Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Summer Sailings
Chapter V A Yacht Cruise from Lerwick to Bergen

In former clays the coasts of Britain were often ravaged by the adventurous arms of the Scandinavian Vikings, whose war-galleys were for three centuries the scourge and the terror of Europe. Olaf of Norway, in one of his plundering expeditions, destroyed London Bridge, and little more than six centuries have elapsed since the Orkney and Shetland Isles, the counties of Caithness and Sutherland, the Hebrides, and the western coast of Scotland from Cape Wrath to the Mull of Can tire, were subject to the sway of the Norwegian crown. Traces of that rule yet remain in the common speech of the Shetlanders, among whom nearly two hundred words of Norwegian origin are still in ordinary use. No one, therefore, acquainted with the history of the past, can fail to look upon Norway with a lively interest from the stirring historical associations which yet linger around her; and, when to these are added the beauty, variety, and grandeur of her mountains and fiords, it must be admitted that a voyage to the home of the ancient sea-kings, and the cradle of that stalwart Norman race which gave a king and a nobility to England, presents attractions of no ordinary kind. Such a voyage too is easily accomplished during the summer season, even in a vessel of very moderate dimensions, though we should not exactly like to attempt it in an eight-tonner like the lively little Pet, which twice bore her clever and adventurous owner from England to the Baltic. Only a narrow sea separates the Shetland Islands from the opposite coasts of Europe, and no better point of departure can be selected for a yacht-cruise to Norway than the safe and spacious harbour of Lerwick, from which, on a bright July morning, we set sail, bound for the mouth of the Bommel Fiord. Our vessel was a stout cutter of thirty-five tons, a capital sea-boat, manned by four hands and a steward, and carrying besides, her owner and three friends, amply provided with fishing-rods, rifles, sketching materials, and other requisites for making the most of a short visit to “Gamle Norge."

It was eight o’clock when we took our departure, and, although we had a fresh and favourable breeze, many hours elapsed before we lost sight of the magnificent promontory of Noss Head, which rises abruptly 700 feet above the waves of the northern ocean. At nine next morning we were in sight of the rocky island of Udsire, conspicuous from its twin red-painted light-towers. On getting close to the island, we hove to, and hoisted the signal for a pilot, and soon observed a small fragile skiff sailing out from the island to board us. There was a heavy sea running, and, in the trough of the waves, we could see nothing but the top of her mast. The pilot was a remarkably good-looking young fellow, with fair hair, bright complexion, and tall athletic figure. After taking him 011 board, we stood away for the Boiiimel Fiord, the entrance to which is guarded on either side by low barren rocks, one hundred acres of which would scarcely feed a single sheep. With the exception of this utter sterility, the general aspect of the scenery at this point much resembles that of a sea-loch in the Western Highlands of Scotland. As we advanced, however, the landscape improved ; clean wooden cottages with tiled roofs w^ere perched among the rocks, and grass and trees began to appear. We passed several gaudily-painted vessels descending the fiord. One of them, in a coat of green, black, and yellow, all of the brightest tints, and carrying every sail set, was yet a most picturesque-looking craft, and would have delighted a painter’s eye.

Near the snug little village and harbour of Mosterhaven (above which the fiord assumes the name of Hardanger), we observed a most primitive-looking lighthouse built of wood, painted white, and with a tiled roof, perched upon a cliff but little elevated above the level of the fiord. Close to Mosterhaven our pilot landed, and we procured another who was to convey us first to Bondhus on the Moranger Fiord, and afterwards to Vik, at the head of the Hardanger. The pilot who brought us from Udsire to Mosterhaven, a distance of twenty-seven miles, had inherited a double portion of the plundering propensities of his piratical ancestors. He had the assurance to demand £2 for his four hours’ work, and we ultimately succeeded in beating him down to 7½ dollars, an exorbitant sum for all that he had done. Like most of the Norwegian pilots, he asked for “schnapps” the moment he came on board, and tossed off a glass of strong Scotch whisky as if it had been water. His successor was an old man, still hale and active, apparently about sixty years of age, but, according to his own account, seventy-five, with a face whose skin, in colour and texture, resembled old parchment from constant exposure to the weather. He wore a sou’-wester hat, an old patched jacket, trousers of coarse gray stuff, and a waistcoat of pilot cloth, over which the trousers were buttoned, and he brought with him a bag made of coarse sacking which contained his pea-jacket and other articles of clothing.

