M. A Wyllie.

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bowed heads, their hands clasped over their prayer-books.
The rear was brought up by a group of men, all in black
cloth and soft black clerical hats. Quite a mournful
note they made as they walked through the fields, bright
with crimson foxglove and lacy heads of cow parsley. I
heard later that this was a christening party. The faces
of the women might have been accounted for had the
christening been a matter of life and death, as it was a
thousand years ago when the new-born infant was laid
on the floor to await the arrival of its father.

This Viking or Spartan, on entering the room, had the
infant placed upon his knee. If he accepted the child
as his own he was wont to cover it with a fold of his
cloak. Then he looked at his child intently, to judge
of its appearance, proportions, luck, and temper, and,
satisfying himself chat the new-born offspring was well
shaped, he decided whether it should live or be exposed.
Then took place the most important and sacred ceremony
of "name fastening," or baptism, the sprinkling of
water upon the child, a holy custom that had come down
from the remotest time, being lost in the mist of ages.
A vessel filled with water was brought in, which the
father poured over the child, at the same time calling
in a loud voice, so that all men should hear him, some-
thing like the following : " Ivar shall the boy be named,
after his grandfather. He will of Odin's family the fore-
most man be called. He will fight many battles, and
be much like his mother ; he will be called his father's
son, for he will wage war from early age, and wander far
and wide."

After the ceremony the life of the infant was sacred.
His father had no longer power to expose him, or to
take his life; should he do so it would be murder. It
seems like a dispensation of providence for the poor

138 VOSS

mother that after these events, which would be most
harrowing for her, had taken place, the utmost silence
was enjoined to allow the inseparable triad or trinity —
Urd "the Past," Verdandi "the Present," and Skuld
" the Future " — to forecast the life of the infant. These
three genii shaped or foreordained the life of every
human being at its birth. Du Chaillu tells us so in
his romantic history of Ivar the Viking.

But this is a digression. I was about to mention the
lasses who walked about Voss without black bonnets
or anything else on their youthful heads. They wore
pretty red close-fitting bodices, fine white full-sleeved
shirts, lace aprons, and black skirts. A prettier dress,
or more dainty, could not be found in a long day's march.
Unfortunately, like most good things, this rural fashion
is going out, and the ugly ill-fitting blouse and skirt
taking its place. Soon the national dress will be worn
by the waiting-maids alone.

We had thought one day would be sufficient for Voss,
but somehow this drew out into three, and if time had
allowed no doubt three more days could have been well
spent. It was the perfect peace that pervaded the
place that made it so delightful. For hours we sat
amongst the tall grass, the light breeze rippling the
flowers and carrying with it the sounds of the workers
around and in the village below. Voss will ever be associated
in my mind with the voices of the women, which di'ifted
up to us like the music of a small gurgling stream. The
mountains were near, but agriculture had taken complete
possession of the plain. It lay at our feet, a perfect
kaleidoscope of an endless variety of beautiful colours
that crept up the mountain side till cultivation was no
longer possible. Where the meadows ended the pine took
up the ta,le and clothed the ridge, while beyond wag


visible the dark blue of the steep sides of the snowclad

Verdandi, the old Norse representative of the present,
must have been wandering. Resplendent in beauty and
freshness, butterflies always surrounded her, for she
typified immortality, and held in one of her hands the
life-thread of every human being. Her garment shone
like a silvery cloud, and from her long flowing hair
sprang rays of light more brilliant than those of the sun,
sending their radiance all over the world. With un-
bounded joy she looked into the future, and into
immortality. Hope she gave to all the children of men,
and hid from their sight the breakers ahead. And so it
was, one could but live for the day, earth's beauty

It must always strike the visitor to Norway how very
few really old churches, monasteries, and houses remain
as landmarks in the life of a people and country of such
historic interest. The oldest buildings now existing are
no doubt the churches that took the place of the " Hov "
or heathen temples in Scandinavia. These last appear
without exception to have been burnt to make room for
churches, on the introduction of Christianity in the tenth
and eleventh centuries. Mr. Johan Meyer, in his able
article on Norwegian architecture, says : " It is not easy
to determine which of the extremely simple churches of
rough-hewn stone belong to the early part of the eleventh
century." It was during the flourishing period which
lasted for about eighty years, Avhen the stormy times in
Norway's history had suddenly passed away, and the
stillness that ensued during the reigns of Haakon
Haakonsson, and his son Magnus Lagaboter, was likened
by one of its historians to "the stillness on a battle-
field after the battle," that a number of buildings of


importance rose under the direct supervision of this King.
Bergen was then the principal town, and several im-
portant parish churches, without aisles, were erected in
the diocese, the church of Vossevangen being one.

