both long as well as difficult. As such it was often easier to travel across the mountain to Hallingdal when you wanted to sell the produce from your farm or seasonal farms. The most direct route from Aurland to Hol and the “Hallingskeidmarknaden” markets was believed to be travel via Grindsete to the valley of Stondalen and continuing east from there.

Cupmarks

The village offers a broad spectrum of monuments from the past. As an example, two graves from the Iron Age have been discovered on the farm of Veim, as well as three cup mark stones. The stones are found on a round knoll called “Kvaolahaugen”, where you find a cleared section of 25metres (82ft) above remnants of an old dwelling. Two of the stones contain as many as 10-20 cup marks. The cup marks are small concave impressions that have been pecked into the stone or rock, and are generally found do have been made at the beginning of the Iron Age. The function or meaning behind the cup marks is unknown, but the fact that they are usually found by seasonal farms might mean something. In more recent times the milkmaids were known to put butter in the impressions, and as this might have been the remnants an old tradition, many believe that the marks were made as impressions for offerings such as butter, blood or tallow. If this is the case, the cup marks exist as a source of knowledge in regards to religious beliefs and rituals going far back in time.

the hill farms

The history of Vassbygdi is very much characterised by a focus on the hillside farms, especially those in the valley of Aurlandsdalen. These farms started to become quite famous at the end of the 19th century, both in Norway and abroad, as several of the disused farms were taken into use once again in order to facilitate hikers. The farms had generally been deserted after those who lived there emigrated to America, most likely due to the rising population, crop failures and times of recession in general. Up until this point, the people on the hill farms were used to a partly isolated life in valleys that were less than ideal for travelling through. The only road up the steep hills and mountain sides was by climbing up wooden ladders. As a result any journeys with livestock went over the mountain rather than along the valleys. Starting at the end of 19th century, some of the steeper places were blasted with explosives in order to create narrow “galdar” (steep slopes or mountain sides where a passing point has been created) in order to make the places more passable, examples of these are the Sinjarheimgalden and the Nesbøgalden.

the hike from østerbø to the lake of vassbygdevatnet

One of the popular hiking routes go from the tourist cabin of Østerbø by “riksveg” 50 (Norwegian road classification for a through road where the government is liable for the upkeep, such as a motorway/highway), down the valley of Aurlandsdalen and onto the lake of Vassbygdevatnet. The journey offers up several attractions and deserted farms. The farms of Sinjarheim and Almen have in latter years been going through restorations. In 1922 Sinjarheim became the final farm in the valley to be deserted. Since the restoration work started in 1988, the houses have been in a good condition and are well worth a visit. Many visitors are fascinated by the placement of the building of “Almastova” which has been built underneath a large overhanging rock in order to protect it against landslides and falling rocks.

If an amazing view is what you are after you can travel via the marker Bjørnestigvarden on your trip, a place which was immortalised in a painting by the Danish-Norwegian artist Johannes Flintoe. The painting was made after he went wandring in the valley of Aurlandsdalen in 1819. Not far from here you find a large “jettegryte” (meaning troll pot, called as such because they used to believe these holed out parts in the mountains had been created by trolls) named “Vetlahelvete” (literal translation is little hell). An old legend claims that if you throw a stone in the body of water that is “Svartatjødnet” about 200-300metres (218-328yards) away, the water of Vetlahelvete will start bubbling.

idealism and «Dugnad» efforts

Dugnad is a Norwegian word which means an event where people get together in order to do some (voluntary) work in order to fix something, clean, arrange a party etc., anything really that will benefit the community.

The restoration of the farms in the valley of Aurlandsdalen is the results of exactly such efforts and the collobaration between several groups/organisations. “Aurlandsdalen Kulturlandskap”(The Valley of Aurlandsdalen Cultural Landscape) is a cooperative organisational body for these groups. They work on the restoration and upkeep of buildings, look after the cultural landscape and are responsible for the upkeep of the path itself. One of the groups that are part of the cooperation is “Dugnadsgruppa Aurlandsdalen” (Voluntary Efforts Group of the Valley of Aurlandsdalen) who run the restoration project alongside “Fortidsminneforeningen” (The Society for the Protection of Ancient Norwegian Monuments) and “Aurland Naturverkstad” (Nature workshop). Working alongside these groups are also landowners and craftsmen, The Guidegroup from ANKA (Aurland Nature and Cultural Heritage), Sogn Jord- og Hagebruksskule (SJH: Sogn School of Organic Agriculture and Horticulture), the municipality of Aurland, Aurland and Lærdal Reiselivslag (tourist board) and the Norwegian Trekking Association.

 

(Photo: Ivan Midje Baltov).

 

Undredal

Undredal is a unique village, found pretty much at the midpoint of the Aurlandsfjord. Up until the end of the 1980s the only way to get to the village itself was via the fjord. Thanks to the tunnels you can now travel from the village going both west towards Voss and Bergen and East towards Lærdal and Oslo. The road goes all the way down to the village, where you experience the smallest church in the Nordic countries as well as the famous goat’s cheese produced from the milk of the many goats that live in the valley.

the village and the ancient history

The urban area of the village can be found at the end of the valley of Undredal, centrally placed within the world heritage area. Despite the fjord dividing them, the farms of Horten, Nedberge, Breisnes and Kappadalen also belong to the village, as does Stigen and the hayfields and buildings of Stokko. The village is best known for the small stave church (a church built of wood, with a framework based around vertical posts), which is not only the smallest church in the Nordic countries, but is also one of the oldest churches in Norway. Little is known about the history of the village, bar the church. The oldest archaeological traces can be found in the mountainous areas south of Undredal. Along the wild reindeer’s trek we find hunting contraptions such as built up animal pits, “leiegjerder” (built up borders of stone that formed a path the animal would follow into a trap) and “bogastille” (man built hiding places of stone). These contraptions are hard to date due to the lack of organic material for C14-dating. The archaeologists are as a result reluctant to draw a connection between these contraptions and the first hunters that came to the country in the Stone Age, and hold the opinion that the contraptions were most likely put into use in the early Iron Age. Based on knowledge from other places in the inner parts of Sogn, it is likely that the first permanent settlements in Undredal were at the beginning of the 10th century, although there are no archaeological traces of such a settlement.

the legend of the sisters from undredal

According to an old local legend, there was at one point two sisters who owned the whole of Undredal. They decided they wanted to do something good for the village, and so one of them built the church and the other all of the irrigation canals. One of the sisters settled in Undredal, whilst the other settled at Langhuso. Although this is a legend, there may be elements of truth to it. Evidence has been found of traces of old dwellings at Langhuso, which today is a summer farm for the farmers in the village. One of these dwellings has been C14-dated to around the year 1200, and evidence has also been found that there were irrigation canals where the legends claim they were made.

the church

We know for certain that the village has been populated since the middle of the 12th century. That was the point when the stave church was built, most likely as a private church for a noble man. The oldest sources state that the church was built as a chapel to honour St. Nicholas, one of the most popular saints in the Catholic Church. From the Viking Age up until the Black Death in 1349-50 the Soopætta clan was one of several powerful clans in Aurland. Sources indicate that this clan owned Undredal for a period of time, and it is possible that they were the ones responsible for building the church.

«Undredalsstova” and the cluster farmyard

A smokehouse built in 1736 is the oldest house from Undredal still standing. The “Undredalsstova” (can be translated as the Undredal cottage), as it is called, is now part of the folk museum the Heiberg Collections at Vestreheim in Kaupanger. The building was moved to Kaupanger in 1903, when estate owner Gert Falch Heiberg bought it for the Sogn Folk Museum. It became the first building to have been moved to the museum from someplace else, and it originally served as a sheriff’s cottage in the old cluster farmyard of Undredal, which was next to the church on the western side of the river Undredalselvi. After changes on the farm in 1902, several of the houses were moved from the cluster farmyard, but some of the buildings remain even today.

The smokehouse is built in a way which is very similar to “årestove”, a building similar to a smokehouse built with a slightly elevated fireplace called an “åre” (an oar), usually in the middle of the room. There were no chimneys; instead there was an opening in the roof called a “ljore”, a smoke vent. The smokehouses however generally had a fireplace with a chimney in the corner.

emigration

Church records, village books and emigration lists indicate that Undredal may have had the highest numbers of immigration to America of any village in Western Norway at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century. It is unknown which reason was the strongest driving force behind the emigration, whether it was the conditions at home or the temptation of the conditions in America. Generally speaking it is likely that the population boom and cramped conditions laid the foundation for the emigration.

Undredal, at the centre of world heritage

Undredal plays a central part in the world heritage, both in regards to their placement on the map as well as being a good example of distinctive culture and nature. The village has more goats than it has people, which is part of what gives it its distinctive mark. The village is famous for the goat’s cheese that’s produced locally, and it is so popular that it is hard to keep up with local demand, never mind the demand outside of the local area. The Goat’s Cheese Festival takes place every other year, during the first weekend after the goats have arrived at the second summer farm of Langhuso (25th of July). The festival sees several concerts taking place, as well as pier dances and markets during the day where local produce can be shown in a positive light.