Above Mosterhaven the landscape becomes finer and more varied: the broad bosom of the fiord is dotted over with islands; innumerable bays and creeks indent its shores; small hamlets and villages nestle in all the more sheltered and fertile spots ; the hills and crags are fringed with wood, and high mountain peaks and snow-crowned ridges begin to appear in the background. The distance from Mosterhaven to the village of Bondhus at the head of the Moranger Fiord is about fifty miles, and at the point where that fiord diverges from the Hardanger, the scenery is particularly grand and impressive. A green wooded promontory stretches almost across the opening of the Moranger, so that entrance seems at first sight impossible. On this promontory stands the small village of iEnaes, while beyond, steep mountains shoot boldly up from the fiord with scarped and furrowed sides, but with trees springing from every ledge where a little soil supplies nourishment for their roots. On the same side, and a little above iEnaes, is a very lofty and precipitous rock-face dipping sheer down into the fiord; and about a mile farther up a most magnificent waterfall, clothing a vast crag with a flowing drapery of snowy foam. We estimated its height at about 300 feet, and its breadth at the widest part at 200. It rushes over the cliff from amidst a fringe of foliage in three separate streams perpendicularly for the first 150 feet, and then dashes into the fiord over a long steep slope of jagged rocks. The lower fall spreads out to a great breadth, and brightens the dark cliff with wreaths and whirls of sparkling foam, which find rest at length after their vexed career in the green waters of the Moranger. The vast water-power here developed has been turned to some account by the Norwegians. The lower fall is divided into two portions by a green promontory which juts out into the fiord, and 011 this stands a rude and primitive sawmill with stone foundations, but built of wood and roofed with shingles. Near it is a still ruder and smaller mill—something like those still in use in Shetland—moved by a small horizontal wheel placed under the shed in which the mill-stones work. Passing iEnaes and its magnificent waterfall, we continued our course up the Moranger, and soon opened on our right the village of Bondhus with its narrow valley closed in by steep mountains, between two of which lies the glacier of Bondhus, rifted and seamed by chasms and crevices, and with the blue gleam of its ice catching the eye, and marking it out from the adjoining snowfield of the Folgefonde. Our pilot, unfortunately, turned out a thorough impostor. He had never been up the Moranger Fiord, and, instead of anchoring at Bondhus, took us up to Fladbo at the head of the other branch of the Moranger, and then gave orders to let go the anchor close to the shore,011 which a pretty stiff breeze was blowing at the time. The result was that we got no bottom with forty fathoms of chain out, and were nearly driven on shore owing to his ignorance and presumption. A Norwegian obligingly rowed out from Fladbo, and told us there was no anchorage, and that we had already passed Bondhus, a fact which seemed greatly to astonish our pilot, but, after the specimen we had had of his knowledge of the Moranger, it was impossible to trust him to bring us to at Bondhus, so we determined to retrace our course to the Hardanger, with which he seemed somewhat better acquainted. It was a beautiful calm evening when we reentered the Hardanger, and the view looking back towards the mountains around AEnaes was very striking. One dark conical mass in particular stood boldly forward, with its sharp peak streaked with patches of snow, while behind rose a noble mountain range sweeping round in a grand curve, its summits clothed with heavy masses of snow. Here we were becalmed for nearly twelve hours, and then, getting a favourable breeze, rapidly passed the pretty villages of Jondal and Strande-barm, and, at Vikor, entered a long reach of the Hardanger, which had all the appearance of a large inland sea. There is a good deal of sameness in this part of the scenery, but still it is very picturesque and pleasing. Green swells of land, generally well wooded, rising from sweet pastoral valleys; and, beyond these, steep crags and lofty summits with specks of snow brightening the dulness of their gray peaks.

A little above Yikor, on the same side of the fiord, is a splendid waterfall, several hundred feet in height, and with a great body of water. It is almost buried in foliage, and its white foaming stream contrasts finely with the green clothing of the mountain-side. We heard the roar of this cataract long before we came abreast of it. It is the third grand waterfall pouring into the Hardanger; as, besides that near AEnaes, there is another above Yondal, not far from the spot where a magnificent range of precipices of dark purple rock overhang the deep waters of the fiord. Waterfalls, indeed, form a principal feature in the landscape of the Hardanger; for, in addition to the three principal falls, innumerable minor cascades —from the tiny thread of foam lost in mist before it reaches the bottom of the rock up to the size of the Fall of Foyers—lend their tribute to its waters. Many of the houses along the banks of the fiord are fantastically painted, generally in the brightest colours. We observed one, the front of which was painted white, the roof red, and the gable end red with a white line around it; another had the upper story red and the under white; and many were entirely red. There is not much level ground; but every available space is taken advantage of for building or farming. The want of animal life on the Hardanger is very striking. We saw but few birds, and these were so shy that they would scarcely let us get within rifle-shot.

