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Lofoden Islands

( Originally Published 1896 )



AMONG the thousands who throng to the Continent for refreshment and adventure, how few leave the great southward-streaming mass, and seek the desolate grandeur of those countries which lie north of our own land ! Of those who do diverge, the great majority are sportsmen, bent on pitiless raids against salmon and grouse. It is strange that the noblest coast scenery in Europe should be practically unknown to so ubiquitous a people as we are : but so it is: and as long as the thirst for summer climates remains in us, the world's winter-garden will be little visited. It is the old story : the Northmen yearn after the Nibelungen treasure in the South.

Doubtless, for us who are supposed to shiver in perennial fog, this tropical idolatry is right and wise. With all the passion of Rosicrucian philosophers, we worship the unfamiliar Sun-god, and transport ourselves to Italy or Egypt to find him. But what if he have a hyperborean shrine a place of fleeting visit in the far North, where for a while he never forsakes the heavens, but in serene beauty gathers his cloud-robes hourly about him, and is lord of midnight as of mid-day? Shall we not seek him there, and be rewarded perchance by such manifestations of violet and scarlet and dim green, of scathing white light, and deepest purple shadow, as his languorous votaries of the South knew nothing of ?

With such persuasive hints, I would lead the reader to the subject of this chapter. I imagine to most minds the Lofoden Islands are associated with little except school book legends of the Maelström, and perhaps the undesirable savour of cod-liver oil. With some they have a shadowy suggestion of iron-bound rocks, full of danger and horror, repulsive and sterile, and past the limit of civilisation. So little has been written about them, and that little is so inadequate, that I cannot wonder at the indifference to their existence which prevails. With the exception of a valuable paper by Mr. Bonney, that appeared some time back in the Alpine journal, I know of no contribution to geographical literature which treats of the group in any detail; and that paper, both from the narrow circulation of the periodical, and also from the limited district of which it treats, cannot have had that influence which its merit and the subject deserve.

The Lofoden Islands, which I visited in 1871, are an archipelago lying off the Arctic coast of Norway. Although in the same latitude as Central Greenland, Siberia, and Boothia Felix, they enjoy, in common with all the outer coast of Scandinavia, a comparatively mild climate; even in the severest winters their harbours are not frozen. The group extends at an acute angle to the mainland for about one hundred and forty miles, north-east and southwest. In shape they seem on the map like a great wedge thrust out into the Atlantic, the point being the desolate rock of Röst, the most southerly of the islands ; but this wedge is not solid : the centre is occupied by a sea-lake, which communicates by many channels with the ocean. As all the islands are mountainous, and of most fantastic forms, it can be imagined that this peculiar conformation leads to an endless panorama of singular and eccentric views. The largest of the Lofodens is Hindö, which forms the base of the wedge; north of this runs the long oval isle of Andö; to the west lies Lango, whose rugged coast has been torn and fretted by the ocean into the most intricate confusion of outline; the central lake has for its centre Ulvö thus the heart of the whole group ; and from the south of Hindö run in succession towards the south-west, Ost Vaagö, Vest Vaagö, Flakstadö, Moskenaeso, Vaerö, and little ultimate Röst. All these, and several minor satellites also, are inhabited by scattered families of fishermen. There is no town, scarcely a village; it is but a scanty population so barren and wild a land will support.

But quiet and noiseless as the shores are when the traveller sees them in their summer rest, they are busy enough, and full of animation, in the months of March and April. As soon as the tedious sunless winter has passed away, the peculiar Norwegian boats, standing high in the water, with prow and stern alike curved upwards, begin to crowd into the Lofoden harbours from all parts of the vast Scandinavian coast. It is the never failing harvest of codfish that they seek. Year after year in the early spring, usually about February, the waters around these islands are darkened with innumerable multitudes of cod. They are unaccountably local in these visitations. I was assured they had never been known to extend farther south than Vaerö, at the extremity of the group. The number of boats collected has been estimated at 3000; and as each contains on an average five men, the population of the Lofodens in March must be very considerable. Unfortunately for these "toilers of the sea," the early spring is a season of stormy weather and tumultuous seas : when the wind is blowing from the north-west or from the south-west, they are especially exposed to danger; when in the former quarter the sudden gusts down the narrow channel are overwhelming, and when in the latter the waves are beaten against the violent current always rushing down the Vest Fjord from its narrow apex. The centre of the busy trade in fish is Henningsvaer, a little collection of huts perched on the rocks under the precipitous flanks of Vaagekallen, the great mountain of Ost Vaagö. I was assured that in April, when the fish is all brought to shore, and the operations of gutting and cleaning begin, the scene on the shore becomes more strange than delightful. The disgusting labours which complete the great herring season in our own Hebrides are utterly outdone by the Norse cod-fishers. Men, women, and children cluster on the shore, busily engaged in their filthy work, and steeped to the eyes in blood and scales and entrails : at last the rocks themselves are slippery with the reeking refuse: one can scarcely walk among it; and such a smell arises as it would defy the rest of Europe to equal. The fish is then spread on the rocks to dry, and eventually piled in stacks along the shore : in this state it is known as klip-fish. Some is split and fastened by pegs to long rods, and allowed to flap in the wind till it dries to the consistence of leather : it is then called stock-fish. Before midsummer, flotillas of the swift boats called jagter gather again to the Lofodens, and bear away for exportation to Spain and Italy the dried results of the spring labour. Bergen is the great emporium for this trade. The other industry of the islands is the extraction of "cod-liver oil" : the livers of all kinds of fish supply this medicine, those of sharks being peculiarly esteemed. Along the low rocks, and around the houses, we find great cauldrons in which these painfully odorous livers are being slowly stewed : a heavy steam arises and the oily smell spreads far and wide. But this is not a feature peculiar to the Lofodens : all over the coast of Finmark the shores reek with this flavour of cod-liver oil.

