“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.
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).