Near the pretty village of Utne, one of the sweetest spots on the Hardanger, the fiord takes a sharp and sudden bend to the south, and the scenery increases in boldness and beauty. Utne, with its clean, brightly - painted wooden houses, occupies a beautiful situation at the mouth of a green wooded valley on the south-eastern shore of the fiord. Opposite to it is the opening of the Eide Fiord, and above it that of the Sor Fiord, two branches of the great Hardanger, the last of which stretches away to the glaciers and snowfields of the Folgefonde, one of the mightiest accumulations of ice and snow in Norway. We were much amused this morning by our aged Palinurus. After a capital breakfast on beef, biscuits, and coffee, he asked for tobacco; and, on being offered some Latakia, seized a handful that would have filled half a dozen pipes, and deliberately crammed it into his mouth. Certainly for a man of seventy-five he had a wonderful digestion.

Beyond the opening of the Sor Fiord the Hardanger again stretches in a north-eastern direction, which it maintains as far as Vik. The view up the Sor Fiord is superb; a narrow reach of water trending away for miles between snowcapped mountains, those on the southern side being crowned with the eternal snows of the Folgefonde. Passing the entrance of the Sor Fiord, we stretched away for our destination, the village of Vik, still ten or twelve miles distant. On either side of us were lofty mountains, those on the southern shore precipitous and barren, and those on the opposite bank sloping up in a succession of rocky terraces thickly clothed with wood. The weather on the Hardanger is very variable: calms and breezes from every point of the compass succeeding each other with startling suddenness. Towards its termination the fiord divides into three branches; the most northerly leading to Ulvik, the middle to Ose, and the most southern and principal to Vik, one of the post stations on the road from Bergen to Christiania. That part of the Hardanger Fiord which extends from Odde at the head of the Sor Fiord to Vik is in shape almost a crescent about thirty miles in length. From Odde by land across the snowfields of the Folgefonde to Bondhus at the head of the Moranger Fiord is only twelve miles, and yet the distance by water cannot be less than sixty miles, which may give some idea of the extent to which the Hardanger and its various branches and windings indent and diversify the surface of the country.

Shortly before reaching Vik, we obtained a splendid view up the dark and narrow gorge of the Seimadal, the distance being filled up by the snowy coronal of the Hallens Jokelen, upwards of 5000 feet high.

We cast anchor at Yik on the 19th of July, just forty-eight hours after we had entered the Bommel Fiord. We were anchored about a cable’s length from the shore in twenty-five fathoms. The great difficulty in the Hardanger is to find anchorage, owing to the extreme depth of the water, varying from 100 to 200 fathoms, even quite near the shore. The inn at Vik stands close to the water’s edge, and (for Norway) is clean and comfortable, though those travellers who expect carpeted rooms, cushioned chairs and sofas, and the other luxuries of civilised hotels, would probably consider its accommodation very contemptible. A little farther inland are the village of Eidfiord, and a quaint old church said to have been built long ago by a Norwegian lady as an expiation for having murdered her husband. The approach to the village leads across a narrow plain studded with stunted birch trees, then there is a short ascent and another level dotted over with the same scanty vegetation. These flats, about a mile and a half wide, are hemmed in on each side by lofty and precipitous mountains, whose summits, however, are rather lumpy and rounded in outline. Across the valley stretches transversely an enormous mound, three or four hundred feet high, which appears to have once formed the terminal moraine of a glacier. It is now clothed with birch and fir trees, and cut through by the deep and rapid torrent which rushes from the lake of Ssebo into the Hardanger Fiord.

In the evening five young Cantabs arrived at the inn, having just returned from an excursion to the Voring Foss, the finest waterfall in Europe. They told us that they had travelled overland from Christiania, boating and walking most of the way. They complained bitterly of the difficulty of getting sufficient food, and assured us that but for their fishing-rods they must have been nearly starved. We invited them on board, and set before them a cold round of beef and sundry bottles of Bass’s ale, and certainly the way in which they disposed of both meat and drink bore ample testimony to the justice of their complaints, and gave an appalling idea of the poverty of Norwegian fare. The round never recovered that onslaught. Afterwards, we all enjoyed a sociable smoke on deck, and parted late in the evening; they to go 011 early next morning to Odde, at the head of the Sor Fiord, and thence across the snows of the Folgefonde to the glacier of Bondhus, and we to prepare for an equally early start to the Yoring Foss.

At half-past five next morning we commenced operations by a plunge into the cold green waters of the Hardanger from the deck of the cutter, while two of our acquaintances of the preceding evening were taking a “header” from the end of the wooden quay near the hotel, much to the astonishment and admiration of an assembled knot of Norwegians.

At half-past six we started for the Yoring Foss, each of us having a guide and a pony; and, after a pleasant ride of a mile, reached the beautiful lake of Sasbo, where we embarked in one boat, while our guides and ponies got into another and heavier one. AYe were most fortunate in a day; the sky was bright and almost cloudless, and the sun warm without being scorching. The huge mass of the moraine cut through by the impetuous torrent of the Lundaro Ely stretches across the northern extremity of the lake; on either side lofty and very steep mountains dip sheer down into the clear waters, so that all passage except by boat is impracticable. Near the village of Seebo the hills on the west side of the lake form a smooth wall of rock, where not a single tree can find a resting-place.