The church at Voss might be called " plain but honest,"
surmounted as it is with its quaint black tower. Close
by it is not even very interesting, having been so often
renewed that one is doubtful if any ancient remains are
left dating from 1271. There are some tablets to
pastors of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, a nice
candelabrum of 1733, and a Bible of considerable interest,
and older than anything else that meets the eye, dated
1589. All the same, this quaint little church takes its
place in the landscape ; and whatever it may be close by,
from the fields above its picturesqueness is undeniable.

Fletclier's Hotel was full as usual, rooms being booked
for weeks ahead. In the great salle every seat at the
tables was filled with walking, cycling, and driving
tourists. No more genial or buxom hosts could exist.
Standing behind the buffet with eagle eyes, they attended
to the wants of the community, directing and supplying
the maids in waiting, who looked so pretty and neat in
their national dress. This hotel is also one of the largest
posting stations, being on the high road to Bergen, to
Gudvangen on the Naero Fjord, and Eide on the Hardanger.
All day long the carioles and stolkjaerres come and go,
with all the bustle attending our coaches in England.

On the upper road diverging to the right from the
Bergen road, to the west of the hotel, is the farm of Fin,
and beside it the Finneloft, a fine old timber house
dating from 1300. It looks newer and far more sub-
stantial than the weather-boarded houses of the present
day, which are much wanting in the picturesque, and far
more often mar than improve the landscape. Apparently


the present generation has not the fine feeling for colour
that their ancestors possessed, and that was so necessary
as a contrast and an enlivening note to the wooden

This old Finneloft must have been built at about the
same time as the wonderful Stav churches, of which more
than twenty are still standing, the greater number in the
mountain districts and in Sogne. The nut-brown log
walls are of good proportion, the upper passage is sup-
ported on the boldly cut ends and projecting beams of
the floor, the whole running round the building forming
a protection to the lower part of the walls. The roof
juts far out over all. On the threshold stood an old
man, who volunteered in good English to fetch the key.
A splendid cicerone he made, touching each object with
a sort of homage as belonging to his forefathers. Ex-
patriated in early life through want of space from his
old home to the New World, he had just landed with
some hundred other Norwegians to revisit the home of
their youth before death overtook them.

Mr. Laing quotes some interesting instances of the
length of time that some of these bonder estates continue
in one family. Hrolf Blakar, of Blakar, in Lorn parish
" preserves a head-piece or helmet complete, with an
opening only for the eyes, and parts of a coat of mail,
a long sword, and other articles of his ancestors ; also a
writing of King Haakon Magnusson, the younger, who
lodged a night in Blakar Gaard, in the fourteenth year
of his reign, anno 1364, In many mstances the title-
deeds by which the existing bondi hold their estates
are written in a dead language, the old Norsk, or

Many of the relations of Rolf Ganger, the conqueror
of Normandy, and the ancestor of our Norman line of


Kings, are still represented by their descendants, who
are peasant proprietors in Norway and Iceland. If the
royal families of Europe, and our aristocratic families
whose ancestors " came over with the Conqueror," could
trace their lineage far enough, they would find the farms
of their ancestors among the gaards of Norway, with
nearly the same boundaries as they had a thousand years
ago. In many instances the present bonder would be
the direct descendant of the elder son of the common
ancestor, while the prince or nobleman would have
descended from a younger son. Then as now, when the
farms were too small for subdivision, the eldest son
inherited intact, while the younger went to seek their
fortunes on the seas and in distant lands. The House
of Finn might well be as old as the gaard of Hrolf