It is a matter of regret to me, in my functions of apologist for these islands, that truth obliges me to raze to the ground with ruthless hand the romantic fabric of fable that has surrounded one of them from time immemorial. The Maelström, the terrific whirlpool that

" Whirled to death the roaring whale,"

that sucked the largest ships into its monstrous vortex, and thundered so loudly that, as Purchas tells us in his veracious Pilgrimage, the rings on the doors of houses ten miles off shook at the sound of it this wonder of the world must, alas ! retire to that limbo where the myths of old credulity gather, in a motley and fantastic array. There is no such whirlpool as Pontoppidan and Purchas describe. The site of the fabulous Maelström is put by the former writer between Moskenaeso and the lofty isolated rock of Mosken. This passage is at the present day called Mosköström, and is one of those narrow straits, so common on the Norwegian coast, where the current of water sets with such persistent force in one direction, that when the tide or an adverse wind meets it, a great agitation of the surface takes place. I have myself seen, on one of the narrow sounds, the tide meet the current with such violence as to raise a little hissing wall across the water, which gave out a loud noise. This was in the calmest of weather; and it is easy to believe that such a phenomenon occurring during a storm, or when the sea was violently disturbed, would cause small boats passing over the spot to be in great peril, and might even suddenly swamp them. Some such disaster, observed from the shore, and exaggerated by the terror of the beholder, doubtless gave rise to the prodigious legends of the Maelström. Such a catastrophe took place, I was informed, not long since, on the Salten Fjord, where there is an eddy more deserving the name of whirlpool than any in the Lofodens.

The legendary importance of the Maelström, as a kind of wonder of the world, led to the frequent mention of the Lofodens by the versifiers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But a specially interesting example of this kind connects with our islands the name of a most extraordinary personage, Bishop Anders Arrebo, the father of modern Scandinavian poetry. This great genius, whose sensuous and fiery nature contended in vain against the social laws of his time, and whose verse remains as a monument of broken hopes and wasted powers, was born at AEraeskjobing, in Denmark, in 1587, the year that Shakspeare came up to London. In 1618 his brilliant parts had already been rewarded by the bishopric of Throndhjem, in Norway, from which he was ejected in 1622, for too much love of songs and stringed instruments, for amorous discourse, and for too copious joviality at weddings and junketings. The offence seems to been venial, the disgrace was ruinous ; and Arrebo returned from his brief stay in Norway a broken and dejected man. He died in 1637, leaving his magnum opus, his didactic epic of the Hexaemeron, still unprinted. It saw the light in 1661. Arrebo was a student and disciple of Ronsard and Du Bartas, and his writings partake of the universal affectation that stains the European poetry of his time, but they share also the love of physical beauty and the joyous naturalism of that rich age of fecundity and liberty. It was during his unlucky stay in Norway that he is believed to have composed the Hexaemeron, which contains many passages describing Norwegian scenery. That which deals with the Maelström may be worth citing :

" In Loufod far to north on Norway's distant shore,
A flood is found that hath no like the wide world o'er,
Entitled Moske-flood, from that high Mosker rock
Round which in seemly rings the obsequious waters flock;
When this with hasty zeal performs the moon's designs,
If any man comes near, the world he straight resigns;
In spring its billows rear like other mountains high,
But through their sides we see the sun, the earth's bright eye;
Then, if the wind should rise against the flood's wild way,
Two heroes rush and meet in crash of war's array;
Then tremble land and house, then doors and windows rattle,
The earth is fain to cleave before that monstrous battle;
The vast and magic whale dares not its breach essay,
But turns in fear to flight, and roaring speeds away."

After more description in the same grandiose style, Arrebo proceeds to propound a theory of his own, which was universally received for .at least a century, and which made the poet more famous than the best of his verses. It runs thus: --

" Now my belief is this : that underneath the sea
A belt of lofty rocks is forged immutably,
Which hath an entrance, but is solid stone elsewhere,
And in the centre sends a peak high up to air.
When now the flood is come, with angry voice it calls,
And rushes inward like a thousand waterfalls,
And can no exit find to rule its rugged shock,
So madly whirls around the lofty central rock,
And rumbles like a quern when man doth grind therein."