Ssebo is situated at the southern extremity of the lake, on a level alluvial plain where good crops of rye and potatoes are grown. This plain presents its longest side to the water, and gradually narrows inland until terminated by the precipices that overhang the gloomy pass of Hjelmodalen, fit antechamber to the perpetual snows of the Hardanger Fjeld : through this gorge the Hjelmode Elv flows down to the lake of Ssebo, into which it falls on one side of the valley, while on the other runs the Lundaro Elv, which forms the Voring Foss. The view of the plain and village as we approached them from the lake was very striking: everywhere darkened by the long shadows of the mountains, except where a narrow belt of bright sunshine gilded the meadows close to the water. A little beyond Srebo we passed a second moraine similar to that at Yik, but on a smaller scale, and several of the rocks that we passed in the course of the day are what are termed roches moutonnees, bearing evident traces of glacier action. After crossing this moraine, we entered a narrow but grand rocky defile, which extends for several miles in an easterly direction to the foot of that steep and lofty ascent which leads up to the level of the Yoring Foss. Proceeding up this for some miles, we came to a wooden bridge of a very picturesque but exceedingly shaky description, which spans the river, here both deep and rapid. It is not above four feet wide, and there is not the slightest vestige of a parapet. Here we dismounted ; the ponies were driven across singly by the guides, and we followed. Two and a half hours from Yik brought us to the little village of Veita, built close to the torrent; and another half-hour to a smaller hamlet, beyond which the path becomes exceedingly bad, being covered with large stones and long slippery slopes of smooth rock, and in some places so steep that regular steps have been cut, up which our Norsk ponies scrambled like cats. On either side huge blocks of stone detached from the adjacent mountains hem in the path. Some of these are of enormous size, probably 100 feet square.

On emerging from these rocky masses, we found ourselves on a narrow strip of meadow-land, at whose upper extremity the river takes a sudden bend, and seems to be swallowed up in the jaws of a narrow pass formed by perpendicular walls of rock, shooting up to a great height from the water’s edge, so that farther progress by its banks becomes impossible. We now began to wonder how or where we were to proceed; for on our left were the river and precipices, while, right in front, an excessively steep mountain-slope called the Maabuberg, at least 1200 feet high, seemed to forbid farther advance, at least to mounted travellers. But there are no limits to the endurance and activity of Norwegian ponies; and whoever wishes to know what they are capable of performing, and how perfectly sure-footed they become, should go to Vik and ride from thence to the Voring Foss on the back of one. Cats are nothing to them; and I have no doubt that one of them might be safely ridden to the top of Ben Nevis, rough, stony, and steep as the latter part of that ascent certainly is.

We soon found that the road to the Foss lay by the mountain-face in front of us. A rougher path can scarcely be imagined; it is, however, the only very steep ascent between Vik and the Voring Foss. One of our party dismounted and walked up, beating his mounted companions by twenty minutes. The ascent of the Maabuberg occupies nearly an hour, but the fatigue is amply repaid by the extensive prospect commanded from its summit. On gaining the top we entered upon a level mossy table-land covered with the common and dwarf birch, and with bushes of the crow- and cloud-berry, from which we had a fine view of the gleaming snowfields of the lofty Jokelen. After riding along this plateau for some miles, our guides conducted us to some shepherds’ huts, a little beyond the Voring Foss, and 2150 feet above the level of the Hardanger. Here we saw our ponies stabled, and afterwards entered the principal Saeter, which boasted of two tolerable apartments. In one of these were hung up a collection of pictures such as we give to children, and an absurd pencil-drawing of some distinguished personage all frogs and frock-coat, but with most ridiculously diminutive legs and feet. We asked for some milk, which was brought to us in a large wooden bowl about eighteen inches in circumference and half as much in depth. This was accompanied by three wooden spoons—one for each of us; and a sheet of fladbrod, as the ordinary bread of the country is termed. Fladbrod resembles in colour and thickness coarse brown packing paper, and possesses about an equal amount of nourishment. It is baked of rye meal in huge circular cakes, which are first folded across, and then a second time folded, and in this form it is kept and sold. For the milk and fladbrod we paid an ort, or 10d. in our money. On leaving the Saeter we found our guides busily engaged in supping sour milk curds from a great wooden bowl, round which they were sociably seated. We left them eno;ao;ed in this interesting occupation, and proceeded to a little distance in order to sketch the Saeter. The fine arts soon proved a formidable antagonist to the curds, and wre were speedily surrounded by all the guides, and the whole population of the Saeter, who watched and criticised our drawings with every appearance of the greatest interest. Our sketching finished, we lost no time in hastening to the Yoring Foss, which is about a mile below the Saeters, and is easily distinguishable from a considerable distance by the light column of glittering foam that is for ever wreathing upwards from the abyss. The river appeared to us about as large as the Clyde at Lanark, and, a little above the great cataract, there is a lofty and beautiful cascade which anywhere else would be considered magnificent ; but here it only serves as a foil to the great Yoring Foss. The point from which you see the fall is at least 150 feet above the spot whence the river precipitates itself into the boiling pool beneath, while the perpendicular crag opposite, crested with stunted birch trees, rises as much above where you stand. From its summit rushes a slender thread of foam to add its tiny tribute to the fathomless abyss 1200 feet below, from which a thin smoke of spray is perpetually floating up and overhanging the great cataract with a dewy curtain, while the dripping rocks opposite the falling waters reflect the dazzling and varied hues of a beautiful rainbow. By a little scrambling a spot may be reached from which the Yoring Foss is visible in all its unrivalled splendour. Where the waters first rebound from the precipice, they are whirled out in wreaths of spray, their edges just tinged with the most delicate and tender colours, fining away as they extend till they melt into air, and ceaselessly revolving in circles of snowy foam till lost in the profound gulf 900 feet below. The purity, the matchless beauty, of these wheels as of white fire no words can describe, nor sketch adequately portray. The Voring Foss is the very poetry and perfection of waterfalls, and, alone, amply repays the fatigue and expense of a voyage to Norway.

