M. A Wyllie.

Norway and its fjords online

. (page 19 of 23)
Online LibraryM. A WyllieNorway and its fjords → online text (page 19 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and other Norwegian monsters, whose existence I will
not take on me to deny, but I do not choose by a


mixture of uncertain relations to make such accounts
appear doubtful as I myself believe to be true and well

Mr. Milford gives an extract from a letter of " an
intelligent friend at Bergen," Stiftamund Christie, whose
name is so much connected with the political institutions
of Norway from the year 1814. " I especially asked his
opinion about the sea-serpent, and he assured me that
not only do the peasants feel convinced of its existence,
but that he himself believes that it exists; that the
Bishop of Bergen, a few years ago, published an article in
an antiquarian paper which comes out occasionally, by the
directors of the Bergen Museum, containing information
in corroboration of the belief; that the inhabitants of
the island Herroe at Sondmor see the serpent every year
for a couple of months, in summer, whenever the weather
is fine and the sea calm." Who would disbelieve the
Bishop .'' Does the Tirakcn still exist ? If so, this was
the moment when we should have seen it. Through the
fog it was possible to imagine the existence of any such
huge sea-monster.

In Hakluyfs Triiffiques and Discouveries we find that
" They proceeded to sea againe, and Master Chanceler
held on his course towards that unknown part of the
world, and sailed so farre, that hee came at last to the
place where hee found no night at all but a continual light
and brightness of the Sunne shining clearly upon the
huge and mightie Sea." And here is a report to " Alfred
King of England, about the year 890."

" Octher said that the country wherein he dwelt was
called Helgoland. He said that upon a certeine time
he fell into a fantasie and desire to proove and know
how farre that land stretched Northward, and wether
there were any habitations of men North beyond the


desert. Whereupon he tooke his voyage directly north
along the coast, hauing vpon his steereboord alwayes the
desert land and vpon his leei'eboord the main Ocean :
and continued his course for the space of 3 dayes.
In which space he was come as far towards the North
as commonly the whale hunters vse to trauell, whence
he proceeded on his course still towards the North so farr
as he was able to saile in other 3 dayes. At the end
whereof he perceiued that the coast turned towards the
East, or els the sea opened with a maine gulfe into the
land, he knew not how fane. Well he wist and remem-
bered that he was faine to stay till he had a Westerne
wind and somewhat Northerly : and thence he sailed
plaine East along the coast still so far as he was able
in the space of 4 dayes. At the end of which time he
was compelled againe to stay till he had a full Northerly
winde, forsomuch as the coast bowed thence directly
towards the South, or at leastwise the sea opened into the
land he could not tell how farre. . . . Thorowout all his
voyage he had euermore on his steereboord, a wildernesse
and desert countrey, except that in some places he saw a
few fishers, fowlers and hunters, which were all Fynnes :
and all the way vpon his leereboord was the maine
ocean. . . . The principal purpose of this traueile was
to encrease the knowledge and discoverie of these coasts
and countreyes, for the more commoditie of fishing of
horse whales, which have in their teeth bones of great
price and excellence, whereof he brought some at his return
unto the king. Skinnes are also very good to make cables
for shippes."

Like Octher, we too were going " to encrease the know-
ledge and discoveries of these coasts and countreyes, more
especially the horse whales," but of this later. At the
moment we were off Hjelmso on a placid blue sea, the


little islands of Molfo and Ingo left astern, and nothing
but a vast open expanse of ocean ahead. Hjelmso stood
boldly out of the sea, the fleeting shadows running and
chasing each other over the rock, whilst myriads of birds
flew across its face high into the sky, disturbed from their
nesting-places by the fire of our gun. As we passed on,
the cliffs took new and fantastic shapes ; the most wonder-
ful being the Man Rock ; to my thinking it looked more
like a colossal statue of the Madonna and Child, which,
as the ship steamed farther north, opened out into an
up-standing hand.