Ten years after the death of Arrebo there was born at North Hero, on the Arctic coast of Norway, a man who was destined to give considerable literary prominence to the Lofodens. This was Petter Dass, son of a certain Peter Dundas, a Scotchman of Dundee, who came over to Norway in 1635. This man, who was an influential ecclesiastic in the province of Nordland, composed, between 1678 and 1692, a long itinerary in verse, somewhat in the fashion of Drayton's Polyolbion, entitled Nordlands Trompet (" The Trumpet of Nordland "). This poem if poem it can be called has enjoyed since the lifetime of its author an uninterrupted popularity, which it owes rather to its lucid and sensible style, its humour and its nimble versification, than to fancy or imagination of which it is devoid. A long canto in it is devoted to the Lofodens, much of which unfortunately is taken up with describing, with far less beauty of language than Arrebo had employed, the Maelström. We learn, however, that in Dass's time the principal Lofoden village stood on Skraaven, a small island now almost desolate. From Petter Dass's language, it seems to me almost certain that he visited the Lofodens, and lodged at Skraaven, and also at a fishing station on Vaagö, of which he gives a minute and curious description.

Until lately the topography of the islands was in a very unsettled state. The name of the group begins to appear on maps of North Europe about the year r600; but for a century and a half there is no sign to show that geographers were at all aware of the real position of the islands. In Pontoppidan's map the right point on the coast is at last fixed, but the oval smooth pieces of land, at a great distance from one another, which adorn the coast of Finmark on his chart, are a sadly inaccurate realisation of these firmly compacted and fantastically shaped Lofodens. Only within the last few years has the patient survey of the Norwegian Admiralty presented us with a minute and exact chart of the coast, and the sea-line may now be considered as accurately laid down. But with the interior of the islands it is not so; they consist of inaccessible crags, dreary morasses, and impenetrable snow-fields. The Lofoden islander prizes the sea-shore, for it feeds and enriches him; and the fringe of rich pasture which smiles along it, for it preserves his cattle; but the land which lies behind these is an unknown wilderness to him : if he penetrates it, it is to destroy the insolent eagles that snap up stray lambs, or to seek some idle kid that has strayed beyond the flock. Hence it is very difficult to find names for the peaks that bristle on the horizon or tower above the valleys ; in many cases they have no names, in many more these names have found their way into no printed maps. It was an object with me to fix on the true appellations of these magnificent mountains, and I was in many cases enabled, through the courtesy of the people and through patient collation of reports, to increase the amount of information in this respect. It must be remembered that many of the names given were taken down from oral statement, and that the spelling must in some cases be phonetic.