In the afternoon we rode back across the tableland to the summit of the Maabuberg, and, in the descent of the steep and rough zigzags, our ponies displayed their sure-footedness even more conspicuously than during the previous ascent. We reached Vik at six o’clock, having been away for upwards of eleven hours. Even with the aid of ponies and boats no one should attempt the excursion to Voring Foss who is not prepared for at least two hours’ hard walking. We found the charges at Vik extravagant, having to pay for our three guides and ponies 32s. Provisions were also dear: for eggs we paid 9d. a dozen, butter 10d. a pound, and jiadbrod 1½d. a cake, which, reckoning by weight, is considerably more than the price of the best wheaten bread in Great Britain.

Next day the weather was very bad: the mountains around were either entirely veiled in clouds, or partially obscured by floating wreaths of gray mist, while the rain poured in torrents. In the evening, however, there was a startling change : the rain ceased, but it blew half a gale of wind right on shore, and, to our consternation, we found that our anchor was not holding, and that we were rapidly drifting on the rocky beach We turned all hands up, got sail on the yacht, and were obliged to beat her out into the fiord through the darkness and in the teeth of the gale. We had got so close in-shore that we had scarcely room to stay the vessel, and had anything gone wrong when the helm was put down, nothing could have saved us from driving on the beach. After gaining a good offing, we again came to anchor off Vik, but considerably farther from the shore, and with plenty of chain out, and rode safely till the morning. AVe found that the cause of our former mishap had been the chain cable getting foul of the anchor - stock. “All’s well that ends well,” but we certainly made a narrow escape from leaving our smart little cutter to serve as a perpetual model for the boat-builders of Vik.

Early next morning we bade adieu to Vik, and sailed for Bergen : the wind was, however, unfavourable, and we had a tedious voyage down the Hardanger. On leaving it, we entered a perfect labyrinth of rocky islands, through which we were to thread our way to Bergen. Most of these are deeply indented by bays and creeks, and, in general, very barren, though, here and there, a few trees and bushes of purple heather break the gray monotony of their surface. The navigation of the numerous and winding channels that surround them is intricate and perplexing, and the white-painted wooden lighthouses perched upon commanding heights are here absolutely indispensable. Near Bogholm Sound we had a magnificent sunset; a cloudless sky of gold and crimson, against which the fine mountains around Bergen seemed of the deepest purple. The graceful peak of the Lyder-horn and the lofty range of the Lovstakken were especially conspicuous.

The voyage from Yik to Bergen occupied two days, and early on the morning of the third we came to anchor at the entrance of the merchant harbour not far from the quay and custom-house, in the midst of a crowd of shipping, French, German, English, and Norsk, the most curious being the “Jagts” from the northern fisheries, large vessels with a single mast, a huge square-sail, and crews of a dozen men each. They are low amidships, curve upwards at the bow and stern, and the prow rises eight or ten feet above the deck. Bergen is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque towns in Europe. There is such variety of colour and outline, such narrow streets, such quaint old wooden houses with balconies and projecting roofs, sometimes built upon quays rising sheer from deep water, sometimes overhanging short narrow canals which run up from the harbour, and admit of vessels lying between the houses. Then there are the tall old tower of Haco and the ancient palace of the kings of Norway, recalling the days when Bergen was a capital,—the dark gray castle of Fredericksburg on the opposite height,—the long and lofty range of wooden warehouses which once received rich merchandise from all parts of the world when Bergen was one of the five chief ports of the Hanseatic League,—the varied and ever-changing character of the shipping in the harbour, —the fine curve and graceful outline of the mountains that half encircle the city, and the bold sweep of the deep and sheltered waters that bring the commerce of distant lands to her threshold— all combining to form a picture equally delightful from its natural beauty and romantic associations with the past.