" And then uprose before me,
Upon the water's edge,
The huge and haggard shape
Of that unknown North Cape
Whose form is Hke a wedge." — Longfellow

Cool, hard, and grey against the sky, stood the famous
Nordkap, furrowed with deep clefts and bare of verdure,
except upon the top, where its surface told sharp against
the sky, a pale dried-up green. But not so the next bend,
where ran in a sheltered bay called Hornvik, off which
we anchored. On landing to climb to the summit, the first
part of the way was over loose stones, Finns had sighted
the ship, and stood offering odd mementoes of the North,
— whale-bone stools, sticks, wonderfully well-carved knife
handles, and shells. My surprise was great to find this
steep glen carpeted with flowers. Varieties that we had
not seen up to date blooming, tall and delicate, in
this sheltered nook, and looking strange amongst so
much that was bare and unpromising. Here, on the side
of the path where one had to cling to the rope, grew the
yellow-spun-ed violet ( Viola haniearnis), a tiny plant only
found on very poor soil ; and alongside it, taller and


bigger than I had yet seen, grew Dryas octopetala. This
same studded the top of the North Cape, but was there
far more stunted. Big yellow globe-flowers waved in
company of many grasses, forget-me-nots, the pale wild
violet, and purple cranesbill.

The way up was very rough, and along the top the
surface was nothing but grey, loose stones intersected with
stunted growths of stone moss. A lonely spot was this,
and in the winter awful, with the storms that circle round
the headland, the lightning, the thunder, the powerful
sea, and the dark. Those who were not strong enough
for the climb had had some fine sport with the fish, which
was most plentiful.

Again we steamed north ; the sun no longer sinking,
revolved round us, hghting the cliffs and sky above;
the sun worshippers on board bowed to the deck, gazed
and prayed, and we were silenced by its wonder. Sea,
nothing but sea ! met our gaze. This was a day for
entering up diaries, reading and rest ; I for one enjoyed
and made the most of the opportunity, collecting, drying,
and preserving flowers, sorting and naming. I also read
my book upon the subject, and found that the forest
growth of Norway consists chiefly of pine and fir, which
clothe the slopes of the mountain valleys, especially in
southern Norway, as those of Glommen and its tributaries,
those of the Drammen, Lanrvik, Skien, Arendal, and
Christiansand districts, and those drained by the river
disemboguing at Frederikshald. Extensive forests of
coniferous trees are also found in Trondhjem stift and
the Amt of Nordland.

The woods of Bergen and Tromsii consist, with a solitary
exception, of fir alone. The limit of the fir belt is 2000
to 3000 feet above the sea — through the Trondhjem
district from 1600 to 2000 — and with the sole exception


of the birch, none of the trees indigenous to the
country, bearing or producing leaves, form woods of
great extent. The birch reaches higher up the mountain
sides than do any of the conifers, and forms a belt
above them, which is, however, exceedingly narrow in
Southern Norway. Next come the dwarf birch and
various species of willows, and, last of all, between
this and the snow-limit, the lichen belt. In the fertile
and less elevated districts of Norway the forest growth,
apart from the conifers, includes the ash, elm, lime, oak,
beech, and black alder. The aspen, white alder, mountain
ash, and bird-cherry thrive at a considerable elevation,
and are occasionally found even in the birch zone. The
ash still grows abundantly on the south-eastern coast,
from Jarlsberg-Laurvik and to Christiansand, but is no-
where found in extensive forests. The only locality in
which the beech can be said to thrive is Jarlsberg-Laurvik

The vast fir and pine forests are still the haunts of the
largest of Europe's wild animals — the bear, the lynx, and
the wolf — though for some unaccountable reason the
latter has been decreasing during the last twenty years in
Southern Norway and may now be regarded as the most
rare of Norwegian beasts of prey. In Finmark the
wolf still abounds, constituting the worst enemy to the
herds of reindeer. The bear also is less frequently met
with, a fact to be accounted for by the immense quantities
of timber felled of late throughout the country.

Bjornson, in his pretty tale. The Bridal March, describes
a bear breaking through the forest and frightening
Mildred, the heroine, who was sitting one day near the
soeter, herding the goats and sheep, because one of the
boys had played truant and she had to do his work.

" It was a warm midday ; she was sitting in the shade


of a hillock overgrown with birch and underwood ; she
had thrown oft' her jacket and taken her knitting in her
hand, and was expecting Inga. Something rustled behind
her. ' There she comes,' thought Mildred, and looked up.
But there was more noise than Inga was likely to make,
and such a breaking and cracking among the bushes.
Mildred turned pale, got up, and saw something hairy
and a pair of eyes below it, — it must be a bear's head !
She wanted to scream, but no voice would come ; she
wanted to run, but could not stir.

