( Originally Published 1881 )
Its Noble Entrance.—Wild Valleys of the Fjords.—Boats on the Lake.—Return from the S eters.—A Weird Lake.—Moen Farm.—The Hjeelledal foss and the Ilagadal-foss.—The Hofdal Farm.—The Farm of Vetti.—The Mork or Vetti-foss.—The Aurland Fjord.—The Naro Fjord.—Grandeur of the Scenery.—Gudvangen.—The Nerddal.—Stalheim Cleft.—A Fine Landscape.—Vossevangen.—The Graven Fjord.
FROM the Lyster, returning to the main fjord, you enter the Aardal, a continuation of the Sogne, and its most eastern extremity. At its entrance rises the Bodlenakken, 2990 feet, and, on the opposite side, the Boermolnaase, 3860 feet, with still higher mountains beyond them.
The autumn days had come, and I was sailing on the fjord, when my boat remained stationary for awhile, for want of wind, abreast and about midway between these mountains ; the scene presented was one of grandeur and. beauty nowhere surpassed, and rarely equalled, even in Scandinavia.
Among the wild valleys, high up in the mountains, is Oferdal (Aarferdal) ; by the shore were some poor farms; nets were drying upon poles by the boat-houses, and groups of flaxen-haired children were playing together: these poor-looking places are almost always crowded with children. Little piles of cobble-stones showed that the people had tried to clear the land for cultivation. Aardalstangen is the last ham-let at the upper end of the fjord.
In these hamlets the houses are small, possess few comforts, and are not especially clean. The best house usually belongs to the merchant of the place, who—a native of some city or large hamlet—in the little store provides the inhabitants with many useful articles to eat and to wear; he occasionally indulges in petty speculations in butter, cheese, and even cattle, which he sends by the steamer to the larger towns; his profits are small, and he is contented if, in the course of the year, he has cleared one or two hundred dollars. The house of the mcrchant is used as an inn, and there the stranger will find cleanliness and good fare. The merchant here, Jens Klingenberg, was not at home, but his good wife and son received me with great kindness—the more so that I had brought a letter of introduction from one of their friends.
These valleys of the fjords are exceedingly wild and rugged, only bridle-paths leading from farm to farm. To the lover of nature they offer peculiar charms, especially here, as one of them contains one of Norway's beautiful water-falls, the Vetti, also called Mork-foss. The journey to and from this fall takes less than a day.
In this wild valley, which is a continuation of the fjord, at a short distance inland, is a picturesque lake, whose waters are of a deep-green color. Several large flat boats, used to transport cattle to the paths leading to and from the saeters, lay stranded on the shore. The Stigebjerg mountain rises perpendicularly from the lake, a wild water-fall plunging in white foam from a towering height.
All was life on the lake; the flat-boats, loaded with cattle, sheep, and swine, were going in several directions. The summer was over. The maidens were delighted to leave their mountain retreats for home, and the villagers were going to bring them, with the cheese and butter they had made. Towards the middle of the lake the scenery is superb, and looks wild and weird. In one part the gigantic mass of rocks falls abruptly into the water, and a little farther on a grand fall —Hellegaard-foss—tumbles in white foam from the height above, and looks whiter on account of the sombre nature of the rocks. Perched high up are several saeters, one of which is called Kvenli. Soon after carne in view from behind an-other white mass of foaming water, the Stige-foss, which had been hidden from our view.
Looking backward towards the fjord, a wild spectacle greets the eye, and one cannot realize or believe it is the same country just passed ; towering mountains and wild ravines are seen in every direction, and the yellow leaves of the birch and grass look beautiful. Near the upper end, on its northern shore, is the Nondal valley, with farms perched 2000 feet above the water. At the head of the lake the valley of the Aardal takes the name of Utladal, which leads to the Vetti-foss. It runs al-most parallel with the Lyster fjord, separated from it by masses of mountains about twenty-five miles wide, culminating in the Horunger, 7620 feet high, and surrounded by glaciers. On the eastern side the mountains rise to a height of 6500 feet, and its lakes and torrents afford the artist and the lover of mountain scencry unfailing and ever -changing sources of delight. A path from the Modal leads to File fjeld and to Nystuen, on the post-road from the head of the Laerdal fjord to Christiania.
There is a neat farm, called Moen,where one can find comfortable quarters. At a short distance from the house a spur of the mountain covered with fir seems almost to bar the way; but beyond this is a beautiful dale, with a few farms, looking like an emerald gem. This lovely spot is about one English mile in length. From there the valley narrows itself into al-most a ravine, strewn with fragments rended from the mountain-sides, and lined with occasional terraces. Passing the farm of Svalheim you reach the Hjaelledal-foss, a superb cascade, falling in a sheet of foam from a height of seven or eight hundred feet, and then the Hagadal-foss, nearly as high. The river below is spanned by a frail narrow bridge, composed of two or three fir logs ; and on the other side there area few fields of barley and a patch of potatoes. High up on the mountain is the Hofdal farm, approached by a dangerous path running at times over clefts spanned by a few logs, or along the smooth rocks, to which trees are fastened, to prevent people from slipping down to the ice in winter. Even in this lonely place, where the winds howl and the storms sweep with great force, there are some evidences of vegetation — hay enough to keep a few cows during winter, and birch-trees enough for fuel. The Utladal then becomes very narrow and almost obstructed by huge masses of rock, which fall every year from the mountain, against which the torrent below dashes wildly, filling the valley with its constant roar. Suddenly the valley expands again, and on the hill you see the Vetti farm, where the tourist may tarry for the night.
From the house a zigzag path leads to the heights above, and to the deep chasm, from whose edge, by lying flat on the ground, one may venture to look into the depths below and follow the fall. Another path leads into the valley and to the foot of Vetti-foss, or Mork-foss. This beautiful water-: fall is formed by a stream from two small lakes at the base of the Koldedal plateau, 6510 feet high. From a dark perpendicular wall, forming almost a semicircle, the stream plunges down from a height of more than a thousand feet. Towards the end of summer, so small is the volume of water, that it falls gently in a transparent column of spray, looking the more white by contrast with the dark wall which forms. the background. I wondered that this cloud of spray could make such a volume of water, rushing so violently among the rocks that it was with difficulty that I crossed to the opposite bank, from which a better view of the fall is obtained. The soil and rocks are covered with a dark fungus, everything contributing to make the spray appear. whiter. I could see no land beyond, and only a few birch-trees on. the ridge. As the fall is vertical, only a small portion of the water strikes upon the rocky walls. As I looked, the column of spray began to move to and fro, as the rising" breeze swept around the walls, until it swung like the pendu-him of a clock over a space of 250 feet ; then came a strong gust of wind, and the whole mass spread into a. transparent sheet of spray from top to bottom ; as it became still it contracted once more into a white column. For a long time I stood watching this " fascinating spectacle, and could hardly tear myself away. It resembles, in this changing column , of spray, the Staubbach fall, in the valley of Lauterbrunnen, in Switzerland, and still more, according to descriptions and photographs, the upper portion of the Yosemite fall, in the famous valley in California. This latter plunges vertically about 1000 feet over a granite precipice, varying much in appearance, according to the volume of water in different seasons, and its column of spray, in the same manner, is the delicate plaything of the winds. But the Mork-foss has. more water, and the photograph illustrates its smallest volume during the year. These bridal-veil water-falls are counted by hundreds in Norway.
On the southern store of the Sogne, some ten miles west from Laerdalsoren, you come to the grand fjord of the Aurland. The depth of the sea at its entrance is over 3000 feet, and its breadth less than half a mile; the approaches are superb. The huge mountains rising from the deep sea, ravines, crags, precipices, and forests, combine to make a scene rarely equalled. On the western shore is the glacier of Fresvik, from the base of which several picturesque dales branch off in different directions.
After a sail of eight miles the Aurland divides into two forks, one of which is called the Naerö fjord ; but we will follow the first. There is a farm called Stege, perched so high up that one wonders how the people can reach it from the fjord ; on the opposite shore is Nedberge, and on the Kappadal one or two other farms; the buildings are so distant that one can hardly distinguish them, with their earthen roofs, from the rocks around. The valley of Underdal is on one side, near Flenje Eggen ; and on the other is Steganaase. East-ward of the valley of Skjerdal rises Blaaskavl, 5650 feet above the sea.
The hamlet of Aurland has some painted houses and a comfortable inn. Four or five miles farther the end of the fjord is reached, ending in a narrow valley, where there are a few farms.