The first point that we visited after landing was the fortress of Fredericksburg which crowns a height rising steeply above the custom-house. From this commanding position we obtained an excellent idea of the city and neighbourhood. Bergen is built partly upon a peninsula facing the north, and partly along the shores of two deep bays on the east and west of this peninsula. The bay on the east is the harbour for merchant ships, and that on the west for vessels requiring repairs; the principal shipbuilding yards are also on the west bay. To the south, an undulating well-wooded country extends to the base of the mountains, upon whose slopes may be seen the bright-looking; villas of the Bergen merchants. The warehouses of the Hanse merchants and the castle of Haco extend along the east side of the merchant harbour. Pictorially speaking, there is too much of pure unbroken white in the buildings of Bergen ; but their picturesque shapes, steep roofs, and pointed gables in some degree compensate for this defect. The houses are all built of wood, painted, and, externally at least, kept scrupulously clean. The streets are narrow and ill paved, and beside many of the houses stands a water-barrel as a resource against fire, while at intervals of 100 yards are sentry-boxes for the watchmen. The old and rude system of water-barrels seems likely to be soon superseded by fire-plugs; for in some of the streets we saw notices of the position of those admirable safeguards for a wooden town. The last fire destroyed 180 houses, and the spot where it raged may still be distinguished by freshness of the tiles on the roofs of the houses that have replaced those which were then destroyed. For the future, all houses built in Bergen must be constructed of brick or stone; and some of those which we saw in process of erection to the south of the merchant harbour were in conformity with this new regulation. Their construction is very curious: the inner shell is of wood, above that is a rude sheathing of birch bark, and over all a facing of brick sometimes coated with Roman cement.

With the exception of cigars, fish, and Norwegian skiffs, everything is exceedingly dear, and Mr. Greig, the English consul, informed us that, within his remembrance, prices had increased threefold. For a coarse Norsk knife with carved wooden handle, fifteen shillings were demanded, and for a small card-case, also in carved wood, such as might have been purchased in Switzerland for a couple of francs, we were charged nine shillings. But, besides being the dearest, Bergen is also the rainiest of Norwegian towns. We have been in a glen in the Island of Skye, yclept Glen Sligachan (a perfect Shibboleth to English lips), in which we were told that the oldest inhabitant could not remember a day without a shower, and truly, judging from our five days’ experience, we can believe the same of Bergen. An umbrella and a waterproof cloak are essentials; and whoever wishes to become what Mr. Mantalini expressively terms “a dem’d moist unpleasant body” had better go to Bergen and spend a week without them.

The fish-market, situated at the head of the merchant harbour, is one of the most interesting sights of this ancient city; and those who wish to see it to advantage ought to go about seven in the morning when the fishing-boats come thronging in with their scaly freight. The fish are brought to market alive by a very ingenious contrivance. Each fishing-boat tows along by a cord attached to it a small, flat-bottomed, boatshaped receptacle, in which the fish are placed; and the sides of this are pierced with holes, through which the water flows freely, so that it is almost entirely submerged as it is towed astern with its living burden. In going to the fish-market, we passed in front of the lofty white warehouses once the property of the merchants of the I lanseatic League. A perfect fleet of fishing-boats, ranged in two tiers, lay alongside the quay in front of them; and, close to its edge, stands a row of tall, upright, mast-like posts painted green, with long black poles slung across them, one end of which admits of being lowered into vessels lying alongside the wharf, when, by hauling on the other end, any article attached may be easily raised and deposited on the quay. It was curious to see these rude and ancient substitutes for the crane and windlass still standing in the middle of the nineteenth century.

On reaching the fish-market we found our selves in the midst of a perfect babel of tongues, bargaining, chaffering, and abusing, with a volubility and energy worthy of Billingsgate. The market and its neighbourhood offer great attractions to the artist. Several of the adjacent buildings are curious and characteristic, many fine studies of costume present themselves, and some of the picturesque Loffoden galleys are generally moored close by. These vessels sometimes bring to Bergen a cargo of wood piled up till it is almost half - mast high, and are said occasionally to take back with them a cargo of coffins, using them as packing-cases during their homeward voyage. From the fish-market we continued our walk until we reached the shores of an inland lake connected with the harbour by a narrow canal, and surrounded by pleasant walks and wooded slopes, with the villas of the Bergen merchants peeping out from among the foliage. It is a beautiful spot, and presents a charming combination of wood and water; yet that large yellow building which arrests the eye by its size and beauty of situation calls up saddening associations, for it is the Hospital for Lepers, leprosy being a disease, unfortunately, still prevalent in Bergen.

