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).
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)