Progress along St. Olav’s Way: A walk along Gudbrandsdalslågen
Christine Foster Meloni
I am continuing my Sons of Norway virtual pilgrimage from Oslo to Nidaros along St. Olav’s Way.
Rafting on the Sjoa River
The Sjoa River flows out of Lake Gjende, which is a large lake in the Jotunheimen National Park, and it joins the Gudbrandsdalslågen River. This location is one of the very best for whitewater rafting in Norway.
I opted not to go rafting! I like watching it on television but I have no desire to experience it firsthand. I did enjoy another popular activity in this area, however—exploring caves. This was more my speed!
I should also mention a popular event that takes place here every July. It is the Sjoa River Festival, where professional kayakers come from all over the world to participate.
If you would like to have a taste of this incredible kayaking experience, you should watch a four-minute video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgHPgHgVCrs. It is amazing!
Varphaugen Farm (Overnight Location)
Varphaugen was a popular stopping place for the pilgrims on St. Olav’s Way. They would leave stones here, each one representing a sin that they wanted to leave behind. The Varphaugen farm was built in 1744 over the area where the pilgrims used to leave their stones.
I decided to spend the night here. I had a refreshing swim before having a nice dinner. I then sat outside for several hours and enjoyed the beautiful view of the mountains. After a good night’s sleep, I set out the next morning for Otta.
Battle of Kringen
This battle is one that all Norwegian Americans should be familiar with. Below is the historical account provided by the Sons of Norway.
The coat of arms of the municipality of Sel shows a profile of Pillar-Guri blowing her horn to warn the Norwegian villagers.
The Battle of Kringen can be compared to Paul Revere’s daring and patriotic act of warning the Americans that the British were coming. In Norway, a young girl named Pillar-Guri was the heroine who warned the Norwegians that the Scottish were coming.
Just over 400 years ago a battle took place in Kringen, in a valley next to the Gudbrandsdalslågen River, just south of Otta. To make a long and complicated story short, Denmark ruled Norway and Sweden had its own King Karl IX. Denmark declared war (the Kalmar War) on Sweden after King Karl IX began taking advantage of Norway’s trade routes and imposing tariffs. When King Karl IX died, his son King Gustavus Adolphus called on Scotland for help in defeating the Danes. Nearly 350 Scots hopped on a ship and sailed to the closest shore, Norway. They made their way through the country until the complicated inland waterways became too hard to navigate.
A Norwegian fisherman agreed to help them traverse the Romsdalsfjord and surrounding mountains but, before they began, he warned a local servant girl that “mercenary soldiers bound for Sweden were about to march through Romsdal.” The fisherman cunningly led them along the longest route possible so that Pillar-Guri was able to warn the villages ahead by blowing a loud horn atop the nearby mountain. A local sheriff in Gudbrandsdalen, Lars Hågå, took it upon himself to gather able-bodied men, mostly farmers, and prepare for battle. As the Scots moved through the valley below, the local villagers attacked from above. The date was August 26, 1612. The group of farmers and peasants rolled logs and boulders down the mountain and stunned the Scots with their surprise attack. This was Norway’s first real act of resistance.
Milorg, an organization of WWII Norwegian resistance fighters in the north of Gudbrandsdalen, had their base in the forest bordering the Rondane National Park near Otta. Their primary hideout was a cabin called Reiret (the nest). It was very small and extremely well camouflaged. Today it is a memorial that honors the memory of these fighters. It is open to the public so I was able to visit it. I felt very moved when I thought about these brave Norwegians who risked their lives against very tough odds.
You can view a stirring eight-minute Resistance video that focuses primarily on the efforts of courageous Norwegians to sabotage the plant where the Germans were trying to produce heavy water to use to create the atom bomb. Go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3jSWSa6aBM.
Otta is a popular tourist attraction located in a very beautiful setting. I learned two surprising facts about Otta. First of all, it was only granted city status in the year 2000. And it is one of few cities in Norway that does not have a church!
I have now completed Legs A-E of my virtual pilgrimage. I reached the halfway point near the beginning of this last leg so I am moving right along. To date, I have covered 207 miles. Only 180 more miles to go!
This article originally appeared in the July 3, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.