"The thing raised itself up — it was a tall, broad-
shouldered man with a fur cap, a gun in his hand. . . .
' Oh, dear ! ' she said ; ' I thought it was a bear breaking
through the bushes, and I got such a fright ! ' and she
tried to laugh. ' Well, it might almost have been that,'
said he, speaking in a very quiet voice ; ' Kvas and I
were on the track of a bear, but now we have lost it ;
and if I have a hadoger (the old superstition that every
man is followed by an invisible animal resembling him
in character, a superstition which is still common among
the peasants), it is certainly a bear. . . .' She felt the
inclination to say, ' Go away ! ' but instead she drew
back a few steps, and asked, ' Who are you .? ' She was
really frightened. ' Hans Haugen,' answered the man
rather absently ; for he was paying attention to the dog,
which seemed to have found the track of the bear again.
. . . 'Forgive me for having frightened you,' he said,
and took his way up the hillside after his dog.

" By the time she ventured to look up he had just
reached the top of the ridge, and there he turned to look
at her. It was only for an instant, for at that moment
the dog barked on the other side. Hans gave a start,
held his gun in readiness, and hurried on. Mildred was
still gazing at the place where he had stood, when a shot


startled her. Could this be the bear? Could it have
been so near her ? Off she went climbing where he had
just climbed, till she stood where he had stood, shading
her eyes with her hand ; and, sure enough, there was
Hans half hidden by a bush, on his knees beside a huge
bear !

" Before she knew what she was doing, she was down
beside him. He gave her a smile of welcome, and ex-
plained to her, in his low voice, how it had happened
that they had lost the track and the dog had not scented
the animal till they were almost upon it. By this time
she had forgotten her tears and her bashfulness, and he
had drawn his knife to skin the bear on the spot. The
flesh was of no value at the time ; he meant to bury the
carcass and take only the skin. So she held, and he
skinned ; then she ran down to the soeter for an axe and
spade ; and although she still felt afraid of the bear, and
it had a bad smell, she kept on helping him till all was
finished. By this time it was long past twelve o'clock,
and he invited himself to dinner at the soeter. He washed
himself and the skin, no small piece of work, and then
came in and sat beside her while she finished preparing
the food."

The bears are most numerous now in Trondhjem,
Nordland, and Romsdal amts ; in all some hundred and
fifty are killed throughout Norway in the year. Lynxes,
too, are fairly plentiful and do not seem to diminish.
Nordre Trondhjem would appear to be its northern
limit, where its depredations on feathered game and
hares cease.

In the great forests — especially where the soil is marshy,
and there is a mingled growth of ash, mountain ash, and
willow — the elk occurs, and appears to be increasing in
numbers in some places, notwithstanding the vast quantity


of timber felled, doubtless attributable to the rapid de-
crease of its worst enemies, the wolf and the bear. The
elk is most numerous in Hedemark, Buskerud, and in
some parts of Akershus and Smaalenene, and considerable
numbers have been met with of late throughout Nordre
Trondhjem amt. Nowhere is the elk found in the west
of Norway, but its place is partially taken by the red
deer, which selects as its haunts the largest of the wooded
islands on the coast and the numerous semi-insular pro-
jections of the mainland. It is most abundant on the
island of Hiteren, at the mouth of the Trondhjem

The wild, desolate wastes of the fjelds are the home of
the glutton and the reindeer, the lemming and the polar
fox. Large herds of reindeer still roam throughout the
alpine region of the fjelds between Eastern and Western
Norway and on the Dovre Mountains, the Rundam and
the highlands between Gudbrandsdal and Osterdal, and
Gudbrandsdal and Valders ; but this noble animal has
become scarcer of late years largely due to the numbers
killed by peasant hunters who fire into the midst of the
herd, sometimes maiming at a shot half a dozen animals,
which they cannot hope to secure, and which afterwards
become the prey of the glutton.