The only key to this enchanted palace of the Oceanides is, for ordinary travellers, the weekly steamer from Trondhjem. This invaluable vessel brings the voyager, after a somewhat weary journey through an endless multitude of low, slippery, grey islets and tame hills, to the Arctic Circle. Another day through scenery which at that point becomes highly eccentric and interesting, and in some places grand, brings him to Bodo. This depressing village is London and Liverpool in one for the inhabitants of our islands : every luxury, from a watch to a piano, from a box of Huntley and Palmer's biscuits to a pig, must be brought from Bodo. After a long stoppage here the steamer passes on up the coast some twenty miles, to a strange place called Gryto, a labyrinth of slimy rocks just high enough to hide the horizon. From this the boat emerges through a tortuous and perilous sound, and is at once in the great Vest Fjord. Forty miles ahead in one unbroken line rise the sharp mountains of the Lofodens, and without swerving a point the steamer glides west-north-west into the very centre of the great wall. If the traveller visit the islands in summer, and make the passage across the Vest Fjord at midnight, as he is almost sure to do, the scene, provided the air be clear and dry, will be gorgeous. In the weird Arctic midnight, with a calm sea shimmering before the bows, and all things clothed in that cold yellow lustre, deepening to amber and gold behind the great blue mountains, which is so strange a characteristic of the sun at midnight, the scene is wonderfully impressive. As the steamer proceeds, making for Balstad, on the south-west corner of Vest Vaagö, Flakstadö and Moskenaesö lie somewhat to our left; and perchance, if the eye is very keen, far away in the same direction it may detect the little solitary rock of Vaerö, and still farther Röst itself, our ultima Thule. The southern range of the Lofodens has been compared to a vertebrated skeleton, and the simile is vastly well chosen, for the isles taper off to a minute tail, and the channels that run between them are so narrow and fit the outline so exactly that they appear like joints. Seen from the Vest Fjord, the whole looks like one vast land, undivided. Higher and higher on the primrose-coloured sky the dark peaks rise as we approach our haven. And now the hills of Moskenaesö assume definite shape ; the two central points rising side by side are Guldtind and Reinebring, the former being the southern one. For an account, the only one I know of Moskenaesö, I can refer the reader to the Reise durch Norwegen of Herr C. F. Lessing, published in 1831 at Berlin ; a scarce book, I believe. Herr Lessing was an enterprising naturalist who visited Vaerö, Moskenaesö, and Vest Vaagö, and wrote an entertaining chapter about them in his excellent little book. The mountains of Moskenaesö are not very lofty, but the island is inaccessible, the shores being so steep and the outline so indented by the sea that it is necessary to take a boat from haven to haven ; one cannot pass by land. The highest mountain of Flakstadö, the precipitous Napstind, is on the northern extremity of that island, and hidden from us by the projecting promontories of Vaagö; but the lofty hills very slightly to our left belong to this island. Even while we speak, we glide between half-submerged rocks and rounded islets crowded with sea-birds into the bay of Balstad, and the Lofodens are around us ! The hour is that one of glamour in these Arctic summers when the day is but a few hours old, and the golden sheen of midnight has given way to the strong chiaroscuro of sunrise. Above our heads rises the mountain Skottind, and we preceive how strange is the land we have arrived in ; no longer the rounded hills of the mainland, no more any conventional mountain-forms and shapes in any wise familiar. Skottind soars into the clouds one vast cliff of dark rock split across now and then with a sharp crevasse, above which rises another wall of cliff, and so on to the summit, where thin spires and sharp pinnacles, clear-cut against the sky, complete the mighty peak. This is characteristic of all the mountains of this southern and grandest range : especially unique and perplexing is the thin look of the extreme summit; apparently the ridge is as sharp and narrow as a notched razor; no signs of the receding of the edge are to be seen. All these points are inaccessible on one side; from the interior it might be possible to reach the top of some of them, and sublime would be the view so gained. At present, this chilly July morning, Skottind rises a wall of darkest indigo-blue between the sun and our faces; about its horns the heavy tissue of clouds is shot through with brilliant white light of sunrise, and the fainter wreaths of vapour, delicately tinged with rose-colour and orange, pause before they rise and flee away over the awakened heavens. As for Balstad itself, it is a cluster of wooden houses painted grey and green, or deeply stained with red ochre, scattered about on a frightfully rugged platform of rocks, so uneven that I can-not think a square yard of earth or tolerably flat rock could be found anywhere. Some of the houses are built on the outlying islets, treacherous low reefs on which the grey sea creeps and shows his ominous white teeth. Such places seem to promise certain destruction in the first storm, but the cottages survive, and the bay certainly is very sheltered.

Leaving Balstad, the steamer coasts along the shores of Vest Vaago. The twin peaks that appeared from the middle of Vest Fjord as the highest land in this island lie on the northern coast, and are now far out of sight ; they are known under the collective name of Himmelstinder a poetic and suggestive title. It may be well to point out that "tind" is equivalent to needle, spitz, and is descriptive of the pinnacle-character of the mountain. Himmelstind was ascended by Herr Lessing, who crossed over to it from Buxnaes, and bravely ascended, in spite of pouring rain and the derisive remarks of the natives : his account of the adventure is highly humorous. We pursue our voyage through an infinite multitude of sterile rocks and under fine stormy crags till we reach the mouth of the broad Gimsöstrom, the gulf that divides us from Ost Vaago. Here the colossal precipices of Vaagekallen come into sight, the sublimest, though not the loftiest, of all the Lofoden mountains. This stupendous mass occupies the south-west extremity of Ost Vaagö, and is almost always shrouded in cloud; the snow lies in patches about its ravines, but most of its summit is too sheer for snow to rest on or any herb to grow. Vaagekallen is the beacon towards which the fisher, laden with finny spoils, wearily steers at fall of day ; for under its spurs, on a group of islets in the sound, is built the village of Henningsvaer, the most important of all fishing stations, and a flourishing little place. It has a lighthouse also, the largest on this coast. A little farther on we pass the quaint church of Vaagen Kirkevaag, as the inhabitants call it built, like all Northern churches, of wood, and painted dark brown. Here we find the only trace of historic importance that Lofoden can boast, I believe ; for it was from Kirkevaag that that enthusiast Hans Egede, led by devoted love for the souls of men, went in 1721 to preach the gospel to the desolate savages of Greenland.

We pass on through crowds of eider-ducks and terns and cormorants to Svolvaer, a prominent station on Ost Vaago. The entrance to this harbour is through a maze of black, cruel rocks, round which the sea tumbles and glides ominously; at last, after half-an-hour of intricate steering, through passages where no path seemed possible, a large village is reached, built like a lacustrine town on piles above the water. Svolvaer is thrown about on a heap of islets and promontories, here a house and there a house, on a site even wilder than that of Balstad. The mountain rising sheer behind it is the Svolvaer Fjeld. Tolerable accommodation may be got at this place, though the house of entertainment is, according to Mr. Bonney, very inconveniently situated. It had been decided by a commission, shortly before I arrived, that if ever it should be thought desirable to found a town on the Lofodens, this should be the site of it. Leaving Svolvaer, the OstKaes Fjord, gloomy, narrow, and terrible as that gate Dante saw in Hell, looms on our left; enormous mountains hem it in. On the west side, eminent above the rest, is a peak called, I believe, the Jomfrutind; it would be a dismal thing to have to live on the shores of this sombre and sinister water-glen.