A rocky mass of about six miles divides the Aurland from the Naerö fjord, culminating in Steganaase, 5500 feet high. The view at the opening of these two fjords is magnificent, and the sea is here 1490 feet deep. As you lose sight of the Aurland fjord, and enter the Naerö, at every curve of land a new prospect greets the eyes, each equally grand and beautiful. The water is so transparent and. still that, like a mirror, it reflects all the objects by which it is surrounded—snowy peaks, silvery clouds, and sombre forests. Immense masses of gray granite, gabbro,and Labradorite rise front the sea-level to the highest peaks, and in the Naero fjord the Labradorite partly rests on strata of gneiss visible along the shore. On our right the Hægde plunges down a thousand feet; in a series of cascades, white with foam, into the valley—the only grand water-fall I have seen on the Sogne fjord: The first time I entered the Naero an exclamation of admiration burst involuntarily from my lips—I became spell-bound before the stupendous panorama; the sublimity of the weird scene impressed me with a feeling of awe and wonder-I could hardly realize that the .water upon which we sailed was the sea.
When you arrive abreast of Dyrdal—carved out of the solid rock—the scenery is extremely grand; some small farms, whose dingy log-houses have withstood the blasts of centuries, relieve the dreariness of the scene. After passing Gjejteggen and the farm of Styve, the fjord suddenly contracts, and the depth of the water diminishes to 190 feet. After a few miles the navigation suddenly stops, and the Nærodal rises almost imperceptibly from the sea, winding its way among the same grand scenery as on the fjord itself.
I have sailed over this fjord at all seasons of the year—in bright sunshine, and when dark clouds swept by on the wings -of a hurricane; but to me the beauty of the scenery was al-ways greatest after sunset on a summer day, before the twilight had disappeared. Such an austere grandeur is given to these gigantic walls by the twilight, and their outlines look so like grim phantoms, that I doubt if there be anywhere a more weird and sombre sea-view than that of the narrow Naero fjord.
The entrance to the Nærodal valley forms a worthy continuation of the fjord. The hamlet of Gudvangen is situated among blocks of huge stones that have been torn from the mountain-sides ; and it would seem as if any day an avalanche might overwhelm the dwellings of its unsuspecting inhabitants. On the other side is the lovely water-fall of the "Kilsfoss," 2000 feet high; at certain times of the year it is formed of three distinct portions; at others, of two—occasionally of only one ; the stream makes a leap of over 1000 feet, without touching the rocks, below which they join together.
The scenery is so gloomy at Gudvangen on a dark day that the most buoyant spirit is sobered, and even with sunshine one wishes to depart from its sad surroundings. Near the place is a small chapel overlooking the sea, reached by a narrow path ; in several places the rock had to be blasted, and an iron railing protects the people from slipping on the ice and falling into the sea in the winter.
Marthinus Hansen, the station-master, was a quiet, thoroughly honest man; his wife, with her equally good face and white cap, looked like a matron of the olden time. A grown-up daughter, their only child, who had been sent to school in Bergen, helped in the duties of the household : although she could speak English, I could not make her talk. There were two servant-girls also, for travellers were numerous during the season. The little inn was all the fortune the family possessed, and it was quite comfortable; it is true the bedrooms were small, but Hansen said that as soon as he had accumulated money enough, he should add another story; "and then," said he, enthusiastically, " travellers will have large and comfortable rooms." He added, mournfully, " It is so hard to save money." His-honesty forbade him to cheat or overcharge travellers. I have stopped several times with good old Hansen, and the more I knew of him the better I liked him. Now and then we write to each other, and in his last letter he wrote that many travellers had stopped at Gudvangen ; I am sure they were all treated kindly and honestly.
From the Næro fjord one of the most picturesque and best highways of Norway crosses to Eide, at the head of the Graven fjord on the Hardanger, a distance of about forty-eight miles. There is no other valley in Norway, through which a high-road passes, that can compare for weird scenery with the Nærodal, which suddenly comes to an end, and farther progress seems out of the question ; an apparently impassable cleft bars the way, but the faint outlines of a zigzag road are seen in the distance, permitting the passage of this, the Stalheim cleft.
