Along The Coast From Sweden To Norway
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
As my affairs called me to Stromstad (the frontier town of Sweden) on my way to Norway, I was to pass over, I heard, the most uncultivated part of the country. Still I believe that the grand features of Sweden are the same everywhere, and it is only the grand features that admit of description.
We arrived early the second evening at a little village called Quistram, where we had determined to pass the night, having been informed that we should not afterward find a tolerable inn until we reached Stromstad. Advancing toward Quistram, as the sun was beginning to decline, I was particularly imprest by the beauty of the situation. The road was on the declivity of a rocky mountain, slightly covered with a mossy herbage and vagrant firs. At the bottom, a river, straggling among the recesses of stone, was hastening forward to the ocean and its gray rocks, of which we had a prospect on the left; while on the right it stole peacefully forward into the meadows, losing itself in a rising ground.
Approaching the frontiers, consequently the sea, nature resumed an aspect ruder and ruder, or rather seemed the bones of the world waiting to be clothed with everything necessary to give life and beauty. Still it was sublime. The clouds caught their hue of the rocks that menaced them. The sun appeared afraid to shine, the birds ceased to sing, and the flowers to bloom; but the eagle fixt his nest high among the rocks, and the vulture hovered over this abode of desolation. The farm houses, in which only poverty resided, were formed of logs scarcely keeping off the cold and drifting snow; out of them the inhabitants seldom peeped, and the sports or prattling of children was neither seen or heard. The current of life seemed congealed at the source; all were not frozen, for it was summer, you remember; but everything appeared so dull that I waited to see ice, in order to reconcile me to the absence of gaiety.
The day before, my attention had frequently been attracted by the wild beauties of the country. The rocks which tossed their fantastic heads so high were often covered with pines and firs, varied in the most picturesque manner. Little woods filled up the recesses when forests did not darken the scene, and valleys and glens, cleared of the trees, displayed a dazzling verdure which contrasted with the gloom of the shading pines. The eye stole into many a covert where tranquillity seemed to have taken up her abode, and the number of little lakes that continually presented themselves added to the peaceful composure of the scenery.
Approaching nearer to Stromstad, the appearance of the town proved to be quite in character with the country we had just passed through. I hesitated to use the word country, yet could not find another; still it would sound absurd to talk of fields of rocks.
The town was built on and under them. Thrce or four weather-beaten trees were shrinking from the wind, and the grass grew so sparingly that I could not avoid thinking of Dr. Johnson's hyperbolical assertion "that the man merited well of his country who made a few blades of grass grow where they never grew be-fore," might here have been uttered with strict propriety.
I rose early in the morning to prepare for my little voyage to Norway. I had determined to go by water, and was to leave my companions behind; but not getting a boat immediately, and the wind being high and unfavorable, I was told that it was not safe to go to sea during such boisterous weather; I was, therefore, obliged to wait for the morrow, and had the present day on my hands.
The gentlemen, wishing to peep into Norway, proposed going to Fredericshall, the first town—the distance was only three Swedish miles. There and back again was but a day's journey, and would not, I thought, interfere with my voyage. I agreed, and invited the eldest and prettiest of the girls to accompany us. I invited her because I like to see a beautiful face animated by pleasure, and to have an opportunity of regarding the country, while the gentlemen were amusing themselves with her. I did not know, for I had not thought of it, that we were to scale some of the most mountainous cliffs of Sweden in our way to the ferry which separates the two countries.
Entering among the cliffs, we were sheltered from the wind, warm sunbeams began to play, streams to flow, and groves of pines diversified the rocks. Sometimes they became suddenly bare and sublime. Once, in particular, after mounting the most terrific precipice, we had to pass through a tremendous defile, where the closing chasm seemed to threaten us with instant destruction, when, turning quickly, verdant meadows and a beautiful lake charmed my eyes. I had never traveled through Switzerland, but one of my companions assured me that I should not there find anything superior, if equal, to the wild grandeur of these views.
Arriving at Fredericshall, at the siege of which Charles XII. lost his life, we had only time to take a transient view of it while they were preparing us some refreshment. The evening was fine as is usual at this season, and the refreshing odor of the pine woods became more perceptible, for it was nine o'clock when we left Fredericshall. At the ferry we were detained by a dispute relative to our Swedish passport, which we did not think of getting countersigned in Norway. Midnight was coming on, yet it might with such propriety have been termed the noon of night that, had Young ever traveled toward the north, I should not have wondered at his becoming enamored of the moon. But it is not the Queen of Night alone who reigns here in all her splendor, tho the sun, loitering just below the horizon, decks her with a golden tinge from his car, illuminating the cliffs that hide him; the heavens also, of a clear softened blue, throw her forward, and the evening star appears a smaller moon to the naked eye. The huge shadows of the rocks, fringed with firs, concentrating the views with-out darkening them, excited that tender melancholy which, sublimating the imagination, exalts rather than depresses the mind.
We did not reach Stromstad before five in the morning. The wind had changed, and my boat was ready.
The sea was boisterous, but, as I had an experienced pilot, I did not apprehend any danger. Sometimes, I was told, boats are driven far out and lost. However, I seldom calculate chances so nicely—sufficient for the day is the obvious evil!
We had to steer among islands and huge rocks, rarely losing sight of the shore, tho it now and then appeared only a mist that bordered the water's edge. The pilot assured me that the numerous harbors on the Norway coast were very safe, and the pilot-boats were always on the watch. The Swedish side is very dangerous, I am also informed; and the help of experience is not often at hand to enable strange vessels to steer clear of the rocks, which lurk below the water close to the shore.
There are no tides here, nor in the Cattegate, and, what appeared to me a consequence, no sandy beach. Perhaps this observation has been made before; but it did not occur to me till I saw the waves continually beating against the rocks, without receding to leave a sediment to harden. The wind was fair, till we had to tack about in order to enter Laurvig, where we arrived toward three o'clock in the afternoon. It is a clean, pleasant town, with a considerable iron-work, which gives life to it.
I had to pass over, I was informed, the most fertile and best cultivated tract of country in Norway. The distance was three Norwegian miles, which are longer than the Swedish. The roads were very good; the farmers are obliged to repair them; and we scampered through a great extent of country in a more improved state than any I had viewed since I left England. Still there was sufficient of hills, dales, and rocks to prevent the idea of a plain from entering the head, or even of such scenery as England and France afford. The prospects were also embellished by water, rivers, and lakes be-fore the sea proudly claimed my regard, and the road running frequently through lofty groves rendered the landscapes beautiful, tho they were not so romantic as those I had lately seen with such delight. It was late when I reached Tons-berg, and I was glad to go to bed at a decent inn.