But now, straight before us, we perceive three islands, not belonging to the general range, but standing at right angles to it, running far out in the Vest Fjord ; and between them we see glimpses of the mainland, now not very distant. These islands are circular, and not indented by the sea; but a shelf of rock, covered with rough pasturage, runs round each of them, and then a mountain soars suddenly into the skies. Stor Molla, one of the largest, and nearest to Ost Vaago, is a double peak of quite exceptional grandeur; and Lille Molla and Skraaven, though less lofty, are scarcely tamer in their forms. It is difficult to form a due conception of this peculiar masculine scenery ; there is nothing pretty or charming about it, but it is eminently impressive. Compared with the rest of Norwegian sea-scenery, with that south of the Arctic Circle especially, it differs from it as an American backwoodsman differs from a London counter jumper. I would here protest a little, in wonder, at the compliments paid to the coast scenery of South and Central Norway : saving that terrible sound which runs between Bremangerland and the main, under the awful cliffs of Hornelen, there is no ocean landscape from Torghatten to the Naze to call forth the slightest enthusiasm. There is much finer country in the Hebrides.

To return to, Lille Molla. This island and its congeners are all inhabited, and not two hours' sail from Svolvaer; on Stor Molla accommodation of some sort might probably be found, and I think this little group would be well worth investigation. It has just that amount of geographical independence which often suffices to produce a difference in flora and fauna. Between the two Mollas we steam, noticing the rough saeters on the shores, the rows of stockfish flapping in the wind, and the cauldrons of stewing livers, faintly odorous from the steamer's deck. The Okellesund (for so the northern passage between Stor Molla and Vaagö appears to be called) is too narrow to admit the steamer, but turning north as we leave the Möldoren, we enter the celebrated Raftsund.

The Raftsund, which has won the hearty admiration of every traveller who has seen it, is a narrow channel, fifteen miles long, running north-east between Vaagö and Hindö. It is of various width, narrowest towards the north; on each side mountains of the most vigorous and eccentric forms rise in precipices and lose themselves in pinnacles and sharp edges that cut the clouds. As this is the one part of the Lofodens that has been somewhat minutely described, I need not linger in painting it. A few of the peaks, however, I can name. All the loftiest and boldest are on the Vaagö side. Perhaps the strangest is Iistind, a gigantic mass with a tower like cairn on the summit; Mahomet's Tomb we nicknamed it, till a native obligingly gave its true title. This is at the middle of the sound, where an island breaks the current, and several small fjords push into the land. Another very noble cluster of aiguilles is Ruttind, on Vaagö, but much to the south of Iistind. These peaks are mostly wreathed with foamy cloud, that on a fine day daintily rises and lays bare their dark beauty, and as airily closes round them again. About the summits the rifts and joints are full of snow all the summer, and from every bed, leaping over rocks and sliding down the smooth slabs of granite, a narrow line of water, white as the parent snow, falls in a long cataract to the sea. On the Hindö side, Kongstind, which lies north-east of Iistind, is the most striking mass. On both sides near the water the ground is covered with deep grass, of a bright green colour, and flowers bloom in beautiful abundance. In one place the harebells were so thick on the hillside that they gleamed, an azure patch, half a mile away. Flocks of sheep and goats luxuriate in this lush herbage; here and there ferns are in the ascendency, Polypodium phlegopteris and dryopteris being everywhere abundant.

Leaving the Raftsund, we suddenly enter that sea-lake which, as I have said, holds the centre of the archipelago. We are now at the heart of the enchanted land, and the sight before us is one of the loveliest that can be conceived. The bristling character of the southern coast gives place to a calmer, more placid scenery. Here there are no subtle rocks, no frightful reefs ; all is simple, serene, and stately. I cannot do better than give my remembrance of the first time I saw this scene, on a calm sunlit morning in July. Leaving the Raftsund, we bore due north. As we steamed through quiet shimmering water gently down on Ulvö, the ghostly mountains lay behind us, a semi-circle of purple shadow; down their sides the clear patches of snow, muffling the vast crevasses, shone, dead-white, or stretched in glaciers almost to the water's edge. In contrast to their grandeur, the sunny slopes of Ulvö rose before us, with the little kirk of Hassel nestling in a bright green valley; in its heart the violet peak of Soeterheid rose, hiding its dim head in the mystery of the vaporous air above. The sea had all the silence and the restfulness of dreamland : not a ripple broke the sheeny surface, save where a flock of ducklings followed the mother-bird in a fluttering arc, or where the cormorant hurled himself on some quivering fish. We drifted round the eastern promontory of the lovely island; peak by peak the pleasant hills of Langö gathered on our right, while to the left of us, and ever growing dimmer in the distance, the prodigious aiguilles of Vaagö, in their clear majestic colour, soared unapproachable above the lower foreground of Ulvö. Behind us now was Hindö, less grand perhaps than Vaagö, but displaying two central mountains of immense height, Fisketind and Mosadlen, the latter reported to attain a greater elevation than any in the group.

