Across The Scandinavian Peninsula
( Originally Published 1881 )
IN the latter part of July I found myself sailing along the wild and. superb coast south of Tromso. At eleven o'clock the color of the clouds began to change to a golden tint, warning us that the midnight hour was approaching, and the sunset close at hand; soon they became of an intense red, while the sun was hidden from our view ; and then they again changed their color, gradually becoming brighter, as if new life had been infused into them; when they were tinged with the hues of the rising sun the glow of the sunset was mingled with that of sunrise; the morning and the evening twilight were blended into one. The mountains and hills in the east assumed a rosy tint, which was strangely contrasted with the darker bases, and the calm blue sea reflected the images of land and sky, and, as the day advanced, the clouds changed into a fleecy whiteness.
The next day I landed in the town of Bodô--lat. 67° 20'—a small port on the coast of Norwegian Nordland_ The place has an unfinished appearance, and derives its importance from the fisheries; it is a regular coaling station for steamers to Hammerfest. The church is very old, built of stone, and the Catholic altar is still retained ; there are some queer paintings and coats of arms of Danish people, who are now forgotten ; on the outer wall is a slab, with the date 1596-:1666. Though the town has only a few hundred inhabitants, it has its news-paper, and is the residence of the amtmand (governor of the province).
My object in coming to this place was to cross once more, if possible, before the summer was over, the peninsula of Scandinavia, and reach the town of Lulea, 65° 40' N., in Sweden, on the Gulf of Bothnia, thus traversing one of the wildest and most uninhabitable districts of Sweden and Norway, and so skirting the grand glacier of Sulitelma. I had been furnished with a letter of introduction to one of the principal merchants, informing him of my plans, and requesting him to do all he could to aid me, and it proved of great service; I was not long in making friends among the kindly and hospitable people, who received me as one of their own kin.
With the exception of a commission of Swedish and Norwegian officials, appointed several years ago to settle the boundary between the two countries, I was the first to attempt this journey. For the greater part of the way there were no roads or even paths; the country was very wild, and for long distances wholly uninhabited; it would be necessary to find, at the head of the fjords, some of the mountain Lapps, who in summer cross the ranges from Sweden with their herds, and come down towards the coast, visiting the farmers on the way. Herr K decided that I should go by that route, and` stop at a place called Venset, as one of his cousins lived there, and confer with him as to the best mode of performing the journey.
None should undertake the task of crossing the mountains to Qvickjock unless strong, and accustomed to long marches and hardships, for in case of bad weather the exposure is great.
At the entrance to the inner Salten fjord, called the Skjćrstad, the latter forms a huge basin, partly emptied and replenished by the tides; the water rushes out and in through the channel with such a tremendous force that a boat would be ingulfed by the waves; at the turn of the tide the passage is safe.
When we reached Venset the captain pointed out to me the gentleman to whom I had a letter of introduction. He read it carefully, and, with the warm-hearted hand-shaking characteristic of the Norwegians, welcomed me, saying that I had better let the steamer go, as he wanted to talk with me, and arrange the best plan for procuring guides. We walked together to his large and commodious dwelling, passing on our way fields of barley, rye, and potatoes; and meadows, for he was not only a merchant, but the owner of a large farm. Near the house was a kitchen-garden, in which strawberries and gooseberries were abundant; and there were fine turnips, pease, carrots, and other vegetables. Herr K excused himself for not being able to entertain me suitably, on account of the absence of his wife; but dinner was prepared, beer and wine served, and while we were drinking our coffee we discussed the subject of my intended journey.
" I have come," I said, " to explore the wildest part of Scandinavia; hardship I am accustomed to, and, as for food, I can eat anything. My health is excellent, and I can endure any amount of walking for many consecutive days."
"I will send you to Fagerli with two trusty boatmen, who will put you into the hands of an excellent farmer, and tell him to keep you until he can find Lapps to take you across the mountains to Sweden by way of Sulitelma; but as you want to see plain, honest, good people, they will first take you to Saltdal, and wait for your return. You will sleep at my house to-night, and to-morrow you will start by boat. I will send for the men, and in the mean time we will take a walk."
The scenery at Venset is beautiful ; but while there the high peak of Sulitelma could not be seen, being enveloped in clouds.
The Saltdal valley, one of the most fruitful on the Norwegian coast of Nordland, is narrow, flanked on each side by mountains covered with fir and birch to their very tops; in some places the land-slides had denuded the rocks, showing that they had been covered with only a thin layer of soil, upon which the trees had grown.