 

Styvi

Styvi is one of the four hamlets, or main farms, in the Nærøyfjord, and consists of two separate farms and the spring farm of Holmo. In addition Styvi has the right to have seasonal farms on Hjølmo and Vassete in Dyrdal, on the other side of the fjord. Before the Nærøyfjord area was given world heritage status, a landscape conservation area was created for Styvi to Holmo in 1991.

the farm name of styvi

From the publication «Norwegian Farm Names» by Oluf Rygh we learn that Styvi has been written in many different ways throughout the times: Styffuenn in 1563, Stiffum in 1603, Stiffuenn in 1611, Stiffue in 1667 and Stive in 1723. Rygh’s interpretation is that the name is put together by stúfr- (meaning stump) and -vin (meaning grass plains) which collectively means “The stump of a tree”. Other name researches hold the opinion that the name reflects the topography of the farm, and its long, narrow fields.

the prehistoric times on the farm

The farm museum has prehistoric axes on display, both one made from stone and one made of iron. There is also an ancient monument on the farms which speaks to a prehistoric period on the farm. This monument is a large cairn with a diameter of 15 metres (49.2ft) and a height of 1.5-2 metres (4.9-6.6ft) with a ditch in the middle caused by digging. One of the local stories claims that the farm of Tufto got its riches from this cairn, but it’s unlikely that it has any truth to it. The cairn is in a highly exposed location, with a good view across the fjord on the flat headland of Holmo. The location may indicate a wish to gain control of the fjord inlet, and is characteristic of cairns that were built in the Bronze Age (1800-500BC). As the only items preserved from the dig is a few lumps of rust, it is impossible to accurately date the cairn, but it certainly indicates a settlement either during the Bronze Age or the Iron Age.

from one to two farms

There are reasons to believe that Styvi was populated prior to the Black Death, and that the farm was cleared by people from Dyrdal, which may explain why Styvi has the right to keep seasonal farms on the Dyrdal side of the fjord. After the plague the farm was once again cleared for use in the 1530s-40s. From this point and until the 18th century the farm cultivated larger and larger areas, which lead to an increase in the yearly fee paid on the leasehold, which is how the size of a farm used to be measured. In 1763 the farm was split in two, most likely due to the farming conditions being good enough to feed two separate families.

the post farmers

When the postal services in Norway were initiated in the 1660s, a postal route was created between Bergen and Oslo, which pretty much followed the same route as the main road today, bar the tunnels between Lærdal and Gudvangen. If the ice settled on the fjord, the route would change and go along the road from Gudvangen to Bakka, over the ice from Bakka to Bleiklindi, and from there along the postal route to Styvi. A special type of vehicle from those days has been preserved; a mixture between a boat and a sledge, and this vehicle can be found at Styvi farm museum. The change of route during icy months led to the 5.5km (3.4miles) long road as a result becoming a central part of the postal route between Bergen and Oslo. The road is still preserved today, and is suitable for walking on whether you have feet or hoofs. The road has undergone some restoration and is a popular trail for walking.

the landscape conservation area

The directorate now known as the Norwegian Environment Agency established the conservation area of Styvi-Holmo, based on the distinctive and the well preserved cultural landscape, the vegetation and the old postal route. The area around Holmo is seen as being of an especially high value, containing “lauvenger”, so called leaf meadows which are natural hayfields where both grass and leaves for fodder are harvested, pollard trees and a seasonal farm scene with buildings. The old postal road is also an important element of the conservation area. The road follows the shoreline along the fjord, and is built up with the support of stone walls and bolt. The walls look good from the water, but they are under a constant threat of being washed away due to the big waves caused by the large boats that travel the fjord. This means they need yearly upkeep. To reduce the risk of walls and beaches in general getting washed out, there is an upper speed limit when traveling on the fjord. Within the conservation area you also find the river of Nisedalselvi, which is protected against any hydro power development.

the farm museum

The conservation of the area was of great frustration to the owners of the farm, Botolv and Kjellaug Hov, who were planning to continue running the farm. Whilst the conservation order put restraints on how to run the farm, there were no arrangements to compensate for any loss of earnings. Thankfully, they didn’t give up!

After the establishment of the conservation area, the use of the old post road as a hiking route increased a lot and a much larger number of tourists came to visit Styvi. In 1993 the farmers opened their own farm museum and café. In the café visitors can amongst other things taste Kjellaug Hov’s now famous waffles. The museum contains a large collection of tools and objects that tell the story of life on the farm in the old days. Botolv Hov himself can master the old crafts, such as the spinning of rope from the bast fibre of linden trees, producing spoons from animal horns and forging bells for livestock. Botolv feels very strongly about passing on these old hand crafting traditions.

 

Stalheim

The farms of Stalheim, Brekke, Sivle and Sivlesøy in the municipality of Voss make up the hamlet of Stalheim. The village may be seen as the gateway to the valley of Nærøydalen and the collective area of the Nærøyfjord World Heritage Park. The name Stalheim most like comes from the name of the steep mountain road leading up to the hamlet, named Stalheimskleiva and means “the farm by Stadall”, from the verb standa/stå which means to stand.

Burial grounds from the Iron Age at the Farm of Sivle

Due to archaeological finds we can follow the settlement on the farm of Sivle back to the early Iron Age. The early part of the 20th century saw amongst other things digging taking place on the so-called “Kjempehaugen” (meaning giant heap), which is found northwest of the farm with the property registration number 1, towards the river. During this dig, two graves were discovered. One of these graves contained a belt stone, weapons, tools and horse equipment, most likely dated to be from during the Migration Period (approximately 400-600AD). Belt stones were pieces of quartzite used to make fire and named as such due to being carried in the belt. The fire was created by hitting an iron tool similar to an awl with the stone. The second grave found during the dig had most likely fell victim to grave robbers at some point as the contents were in disarray. The contents of the grave did however indicate that the person that had been buried there was a man, and that it was from the late Iron Age. The grave from the Migration Period is the oldest archaeological find in the hamlet to date.

The Poet Per Sivle

The famous poet, novelist and newspaper editor Per Sivle was born in Flåm in 1857, and spent the majority of his childhood on the farm of Brekke. Per’s life was marked by tragedy, starting when his mother died when he was only 2 ½ years old. His father dealt in cattle and as such spent a lot of his time travelling, leaving Per to stay with relatives. At age six he moved to Brekke, where he had a good life. Tragedy however kept visiting his life, and he suffered with illness, problems with his eyes, headaches and a gloomy state of mind which is reflected in his poetry. The bright sparks in his life were his wife Wenche Von der Lippe Nilsen from Bergen, and their daughter born in 1888. Despite the happiness brought by his wife and child, Per Sivle took his own life on the 6th of September 1904, aged only 47.

Per Sivle’s poetry is well known amongst several generations of the Norwegian people, most famous being the song “Den Fyrste Song” (The First Song) and the story “Berre Ein Hund” (Only a Dog). His poetry often portrayed the weakest in society as well as incidents from the environment where he grew up.

DRAKEHIET; the dragon’s den

Sivle’s story “Only a Dog” is about a Scottish Sheepdog who tries to save his English owner, who has fallen to his death upon attempting to reach the so-called “Dragon’s Den”. The Dragon’s Den, or Drakehiet as it is named in Norwegian, is a hole in the mountain on the way to the valley of Jordalen by the base of the mountain of Jordalsnuten, which in earlier times was completely isolated. The road via the farm of Nåli was the only travel worthy summer road, where a wire had been put up to protect travellers against the cliff below. According to local stories, the hole housed a dragon with seven heads, one for each of the valleys visible from the top of the mountain.

the road between voss and the valley of nærøydalen

In the booklet “Hotel Stalheim and the valley of Nærøydalen”, most likely written at the start of the 20th century, Professor Dr. Yngvar Nielsen describes the road between Voss and Stalheim as a goat trail. “It was one of these roads, in relation to which it has often been said, that the goats must have been the first kind in charge of the roads. As a result, not many travellers would want to travel on the roads of Voss and Stalheim when making their way from Bergen to Eastern Norway”. This road between Eastern and Western Norway has been an incredibly important route for travel going back to the oldest of times, but the road was not regulated until the creation of the postal route between Oslo and Bergen in 1647. Along this route, some of the farms were given the responsibility of distributing the post, and amongst these was the farmer at Stalheim.

Stalheim Hotel

We know that Stalheim offered transport and accommodation as early as the Middle Ages. The highly trafficked postal route lead to an increased need for the transport offers at Stalheim. In 1885 Johann Anderson moved his hotel business from Vossevangen, the administrative centre of the municipality of Voss, to Stalheim. At that point the hotel could already room 150 guests. The hotel quickly grew a reputation both within Norway as well as abroad for their high standards and the breath-taking views. Kaiser Wilhelm II was one of their most famous guests during the early years of the hotel, and one of the scenic overlooks are named after the Kaiser; “Wilhelmshøi”. Here you can also find a memorial stone whose inscription translates as: “In memory of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s visit to Stalheim”. The hotel found at Stalheim today is the fourth in the line of hotels in the hamlet.

hikes in the hamlet

One of the lovely hikes in the area starts at Stalheim and ends up at the tenant farm of Nåli, which belongs to the farm of Sivle. The farm is found on a mountain ledge along the old road between Stalheim and the valley of Jordalen. The hike takes about an hour, and journeys through dramatic and breath-taking scenery. The road has been made secure and has been improved since the old days and is an exciting place to travel along for locals and tourists alike. It is also possible to walk along the old royal road which was the road travelled to Stalheim prior to development of the improved vehicular road of Stalheimskleiva between 1844 and 1849. The walk to the waterfall only takes about 15 minutes and suits people of all ages. The road is also wheelchair accessible and wheelchair friendly.

 

Gudvangen

The Village of Gudvangen

At the inner most part of the Nærøyfjord we find the village of Gudvangen, which stretches from the hamlet of Stalheim in the western parts of the valley of Nærøydalen to the village of Dyrdal further out in the fjord. The farms of Ramsøy, Gudvangen, Skjerpi, Hemri, Hylland and Solbjørgo are all part of the village. The village has been known for the urban area by the dock, offering accommodation, transport and trade since the 19th century.

the oldest farm in the village

Topography and archaeological discoveries help us reach an opinion on which is the oldest farm in the village. A lot of the area consists of the bottom of the valley either side of the large river of Nærøydalselvi. When taking into consideration sunlight and flooding, this area would not have been a good place for permanent settlements further back in time. If you however consider the farm of Ramsøy, this farm is found on a natural balcony in the area and quite possibly has the best views towards the fjord. It may not be a coincidence that that the oldest find in the area was on this farm; a Western Norwegian axe made of black basalt rock which can be dated to the late Stone Age.

the postal route and mass tourism

When state official Hannibal Sejerstedt opened the postal route between Bergen and Oslo in 1647, good roads were developed going over the mountainous areas of Lærdal and Filefjell, as well as between Gudvangen and Voss. This led to Gudvangen becoming an important hub for the traffic between Eastern and Western Norway. Gudvangen was given guesthouse and trading privileges by the king in 1734, leading to Gudvangen taking on a role previously held by Arnehus in Dyrdal. When the railway between Bergen and Voss opened in 1883, travel along this stretch showed a noticeable increase leading to a tourism industry in Gudvangen that was more than capable of standing on its own two feet. Tourists from the boat that came from England and docked in Bergen would be taken into the fjords by the transport company Fylkesbaatane, assuming they weren’t already on board their own tourist ships. As many as 200 horse carts could be waiting in Gudvangen to welcome those who were travelling on to Stalheim, Voss and Hardanger and many of the farmers made a lot of money offering these rides to tourists.

building customs in the urban area

The influx of tourists in the 19th century led to the building of more hotels and other buildings in the centre of Gudvangen. The fact that the place went through such an intensive building phase means that the area has a distinctive 19th century look, mostly influenced by the Swiss chalet style. The urban area of Gudvangen is of a great cultural importance to the county of Sogn of Fjordane, as it shows a clear picture of the changes and development that took place as a result of the tourism boom in the 19th century. A distinguished example of the Swiss chalet style of building in the area is the Vikingvang hotel, which consists of the main building built between 1870 and 1880 and an extension built in the 1890s. Two of the old guesthouses from Arnehus were purchased at an auction in 1739 and rebuilt in Gudvangen. At one point these buildings were utilised as annexes by the hotel.

the village today

Gudvangen is a vibrant village with approximately 90 residents. In addition to traditional agriculture, the inhabitants of Gudvangen make their living through trade and industry, but still first and foremost through tourism. In addition to the hotel and camping sites, the focus on tourism initiated the establishment of a Viking village, where the yearly Viking markets play an important part. The Viking project also led to the reconstruction of a Viking ship that was found on the island of Fjørtoft in Sunnmøre, the southernmost district in the county of Møre og Romsdal. This ship is used by the people involved with the Viking project for trips on the fjord, and is additionally meant to exist as an experience to be offered to tourists. Moving on from tourism, there is also a considerable value to be found in the deposits of anorthosite in the area between Gudvangen and the village of Mjølfjell in the municipality of Voss. The anorthosite contains aluminium oxide, which is an important raw material in the production of the metal aluminium, and is also used in explosives, artificial fertiliser as well as in the paint and paper industries. There has been knowledge of the occurrence of anorthosite since early on in the 20th century, and there have been plans to carry out mining on a large scale for a considerable amount of time. Almost 200,000 tons of rock was excavated in 2005, which was then exported and used for amongst other things the manufacturing of isolation materials.

The extraction of the anorthosite can amongst other things help create more local jobs, but at the same time there is an obvious challenge in carrying out the mining work in a way that does not interfere with the goals set for the area due to its UNESCO World Heritage status.

 

Fresvik

the village of fresvik

The village of Fresvik is found on the southern side of the Sognefjord, where it enters the Aurlandsfjord. The village today is part of the municipality of Vik, but it used to be part of the municipality of Leikanger. The village mainly makes its money through traditional agriculture and tourism based on the beautiful nature and its rich cultural heritage.

the place name of fresvik

The name of the village was originally Frøysvik, named so after the Norse God Frey (Frøy). We know of Frey from Norse mythology as being one of the Vanir Gods, who towards the end of the war with the Aesir was traded to these as a hostage along with his father Njord and his twin sister Freya. Above all else Frey was the God of soil fertility and the weather, along with wealth, happiness and peace. There is a lot of evidence that points towards Frey being very much a worshipped God in the late Iron Age, a time when the soil and growing things on the land was of a very high significance to the people that lived on the farms and lived off the land. Per H. Bøthun has suggested that the farm of Hov may have been where “hovet” (a Norse place of worship) dedicated to Frey may have been.

the first farm

There is a lot of information to suggest that Bøtun is the oldest farm in the village, and that all the other farms branched off from that farm. This is in no small part based on the study of etymology, and the origin of the word “bø” which comes from the Old Norwegian “bær/byr” meaning farm. When linked with the word “-tun” (a word used to refer to a yard, in this case on a farm), it is an easy assumption to make that the name of the farm means the “yard of the farm”. This may have come about as the population on the farm increased, and more of the farm was divided up to become separate farm yards. In regards to such an assumption, the name reflects a need to name the oldest yard of the farm area.

the glacier fresvikbreen

The glacier Fresvikbreen covers an area of about 15km2 (5.8 sq mi), and is found east of the mountain of Huldakyrkja, east of the village of Fresvik. The highest point of the glacier is at 1648m.a.s.l., but the arms of the glacier starts at 12-1300m.a.s.l.. Unlike on the main glacier (Fresvikbreen) a few hundred meters away (100m=328ft), travel along the arms of the glacier has been possible without the use of rope. South of the glacier you find the mountains of Langafjellet and Handadalseggi at 1511m.a.s.l. and 1431m.a.s.l. Hunting contraptions made to hunt reindeer consisting of “leiegjerde” (built up borders of stone that formed a path the animal would follow into a trap), animal pits and “bogastille” (man built hiding places of stone) have been found on Handadalseggi. The stone borders are also found by the glacier itself, some of which disappear underneath the ice. This proves that the glacier was less wide at the point when the hunting contraptions were in use, during the Iron Age, or earlier.

a «Huldre» tale from the valley of heljedalen

A “hulder”, is a mythical Norwegian creature said to be a beautiful woman, whose supernatural origin is only apparent due to her having the tail of a cow.

East of the Glacier of Fresvikbreen you find the valley of Heljedalen, where in the past you found a mountain farm. A tale from this seasonal farm claims that it was plagued by “huldrer”, this being especially true for one of the young milkmaids. Every Saturday she would be chased by a “hulderkall” (a male hulder, said to be nowhere near as beautiful as its female counterpart, but instead quite the opposite) who wanted to marry her and his entourage. The milkmaid’s boyfriend had to travel to the mountain farm and play his mouth harp in order to keep the supernatural creatures at bay, but one night he lost his harp and the “hulder” party began to dress the girl as a bride. It ended with the boyfriend having to go fetch the minister, who carried holy fire through the valley, scaring the beings away. From that day forward the valley was called Heljedalen, helje meaning holy.

the valley of fresvik-jordalen

All of the farms in the village had seasonal mountain farms in the valley of Fresvik-Jordalen. The path to the seasonal farm is 30km (18,6miles) long, and is far above the sea level. In some places the road crosses paths with the outer parts of the glacier, and the highest point is at 1240m.a.s.l. at a place called Rjupeskar. One of the landmarks on the path is the built up cairn “Fresvikvarden” which has seen sacrifices being made there up until modern times. In the village book published in 1965 Per H. Bøthun suggested that the cairn, which supposedly was originally named “Røssevarden” was built to honour the Norse God Frey. This is based on that the Old Norwegian word “hross” means horse and the knowledge of Frey having connections to horses and the worship of the animals. The valley of Fresvik-Jordalen is known for offering very good pastures, and we know of several examples of disagreements between people from Fresvik and Vik in regards to the rights to using the seasonal farm area.

fresvik today

There are currently approximately 280 inhabitants in the village of Fresvik, and excluding the farms themselves “Fresvik Produkt” is the leading employer. The village comes alive in summer when it is a popular destination for tourists both from Norway and abroad. The beautiful nature and the hiking opportunities are the biggest attractions.

(Photo: Ruben Bøtun).

Flåm

Flåm parish is made up of the village of Flåm and the valley of Flåmsdalen and it is found at the inner end of the Aurlandsfjord. The village has gone from being a very typical Western Norwegian village, made up of different sized farms, tenant farms and seasonal farms, to becoming quite the tourist attraction. This is in no small part due to the opening of the Bergen Line (Bergensbana) in 1909 and the Flåm Line (Flåmsbana) in 1940.

the first settlement

The archaeologist Svein Indrelid thinks that the farms of Fretheim and Flåm should be viewed as the oldest in the village, an opinion he has based on topography, vegetation history and archaeological finds. Large burial grounds were found on both farms, and items from the early Iron Age indicate that the original farms are at least 2000 years old. Most finds on other farms, Brekke being an example, have mainly been from the Viking Age (800-1050AD). The dating of the items, especially when taken in context with topographical finds suggests that Brekke was a part of Fretheim up until some point in the late Iron Age (600-1050AD).

the ironworks in the mountain

At the same time as the first settlements appeared down in the valley, there was production and forging of iron on a large scale in the mountain by the valley of Flåmsdalen, by the Seltuftvatnet lake, in the valley of Gudmedalen and by the Ryggvedlevatn lake. In addition to this, pollen charts indicate the area was also used for pastures. This suggests the ironworks may have been run by farmers from the valley of Flåmsdalen, who also utilised the mountain area for summer farms.

farming and emigration

Up until the 19th century several farms and tenant farms developed from those two original farms from the early Iron Age. Although most of the farms were good farms, there was also recessions and poverty as a result of the plague late in the middle ages and war during the 17th and 18th century. Like many of the villages in Aurland, Flåm was hit by an emigration wave in the 19th and 20th century. Some of the first people to emigrate from the municipality of Aurland were a family of four from the farm of Midtgarden in Flåm. They travelled to America on a ship called Juno in 1844, spending 5 ½ weeks on their journey across the sea. According to sources, 500 people immigrated to America from Flåm between 1844 and 1914.

revolutionary changes in the farming community

It goes without saying that the emigration drained the village, both of people and of resources, and on top of this the arrival of industrialisation swallowed up a lot of the workforce. The combination of these conditions made it difficult to continue the traditional farming activities and as a result the farms changed from being self-sufficient to needing to make money. New agricultural machinery was taken into use and the farm land changed. The changes to the farm land lead to the traditional cluster and terrace farms being divided up and the houses of the farms became new farms. The old system of mixed mowing fields were changed into larger mowing fields belonging to each farm, making them more user friendly.

The Rallarvegen road

Rallarvegen (“rallar” meaning someone who works in road construction, especially railways, “veg” meaning road) was a road created as a result of the building of the railway between Bergen and Christiania (Oslo) between 1894 and 1909. In order to build the railway, you needed construction roads going from the villages up to the mountains. The road goes from Haugastøl to Myrdal, via Flåm and then to Voss. At its highest point the road is 1300m.a.s.l. Those who built the railway in Norway were called “rallarar”, which is why the road was later given the name it has today. At its busiest, 2400 people were working on the Bergen Line.

In 1974 the Rallarvegen was opened up as a cycle route, but it only became popular to use in the late 1980s. Since then the cycle route has become a popular holiday attraction, and is used by approximately 20000 cyclists a year. Rallarvegen remains a good example of the construction methods used at the beginning of the 20th century, with walls and bridges from the construction period still standing.

the flåm line

The Flåm line travels through the breath-taking Western Norwegian landscape with steep mountainsides, waterfalls and rivers. This bit of railway is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Norway. The line became a reality when during the construction of the Bergen Line, it was decided that a branch line was to be built from the Bergen Line going down to the Sognefjord. It was decided in 1916 that the line would run from Myrdal down to Flåm. This branch line had a lengthy construction phase, going from 1923 to 1946. Due to the steepness of the terrain 1/3 of the line goes through tunnels. Landslides and accidents were quite common in connection with the line construction work throughout those years.

The line has been functional since 1941 and it is today mainly seen as a regular tourist route. The old station houses the Flåm Line Museum with exhibits on the history of the railway as well as items from the construction period.

 

The Wildlife

Plants and animals are important parts of the wild world heritage. Several climatic zones, ranging from the alpine areas in the high mountains down to the warm valley floors and mountainsides lead to a highly varied fauna and flora. This article deals with the most important biological relationships that characterises this area.

The relatively young rock phyllite creates the ideal growing conditions for plants that need lime to grow, and it also ensures a wide biological variety in the area. Consequently, the area is of great interest to botanists and others interested in plant life. The kind of vegetation which is seen as dominant parts of the scenery in the area includes amongst other things hardwood deciduous forests and primeval forests along the fjord, in addition to hayfields and pastures with some pollard trees.

There are a number of areas in the mountains containing bogs and lakes which are of great importance to the wetland birds. The bogs of the Grånosmyrane nature reserve is protected primarily because of its rich bird life. The Nærøyfjord area is rich in birds of prey with a number of nesting species.

In terms of Nordic game, we find amongst others herds of wild reindeer in the mountains and a stable deer herd in the hillsides and in the valleys. There are few predatory animals in the area, but the number of wolverines has most likely increased in the last decade and lynxes are spotted at regular intervals.

There are many rivers in the area where salmon and sea trout spawn, such as the rivers of Nærøyelvi, Flåmselvi, Lærdalselvi, and Aurlandselvi. Fishing for salmon in the river of Aurlandselvi is no longer allowed due to low fish stocks, and the watercourse in Lærdal has been infected by the notorious salmon parasite Gyrodactilus Salaris and is currently undergoing a course of treatment of aqueous aluminium and sulfuric acid.

There are many areas in the Nærøyfjord that are untouched and characterised as wilderness. These areas are of great value for both research and referencing in regards to plant- and animal life.

some of the special birds you may be lucky enough to spot in the area

  • Golden eagle
  • Common kestrel
  • Rough-legged buzzard
  • Gyrfalcon
  • White-tailed sea eagle
  • Northern goshawk
  • Eurasian sparrowhawk
  • Merlin
  • White-backed woodpecker
  • Rare ducks

TRY YOUR LUCK AT FISHING IN THESE RIVERS

  • Nærøyelvi (salmon and trout)
  • Flåmselvi
  • Lærdalselvi has been infected by the notorious salmon parasite Gyrodactilus Salaris and is currently undergoing a course of treatment of aqueous aluminium and sulfuric acid.

 

FORESTS

  • The hardwood deciduous forests along the Nærøyfjord and the Aurlandsfjord are diverse with a high proportion of linden trees.

  • There is also a well-developed linden forest at Morki which is at the entrance to the Nærøyfjord, where amongst other things you can find the rare hardwood forest related species drooping woodreed.
  • Denser pine forests are found in the valley of Nordheimsdalen. The upper parts of the valley have more of a primeval forest feel to them.
  • There is also an old pine forest found at Legdene above the bay of Lægdaviki.
  • We find unique pine forests both at the gully of Hausagjelet in Revsnes and on the hillside to the east of Instegjelet above the hamlet of Indre Frønningen in the Bleia nature reserve. The same is also found at the landscape conservation area Bleia-Storbotnen, more specifically at Kristenkamben. At Hausagjelet we find an endangered cryptogam flora (spore-reproducing plants) which is generally found in primeval forests that have a high number of aspen trees.

(Photo: Rein Arne Golf).

Frønningen

The village of Frønningen is in the municipality of Lærdal and is found between Revsnes and the inlet to the Aurlandsfjord. The village borders Kaupanger and Fresvik along the fjord, on land it borders areas belonging to Aurland and Lærdal. The mountain of Bleia is east-southeast if the village and is no less than 1700m.a.s.l. Bleia Nature Preserve and the woods belonging to Indre (Inner) Frønningen up towards the mountain are part of the world heritage area the West Norwegian Fjords.

the Name Frønningen

The etymological meaning of the name is unknown, but one of the suggestions is that it means «well fertilised, fat or rich soil”. A lot of people hold the opinion that this does not fit with the actual conditions. A different interpretation of the name is as such “fråde”, taken from the waterfall at Frønningen which may have held the name Frønningr.

the early history

There are only a few archaeological finds that indicate human activity in the area prior to the Middle Ages. One such find as a nice axe made from rock, with a hole drilled for the shaft, aptly named a “skaftaholøks” a “shaft hole axe”. This dates back to when agriculture became part of the village life, towards the end of the Stone Age or at the beginning of the Bronze Age. The other two finds are an axe and a spear, which most likely indicate that there were activities in the area in the early Iron Age, meaning the period between 600-1050AD. Usually such finds are connected to burial grounds, but no visible signs of graves have been found in the area.

Whilst some of the farms in the village are by the beach, several of the farms can be found on a 4-500meter (1312-1640ft) high plateau called Flata or Åsen, which at one point was called “Lagmannsås”. The oldest settlement in the village can be found here, whilst the farms by the beach are slightly younger. Written sources indicate that three farms were inhabited during the Middle Ages; Lagmannsås, Lagmannsvik (Buene) and Indre (Inner) Frønningen. Buene was originally a docking place/boathouse space belonging to the farm of Lagmannsås. The farm was most likely given its name for being owned by a “lagman” a (law)man whose responsibility it was interpret the law. According to the tales the lawman was placed here by King Sverre whose rule was at the end of the 12th century. He is most famous for being excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church for giving little credence to the wishes of Rome. The written sources also tell us that the estate of Frønningen was part of the aristocratic estate of the Kvålsætti clan in Sogn as early as the 13th and 14th century. During the 14th century the estate became a subject of the monarchy. It is fair to estimate that at least parts of the village would have been left deserted after the Black Death (1349-1350).

the estate

For a considerable amount of time the Lem family owned large properties in Frønningen. It is believed that Hans Pedersøn Lem first inherited the properties from his mother, Mrs Inger from Austrått (a famous noble woman, whose name inspired a play by the playwright Henrik Ibsen). When Hans died, the land was amongst others sold to some people from Bergen who was in the sawmill industry. Lagmannsås most likely became the aristocratic estate of the Lem family in the 1620s after Nils Pedersen Lem bought the property as a part of a larger collection of land estates in Sogn. The family owned the Frønninen Estate up until 1869. Jan Clausson Rumohr, from the farm of Rikheim in Lærdal, married into the Lem famly and he inherited the estate after the last member of the Lem kin died without having leaving any living descendants. The estate remains property of the Rumohr family today, and the current owner is Vilhelm Rumohr.

the woods and the sawmills

There is no evidence of sawmilling activities in Frønningen prior to the Black Death. The discovery of an axe from the Iron Age may however indicate that the woods have always played an important part in the village. It’s only with the development of the Dutch shipping trade, shipbuilding and mining, along with the emergence of cities in the 16th and 17th century that written sources exist in relation to the wood and sawmilling activity in Frønningen. Several saws were built in the village, and at the busiest period there were no less than six active water powered frame saws. Only one of these still exist: “Gamle Sagi” (the Old Saw). The large log flume used to transport the timber from Flata down to the fjord is no longer intact, but there are remnants of it that remain visible. The efficiency of the sawmill operations increased significantly after the saws were built near the timber woods. The intense operations has led to there not being a lot of timber forest left in Frønningen, however the growth conditions for the wood is good, and in a few more years the timber forest should once again be of a significant size.

The School, the post and the ferry

Whilst the Lem and Rumohr families had a governess or a private tutor for their children, the other children in the village attended school every other day. The first school was found by “Kvedhushaugen”, close to Nyborg. A new school building was built in 1961-62, right next to the farm of Stølen on Flata. Most of the children had a very challenging road to school. This is perhaps especially true for the children that lived in Buene, who had an hour’s hike up the valley of Buadalen in order to get to school. Some of the other children, such as the ones that lived in Indre (Inner) Frønningen and Vetlefrønning (vetle meaning little), had to travel across water to get to school and as a result had to live away from home, for example on the farm of Stølen.

The transport company Fylkesbaatane began their first route in Sogn in 1858. After a bit of pressure from the owner of the estate, the company agreed to the boat making a stop at Frønningen when given a signal to. This made trade possible, as well as the exchange of post and telegrams. The post and telegram office was run by the estate owner and was found in the main house up until around 1965, after which the office was moved down to the pier.

Frønningen in modern times

Frønningen played a very important role during the final two weeks of World War 2, as the resistance group «Siskin» had their base there along with their weapon storage. Since the war the population has seen a steady decline, and as of 2007 the village was left with approximately 15 permanent residents. Frønningen Grendelag (community group), which was established in 1991, have made a great effort to keep Frønningen as a vibrant village, despite the low population numbers. Frønningen Turistservice (Tourist Services) opened a restaurant and village store by the pier in 1998, but this has since closed down.

Today Frønningen is the largest forest estate in Western Norway, with a collective area of 65000 acres, of which approximately 50000 acres is woodland. When going to Frønningen it is possible to pay a visit to the main house, as well as viewing the frame saw and the farming museum which is made up of old “sognehus”, houses typical of the area, collected by the artist Knut Rumohr.

It is possible to be let ashore at Frønningen when travelling on the ferry between Kaupanger and Gudvangen, if the request is made. Just remember to make arrangements for the ferry to pick up back up again!

 

(Photo: Magnhild Aspevik)

Dyrdal

A small axe made from greenschist from the Stone Age may indicate that there has been a settlement in the village of Dyrdal by the Nærøyfjord for a long time. Other finds, such as a cairn on the farm of Drægo, and an area on the farm of Dyrdal with three cairns that date back to the late Iron Age, is further evidence of an early settlement. The hamlet is known for its distinctive cluster of farmhouses by the fjord and for a hospitable environment for travellers on the mountain farm of Drægo. The hamlet, which at one point had well over a hundred inhabitants, no longer has any farms that are in regular use.

Evidence of hunting and animal trapping

Dyrdal is a hanging valley which stretches northwest from the western side of the Nærøyfjord. By the fjord you can find the farms of Arnehus and Dyrdal, the latter on what used to be a river delta, where the houses were safe from avalanches. In the middle of the valley you find the farm of Drægali (part of the farm of Drægo), whilst Drægo is at the top of the valley. The valley ends up at the mountain of Handadalseggi, 1453m.a.s.l..

Above Drægo, on the two mountains Langafjellet and Handadalseggi, between the valley of Styvisdalen and Langafjellet you find a large area of hunting contraptions consisting of “leiegjerder” (built up borders of stone that formed a path the animal would follow into a trap) animal pits, “bogastille” (man built hiding places of stone), “skremmesteinar” (rock contraptions used to scare the wild reindeer in the right direction), “dyrestup” (steep slopes where the animals would fall to their deaths, or be killed by the hunters) and clefts.  The system was created with hunting reindeer in mind, and worked in such a way that the animals were scared towards the animal pits and steep slopes using the stone borders and rock contraptions. When the animals fell down the animal pits or steep slopes, retrieving the catch was an easy job for the hunters. The animals were brought down to Dyrdal from the pits and slopes in the valleys of Handadalen and Tundalen via Drægo and Drægeli. The farm names are reminders of what used to occur; the animals getting “dragged down” the valley. The hunting contraptions are evidence that organised hunting took place a very long time ago, perhaps as early as the Iron Age (500BC-1000AD).

dyrdal in the middle ages

A document from the 1370s regarding the sale of a piece of land indicates that Dyrdal, unlike many of the other hamlets, didn’t suffer great depopulation during the Black Death. Materialistic finds have also been discovered that prove that the hamlet was populated in the Middle Ages. The finds in question are related to four dwellings on the farm of Vassete, dwellings which according to the village book author Åsmund Ohnstad are the right size and shape to be from that era. The hamlet also has an oral tale about a church, which was supposed to have stood on Kolgrov, outside of Arnehus in the middle ages. Investigations carried out in other parts of the Western Norway has shown that such tales may have their basis inthe truth, making the tale perhaps even more interesting.

Life in the Village

Like many other places in the area, there was a wide variety of resources for income in Dyrdal. In addition to keeping animals and agriculture, the outlying fields provided important additions to the farming economy besides just hunting. In the middle of the 19th century the summer farm of Lægdene had a great pine forest that was cut down. The name of a river, Sagelvi (sag meaning saw), which lies below the summer farm also indicates that the area had a sawmill early on. A form of pollarding of alder, birches and linden trees was important in harvesting fodder for the animals during the winter. The branches of the trees had to be kept thin to be used as fodder, and so the trees were kept short at a reasonable height to be worked on, so that the new branches could be cut down, dried and transported to the farm either by boat or by sledge during the winter.

The court and Guesthouse

Dyrdal was home to the public court for the Nærøy area from 1737 and well into the 19th century. The court buildings were by the water on the farm of Arnehus, which had also been given guesthouse privileges. It is an easy assumption to make that Arnehus and Dyrdal were given court and trade roles due to its long standing tradition of being a loading dock for the hunting products. As the road on land between Gudvangen and Bergen developed further and further, the traffic pattern changed and Arnehus became increasingly less central. This resulted in Gudvangen taking over the guesthouse privileges, leading to some of the houses from Arnehus being brought to Gudvangen in 1875 and rebuilt there for guesthouse purposes.

the wise man and the hospital

One thing that set Dyrdal apart is that they had their own hospital in the 19th century. This was thanks to a wise man called Jens Larsen Drægelid, who was originally a farmer on the farm of Drægeli. After having read up on traditional plant medicine he learned the art of medicine and became a highly regarded village doctor. Jens found the herbs and plants needed for his medicinal work at “alle slag skòri” and Solaløysa on the eastern side of the fjord. When Jens’ wife, Synneval Olsdotter Dyrdal died in a fall, their son took over the farm and Jens built himself a house as well as a cottage for receiving his patients further down the valley towards the farmyard of Dyrdal. His hospital, called Drægalien, had a bed capacity for up to eight patients.

Dyrdal today

Dyrdal got its dock in 1926, and just three years later their own post office. The post office is now closed, and the village no longer has any permanent residents. Dyrdal today is a popular destination for hikers, who on their walks get to experience the distinctive cluster yard on the terrace above the water. In addition to this travellers can get a meal, accommodation and experience walks inspired by the place’s cultural history at Drægo which is open during the summers.

 

Bakka

The hamlet of bakka

The small hamlet of Bakka includes the farms of Bakka and Tufto. When traveling inland in the Nærøyfjord, these farms will be the last that the boat passes before arriving at the end of the fjord in Gudvangen. The hamlet is probably most famous for its white church, which was designed by a famous 19th century Norwegian architect named Christian Henrik Grosch, who was also responsible for a large part of the urban development in the capital, then known as Christiania. The hamlet is also known for the popular World Heritage Hike which takes place every year and has its starting point between Bakka and Tufto.

BORGA, The fortress

Directly southeast of the building with bnr.(property registration number)2, furthest south in the hamlet you find a small elevation named “Borgahaugen” (translates as the Fortress Mound). Oral traditions state that there used to be a “bygdeborg” on this mound, an old-fashioned elevated line of defence. Whilst this is an exciting tale, when looking at the placement of the mound, it differs from the traditional placement of a bygdeborg. In order to make an appropriate refuge, such a fortress should be on a peak in the terrain, preferably with a very steep incline leading to it, making it easy to keep enemies out by erecting stone walls in places otherwise accessible. Norwegian archives may offer an explanation for the Borg name, as it was also sometimes used in relation to burial mounds and cairns, and apparently Borgahaugen at some point was home to a cairn.

Female cairn and weaving

Several loom weights were discovered in a second cairn, approximately 200metres (approximately 219 yards) north of the farmhouse. The loom weights were most likely shaped from soapstone or slate, and were used as weights at the bottom of the warp on a warp-weighted loom. The warp-weighted loom was primarily used towards the end of the Iron Age and during the Viking Age, and weaving was seen mainly as women’s work. The principles of the technique is that the person doing the weaving remains standing throughout performing the work, no shuttle is used, and the shed is changed by using the hands. In addition to this the weft thread is pushed into place with a beater.

a decent farm by the fjord

It’s relatively certain that it can be assumed that Bakka and Tufto were originally parts of the same farm, seeing as they are referred to as inner and outer Bakke in written sources up until the 17th century. Outer Bakke (Tufto) wasn’t made a separate farm until around 1750, although at the turn of the century the farm had a much larger population compared to the other farms by the Nærøyfjord. This indicates that the farm was relatively big. The fact that the owners of Tufto in the 18th century were viewed as affluent people also indicates that the farm did well financially. Apparently the riches of the farmer on Tufto was so grand, that there were rumours that he had gotten said riches from the cairn at Holmo, on the other side of the fjord. More likely however to be the truth is that people on Tufto were very proficient both as workers, and as traders.

Utilising the outlying Fields

The farms in the hamlet of Bakka made a lot of their income on the outlying fields, the seasonal farms were especially important in determining how many animals the farms were able to keep and feed. All in all, there have been six seasonal farms attached to the two farms: Flåtane, Seltuft, Stølsnes, Rimstigen, Breidalen and Røyrdotten. The road to the mountain farms were originally well developed paths formed from the traffic of the hoofed farm animals, in places supported by built up walls of stone. The path shares its names with one of the farms; Rimstigen. In Johan Fritzner’s Dictionary of the Old Norwegian Language he describes the word link –rim as an Old Norwegian word meaning a long, thin chip of wood or a strap. This indicates that the road’s name may be a wordplay on something that is long and narrow.

Place names often tell the story of what took place on the farms and in the outlying fields in the past. At Bakka we find a place known as “Kolmilebakken”, kol meaning coal, which indicates that charcoal produced from wood probably served as a source of income generated from the outlying fields at some point. Along the path to the seasonal farms there are several elm trees that show signs of pollarding. This was likely mostly utilised as a resource by the many tenant farmers, whose other resources included mowing of the outlying fields as well as fishing. The houses of the tenant farmers were found right by the water and the plots and stone walls are still very much visible, along with several of the old boathouses.

The White church

Sources from the 14th century tell us that the church in Undredal was the landowner and they received rent on the land from the farm of Bakka. Towards the end of the 18th century the farmers were given a chance to purchase the church and the land from the king, and thus became the freeholders. After having spent several centuries under the parish of the church in Undredal, a lot of discussion was had in regards to the size and location of the church. For those who were under the parish of the church, but resided along the Nærøyfjord or in the valley of Nærøydalen, the road to the church was both long and treacherous, especially during the winter months. One suggestion was to move the church from Undredal to Nærøy. In 1855 however, a decision was made to establish a separate parish for the Nærøy area, a decision made as a result of it becoming a legal requirement for the church of a parish to be able to hold 1/3 of the population of that parish. The decision was then made that the municipality would take over the church in Undredal on the premise that the farmers of Bakka funded a new church there. The church in Undredal remained where it was, and a new church was designed by the famous architect Christian Henrik Grosch. The new church was consecrated in 1859.

A distinctive environment

Many of the buildings at Bakka look the same today as they did when they were built in the 19th century or in some cases even earlier. As a complete picture these houses make a very valuable environment, however some of the houses are also quite valuable as single entities. As an example, this is true of a large boathouse found in the bay of Blombakkaviki, which has massive walls of stone and wooden gables. The boathouse is most likely the oldest in the hamlet, and the type of construction used in building it is one that stretches far back in time. The farmhouse on bnr.(property registration number)5 is an early example of the farmhouses that had a hallway going through the middle of them, named “midtgangstype” “midtgang” meaning aisle. The house has a classical entrance and an arch in the middle of the front of the house, something which indicates that it was built at the start of the 19th century. Despite this parts of the house may very well be even older.

A visit to Bakka offers experiences in a well preserved building environment, and a cultural landscape that matches it. By travelling up Rimstigen, one gets the opportunity to consider what the seasonal farm life brought with it in the old days, as well as experiencing the incredible nature. Although the hike is considered to be quite demanding, both in regards to the incline and the length, it remains a popular choice for both locals and tourists alike.

 

Aurlandsvangen

The term «Aurlandsvangen» covers a rather large area, equivalent to the parish of Vangen. This includes the farms along the fjord from Skjerdal to Otternes, as well as the farms all the way up to the lake of Vassbygdevatnet. Traditionally speaking the farms going north from Vangen has been recognised as a village in its own right, called “Utbygdi” (the outer village). The area of Aurlandsvangen as mentioned here has a varied tale that stretches far back in time.

The ancient times

Prior to the farms in the area of Aurland being permanent residences, the area was most likely utilised in the same way as the other villages in the area, mainly for hunting. Several contraptions used for hunting have been found around the glacier of Blåskavlen, including “bogastille” (man built hiding places of stone), animal pits and “dyrestup” (steep slopes where the animals would fall to their deaths, or be killed by the hunters). There is no exact date for when the cultivation of the farms began, but there are graves that date back to before the Scandinavian Pre-Roman Iron Age (500BC- 1BC) which shows that the farms of Aurdal and Onstad were already in use then.

The AURLANDSGODSET Estate

From the Islandic ancestral tale “Eigilssoga”, written in the 13th century, we know of a powerful clan called “Aurlandsætta”. Aurlandsætta ruled in large parts of Indre Sogn (Inner Sogn) from the middle of the 10th century. They had family ties to other distinguished Norwegian clans, as well as important families abroad. One example is a lady named in the book as Rannveig, who had close ties to Olav Kyrre (Kyrre/Kyrri means peaceful), the Norwegian king for nearly three decades in the latter half of the 11th century. Rannveig also had ties to the Danish monarchy. It has also been claimed that Gunnhild Sultam was a descendent of the Aurlandsætta clan. She was the mother of King Sverre, who was king of Norway at the end of the 12th century and is famous for his excommunication from the Catholic Church. Aurlandsætta could also boast that they had family ties to the so-called “Armødlingane” from the island of Giske which is in Sunnmøre, the southernmost district in the county of Møre og Romsdal. They also had ties to the Reins-ætta clan in Trøndelag, which is made up of the two counties Nord-Trøndelag and Sør-Trøndelagn central Norwaymsdal, they also had ties to the Reins-se ties to Bl the farms , as well as some prominent clans in Scotland and Ireland. It is probable that the farms of Vinjum, Sult and Aurdal were at the centre of the estate that is referred to as Aurlandsgodset. This theory is further strengthened by the presence of burial mounds from the Viking Age on these farms.

Two Churches

With the introduction of Christianity to Norway, it became common for prominent clans to build churches to show their belonging to the new faith. As much as the churches were built on religious grounds, it is reasonable to make the assumption that the building of said churches also served to form alliances and strengthen power structures. The first church that we know of in this area is the stave church at Rygg (a stave church is a church built of wood, with a framework based around vertical posts), which was knocked down around 1570. The church was first mentioned in written sources in 1322, but it was most likely older than its first written mention. The Gothic stone church which you can find at Vangen was built in the 13th century. The stone church took over as the parish church after the church at Rygg was knocked down, and it is likely that the Aurlandsætta clan was behind the construction of both churches. This may have strengthened the ties between the clan and the king, as well as improved relations with clans outside of Norway.

The town centre and Public court

Up until the middle of the 19th century, the area below the stone church at Vangen consisted of houses belonging to “strandsitjarar” (persons who lives by the water and owned a house on a rented plot, usually a seaman or fisherman), boathouses and commons. Up until this point the farm of Sult (now known as Onstad), which is found on the eastside of the river, had several important functions in the village. This was amongst other reasons due to main roads having a natural crossing at “Salthella”, as well as the road east towards Vassbygdi being on this side of the river, going via the farms of Tokvam and Loven. The farm’s central placement led to it being giving both trade and lodging privileges in the 18th century, it was also home to the sheriff as well as the public court. The large burial mound “Tinghaugen” (Court Mound in English) may indicate that the place also served as a court prior to this. These functions were moved from Onstad to the opposite side of the river after the bridge across the river and a pier for the steamboats were built in 1870, and a new road was created north of the river in 1924.

From being a vicarage to becoming an organic agricultural school

The farm of Aurdal served as a vicarage from approximately 1650, most likely taking over this function from the farm of Aabelheim at Vangen, which was seen as quite a barren farm. In comparison to other farms in the area, the farm of Aurdal had a very large area of cultivated land, most likely due to it having been part of the Aurlandsgodset estate. A long line of clergymen ran and influenced the farm up until 1937 when it was taken over by the agricultural school Sogn Jord- og Hagebruksskule (The Sogn School of Organic Agriculture and Horticulture, abbreviated SHJ).

The school was founded in 1917, but Aurdal was the first school farm. The school started shifting their focus to organic farming in the 1980s, and as it stands SJH is the only agricultural school in Norway which in its entirety is approved as an organic institution by the regulating body Debio. The school is a driving force in Aurland and even other parts of Indre Sogn, offering various functions and courses, all whilst running an organic farm shop. In relation to organic investment, the municipality of Aurland in 2007 applied to be a leading municipality in the development of production and consumption of organic food. 

Geological values

Geologically speaking, the area can be classified as a particularly well-developed classic fjord landscape.

The area is a relatively young and geologically active glacial landscape, and geomorphologically speaking it is unique. The fjords themselves as well as many of the valleys along the fjord are typical examples of glacially shaped “U” valleys, between which you also find the classical “hanging valleys”.

Large parts of the area’s bedrock belong to Jotundekket (a large nappe stretching for several kilometres). Large sheets of Precambrian rock were folded and metamorphosed into gneiss, gabbro, mangerite and anorthosite during the Caledonian Orogeny. These are all hard types of rock that offer little nutrition that settled on top of younger, phyllite rocks.

Anorthosite is a metamorphosed igneous rock developed from the mineral feldspar. This rock is very light in colour, which are distinguished by their light grey tones that are easily noticeable on the bare mountains. This is especially true for the area between the mountain of Bleia and Storebotn, which is dominated by these anorthositic rocks. Another eye catching area is “Kvitmålane” in the mountainside of Skomakarnipa at the entrance to the Nærøyfjord and further in towards Dyrdal. The area’s white, steep mountainside lights up for all those that travel outwards from Aurland. Anorthosite has qualities that are of commercial interest, the most important areas in this regard are found in a larger area at the mountain of Jordalsnuten and particularly to the east of the valley of Nærøydalen.

The fjord landscape is especially magnificent near the mountain of Bleia. The north face of the mountain has the highest total relief of the Sognefjord, the range going from the 1000m deep fjord to the top of the mountain at 1717m.a.s.l. On the north face of the mountain ravines and ridges create unusually great, distinctive shapes. The quaternary processes have been especially active in this area. The highest part of Bleia and the mountain area to the south are remnants of the old plains, which are representatives of the landforms prior to the ice ages.

The steep mountainsides make it possible for us to study the quaternary phenomena such as paths of reoccurring land and rock slides and avalanches, talus cones and annual avalanches. Inste and Yste (inner and outer) Drøfti on the north face of Bleia are the most noticeable avalanche and other mass paths in this area. Two good examples of such paths in the Nærøyfjord are Breidskrea near Bakka and a large marked path above Styvi. There are obvious traces of a large rockslide having occured in the Bleia area, just above Revsnes.

In the innermost parts of the valley glacial cirques can be found. In these areas you can often find small bodies of water that have been created by glaciers in these cirques having forced their way down into the bedrock. Particularly good examples of these processes are the lakes of Huldabotnen in the inner part of the valley of Styvisdalen and Undredalsvotni to the east of Skammadalshøgdi.

There are a number of large and small glaciers as well as eternal snowdrifts within the Nærøyfjord World Heritage Park area. The biggest glacier is the Fresvikbreen (m.a.s.l.) on the western side of the Nærøyfjord. To the east you find the smaller glacier of Syrdalsbreen (1761m.a.s.l.). You also find a smaller glacier to the east of the mountaintop of Bleia (1717m.a.s.l.). There are a number of minor glaciers and eternal snowdrifts in the vicinity of Fresvikbreen and in the mountain area between the Aurlandsfjord and the Nærøyfjord. Breidskrea near Bakka is a powerful example of the active geological processes in the Nærøyfjord area.

The majestic waterfalls of Sivlefossen and Stalheimsfossen in the inner parts of the valley of Nærøydalen are famous tourist attractions. Less known is the waterfall in Vetlahelvete (literally Little Hell) in the canyon dropping down from the valley of Jordalen. All these waterfalls are examples of rivers that used to flow in a south-westerly direction towards Voss. There are a total of 25 waterfalls throwing themselves down the mountainsides in the Nærøyfjord area. The waterfall called Kjelfossen has a free fall of 150 metres (492.1ft) and a total fall of 840 metres (2755.9ft), making it the 18th highest total waterfall drop in the world. Geologically speaking, since the glacial ice melted the landscape has mainly been shaped by the free-flowing water in rivers and streams. The fact that there are entire watercourses that have experienced no outside intervention, where erosion and other land forming processes have been allowed to take place naturally, remains a very distinctive part of the area. In this area the watercourses of Undredalselvi, Dyrdalselvi, Kolarselvi (in the valley of Nordheimsdalen), Nærøydalselvi (with the exception of the tributary Jordalselvi), Nisedalselvi, Vossovassdraget and Flåmselvi are all protected from any hydro power development.

(Photo: Sognafoto)

An Ever Changing Landscape

The Nærøyfjord was inscribed onto UNESCO’s World Heritage List as part of the West Norwegian Fjords, the reasoning being the range between the fjord and the mountains which offers a varied picture of the fjord phenomenon.

The area is characterised by its distinctive formations, the ongoing geological processes and the contrasting climates from the fjord’s shoreline to the mountaintops

The area’s bedrock lays the foundation for the vegetation, local industry and settlements. During the Caledonian orogeny, more than 400 million years ago, big flakes of the different typed bedrock were pushed together and converted into hard rock that was low in nutrition, which settled on top of younger phyllite. This is distinguishable by the characteristic nuances of colours going through the mountains, and the rock also has commercial attributes (as an example through the anorthosite mines in the valley of Nærøydalen).

Fjords

  • The Nærøyfjord
  • The Aurlandsfjord
  • The Sognefjord

large Fjord Valleys

  • The valley of Nærøydalen
  • The valley of Aurlandsdalen
  • The valley of Lærdalsdalen
  • The valley of Flåmsdalen

Avalanche and mass waSting paths

The steep mountainsides offer dramatic images of the wild nature in the shape of paths of reoccurring land and rock slides and avalanches, talus cones and yearly avalanches. This is due to the fact that the bedrock in the area weathers easily and as a result can become unstable.

  • Inner and Outer Drøfti on the northern side of the mountain of Bleia.
  • “Breidskrea” (translates as the Wide Scree) by Bakka.
  • In the Bleia area, above Revsnes, there are clear signs of a larger rockslide having occurred.
  • There are also a lot of examples of mass wasting paths and alluvial fans that can be seen when travelling up the valley in Lærdal.

glaciers

  • The largest glacier is Fresviksbreen (1648m.a.s.l.) on the western side of the Nærøyfjord.
  • There is a smaller glacier on the eastern side of the Nærøyfjord called Syrdalsbreen (1761m.a.s.l.).
  • There is also a smaller glacier on the eastern side of the top of the mountain of Bleia (1717m.a.s.l.).
  • In the mountain areas between the Aurlandsfjord and the Nærøyfjord, not too far away from Fresviksbreen, you can also find several small glaciers and eternal snowdrifts.
  • There are large snowdrifts and small glaciers in the mountain areas of Aurland, the most notable of these are the Vargebreen and Skommabreen, Blåskavlen and Storskavlen.

Watercourses and Waterfalls

The large waterfalls in the area are well known and popular attractions. Geologically speaking once the glacial ice melted, the landscape was shaped by the running water of the rivers and streams. The fact that there are entire watercourses that have experienced no outside intervention, where erosion and other land forming processes have been allowed to take place naturally, remains a very distinctive part of the area. 

Waterfalls include:

  • Sivlefossen and Stalheimsfossen, in the inner most part of the valley of Nærøydalen
  • Brekkefossen and Rojandefossen in the valley of Flåmsdalen.
  • Stødnofossen in Lærdal.
  • Turlidfossen in Aurland.
  • Kjelfossen in Gudvangen.
  • Huldafossen in Fresvik.

Rivers

  • Undredalselvi.
  • Dyrdalselvi.
  • Kolarselvi (in the valley of Norheimsdalen).
  • The upper part of the Erdalselvi river.
  • Nisedalselvi.

Watercourses

  • Vossovassdraget.
  • Flåmsvassdraget.

(Photo: Ruben Bøtun "Huldafossen")

Flora and fauna

Flora and fauna

Plants and animals are important parts of the wild world heritage. Many climatic zones, ranging from alpine areas down to the warm valley floors and fjords lead to a highly varied fauna and flora.

This article deals with the most important biological connections characterizing our area.

The weathering of the relatively young rock phyllite creates a nutrient-rich soil for lime-demanding plants, which leads to a rich biological variation within the park area. Consequently, the area is of great interest to botanists and others interested in plant life. Vegetation with fine forests of deciduous trees and primeval forests along the fjords is looked upon as a strong landscape element in the area. In addition, we find many outlying hayfields, grazing areas with occasional examples of pollarded trees.

In the mountains there are a number of areas with bogs and lakes that are important biotopes for wetland birds. The Grånosmyrane bogs nature reserve is protected primarily because of its rich bird life. The Nærøyfjord area is rich in birds of prey with a number of nesting species.

In terms of fauna, we find wild reindeer populations in the mountains and a stable deer population in the hillsides and in the valleys. There are few predatory animals in the area, but there are indications that the number of gluttons has increased in recent years. Lynx has been spotted from time to time.

There are many rivers in the area where salmon and sea trout spawn, such as the rivers of Nærøyelva, Lærdalselva, and Aurlandselva. In the river of Aurlandselva the fish stock is so low that salmon-fishing has been stopped. The watercourse of Lærdalselvi has been infected by the notorious salmon parasite Gyrodactilus Salaris and it is now treated with acid aluminium.

Within the World Heritage Park there are many untouched wilderness areas. The untouched areas are of great value to scientists and as a reference for flora and fauna.

These are some of the more interesting birds you may spot in the area

  • Golden eagle
  • Kestrel
  • Rough-legged buzzard
  • Gyrfalcon
  • White-tailed sea eagle
  • Goshawk
  • Sparrowhawk
  • Merlin
  • White-backed woodpecker
  • Rare duck

Try your luck at fishing in these rivers

  • Nærøyelvi (salmon and trout)
  • Flåmselvi
  • Lærdalselvi (now infected with the salmon parasite Gyrodactilus Salaris and is being treated with acid aluminium

Forests

  • The hardwood deciduous forests along the Nærøyfjord and the Aurlandsfjord are diverse with a high proportion of linden trees
  • At Morki at the entrance to the Nærøyfjord there is a well-developed linden forest where we can find the rare grass species of drooping woodreed.
  • In the valley of Nordheimsdalen we find pine forest. In the upper part of the valley we find a more primeval forest.
  • At Legdene above Lægdaviki there is an old pine forest
  • At the gully of Hausagjelet to the east of Revsnes and on the hillside to the east of Instegjelet above the hamlet of Indre Frønningen in the Bleia nature reserve we find a unique pine forest. The same is also found at Kristenkamben in the Bleia – Storebotnen protected landscape area. At Hausagjelet we find an endangered cryptogam flora (spore-reproducing plants) in connection with primeval forest with much aspen.

Protected areas

 

The West Norwegian Fjords world heritage area, which the Nærøyfjord is a part of, consists of a number of protected areas of various categories, as well as areas that have settlements wo are not protected in accordance with the Nature Conservation Act.

The Purpose of the Nærøyfjord Conservation Area

“The purpose of the of the Nærøyfjord Conservation Area as to take care of the unique natural and cultural landscape ranging from fjord to mountain, with its vide variety of plant- and animal life which shall be conserved. Hayfields, pastures, seasonal farm areas, farming and cultural heritage are all still being utilised by the agricultural community and is an important part of the character of the local landscape, and as such is a part of the conservation area.”

The Purpose of the Bleia-Storbotn Conservation Area

“The purpose of the Bleia-Storebotnen conservation area is to conserve a beautiful and unique nature and cultural landscape from fjord to mountain. The glacial ice’s shaping of the old plains and the landscape of the fjords offers a varied vegetation and fauna where the wild reindeer are a significant part of scenery’s character.”

The Purpose of the Bleia Nature Reserve

“The purpose of the protection is to ensure the continued life of a rare sub-species of arctic poppy (papaver radicatum ssp. relictum) which is of significant scientific value, as well as the quaternary geology of a unique fjord landscape with its unusual large-scale ravines and mountain ridges. Additionally the reserve offers a botanically valuable area containing primeval like forests in the areas between the fjord and the mountain tops.”

The Purpose of the Valley of Nordheimsdalen Nature Reserve

“The purpose of the protection is to ensure a forest area with all its natural flora and fauna. Among the many qualities we can point out that the area makes up an intact precipitation catchment area with a forest gradient from shoreline to mountain. It has also an unusually high degree of diversity in terms of pine forest types belonging to the inner fjord areas, and it also contains woods that most likely have the strongest primeval feel in Western Norway.”

The Purpose of the Bogs of Grånosmyrane Nature Reserve

“The purpose is to conserve an area of mountain and wetland that serves as a nesting area for a rich and vulnerable birdlife.”

The Goals of the Administration of the Settlement Areas

Settlement areas located within the world heritage borders must be managed in such a way that there is no decrease in the value of the natural or cultural heritage. In regards to the world heritage status it is important to protect the landscape in its entirety, and to secure the geological processes, even across the borders of conservation areas. Additionally it is important to conserve the exceptionally beautiful landscape with its cultural landscape and vibrant villages.

Most of the settled areas within the world heritage site are located in the municipality of Aurland, with the exception of the farms of Stalheimsøyni and Sivlesøyni in the neighbouring municipality of Voss. The land-use management in the settled areas will mainly take place according to the Building and Planning Act. The purpose of the Building and Planning Act (section 2) is formulated in the following way:

“Planning according to the law must be a co-ordinated effort of state, county and municipal authorities and form the basis for decisions concerning the use and protection of resources and development, as well as taking aesthetic considerations into account. By means of planning and specific demands for each building project, the law must ensure that land use and settlement will be as beneficial as possible for the individual and the local community. Of special importance when planning according to the Act is to ensure that children will be given a good environment for growing up.”

(Photo: Torunn Todal Laberg)

 

 

The Cultural Heritage

cultural-heritage

 

The World Heritage Park has a rich and varied cultural heritage. How have the people used their surroundings throughout times? What traces can we find of this usage today? The cultural heritage of the area can bring an understanding of how human activities have left their mark on the landscape we see today. The landscape in the area is varied, ranging from high to low mountains, valleys and fjord villages. The area has been populated since the Stone Age, with its people made to adapt to whatever the surroundings have thrown at them. In return, the human activities have made an impact on the landscape, both in the form of industrial and other construction, as well as in the form of vegetation and the shaping of the landscape from local industry and the cultural landscape.

The social change in the farming community has most likely had the biggest impact on the landscape. As a result of farming, where we would usually find nothing but forests we find crops, hay fields, pastures, pollard trees, farmyards, tenant farms and seasonal farms. All of these make up the hamlets and farms that we find along the fjord and at the bottom of the valleys

The outlying fields and the mountains were, and still are a major resource for local people. Collecting wood, gathering winter fodder, the utilisation of bog iron and hunting were big parts of a farm’s income. These days hunting and the use of the forest and mountains are mainly linked to leisure activities and recreation. Some of the old roads connected to previous utilisation of the outlying areas are now important hiking trails.

Connections AND TRADE

The central areas have grown from connections between regions as well as trade and these centres have amongst other things been the seats of nobility and home to powerful families who have put their mark on local history. These people are known through old written sources, but also through the mark they left on the landscape in the form of churches, great farms and the central areas. Some of the churches in the area were built in the Middle Ages, some from stone and others are stave churches (a church built of wood, with a framework based around vertical posts). Only 28 stave churches remain standing in Norway today, three of which are located in the World Heritage Park (Undredal in the municipality of Aurland, Borgund in the municipality of Lærdal, and Hopperstad in the municipality of Vik). 

FEATURES that are characteristic of the cultural history of the area:

  • Hunting in the mountains, starting with the hunting community during the Stone Age and still ongoing today
  • Travel via the fjords
  • Boatbuilding
  • Connections and travel in the mountain areas between east and west
  • The farming community from the Stone Age until today
  • Clusters of farmhouses
  • Hill farms found high up in the terrain
  • The development from class distinctions to an egalitarian society 
  • The production of shoes
  • Stave churches

visit the Vibrant cultural heritage sites in the area:

  • "Aurlandskoen" (the Aurland Shoe factory) – Économusée
  • Producers of goat cheese in Undredal
  • “Gamalost” (literally old cheese) production in Vik
  • "Kystled Nærøyfjorden" experiences along the fjord
  • The cheese production at the Rallarosa seasonal farm in the valley of Flåmsdalen
  • The seasonal farm of Skjerdal welcomes visitors in the municipality of Aurland

Hamlets, farms, Tenant Farms and Seasonal farms you have to visit:

  • The Styvi farm and farming museum
  • The sea-crofters’ hamlet at Bakka in the Nærøyfjord
  • The cluster farmhouses of Ottersnes
  • The hill farms of Stigen and Nedbergo
  • The Frønningen estate
  • The sesonal farm Engi in Fresvik
  • The Sivle farm
  • The tenant farm of Hausen in Lærdal
  • The disused farms of Sinjarheim and its tenant farm Almen in the valley of Aurlandsdalen
  • The tenant farm of Nåli by the hamlet of Stalheim
  • The summer farm of Langhuso in Undredal

Places of cultural importance in regards to travel in the area:

  • The old royal postal road from Bleiklindi to Styvi in the Nærøyfjord
  • The mountain road of Stalheimskleiva
  • The Historic Route (historiske rute) in Lærdal
  • The collection of old buildings found beside Stalheim hotel
  • The old path to the mountain farms of Bakka called Rimstigen
  • The Flåm Railway Line
  • The road to the valley of Jordalen
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