Norway – walled village and lake of Roldal

Here we find the outlet of those brawling mountain streams that we saw racing down the rocky slopes off behind us when we stood above the slyngning—the road with the big loops in its own course. Those ragged little islands in the upper end of the lake are accumulations of sand, gravel and loose pebbles brought down partly by ancient glaciers and partly by spring freshets when the overfull streams tear stuff out of their own banks with the energy that comes from heavier descending volumes of water. Indeed all the soil now forming the fields down there in the valley must have been gradually brought down in times past, either by bigger streams or by the slow, heavy plowshare of some prehistoric glacier, sliding down on its way toward the sea. It took thousands of years to get this valley into such condition that human homes could be established here !

It would be interesting if we could know whether the girls whom we saw at the saeter away up on the Haukeli mountains came from one of these very houses now in sight ; at all events they belong in this parish—they said so. It was in order to save for winter the grass in some of these fields that they had taken the stock up there for the summer.

Several Roldal families have saeters up on the Haukeli mountains. Paul Du Chaillu many years ago traveled through this region and visited at one such cabin-dairy managed by girls from Roldal, one of them the sister of his guide. He told about it in The Land of the Midnight Sun and printed some interesting letters which were later written to him by the young people after they had come home to the village here.

By the way, though this is not the “midnight sun” which is now shining on the roadway (on the contrary, as we know we are facing southwest, it is evidently in the forenoon), those shadows seem surprisingly long until we remember that we are in about the same latitude as St. Petersburg and Cape Farewell. The sun naturally cannot sweep so high in the sky here as it does at home—that accounts for the longer shadows.

That large frame building directly beside the high-way is, as we readily infer, a hotel. There are in fact several good inns here, for the place is visited every summer by increasing numbers of travelers. There is good trout fishing in the lake, and in streams that flow into it. Roldal is a larger village than it appears to be from this point of view—the parish church and a number of houses are out of range at this moment, but we pause here in order to get this superb view over the lake with the rocky Holmenut and Roldalssaaten standing guard beyond, their heads against the sky.

Roldal church used, centuries ago, to be famous in its way. It owns an ancient wooden crucifix, which, tradition says, was found by a fisherman floating in the water of a fjord a few miles away. According to local legend the people found that its touch worked miracles for the sick, and its fame spread far through the countryside, so that devout believers used to make long and weary journeys here to seek help. These pilgrimages, which were made at midsummertide, continued until the year 1835, when they were prohibited by governmental authority. As the result of a fair that was held at the same time, much worldliness developed in the course of years, and hence the prohibition. Tradition still says concerning the old market place: “Here many a dance has been turned, many a horse wind-broken, and many a hero drubbed.” The crucifix still remains, but certainly works no miracles today.

The young women whom we saw in the hayfield (Position 32) had doubtless been to school in the village here when they were little girls, and the shy small boy will come here in his turn. Country schools cannot, of course, keep up to the high educational standard of Christiania, but they are good so far as they go ; the children do at least learn to read and write and reckon simple arithmetical problems, so they all possess the key to further learning if taste and opportunity lead that way. It would be considered a serious disgrace to allow children, no matter how poor, to grow up without at least as much as that in the way of education.

The constantly increasing volume of summer travel through this region is becoming a very important source of local revenue. The Norwegians, like the Swiss, are thrifty folk, conservative by instinct, and yet not so conservative but that they will put them-selves to vast trouble if a new enterprise recommends itself as practically worth while. Some of the best road building in Europe has been done within the last twenty years here in Norway for the sake of making certain natural beauties of the land more accessible to foreign tourists, with pockets full of money. One such new road we have already seen, forming a narrow shelf above the thundering Rjukan Fos (Position 20). Another remarkable highway, partly the widening of an earlier road and partly quite new, follows the outlet of Lake Roldal down through a wild ravine between high mountains south of the lake, on its way to the sea. The general course of our journey would lead us in nearly the opposite direction, but we will make a special detour to see the Bratlandsdal road. The map includes the valley away down near its southern margin. Before we reach the most picturesque pieces of engineering, let us pause for a minute beside a humble peasant home. The map marks our standpoint 34. Notice the red lines indicate that we shall look across a small stream—the out-let of Lake Roldal.