" Yes, sir ; I guess these are mighty old, some of these.
Look at this old carved bit of wood, some sort of calendar,
I take it, with the signs all along and the days of the
week. No ; I couldn't read it myself, but you may depend
they could, those old people. These Bibles, — why, yes,
they are old too. Look at the date. That's more than
three hundred years ago, isn't it ? The harness, yes, and
the horse collar, that comes down from the same time
too. You see, they had silver bells for weddings, and
these others were for everyday use. The sledge too,
they were fond of bright colour in those days, and they
made things strong too. They wanted them to last.
Look at these great beams, and see the way they are
fitted. A fine piece of work, I call it. What are those
holes round under the eaves ? Why, they are to shoot
through, I reckon, when the house was attacked."

From the farm of Fin our footsteps followed a path
skirting the upper end of the Vangsvand, through a long


vista of pine woods, at the very edge of the sandy shores
of the lake. The sun was setting, making the tall trunks
of the trees glow a deep red. The excited voices of
children were heard as they dipped in and out of the
lake. Expressions of pleasure came across the water
from a fishing party, who from the cold depths drew
up salmon trout after salmon trout. The smell of the
pine saturated the senses so that it was with difficulty
we bade adieu to Voss.



WE left Bergen on a lovely evening. There was
quite a crush of people on the quay watching
for the launch that was to bring the German Emperor
on shore. His great ship was anchored just outside the
yacht camber, and looked most imposing. It was late
when we got out to sea, but the captain's last remarks
as we shook hands before retiring to our cabin weighed
on me all night. " Mind and be up early ; we shall
be entering the Naero Fjord about four. Don't miss it ;
it is splendid." The first land I saw was the Sulen-Oer,
a group of islands — the "Salundare of the FrithjoFs
Saga." I knelt many times on my bunk during those
few hours to look through my port. Nothing but
unattractive rocks, worn smooth by the old ice and
restless ocean, rewarded me the second time. My next
peep was up a narrow arm stretching away into what
seemed infinity.

This " Sogne," from the old word narrow, bears out
its name from Sognefest to Skjalden, winding into the
country for some hundred and twelve miles, ending in a
number of long narrow arms, and is terribly deep,
4000 feet in places. Again I peep, this time at naiTow
banks fringed with luxuriant orchards, waving corn, and
pleasant dwellings. Once again I look, but only to
dress quickly ; the ship is steering into the Nacro Fiord.



Looking at Baedeker, I see he marks this fjord with
two stars. I approve of his taste ; nothing could be
more splendid. The scenery of the Hardanger is gentle
in comparison, soft and pretty. The Naero Fjord is the
south-west arm of the Aurlands Fjord, and the grandest
of all the ramifications of the Sogne Fjord. At first
it is about nine hundred to a thousand yards in breadth,
but narrows to two hundred yards in places. When
we came on deck it was hardly light enough to sketch,
the fjord being in a half twilight owing to the huge
cliflFs on either side. The air was chilly and necessitated
additions of coats and rugs. Not more than five or six
of the passengers wei'e on deck ; the crowd, in the arms of
Morpheus, missing the grandeur of this wonderful piece
of scenery. In places it seemed quite impossible that
our ship would be able to turn. The height of the
great cliff made the fjord look more narrow than it
really was. As the sun rose it was a magnificent sight,
just tipping the heads of the huge walls of living rock,
leaving gloom below.

By six o'clock we had neared the head of the Qord.
Even at this early hour it was possible to trace men
walking along the road with horses and carts, collect-
ing from far and near to meet the ship, but so dwarfed
by the height above them that it was only with
the glasses that they could be distinguished as men.
The Naerodals-Elv (river) rushed out to meet us,
colouring the water a brilliant pale green. From either
side the waterfalls tipped over the precipice with a drop
so sheer that after some hundreds of yards the water
dispersed in the air. At the head of the fjord lay the
farms. The mountains enclosed the ravine in the same
way as they enclosed the fjord, leaving the hamlet
devoid of sun during the long winter months, and


146 "LET GO"

during the summer surrounding it on all sides by the
sound of many waters.

