Norway - The imposing Skjaeggedalsfos leaps 525 feet
( Originally Published 1907 )
Direction—We are looking southwest, i. e., almost in the direction of Odde. Surroundings—Rocky heights, mostly barren like those seen ahead.
The famous American traveler, Paul Du Chaillu, saw this same sight years ago and recorded in his widely-read book (The Land of the Midnight Sun) :
"I had seen hundreds of large and thousands of small falls in Norway ; many were much higher, but none had ever impressed me with their beauty like the Ringedal. I gazed at it for hours, and new combinations and wonderful forms continually presented themselves."
Even while we gaze at the falls, ourselves, it almost seems as if those drifting clouds of spray were changing shape—shifting from one elusive form to another. Skjaeggedalsfos is probably the grandest cataract in Europe. The approach to the falls on the gloomy Lake Ringedal is most impressive, and the first sight of them, in their rugged environment, as they suddenly burst upon the view, is awe-inspiring.
If it were not for the tourists who come up here in little parties every few days for a short season in midsummer, this farmer's family would lead a life as isolated as one would care to imagine, yet this bonde (peasant) is apparently contented with his lot. The wife and daughter make no profession of entertaining travelers, for meals are served at a larger farm farther down on our route, but they can furnish fladbrod and goats' milk, if you wish. Meat is rarely seen at a little farmhouse like this ; the main dependence all the year round is on barley or oatmeal porridge, bread and cheese and potatoes. Notice that the top of a low stone chimney shows above that sod-roof. It collects and carries off the smoke from a wood fire on an open stone hearth in the living-room. Most of the plates, bowls and spoons they use are wooden and home-made ; the few pieces of iron, steel and earthen ware that they own were probably brought up from Odde. It is surprising how few articles people do actually need to buy when they know how to do things and make things with their own hands.
We can see now quite plainly how the logs are dovetailed together at the corner of the house. Very likely that little four-paned window does not open at all. Norwegian people with their natural dread of winter's piercing cold, often overlook the desirability of fresh air, and shut themselves up in an atmosphere so vitiated that it induces consumption of the lungs—a sad sarcasm of fate in a country where the air is like a tonic wine, but conservatism in such matters yields slowly.
Away back in the fourteenth century the black plague was somehow introduced into Norway and spread from one hamlet and farm to another, sweeping off thousands of people. On some of the isolated farms in this very province everybody died and only after the lapse of years were the desolate houses found uninhabited like forsaken birds' nests.
We should have to return the way we came, for this farmhouse and waterfall lie on no road to any-where else. Most tourists go from here back to Odde and make a fresh start from there by one of the many fjord steamers.
Take a moment now for the map, and observe how the Sorfjord, reaching north from Odde, opens into a crooked east-and-west-reaching fjord with many straggling arms and subdivided inlets. These and the Sorfjord ("south"-fjord) itself, and some others farther west nearer the open sea, together constitute what is known as Hardangerfjord. Almost every mile of the way in from open sea is walled in by lofty mountains. Our route now takes us north in a small steamer down the Sorfjord, then east through the Eidfjord to a point near its head. A mile or two southeast of the head of Eidfjord the map shows a lake with a highway along its western bank. That highway leads to one of the famous sights of this region, which we shall presently see. First, however, we pause for a moment at the spot marked 43, on the road beside the lake.