Of all the animal tribe in Norway the lemming is by
far the most curious. It is quite a small animal belonging
to the order Rodentia, is about five inches long, with a soft
yellowish brown coat marked with spots of dark brown
and black. It has a short rounded head, obtuse muzzle,
small bead-like eyes, and short rounded ears, nearly con-
cealed by the fur. The tail is very short, the feet small,
each with five claws, those of the forefeet strongest, and
fitted for scratching and digging. The usual dwelling-
place of the lemmings is in the high lands or fells of the


great central mountain chain of Norway and Sweden,
from the southern branches of the Langfjeldem in
Christiansand stift to the North Cape and the Varanger
Fjord. South of the Arctic circle they are, under ordinary
circumstances, exclusively confined to the plateaus covered
with dwarf birch and juniper about the conifer region,
though in Tromso amt and in Finmarken they occur in
all suitable localities down to the level of the sea. The
nest is formed under a tussock of grass or a stone and
constructed of short dry straws, and usually lined with
hair. The number of young is usually five, occasionally
seven or eight, and at least two broods annually. Their
food is entirely vegetable, grass roots and stalks, shoots
of the dwarf birch, reindeer lichens, and mosses. They
are restless, courageous, pugnacious little animals, and
when disturbed, instead of running away, sit up with their
back against a stone or other coign of vantage, hissing and
showing fight in a very determined manner.

The circumstance which has given more popular
interest to the lemming than to a host of other species
of the same order of animals, is that certain districts
of the cultivated lands of Norway and Sweden, where
in ordinary circumstances they are quite unknown, are
occasionally and at very uncertain intervals, varying from
five to twenty or more years, literally overrun by an army
of these little creatures. They steadily and slowly
advance, always in the same direction, and regardless of
all obstacles, swimming across streams and even lakes
of several miles in breadth, devastating the herbage by
the quantity of food they consume. In this march across
country they are pursued and harassed by croM'ds of
beasts and birds of prey, as bears, wolves, foxes, dogs,
wild cats, stoats, weasels, eagles, hawks, and owls. Man
never spares them, and even the domestic animals not


usually carnivorous cannot resist these much-harried
little animals, and cattle, goats, and reindeer crush them
with a stroke of their cloven hoofs, for the sake of the
vegetable matter they contain. None ever return by
the course by which they came, and the onward march
of the survivors never ceases until they reach the sea,
into which they plunge, and, swimming onwards in the
same direction as before, perish in the waves. It reminds
one of the swine in Scripture into which the evil spirits
had entered.

The ancient belief of the Norwegian peasants, shared
in by Olaus Magnus, was that these little animals fell
from the clouds ; and another untenable hypothesis is
that of Mr. W. D. Crotch, that they are acting in these
migrations in obedience to an instinct inherited from
vastly ancient times, and are still seeking the congenial
home in the submerged Atlantis to which their ancestors
of the Miocene period were wont to resort when driven
from their ordinary dwelling - places by crowding or
scarcity of food.

The principal really ascertained facts regarding these
migrations, as stated by Mr. R. Cottell in Proceedings
of the Linnean Society, vol. xiii. p. 327, 1878, seem to be
as follows : —

" When any combination of circumstances has occasioned
an increase of the numbers of the lemmings in their
ordinary dwelling-places, impelled by the restless or
migratory instinct possessed in a less developed degree
by so many of their congeners, a movement takes place
at the edge of the elevated plateau, and a migration
towards the lower-lying land begins. The whole body
moves forward slowly, always advancing in the same
general direction in which they originally started, but
following more or less the course of the great valleys.


They only travel by night ; staying in congenial places
for considerable periods, with unaccustomed abundance
of provender. Notwithstanding all the destructive in-
fluences to which they are exposed they multiply
excessively during their journey, having still more
numerous families and more frequently than in their
usual homes. The progress may last from one to three
years, according to the route taken and the distance to
be traversed until the seacoast is reached, which in a
country so surrounded by water as the Scandinavian
peninsula must be the ultimate goal of such a journey.
This may be either the Atlantic or the Gulf of Bothnia,
according as the migration has commenced from the
west or the east side of the central elevated plateau.
Those that finally perish in the sea, committing what
appears to be a voluntary suicide, are only acting under
the same blind impulse which has led them previously
to cross smaller pieces of water with safety."