Langö lies very close on the right when we enter the Borösund and make for Stokmarknaes. Borö itself lies in the strait between Ulvö and Langö. The pretty hamlet on its shores was the centre of the investigations of Dr. George Berna and his friends, as related by Herr Carl Vogt in his interesting Norafahrt. On the northern shore of Ulvö, at the mouth of a small valley, lies the large village of Stokmarknaes. It is almost a town, containing perhaps one hundred and twenty houses; it may be the most populous place in the Lofodens, though I am told that the discovery of coal in Andö has greatly increased the village-port of Dvergberg in that island. Stokmarknaes looks very pretty from the sea, with its clean painted houses of deal wood, and bright tiled roofs. Ulvö is the richest, most fertile, and most populous of the islands. It stands in the sea like a hat, having a central mountain mass, and a broad rim of very flat and fertile land. To compare great things with mean, it is in shape extremely like that unpleasant island, Lunga, in the Hebrides, facetiously known as the Dutchman's Hat. Ulvö culminates in a single peak, by name Saeterheid, which rises close behind Stokmarknaes. This mountain, whose sides are principally covered by a thick jungle of birch underwood, slopes gradually away into a rocky ridge running across the island, and falls in steep precipitous cliffs to the flat lands that form the external rim. These flats were originally, I suppose, morasses, but have been in great part reclaimed, though on the eastern side of Saeterheid there are still great bogs, and two little tarns, full of trout. At Stokmarknaes (which is quite a place of importance, and had in the summer of 187r a bazaar for the sick and wounded French) good accommodation can be had; Herr Halls, the land-handler, being in a condition to make visitors very comfortable at a moderate charge, and this is a good station to leave the steamer at. Herr Halls also supplies karjols, and a very pleasant excursion can be made on one of those arm-chairs-on-wheels to the south of the island. There is one road in Ulvö, running from Stokmarknaes round the eastern coast to Melbo, a gaard or farmstead opposite Vaagö. It is a very good road, more like a carriage-drive through a gentleman's park than a public thoroughfare. It is about ten miles from Stokmarknaes to Melbo. The road passes Hassel Church, at the eastern extremity of the island, an odd octagonal building of wood, painted red, with a high conical roof. Norwegian churches have an excessively undignified look; some are like pigeon-houses, some like pocket-telescopes. Hassel reminded me irresistibly of a mustard-pot. Yet it is a structure of high ecclesiastical dignity, for not only all Ulvö, but parts of Langö and Hindö, and the whole north of Vaagö, depend upon it for pastoral care. It is a very pretty sight on a summer Sunday morning to see the boats gathering from all parts to it, full of the simple, devout people in their holiday dress.

To judge by the number of red-shank and curlew that wheel above the traveller, or flutter wailing before him, the bogs beside the road must teem with wild-fowl. The north side of the island is thickly dotted with farms and fishermen's huts, but after leaving Hassel and the adjoining hamlet of Steilo these diminish in number, till at Melbo the road itself disappears, and the flat land becomes a wild peat bog, with only a few huts near the sea. Melbo is simply a large farm, owned by Fru Coldevin, a lady who opens her house in the summer for the accommodation of sportsmen and those few travellers that wander to this far end of the earth. A cluster of islets off the coast here is a part of her property. She preserves these rocks for the sea-birds, which flock to them in extraordinary numbers. Little kennels of turf and stone are built to shelter the nests, and here the eider-ducks strip themselves of their exquisite down for the sake of their offspring, and in due time see it appropriated by Fru Coldevin.

The lovely range of snowy points in Vaagö is seen on a fine day bewitchingly from Melbo. Mr. Bonney, who unhappily seems to have had execrable weather in the Lofodens, sighed pathetically at these peaks from Melbo. He gives Alpine names to the two highest, supposing apparently that they were nameless in the native tongue ; they are not so neglected, however. The foremost mountain, which from Ulvö seems the highest, is Higraven, "the tomb or monument of the wild beast;" and the other, really the loftiest peak in Vaagö, is Blaamanden. The Rev. W. S. Green accomplished in 1871 the ascent of Higraven, and kindly permits me to transcribe from his journal the story of his adventure. Mr. Green's familiarity with Swiss Alpine scenery would tend to make him a severe critic of mountain effects, and that he can write thus enthusiastically of the Lofodens is no small proof of their wonderful beauty.