On our way back we visited several shops, in particular that of Mr. F. Berger, a bookseller, whose shop is situated not far from the cathedral. He is an accomplished linguist, speaking English and German with fluency. We found him very civil and attentive, and were introduced by him to the Bergen Athenaeum, where we saw Punch, the Examiner, and the Illustrated News. Strangers introduced by a member enter their names in a book kept for that purpose, and are then entitled to the use of the rooms for a fortnight free of expense. Afterwards we went to the Bergen Museum, which contains a highly interesting collection of articles connected with the natural history, antiquities, and fine arts of Norway. We saw a splendid specimen of that noblest of the falcon tribe, the gerfalcon of Norway, and of the capercailzie, male and female, a fine lynx, the skeletons of several large bears, and a great variety of fishes, reptiles, and minerals. There is also a curious collection of ancient Norsk swords, axes, and armour, and specimens of wood and stone covered with runic characters. Several pairs of the snow - shoes or skates in common use were pointed out to us. These are narrow flat pieces of wood, about eight feet in length, tapering at each end, with a strap of leather to attach them to the feet, and the face next the ground grooved. Those used by the Laplanders are of unequal length, and the shorter of the two is covered with reindeer-skin, in order to enable them to climb steep acclivities. We were showm a beautifully-carved wooden bedstead of the end of the sixteenth or beginning of the seventeenth century, said to have belonged to a daughter of a king of Scotland.

Whether this legend be true or no, it is a most elaborate and delicate piece of carving. The Museum contains many pictures, most of them very bad, though often having great names attached. Among them we observed a portrait of Jacob Jacobson Drachenberg, the Old Parr of Norway, who lived 150 years; a good landscape by Professor Dahl of Dresden; a smaller Italian scene by the same artist, and a very noble outline drawing of a Pieta, worthy of the best days of Italian art. But the two most interesting pictures are by Jansen, a Norwegian priest, a pupil of the school of Dusseldorf; the one representing the fair Ingeborge, the heroine of Frithiofs Saga, with a falcon on her wrist, looking out upon the sea, awaiting the return of her hero lover. The drawing is good, the face beautiful, and, with the exception of a little hardness, the colouring agreeable. The other picture represents one of the Norwegian Vikings carrying off a Greek captive. The warm voluptuous character of southern beauty is well expressed, and contrasts strongly with the bright complexion and fair hair and beard of the northern warrior. The drawing of the left arm of the young Greek is, however, bad and feeble. We were informed that a new building is shortly to be erected for the better accommodation and arrangement of the curiosities of the Museum.

On a subsequent day we went to see the first exhibition of the Prize Pictures (chiefly by native artists) of the Bergen Art Union. This association was then quite in its infancy, having subsisted for a single year only ; the annual subscription is two dollars, and the largest sum as yet given for a picture has been 100 dollars. The prizes are decided, as with us, by ballot, and the names of the prize-holders are affixed to the pictures they have won. Several of the landscapes by native artists showed great technical proficiency, and an attentive and loving study of nature; and we have no doubt that many of them would bring in this country twice the sum given for them in Norway. The exhibition did not contain a single specimen of historical painting, but consisted entirely of landscapes and tableaux tie genre. Among the native artists we particularly noticed the landscapes of Mortens Muller and Nils Muller, and of Ecker, a Norwegian long resident in the island of Madeira. There was also a very promising picture, “Children at play/’ by Bergslien, a Norsk peasant youth, whose genius for painting induced some benevolent individuals to send him to study at Dusseldorf, which appears to be the favourite school with Norwegian artists.

On Sunday we attended afternoon service in the Cathedral, which has no external beauty to boast of, and, internally, is probably the ugliest church in Europe. It is a large building, but there were not above thirty persons present during the service, which lasted for about an hour. The officiating clergyman was a fine-looking middle-aged man, and, like the Lutheran clergy in general, wore a black gown and Geneva ruff. He possessed a splendid voice, and read his sermon with great solemnity and effect. The interior of the Cathedral is as white as whitewash and paint can make it. There is a long and lofty nave with a wooden roof totally devoid of mouldings or ornaments of any kind. This is divided from a low aisle by three huge, ugly, octagonal pillars, with the shafts whitewashed and the capitals painted black. The aisle is partially filled up by several tiers of pews, exactly like the boxes in an opera-house, and the central pew opposite the pulpit has red curtains attached to it. The pulpit is a frightful wooden structure some thirty feet high, which rises in successive stories and rests against the centre of the wall of the nave, while below, it is supported upon the head of a single unfortunate wooden angel, who seems quite inadequate to sustain such a burden. Above the altar rises a huge wooden canopy, in one compartment of which is a painting of the Lord’s Supper, surmounted by a circular pediment, above which is a crucifixion, the whole towering up almost to the roof in elaborate and unmitigated ugliness. In front of the altar, and within the altar railings, are two large brass lamps suspended from the ceiling by black rods, ornamented with brass bells at regular intervals ; and between these lamps hangs a colossal figure with gilt wings and scanty drapery, resembling a figurante let down from the flies of an opera-house rather than a respectable and orthodox angel which we supposed it to represent. This figure may be pulled up and lowered down by a ring attached to it, an operation which we witnessed during the baptismal service, the water being contained in a basin placed upon a wreath held by the outstretched hand of the suspended angel. Facing the altar, at the opposite extremity of the nave, is a large and powerful organ with a fine full tone. It was very well played. Its exterior, however, is in perfect keeping with the general hideousness which characterises the interior of this extraordinary building. There are three parish churches in Bergen—the Cathedral, the Kors Kirke, and the New Church. After leaving the Cathedral we visited the last of these, arriving just at the termination of the service. The congregation was far more numerous than in the Cathedral, the passages were strewed with twigs of juniper, and paint and whitewash seemed in as great favour as in the Metropolitan church.