Insignificant as this little animal is, he plays an
important part all over Norway, having before now
laid waste entire districts, and so polluted the waters as
to cause what was called lemming fever, a horrible kind
of jaundice. Fortunately a lemming year comes at rare
intervals, the last migration reported being in 1863.
One thing, and only one, makes some amends to the
poor farmer for his destroyed crops and poisoned water.
The lemming is delicious food to all the wild animals
which follow their track across country ; thus the bad
harvest is often made good by the hunting that

Like our own late spring in England, the most
beautiful time of the year in Norway is when the flowers
show through the grass. In Norway the greater part
of the meadows are " natural," it is the grasses belonging


to the land that are allowed to contend for a place in it,
and very beautiful they are when in full flower. The
grass is fine and soft, such as the Agrostis vulgaris^ with
its brush of fine reddish brown hairs, the yellowish green
fragrant Ccespitosa, in company of the Rammculus
acris and Rhinanthus, that pretty, innocent-looking little
creeper that clings to the grass stems, pushing rootlets
into its host all the way up, by way of sustenance. The
blue-eyed hepatica grows in the spring, the same as in
our English wood, with aconite, and saxifraga, with its
intense white bells and kidney-shaped leaves. The
crimson-blossomed crobus grows in the woods everywhere,
with sweet veronica, meadow-sweet, the clustered bell-
flower Campanula glomerafa, little graceful snake-weed,
and the hedge mustard. The handsome purple vetch
decorates the banks and fields, toad-flax and purple
meadow crane's-bill grow side by side with white campion ;
the big ox-eyed daisy flourishes everywhere in company
of the mauve field scabius, crimson foxglove, and the
little mountain pansy (Viola lutea).

To the Norwegian, however, above all these rank the
fragrant Linnwa boreaUs, a small flower with little pink-
white bells growing from the top of a long fine stem,
with two or three small leaves towards the base. This
is the national flower of Norway, and was named after
Linnaeus, the great botanist, who died in 17T8. His
arms are those now borne by the Linnaean Society of
London. He selected this little plant to bear his
name from a similarity, as he thought, between it and

Wherever the conifers predominate they pretty well
dislodge all plants that cannot grow in their shade, and
in the spruce woods the flora is very deficient in species.
It is the leafy mosses that form the carpeting Hypnum


splendeus^ ScJireheri and triquetrum, with a small
number of phanerogamous (or plants with visible
flowers). The bilbeiTy, for instance, is a characteristic
plant in the spruce woods, and the whortleberry where
grows the pine. Of these two berries the Norwegian
woods are full, most of which are left untouched, as it
does not pay to gather. There are some few species of

In dry places where the soil is shallow are abundance
of juniper, ling, and black crow-berry. These little shrubs
ai'e among the most easily contented plants in the
Norwegian flora, and have a wide distribution over the
whole country, from sea-level to high up on the mountains.
Species of lichen also form an essential part of the
vegetation. The reindeer moss {Clandoma rang'ifer'md)
is found all over the woods, especially on large stones
and rocks, and on dry soil. In the pine woods it
often gains the upper hand, covering the ground with
a light grey carpet with its different species, and hang-
ing from the branches of the spruce with long grey

In bogs the low growth is generally composed of
sphagnum, and on the mounds grow sedges, ling, bilberry,
blaeberry, and quantities of cloud-berries with their pretty
and palatable orange-coloured fruit.

" The eider is a large marine duck, famous for its
down, which, from its extreme lightness and elasticity,
is in great request for filling bed-coverlets." The wi-iter
of the above had evidently not met the beautiful rugs
made of the eider skins, not plucked (though they do
this by themselves later), or he would without doubt have
added the rug to the list of this famous duck's uses.
The rugs are beautiful and quite a joy to an invalid
because of their lightness and warmth, and while away


many a tedious moment, the thin weak hand wandering
caressingly over and through the soft down of the breast
that forms one side of the rug, whilst the back of the
bird forms the other. The pretty pale sea-green patch
that is only seen on the male's head when he has arrived
at the age of full dress and fatherhood, forms a unique
and pretty border. The rug deserves a line to itself,
and so does the duck, because of the rug.

This bird generally frequents low rocky islets near
the coast, and in Iceland and Norway has long been
afforded every encouragement and protection, a fine
being inflicted for killing it during the breeding season,
or even for firing a gun near its haunts. Artificial
nesting-places are in many localities contrived for its
further accommodation. From the care it receives it

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19 21 22 23

Online LibraryM. A WyllieNorway and its fjords → online text (page 19 of 23)