Oats, rye, barley, and turnips were growing luxuriantly. The farms are situated on the beautiful terraces of, the former water-level, rising in amphitheatre, at the base of the mountaint the highest terrace was about seventy feet above the present river-bed. At one spot a huge mass of rock had fallen a few days before, and had fairly ploughed its way through a hill, shattering the trees in its course, leaving a deep furrow behind, and stopping near the path.
Not far from the sea stands the church, the only one in the valley. A few boat-houses, with nets drying around, and some scattered dwellings, form the lonely hamlet of Rognan.
Soon after my arrival I was enjoying a good meal at the parsonage, where I was welcomed by the pastor and his wife, both of whom could speak a little English ; they showed me some translations of my narratives of travel in Africa, which they had just read in the Skilling Magazine; they had heard through the Christiania papers that I was to travel in their country. She showed much interest in missionary work, and, before her marriage, had thought of going to South Africa, to labor among the Zulus. The pastor pressed me to use his own cariole and horse; but I declined to accept the friendly offer, as I had already engaged a conveyance.
The inhabitants of the Saltdal are among the most primitive in Norway. They are shut out from the world, except by the outlet to the sea, agriculture being their chief occupation; many of them have never gone farther than the church at Rognan, and most have seen no town larger than Bodo: Though virtually secluded from their kind, they seem content; they have no craving for riches, for they do not know what riches are; the sum of their earthly desires is to add a piece of land to their farms—which is a most difficult thing to do-to get a few more head of cattle, a handsome horse, or a vehicle to go to church with, to build a new house of some sort, and to save a little money for the family. To bring up their children in the fear of the Lord is one of the chief aims of the parents; the young are religiously instructed, and are taught to read even before they go to school. Their pleasures are few and simple—a dance now and then on Sunday evening, social visits, a merry time at a marriage, or during the Christmas or other church holidays, make up the catalogue of their amusements.
In the summer the men work in the fields, fish, construct buildings, etc.; their wives and daughters follow the cattle, the sheep, and the goats into the mountains, make cheese and butter, and help during the harvest-time. In winter the women spin, and weave hemp and wool, thus clothing themselves with the products of their fields and flocks, while many of the men go into the forest to cut timber.
Although the inhabitants were uniformly poor, keeping no bank accounts, and having no money invested, there was not one who was emaciated by hunger, or who shivered from cold; their food, if coarse, was wholesome, and their appearance proved that they were healthy. There is a prison, but years often pass without any of the farming population finding their way to the cells ; the few offences committed are usually of a trivial nature.
There is a carriage -way for a distance of nearly twenty miles, and a bridle-path leading a few miles farther to the last farms. The principal hamlets on the way are Niestby, Medby, Sandby, Brmnde, Drageide, and Qvale.
In Norway. the skydsskafer (station-men), who are farmers, are obliged, by their agreement with the government, to keep a stipulated number of horses in their stables, according to the travelling or traffic on the highways where they live, and are paid a certain amount yearly. The rules and regulations are also about the same as those of Sweden.
On account of the size and mountainous nature of the country, and of the more scanty population, there are not as many highways as in the latter country, but several of these are simply superb ; and one can drive for hundreds and hundreds of miles on roads which might compare with those of the best city parks. The conveyance used is the cariole, with two wheels, having a seat for only one person, with his legs resting outside, and with a back-board behind for driver and luggage, which must be of a very small amount, or another conveyance is required. In several districts the farmers used also the karre, as in Sweden.
The journey was pleasant, as there were no mosquitoes; the people looked at me as I drove along, and wondered who the stranger could be. I was very much amused, for wherever I stopped the girls immediately put on their stockings and shoes : most were busy in the hay-fields—the men mowing, and the women and children, bareheaded and barefooted, turning the hay over and stacking it; others were on the river, looking at their nets to see if they had caught any salmon; while now and then a man was building a boat, either for himself or to sell.
In the evening, the cattle, sheep, and goats were brought in from the mountains, and were penned up in the mowed fields, and the girls were milking the cows; the children were playing about, and they all appeared happy. Everything wore a primitive aspect; the ploughs, the scythes, and other agricultural implements were of the same fashion that had been in use for hundreds of years; the wheels of some of the carts were of solid wood. It seemed as if I had been thrown far back into the past.
We stopped at the hamlet of Nedre Almindingen (nedre meaning "lower"), two Norwegian miles from the fjord, to rest for the night. I went from house to house, but failed to discover anybody, and began to fear that all the inhabitants had left for the mountains; the doors of every building were open. We shouted vigorously, but in vain—nobody came; we ransacked the barns, the stables, and the dwelling-houses; I was very hungry—in fact, much more hungry than sleepy. Finally, after making a great uproar, we saw a man and a handsome girl come out of one of the houses, rubbing their eyes, and not yet half awake.