On our way back, we spent some time in searching out an apothecary, in order to get some medicine for one of our party who had been taken ill at Bergen. We found that there were two compounders of drugs, the one known by the sign of a swan, and the other by that of a lion, suspended over their doors. We patronised the latter; and, in spite of his formidable designation of “Love Aphothek,” found him civil and attentive, and able to speak a little English. Besides the two apothecaries, the health of the population is watched over by sixteen doctors; and a diploma from the University of Christiania is absolutely necessary before any one is allowed to practise. Even a Swedish diploma will not do. None but Norwegians, or at least those holding a Norwegian degree, are permitted to kill or cure their fellow-citizens in Bergen.

Next day the rainy monotony of the weather was diversified by a violent thunderstorm, and we were confined to our cabin finishing sketches, writing up journals, and making arrangements for our departure. The weather was somewhat better next morning, and at eleven o’clock we started on our homeward voyage to Lerwick by the mouth of the Ivors Fiord, which opens into the German Ocean about eighteen miles from Bergen. The sky was comparatively clear, and the views of the old Norwegian capital as we sailed away were varied and beautiful. From a point about a mile to the north of King Haco’s castle the appearance of the city is very picturesque. The quaint irregular buildings of the old fortress rising from the sheltered waters of the merchant harbour form a noble foreground, while the twin spires of the German Church and those of the Cathedral and Ivors Kirke group finely around them. Farther back is the tall white range of the Hanseatic warehouses; and, along each side and at the head of the merchant harbour, a perfect forest of masts; while facing the old castle on the other side of the bay are the white walls and spire of the New Church, the slopes behind it covered by groups of picturesque and brightly-painted wooden houses, above which frowns the ancient fortress of Fredericksburg. But, perhaps, the most complete of all the sea views of Bergen is that obtained from a point a short distance beyond the extremity of the long peninsula which divides the two bays around which the town extends. This view shows more of the city than any other, and its various buildings form most picturesque and charming combinations. Not far from Bergen, and looking almost like a long suburb, is the pretty village of Nyhavn, built close to the sea along the foot of a range of steep hills. It is a favourite summer resort of the Bergenese.

On our way to the mouth of the Ivors Fiord, and while sailing through its narrow and winding reaches, we passed many a charming villa, many a sequestered parsonage house and church peeping out from thick foliage, and many a sheltered bay and fishing village built along the beach. Among the prettiest of these villages are Strudhavn, Stargen, Bradholm and Klokervik; but, although every spot of fertile ground is taken advantage of, here, as on the banks of the Hardanoer, the general characteristic of the shores of the fiord is extreme barrenness. At five o’clock we reached the beacon on Mars ten Island off the mouth of the Ivors Fiord, where we parted with our venerable pilot. They apparently provide for their old men in Norway by teaching them to say “’Bout ship!” and then making pilots of them. This old man seemed still more aged than our invaluable Palinurus on the Moranger Fiord. He had lost most of his teeth, and his hair and whiskers were quite white. Pilotage for our small vessel during our short visit to Norway cost us considerably more than £1 per day; and we had a learned discussion in the cabin one forenoon whether the Norsk word lootz (pilot) might not be derived from the Hindoo loot, meaning booty or plunder : a question which we leave to the decision of more accomplished philologists.

After a stormy voyage of fifty-one hours against a head wind and a heavy sea, we arrived safely at Lerwick, from which we had taken our departure just a fortnight before. Of this period nearly four days were occupied in the voyage out and home, and ten days were spent in Norway, which serves to show how easily, and in how short a time, some of the finest scenery in Europe may be reached and enjoyed by those who do not suffer from seasickness, or object to the confinement and limited accommodation of a small vessel.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus