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 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.