"What do you want, stranger ?" was their salutation.
"A bed and something to eat, and a horse for tomorrow," I replied.
"Welcome!" said they ; and immediately the maid went into the storehouse, and soon returned with two blankets made of sheepskin, the wool almost as white as snow, with fancy work on the leather side; these were taken into the winter dwelling-house, which had been vacated in the spring, and was faultlessly clean ; fresh hay was put upon the bed, as a mat-tress; one of the skins was laid over it, while the other was to be used as a covering, and a large feather pillow was added. Both then disappeared, and came back with bread and butter, a wooden bowl filled with milk, and a spoon made of horn, and, saying to me "Eat and drink, stranger—good-night—sleep well !" left me in entire possession of the premises.
A tall, old-fashioned clock was ticking in the room, plates and other articles of crockery were on the shelves, and a few common pictures adorned the walls; some wooden chairs, a table and a bedstead, both made of pine, comprised all the furniture; a ladder communicated with the story above.
I lay down between the skins, leaving the door wide open, and soon fell into a profound sleep, from which I was awakened in the early morning by the sound of voices outside. A hand-basin filled with water was brought in for my morning ablutions, and a breakfast of coffee, bread, butter, milk, and cheese was served to me.
The hamlet seemed to be the rendezvous for all the maidens of the neighboring farms; some were very pretty, with flaxen hair, blue eyes, and rosy cheeks—pictures of health, cheerfulness, and happiness. At five o'clock they began to as-semble; they had come from a little village on the other side of the river, called Ovre Almindingen (ocre meaning "up per"), and were going to the mountains. Each had a little ,wooden box, somewhat in the shape of a large book, containing the food for the day, which was soft pancakes buttered, and the ordinary flat bread ; most of them also carried a little pail of milk in one hand, and a pair of shoes in the other; all were bareheaded and barefooted, and their hair fell behind in braids; the shoes were to be worn only when the ground was rocky, for in the rural districts money is hard to get, and shoes are precious.
The girls, chattering merrily, soon disappeared from sight, on their way to the mountains, where they were going with the cattle, or to cut hay. Those who carried no milk-pails were knitting stockings as they went along—for the women are always at work, except on Sunday ; I could hear the sound of their laughter and. the music of their songs as they ascended the hills. The poor hired dairy-maid and the rich farmer's daughter walked hand-in-hand, like sisters, for in this primitive land there is perfect social equality.
I forded the river to the hamlet of Ovre Almindingen, which consisted of a few farm-houses with out-buildings. I was surprised to find in the inhabitants of this place a type somewhat resembling that of the Lapps; they were all busily engaged in cutting hay.
The road now lay on the right bank of the stream, and was getting poorer, though still pretty good. Almost all the farms farther up were without people, but at last I came to one where I found the family at dinner around the table; the father was dividing a large piece of raw salt fish, and they ate with a relish; I asked why the fish had not been cooked, and the answer was that otherwise they would eat too much of it. I was invited to partake, and a pleasant chat and numberless questions ensued. The farmer was much older than his wife, who had handsome features and a fine figure, with fair hair and hazel eyes; but a shadow of sadness rested upon her face, and she appeared weary and worn. She was nursing a child whose mother had died three months before : this was a pure act of kindness, for she had been nursing her own infant for thirteen months.
Storjord, situated at the end of the inhabited part of the valley, is in the midst of wild scenery, and surrounded by a forest. The farm is on the bank of the river Jünkersdal, which, taking the name of the valley through which it flows, falls not far below into the river Loniselv ; the streams thus united flow through the Saltdal to the sea; in the distance could be seen the snowy mountains of Vestfjeld, and not far off a magnificent cascade, seven or eight hundred feet high, and on the left the high mountain of Kimaanasen.
One night at that solitary but hospitable home was all that I could spare; my room was a picture of tidiness, and I was lulled to sleep by the murmur of the two rivers. The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, with coffee and plenty of milk, wine was brought in, small glasses were filled, and all joined in wishing me a prosperous journey to Sweden. At 9.30 A. M. the thermometer was at 68° in the shade, and 118° in the sun; and at noon, 125° in the sun, 72° in the shade.
On my way back I met the owner of Storjord; who, having heard of my visit, was hurrying home; he seemed disappointed at my departure. I liked his frank, open countenance, and felt sorry that I had not met him before. After a pleasant chat we parted, and I continued my way. At the parsonage the worthy pastor and his wife welcomed me once more, and I had to remain with them for the night. In the morning, before breakfast, we had family worship, the wife playing the accompaniment the hymns on a melodeon; all stood up, with bowed heads and clasped hands, during prayer. A number of young girls, tidily dressed, had come to pass an examination before the pastor, in preparation for the ceremeny of confirmation.
The midnight sun shone no more, and at that hour it was almost dark ; it was now the 3d of August, and farther south the days were shortening fast, and it was high time for me to undertake my journey across the peninsula.
My boatmen being ready, we hoisted sail and started. I soon found that my sailor friends knew all the legends connected with that wild coast. "Do you see that ?" said one of them, pointing to a high precipitous part of the fjord on our right. "Long, long ago, when Norway was under the rule of Denmark, there was a farmer living on a farm called Leifsets, who one day gave a great marriage feast to his daughter. Some Swedish (Kvaen) Finlanders, who had heard of the feast, crossed the mountains, intending to rob the farmer and his guests; but they did not know the way, and came to the house of one of the tenants of the farmer of Leifsets, and compelled him, with threats of death, to put them in the right path. The snow was very deep on the mountains, and the nights were dark; the tenant took a torch, put on his snow-shoes, and told the robbers to follow him. He was well acquainted with the country, and had made up his mind from the start that they should not reach Leifsets. On the journey he approached the edge of a precipice ; placing himself in such away that the glare of the torch prevented them from seeing him, suddenly he threw his torch over the precipice, and the robbers, following the light, fell and were crushed below. Hastening to the farm, the tenant fired his gun through the window, above the 'heads of the guests, to apprise them of their escape from a band of armed plunderers. The next day search was made at the place where the torch had been thrown over the brink, and below, in the snow, lay the robbers, dead, and frozen stiff." Pointing with his finger, my-boatman added, "There is the' spot where the robbers were killed, and to this day we have called this place the Kvaen precipice."
A little farther on, pointing to a bay, he said, "We fisher-men call this the 'Dead-man's Bay,' on account of the sudden squalls which come from the mountains, often upsetting boats, and drowning the boatmen."
The weather became very warm; the mercury standing in the sun at ten o'clock at 118°, in the shade at 68°. At eleven o'clock the sky grew darker, heavy clouds appeared, while the wind was dead ahead, and rising; the fishermen were hurrying ashore, and the people on the banks were carting away their hay as fast as they could, or piling it in heaps. Suddenly a storm burst upon us; the wind blew hard, and heavy claps of thunder were heard, accompanied with vivid flashes of lightning. Happily, we rounded the land in time, took two reefs in the sail, and, running before the wind, went over the waves at a rapid rate, the sea now and then washing over the side of our boat and thoroughly wetting us. The thunder-storm lasted an hour—the third I had seen within the arctic circle—and it was to be the last of that year.
With a fair wind we arrived at the mouth of a river which was the outlet of the lower Lang Vand (vand meaning "lake" in Norwegian) ; the water of the lake was rushing out with great force, as it was ebb-tide, and the boat had to be hauled along the shore through the short outlet. The lake is about one mile broad, and three or four miles long; the ter-raced shores were studded with farms, flanked for some distance back by high mountains, whereon you could see the paths by which the cattle were driven to their pastures during the summer.
After ascending a short river we came into a second lake, narrower and longer than the first, with gloomy, rugged shores. At the head is the hamlet of Skjonstuen,completely surrounded by mountains, the lowland having the appearance of the bottom of a kettle. I passed the night in a bed made of fresh hay, covered with sheepskins, but could not get asleep; the mystery was solved by the discovery that a prodigious number of fleas were feeding upon me, and there was no remedy but flight to a convenient table, which answered the purpose of a couch. This was the first time I had made their acquaintance in Scandinavia. Sheepskins, unless freshly taken from the storehouses, are a hot-bed for these pests during the summer, and, as a rule, in very primitive regions, are to be mistrusted.
From Skjônstuen the way is very rough, and sometimes there seemed to be no possibility of going farther, the path apparently ending at the foot of some steep ridge, which seemed to bar our passage; taking advantage of every stone, we slowly made our way up. When deaths occur here, the coffins are lowered down the cliff with ropes.
Twelve English miles from Skjonstuen we came to a farm on the banks of the Lang Vand River, a log-house and two other buildings of sugar-loaf form, made with sods. There was nothing to eat or drink except sour milk.