Mr. Green started from Melbo on a fine July morning, at io A.M. ; the clouds, taage, masses of opaque white fleece on the sides of all the peaks, promised ill for the expedition ; but soon these rolled away, and left the snowy rocks clear-cut against an azure sun-lit sky. "The face of the sea was as smooth as glass, and over it rose the long line of snow-capped peaks, softening from rugged purple crags to emerald-green slopes as they approached the sea, looking about a mile off, though in fact the nearest of them was seven. I had determined beforehand which peak I should climb : it seemed to be the highest in Ost Vaago, and lay at the head of the Stover Fjord. My boatmen were pleasant fellows, and as I lay luxuriously in the stern, steering, I conversed with them in bad Norse; my questions had reference principally to the sea-birds. A pretty little sort of guillemot with red legs they call testhe; this bird is very common : another common bird, the hen-eider I think, is called ae. We passed many of these with a train of young ones after them. As the boat skimmed along we passed many beautiful jelly-fish : one sort of bolina about the size of a goose-egg was particularly common. At last, after winding through many islets, we enter the Stover Fjord : the only thing I can compare it to is the Bay of Uri, which I think it surpasses in beauty, and the Aiguille de Dru is rivalled by these snow-seamed pinnacles. But it was 12 o'clock, and I jumped ashore at a sort of elbow where the fjord forks. I put some provisions into my pocket ; then, with my sketching materials slung upon my back and my alpen-stock in my hand, I commenced the ascent. I first scrambled over boulders covered with fern, bushes, and wild flowers; these soon became very steep, and slinging myself up hand over hand through the bushes was very warm work. I took off my coat and hung it in the strap on my back ; after a sharp climb over steep rocks I got on to a slope of snow that filled the gorge. In about an hour and a half I reached a col that I had aimed at all through. I could see the boat, a speck below, so I jodeled at the top of my voice, and soon heard a faint answer. The place I had come up was very steep, and the thought of descending it again not very pleasant. I took the pre-caution, however, of fixing bits of white paper on the rocks and bushes where I had met with difficulty, to serve as guides in my descent. There- was a glorious view from where I stood, and the day was perfection. After another hour of steep climbing I reached a cornice of snow, but was able to turn off to the right and cross a level plateau of snow, from the other side of which rose up my peak. I now encountered very steep snow-slopes and rocks, and just before the snow rounded off into the dom, forming a summit, it became so hard that my feet could get no hold. I had to resort to step-cutting : about a dozen steps sufficed to land me on the dom ; an easy incline then led to the summit, on which I stood at 4.30 P.M. I wished for an aneroid; but from the time I took to ascend, and from other circumstances, I should think the height to be over 4000, and possibly 5000 feet. Now for the view. I have yet to see the Alpine view that surpasses this in its extreme beauty : the mountain chain of the mainland was in sight for, I suppose, a hundred miles; then came the Vest Fjord, studded with islands. The mountains around me were of the wildest and most fantastic form, not drawn out in a long chain, but grouped together, and embosoming lovely little tarns and lakes. The inner arm of the Stover Fjord, over which I seemed to hang, was of a deep dark blue, except where it became shallow, where it was of a bright pea-green. This latter colour may be accounted for by the fact that the rocks below low-water mark are white, with pure white nullipore and balani; there is no laminaria or sea-weed of any sort in these narrow fjords, except Fucus vesiculosus, and this grows only between tide-marks. Looking away to the north came Ulvo, with its fringe of islets; then Langö, with its sea of peaks : these do not appear, however, to be so high or rugged as the peaks of Hindö, that come next to the sight. Here Mosadlen stands up with his lovely crest of snow; far away, in an opposite direction, lies Vest Vaagö, where I remarked another peak that seemed to be of a respectable height. The view was perfection : one drop of bitterness was in my cup, and that was that a neighbouring peak was evidently higher than the one I had climbed. It was connected with my peak by a very sharp rock arrête just below which was a flattish plateau of crevassed névé : it was too far to think of trying it, and it looked very difficult ; an attempt upon it would be more likely to succeed if made from the south-east. Having made a sketch and built a cairn of stones, I looked about for the easiest way to descend, and found that a long slope of snow led into a valley connected with the north arm of the fjord; this I determined to try. I climbed down the steps I had cut, with my face to the snow; then sitting down and steering with my alpenstock, I made the finest glissade I ever enjoyed. As I neared the bottom it was necessary to go lightly, as a torrent was roaring along under the snow. I soon had to take to the moraine, which was of a most trying character. I now got down to a charming little lake, in which islands of snow floated, and in which the peaks were mirrored to their summits. Skirting along this, and descending by the edge of a stream that led out of it, I came to another lovely tarn, on which were a couple of water-fowl. From this I clambered down through bushes at the side of a waterfall, and arrived on the strand of the fjord all safe. At 6.3o P.M. I was sitting in the boat, and in two hours arrived in Melbo."

The superior peak that dashed Mr. Green's happiness was Blaamanden, which must now be considered the highest point out of Hindö. Vaagekallen is certainly lower even than Higraven.