This work is one of the most remarkable instances of engineering skill displayed in Norway ; the ascent is tedious, and in winter, when ice covers the ground, often dangerous, as I have myself experienced. Two charming water-falls are seen descending from a height of several hundred feet, dashed into spray on the rocks, and afterwards forming the Naerô River.
From Stalheim cleft the view of the Naerodal is very impressive. The Jordalsnut (nut-cone), an immense mass of granite, rises like a gigantic dome, looking down upon the narrow valley. From Stalheim southward the landscape is smiling and beautiful, and one seems glad to leave behind the gloomy Naerodall. Forest, charming lakes and streams, old farm-houses, and snow-clad mountains in the distance make a beautiful panorama.
One year, on the summit of the cleft, I missed the face of an old professional beggar, the only one I had ever met in Norway. The first time I met him there, watching for strangers, I refused to give him anything; not dismayed, he talked about the weather and the fine summer, and then said he was very poor, asking once more for money. On my refusal he became enraged, and taking from his pouch a bag filled with small coin, shook it before me, saying, " Everybody has not been so mean as you are ; look at the money that has been given to me ! Look at it! look at it !" I burst out laughing, and this seemed to vex the old miser still more. When I inquired of the postman, about him, he said the old fellow was dead.
Near the hamlet of Vinje is the quaint old log church built two centuries ago; the roof is domed and studded with stars, and the walls gaudily painted; two crosses, one of iron and the other of wood, were the only monuments in the graveyard; worship is no longer held in the building.
There are few districts in Norway near a high-road where the people seem so untidy as here ; most of the houses are very dirty; while travelling in winter, on entering a house I have seen children of ten and twelve years of age stark naked, who at the sight of the stranger hid behind the stove or ran away.
The stations between Gudvangen and Vossevangen are wretched, and food palatable to an inhabitant of a city cannot be procured, but good coffee, and sometimes bacon and fish, may be obtained.
On the road near the old farm of Tvinde, a wretched post station, you see the Tvindefoss, which pours over a sparsely wooded ledge three or four hundred feet in height; and its cascades, if not grand, are among the loveliest in Norway. About six miles farther, passing through a picturesque country, the hamlet of Vossevangen, on the shores of a small lake, is reached ; here the road branches off towards Evanger and Bolstadoren, at the head of the crooked fjord of that name. The inhabitants of the parish of Vosse are very interesting, and a stay there over Sunday will repay any one for the delay. The accommodations at Fleischer's hotel were very good; the landlord spoke English, and the place was comfortable, and is the only one where travellers can remain overnight on their way to the Hardanger, a fjord which no visitor to the country should fail to see.
Not very far from Vossevangen, among the hills situated between or overlooking the Rundal and Lione lakes, are farms which are reached by a steep ascent from the valley below. There the stranger can study the primitive character of the kind-hearted and intelligent people of Vosse. Their women weave a thick woollen coverlet, called aaklaeder, which for centuries has had a great reputation among the farmers, who like ,the bright colors of their patterns.
At the farms of Graue and Norheim I was treated royally by the old folks, as their children living in the West, in America, were good friends of mine, and one of the grandchildren of the good farmer of Norheim had been named after me. The best things from the larder were always cooked for me, and there was no end of skal, Paul. At each of these two farms the daughters and other members of the family—as it is the custom in Norway—had huge chests up-stairs, where they stored some of their wearing apparel and other precious things. There each had her own bottle of wine carefully stored, and which is only opened on special occasions, when they wish to compliment some very good friends. Every one insisted on treating me. The brothers made me come to their houses and partake of their cheer.
From Vossevangen the highway to the Graven fjord, a distance of about twenty miles, passes through a picturesque country abounding in fir-trees; there are a few old-fashioned saw-mills, but the population is scanty. After a drive of ten or twelve miles the upper valley abruptly terminates, and a magnificent view bursts upon the sight; the lower valley, several hundred feet beneath, is hemmed in by high mountains; a superb piece of road engineering winds down the cliff, at times passing at the base of an immense overhanging wall of rock. On the left was a chasm forming the centre of this semicircle, and a charming water-fall—the Skafledal--tumbled down the face of the cliff, running thence over the bare rock, and then falling again to a greater depth. Crossing the bridge over the stream, where the road was guarded by blocks of stone, we continued our route, skirting along the Graven lake and the river, until I reached the fjord.