Nærøyfjorden

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.

 

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