The bottom of the valley must drop a good deal between us and those vessels, for right here the cows only wet their ankles, wading in as they have to cool off during the noonday heat. The stolkjaerres which we just met on the valley road had carried up passengers from the excursion boats, and will soon bring many of them back to continue the journey by water. It requires a voyage of a hundred miles to reach open sea, although this marvelous mirror before us is part of the salt ocean. The channel winds in and out between those mountains that we see ahead at the north; after several miles it opens into somewhat wider and still deeper waters between other mountains at our left, and the vessels’ course is then approximately westward. The map (7) will make it perfectly plain.
Now we see, as we had anticipated, how this fjord is like the valley above, with its bed filled by the salt sea instead of by one rocky river and some tiny fields. The space directly around us at this minute is so closely walled around with mountains at the east, south and west that for several weeks in midwinter the sun never gets high enough in the sky to send a single ray of direct sunshine down to the Gudvangen houses. In midsummer, on the contrary, the mountains reflect the heat back and forth across the narrow space till it is sometimes breathlessly warm here, and one would be glad to follow the example of the cows.
Sometimes a gun is fired on one of the excursion steamers, to show off the echoes, and the roar is like that of powerful artillery.
In a region like this, one gradually grows into the spirit of the country and recalls with increasing sympathy of understanding the old Saga accounts of giants and heroes, of big, bold adventures and gigantic jokes, and battles unto death with mysterious Powers.
Was it possibly some thought of a long, crooked fjord like this one, which lay behind the old story of how the god Thor tried to empty the magic drinking-horn in the giant’s banqueting hall? He almost did it, but had to give up, overwhelmed with shame until his host explained that it was the whole surging Sea he had tried to drain through the horn ! As for the ancient tradition about how Thor used to hurl his hammer, Mjolner, at the evil giants, calling it back to him after each stroke, ready for anotherone good, heavy thunderstorm here at Gudvangen would make anybody believe the old days were come again, with Thor in the thick of a fight !
Before we go, do notice that slender thread of a waterfall that sways from the edge of cliff and sky up ahead there at the left. It is like the one Prince Henry pointed out to Elsie, as they went through the Swiss Alps :
“Over our heads a white cascade is gleaming against the distant hill ; We cannot hear it nor see it move, but it hangs like a banner when winds are still.”
And did you ever see a farmer’s pasture set so nearly on end as the one which slopes to the fjord just below?
Travelers without number have come here, and afterwards tried to describe the place, but it is almost impossible to put one’s impressions into words. Probably Bayard Taylor, who was one of the first to write about it, fifty years ago, succeeded best. He recorded in his Northern Travel, already many times quoted :
“The Gudvangen Fjord, down which we now glided over the glassy water, is a narrow mountain avenue of glorious scenery. Unseen plateaux . . . spilled their streams over precipices from 1,000 to 2,000 feet in height, above whose cornices shot the pointed summits of bare, gray rocks, wreathed in shifting clouds, 4,000 feet above the sea. Pine trees feathered the less abrupt steeps, with patches of dazzling turf here and there, and, wherever a gentler slope could be found in the coves, stood cottages, surrounded by potato-fields. . . . Not a breath of air rippled the dark water, which was a perfect mirror to the mountains and the strip of sky between them.”
There are some interesting short-distance walks about Gudvangen ; one is by a path along the west side of the fjord. If we take that path now we shall get a glimpse of some of the queer, strolling folk that American and English people call gipsies. The map marks their location 60, a little way around the point below the steamboat landing.