As we approached the anchorage it was found that a
Hamburg-American liner, that looked most insignificant
amidst her surroundings, had taken up the berth Vedis
considered her own. Had she not in company of others
painted her sign on the great rock alongside her berth !
The first cast of the lead was forty-five fathoms, the
second forty-two. Thump ! thump ! thump ! went the
propeller as the engines reversed, and a great seething
mass of foam burst out from under the counter, and
washed slowly forward as the ship lost her way. Thump !
thump ! thump ! thump ! and the after end of the Vectis
is the centre of a perfect vortex of fierce little waves,
which breaking off in ever-widening circles dimple the
calm sm'face of the dark green fjord. "She"'s going
astern, sir," sings the leadsman. "Let go,"" says a
voice from the bridge. There is a tremendous splash,
and the chain rushes madly out through the hawsepipe
with a harsh grating roar, whilst a thick mist of iron
rust and powdered paint rises into the air, through which
the Lascars on the forecastle are dimly seen, like phantoms
tending the whirring cable as it leaps up from the depths
of the chain locker. Shackle after shackle goes plunging
down overboard, and the brown cloud covers the whole
fore part of the ship, coating everything in dust.

breakfast ! The wonder is the quantity one eats at
sea. At nine the first horn sounded for the boats.
On shore the stolkjaerres, carioles, and four-wheeled
carriages drawn by two horses stood in rows along the
little quay. It is well to say here that the chief
advantage of the cariole is its lightness. It is simply
a little car that will go through or over anything, the
body shaped rather gracefully, like a canoe. There are


two long thin shafts with two wheels at one end, and
a pony at the other. This canoe-shaped car is
placed upon the shafts, between the wheels and the
pony. One person can just sit in it. He has to
dispose of his legs as he may ; either arrange them
horizontally on the shafts or dangle them in the small
space between his seat and the pony"'s tail, or other-
wise as his ingenuity may suggest. The luggage is
placed on a flat board nailed to the shafts, over or a
little behind the wheels. The small boy who has to
take the horse back to the station usually stands or
sits upon this board, or the luggage ; these to some extent
counterpoise the weight of the traveller, and diminish
the pressure on the pony's back. The stolkjaerre is
a larger car that will seat two in front, and sometimes
two at the back. I noticed that it was quite a usual
thing for the driver to stop for a moment on the road
and pick up a companion and give him or her, as the case
might be, a lift on the step. It was not conducive to
the legitimate passenger's comfort, but it obtained, I
suppose, from long habit. The four-wheeled carriages
are quite comfortable, but the fine look-out ahead is
spoiled by the broad back of the coachman who sits
in front.

Thirty or more of these carioles, stolkjaerres, and
carriages streamed along the road, all on our way to
Stalheim. The ponies were a pleasure to sit behind,
— sturdy, well-fed little brutes, who moved along just
as they pleased, the drivers jumping down and walking
for every little hill, saving their horses as much as
possible. No whips, no horrid cries like the Italians
to goad them on ; merely a sharp prut ! when they were
to stop. These pretty little fjord horses, with their
strong short necks, neatly cut manes, knowing faces,


round rump and long flowing tails, sorrel, dapple, or
dun, look for all the world as if they should be on
green wooden stands with four white wheels. These
little fellows hail from the western country. They are
rarely more than 60 inches high, and are distinguished
by a strong frame. They are hardy, gentle, and active,
and as a working horse in the fjord and mountain
districts cannot be replaced by any other breed.
The Gudbrandsdalen horse, of the eastern country,
named after the district where its systematic breeding
and raising has been carried on for a long time, is a
rather larger horse, some 63 inches high, generally
black or brown in colour. It is of the same build
as the fjord horse, has splendid legs, and is quick and
strong as a working and carriage horse. This is the
breed that is used by the farmers all over the eastern
part of the country, and in the districts round the
Trondhjem Fjord. For the best stallions up to 6000
kroner are paid, but the average for a good working
horse is 700 to 800 kroner.

We started in a long line through the valley, passed
the little hotel and a group of farms and weather-
boarded houses ; their roofing of flowering sods redeemed
them from ugliness. The river ran alongside through
a narrow band of cultivated land, which did not seem
enough to keep the people. When we saw the same spot
in the autumn, ragged, poor crops of barley were stacked
like men running across the fields in sacks, A stake
was driven into the ground about the height of a man.
The barley, tied into small sheaves, was threaded on the
stake, head downwards one above the other. This seemed
to us a most sensible means of drying the late crop, the
wind and sun being able to circulate round each stack.