Of the northern islands of the Lofoden group space fails me to speak much ; they are but little known. Langö was skirted by the German expedition whose story is " erzählt von Carl Vogt," but his notes on this part of the tour are unfortunately very scanty. The northern peninsula would seem to be the finest part of Langö. I hear of a splendid mountain, Klotind, which fills this tongue of land with its spurs. Andö, the most northerly of the archipelago, is the tamest of all; the interior of it has been surveyed with such minute care that it is impossible to suppose its mountains can be very rugged. For the sake of any one desirous of visiting Andö, I may remark that a little steamer has been started in connection with the large boat which meets the latter at Harstadhavn in Hindö, skirts the north of that island, calls at Dvergberg and Andenaes in Andö, and after a visit to the north of Senjen returns the same way to Harstad. The same steamer calls off the coast of Grytö, a mountainous Lofoden, whose vast central peak of Fussen is seen in the distance from the Vaags Fjord.

In ordinary years the snow disappears from the low ground in these islands before May, and the rapid summer brings their scanty harvest soon to perfection. A few years ago, however, the snow lay on the cultivated lands till June, and a famine ensued. These poor people live a precarious life, exposed to the attacks of a singularly peevish climate. A whim of the cod-fish, a hurricane in the April sky, or a cold spring, is sufficient to plunge them into distress and poverty. Yet for all this they are an honest and well-to-do population ; for, being thrifty and laborious, they guard with much foresight against the severities of nature. In winter the aurora scintillates over their solemn mountains, and illuminates the snows and wan grey sea ; they sit at their cottage-doors and spin by the gleam of it; in summer the sun never sets, and they have the advantage of endless light to husband their hardly-won crops. Remote as they are, too, they can all read and write : it is strange to find how much intelligent interest they take in the struggles of great peoples who never heard of Lofoden. It is a fact, too, not over-flattering to Our boasted civilisation, that the education of children in the hamlets of this remote cluster of islands in the Polar Sea is higher than that of towns within a small distance of our capital city; ay, higher even, proportionally, than that of London itself.

I would fain linger over the delicious memories that the name of these wild islands brings with it; would fain take the reader to the pine-covered slopes of Sandtorv, the brilliant meadow of little Kjoen, so refreshing in this savage land; to the Tjeldaesund, as I saw it on a certain midnight, when the lustrous sun-light lay in irregular golden bars across the blue spectral mountains, and tinged the snow peaks daintily with rose-red. But space is wanting, and being forced to choose, I will wind up with a faint description of the last sight I had of the islands on a calm sunny night in summer.

All day we had been winding among the tortuous tributaries of the Ofoten Fjord, and as evening drew on slipped down to Tranö, a station on the mainland side of the Vest Fjord, near the head of that gulf. It had been a cloudless day of excessive heat, and the comparative coolness of night was refreshing. The light, too, ceased to be garish, but flooded all the air with mellow lustre. From Tranö we saw the Lofodens rising all along the northern sky, a gigantic wall of irregular jagged peaks, pale blue on a horizon of gold fire. The surface of the fjord was slightly broken into little tossing waves that, murmuring faintly, were the only audible things that broke the silence. The edge of the ripple shone with the colour of burnished bronze, relieved by the cool neutral grey of the sea-hollows. From Tranö we slipped across the fjord almost due west to the mouth of the Raftsund. The sun lay like a great harvest-moon, shedding its cold yellow light down on us from over Hindö, till, as we glided gradually more under the shadow of the islands, he disappeared behind the mountains. At 11.30 P.M. we lost him thus, but a long while after a ravine in Hindö of more than common depth again revealed him, and a portion of his disc shone for a minute like a luminous point or burning star on the side of a peak. About midnight we came abreast of Aarstenen, and before us rose the double peak of Lille Molla, of a black-blue colour, very solemn and grand. Skraaven was behind, and both were swathed lightly in wreaths and fox-tails of rose-tinged mist. There was no lustre on the waters here. The entrance to the sound was unbroken by any wave or ripple, unillumined by any light of sunset or sunrise, but a sombre reflex of the unstained blue heaven above. As we glided, in the same strange utter noiselessness of the hour when evening and morning meet, up the Raftsund itself, enclosed by the vast slopes of Hindö and the keen aiguilles of Vaago, the glory and beauty of the scene rose to a pitch so high that the spirit was oppressed and overawed by it, and the eyes could scarcely fulfil their function. Ahead of the vessel the narrow vista of glassy water was a blaze of purple and golden colour arranged in a faultless harmony of tone that was like music or lyrical verse in its direct appeal to the emotions. At each side the fjord reflected each elbow, each edge, each cataract, and even the flowers and herbs of the base, with a precision so absolute that it was hard to tell where mountain ended and sea began. The centre of the sound, where it spreads into several small arms, was the climax of loveliness, for here the harmonious vista was broadened and deepened, and here rose Iistind towering into the unclouded heavens, and showing by the rays of golden splendour that lit up its topmost snows, that it could see the sun, whose magical fingers, working unseen of us, had woven for the world this tissue of variegated beauty.

1872



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