Across Telemark to the Hardanger

Cousins travel to Norway and experience and the charm and mystique of the beautiful fjords

Photo:Janni Belgum

Photo: Janni Belgum

By Janni Belgum

Sicamous, B.C.

Norwegian American Weekly

My cousin Joyce Johnson and I first visited Norway, from which half of our ancestors came in 2002 and were now in Norway again. We had flown into Stockholm, rented a car, and had driven north and south in Sweden—another tale for another day.

Then we drove west to Norway to be there for May 17 where we have a joint family connection in Ulnes in Valdres, northeast of Oslo. That had been a great time. The community assembles on a family farm on the Ivar’s Haug around the bust of a local boy who made good: Ole Hendrikson Fladager. While he did most of his work in Rome, Italy, some of his sculptures are in the National Gallery in Oslo. It is a source of family pride that he was the baby brother of my great-great-grandmother Rangdi Hendriksdatter Fladager.

After a few more days in Ulnes we drove back to Oslo to drop off relatives who had to fly back home and then took off for Telemark. We had planned on driving to Odda on the Hardanger from Valdres via the E-16 west through Vang, over the Flyafell to Lærdal to visit the Borgund stave Church and down to the Eidford part of the Hardanger, turning south down the east side of its Sorfjord. Now we were well south of that road. Now we were where we thought we would end up! But there was another way, by the southern route through Telemark.

We decided to visit Tinn, Telemark, where Joyce had family from the famous Luraas family of rosemalers as well as the family of Showshoe Thompson, who delivered mail to California over the Sierra Nevadas in winter some 150 years ago. We were shown the ruins of the cottage where Snowshoe had been born as well as other notable family remains like the ancient stabbur from the 17th century.

After the delightful time in Tinn, we headed for the west coast and Hardanger. We had to go alongside the south part of the Hardangervidda where we passed countless small huts that probably had been well used for cross-country skiing during the winter. That terrain seemed endless; but after going over one pass we hit the Røldal valley and the ancient stave church there. It is a relative oasis—beautifully green—in the middle of the still wintered Hardangervidda. I later learned that I did have ancestors in this part of the country that was so isolated from the rest of Norway.

At some point we got to the Haukeli flya, the pass of the Hawk. That was a grind, though not as bad as it might have been in earlier years as we went up and around and around through a tunnel. When we got out of the tunnel, we found a rocky and still quite snowy landscape; but it began to green up as we descended. And such lush green was displayed. By the time we got to a more or less flat road, down out of the mountains, we were in high spring time, including rushing waterfalls. We passed Låtefoss, a spectacular waterfall that comes down right against the road. As we continued the drive to Odda and the sea, we would pass other smaller waterfalls dripping off the steep high walls of the valley.

We had reservations at the Hardanger Hotel in Odda right down town against the docks. The hotel has expanded onto the house site where my great-grandfather, Knute Torgerson, was born in 1850. I had really wanted to stay there. We got the stateroom right above the actual site of the house. There were two large beds and then a boardroom that had a spectacular view out at the harbour and north up the fjord.

We did not have many days in or around Odda so after a brief stop at the hotel, we took off for a family farm called Aga, that is now a tourist site. While it was too early in the season for many tourists, it was a beautiful drive. Apple trees were blooming and covered with white blossoms.

Finally we got to Aga. It is now called Agatunet with a series of old homes.

The oldest one was the house of Herr (Baron) Sigurd Brynjulfson, dating from the 13th century. As I understand, this is the oldest large house, storstova, still on its original site in Norway. The building was made of rock on one side and big timbers through out. Large planks of the doors were held together with intricate ironwork. Outside the house was a plaque that was a copy of the gravestone of the Baron in his chain mail armour. That was a surprise. I wondered if I am a descendant of the baron, but I suspect not. Though there are others from this large farm of whom I am a descendant.

Being there was quite a wonderful experience, walking on the ground of ancestors.

The old buildings themselves, houses, sheds and such, were set sort of close together but not in a pattern I could discern. While most were weathered or unpainted, as far as I could determine, some were unexpectedly painted in a riotous red. What with the green of the early spring grass and emerging leaves, the white of the apple blossoms and the pink of rhododendrons, the colors were notable. The whole site was rather mind boggling in that it was so far from Odda, which itself is rather isolated. I was so pleased that we had taken the time to go.

This article was originally published in the Jan. 15, 2010 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email subscribe@norway.com.

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