A little farther on we come to another ingenious


contrivance which our driver called a lopus string.
This consisted of a thick wire that led from a wooden
windlass on the ground to the top of the cliff hundreds
of feet above, where was perched a saeter. The owner
sent down his hay by hooking it in bundles to the wire,
which takes it with expedition to the valley below.
Round most saeters there is a piece of ground, fenced in
and manured, on which grows a fine nourishing grass.
This is mowed with tiny scythes, the hay hung on hurdles
to dry, and sent down in the way I have described.
This hay is carefully stored and kept to feed the cattle
during the winter months, when they return to the farm
in the valley.

The road was a fine one, neatly and well kept, though
hardly wide enough for two carts to pass. The carriages
we met had to pull up whilst our long line scraped by.
Imagine, mountain after mountain, one behind the other,
a brawling torrent running over grey boulders (a salmon
river by the bye) dividing these towering walls of rocks.
The road ran alongside the river, a pale yellow thread,
gradually winding higher and higher with rocks neatly
placed at regular intervals. In between these rocks was
a beautiful growth of wild feathery field flowers, making
a delightful edgeway to the road. Only ordinary
English flowers, harebells, cow parsley, scabious, etc.,
but none the less beautiful for that. The road grew
steeper and steeper. Our horse came to a full stop,
and we brought up alongside the other cars that stood
at ease on a level scooped out of the mountain side,
a sort of rest place close to the bridge. All jumped
down to finish the remaining steep on foot. By the
side of the way were some old people, men and women,
carefully cutting the grass with a little sickle. This
they gathered together, every blade, with a small brush


and pan. Nothing is wasted in Norway, not even an
ounce of soil. Ploughing loosens the earth on the hill-
sides, and the rain gradually carries it down to the fields
below, which slowly rise ; but the careful husbandman
with great trouble carries it uphill again load by

This steep ends the valley. It is called the Stalheims-
klen or cliff. Up this the road zigzags, and takes nearly
an hour to reach the top. Little ones by the roadside
stood with bunches of wild flowers, offering them shyly
to us. I hope the tourist will not spoil them and turn
them into beggars. It is a little graceful act which
should always be accepted, the little one''s face when
you take her proffered bunch showing that money is
not what she is asking for. A carriage and horses can
drive up this zigzag ; but it is very hard work, the horse
having to tack all the way.

Lunch was waiting in the great wooden hotel, that has
been burnt down many times, when we arrived at
Stalheim. All was bustle as the tourists, who had come
overland from Bergen via Vossevangen, were expected.
It was rather a question if there would be sufficient room
for the whole company. The maids serving were the
same type as our blonde English women, big of frame,
fair skin, pretty yellow hair, and nice open faces. We
seemed such a crowd to be together at this lonely spot,
amongst the magnificent views of valley and fjord.
Steep bare mountains rising on every side, so immensely
grand in comparison with the noisy humans whose talk
in the great saloon hushed and overmastered the roar
of the waterfall hard by. Finishing first, we retraced
our steps well ahead of our friends, and selected a
quiet corner over the edge of the steep road to



The rain-clouds were gathering, and slowly creeping
up the valley. A grey misty veil hung over the fjord,
which lay hidden by the overlapping mountains. To
the left towered huge Jardalsnut, a mighty mass of
bare light grey syenite, made even bigger than he
really was by the overlapping mist. Nearer were the
mountains, patched with squares and odd markings of
birch, beech, and fir, from amongst which issued long
scars and rubble, the track of the ever-falling avalanches.
To the right and left of us are the Sivelfos and the
Stalheimsfos, and below looking sheer down over the
tops of the trees one can trace the river and the winding
ribbon-like road. Norway's roads are excellent. Com-
paratively speaking, no country has so many and such
good ones, but as soon as one turns off from the main
roads to get to the farmsteads on the hill they can

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Online LibraryM. A WyllieNorway and its fjords → online text (page 11 of 23)