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.
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.
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.