From this place navigation is resumed, though one may have to wait a considerable time before procuring a boat. After a short pull the upper Lang Vand is reached. We made a sail with birch branches, mounted it on the prow of our flat boat, and, the wind being fresh, made good progress. The lake lying between two high mountain ridges, the scenery was striking, and the occasional fall of a cascade from. the rugged and wooded heights added to its beauty. Three rivers, the Ykien, the Lommi, and the Erva, foaming white, fall into the lake, which is filled with splendid trout. A sail and pull of two hours brought us to Fagerli, at its upper end. Three or four farms scattered on the shore made the hamlet of Fagerli. My trusty fishermen took me where they had been directed by the merchant of Venset. Larsen received us kindly, and listened attentively while they delivered their message, and in the mean time the wife prepared a meal for us.
At the foot of the hills, near the lake, stood the humble farm ; close by was the river Ykien, on whose banks were stranded many fir and pine logs, which Larsen had cut during the winter, higher up in the mountain, and floated down after the melting of the snow. Some of these were from twenty-three to twenty-five feet in length, and from twelve to sixteen inches in diameter; others, about thirteen feet long, measured twenty-eight inches at one extremity and twenty-six at the other, The little farm had two houses, in one of which the stranger's room was assigned to me. There, while waiting for the Laplanders who had been sent for, I sometimes went fishing in the deep pool of the lake, and in less than half an hour would return with four or five trout, from eighteen to twenty-two inches in length, caught with worms as bait. Milk, cream, butter, cheese, flat bread, and wild strawberries, which the children gathered for me, made up the every-day bill of fare.
Calling at a neighboring farm on the other side of the Ykien, before reaching the house I heard a young mother singing psalms by the cradle of her babe. She said, as I entered," This is my first-born, and I want him from his birth to hear me sing praises to God; I want him to fear and love the Lord when he grows up, for God is good to us all."
When I visited the farms my pockets were always filled with candies bought in Bodo, on account of the children who came flocking around me, and I gave them coppers, which seemed to please them, for they shouted "Penger!" (money), and made haste to exhibit their treasures. Then I asked them to give me a kiss, which they did; whereupon the married women insisted that two of the grown-up sisters should do likewise. " Go and do so !" they said. This brought flushes to the maidens' cheeks, and they refused; but the matrons insisted, and, in order to have peace, each gave me a hearty kiss, and general merriment ensued. I may add that I was quite willing.
On the banks of the Lommi were two grist-mills; these are seen all over Norway, and in many districts each farm possesses one, or sometimes several farmers are its joint-owners. They are by the side of torrents, and are always picturesquely situated on the slopes of hills and mountains, a number of them often close together. After the hopper has been filled with grain the farmer goes away, coming again when he thinks it requires refilling; or, if the mill be far away from the farm, one of his daughters or maids remains in charge, whiling away the time by sewing or knitting, singing to the music of the murmuring waters, and thinking, perhaps, as little by little the corn is ground, of her lover and her approaching nuptials. The days work finished, she goes home to milk the cows or to prepare the evening meal for the family, who have gone into the fields to work.
On the 9th of August two Laplanders and a Lapp woman arrived; they were to be my guides, and were old friends of Larsen. Preparations for our departure the next day were at once made. The less a man carries on such a journey the bet-ter. My luggage consisted only of an extra flannel shirt, pair of pantaloons and shoes, and a light overcoat; my provisions were hard flat bread, butter and cheese, a flask of brandy (to be used in case of need), a strong coffee-kettle, a pound of roasted and ground coffee, and some tea. When the weather is wet and cold, or when very tired, I find tea and coffee very refreshing beverages ; it is a great mistake to think that the drinking of spirits refreshes the system when overcome by fatigue; the immediate effect is stimulating, but half an hour after one feels more exhausted than before. My arms were a gun; with very little ammunition, for game, and two revolvers; I intended to rid myself of the latter at the first opportunity, for they were heavy, and, besides, I had begun to feel ashamed of having these with me, and carefully kept them out of sight. I had carried them for protection t I had for safety left in Lon-don some valuables, including a gold watch-chain ; but here I was travelling, I may say without fear of contradiction, in the safest country in the world.
We were all ready to start, and had shouldered our lug-gage, when Larsen's wife exclaimed, "You must have more bread !" and this was hardly said before more bread and butter, packed in a little box made of birch hark, and cheese were put in my bags. The good woman forgot that we had to carry our provisions on our backs ; but, after all, she was right, for even with this extra store, I found afterwards that I ran short of food. I have such a dislike to luggage that I have often been pinched with hunger; but happily I can go without food longer than most persons. When leaving, to each of the children I gave a little money, and in the good - wife's hand I placed a few dollars, whereat she burst into tears, and gave me a good motherly kiss, while the husband grasped my hand warmly, with the words " Thanks for coming to us ;" and we said, "Farvel! Adjo!" Ole, the young son, went with me up the hill, carrying my gun ; and the last words I heard were loud calls to my Lapland guides to " take care of Paul !"