One of the most characteristic provinces of Norway ; it was always with pleasure that I travelled through its valleys and mingled with its inhabitants. These are tall, well-built, graceful, and intelligent-looking, reminding me of the Dalecarlians in Sweden, described in Vol. II.
The province is divided into Upper and Lower Thelemarken. In Lower Thelemarken, as in Saetersdal, the men wear pantaloons reaching nearly under their arms, but dark in color and of a different fashion, and a very short and oddly-shaped waistcoat, over which is a white jacket, still more strange in shape; the buttons are of silver, and the whole is far from pleasing. The women are dressed in dark, thick vadmal, longer than in Saetersdal, with similar bright borders at the bottoms of the skirts; the waist is peculiar, being a low bodice, with straps crossing the shoulders, over which the high-necked and long-sleeved chemise projects; to this is usually added, when out-of-doors, a short loose jacket. At church, or on other formal occasions, they wear gloves and cloth stockings, both embroidered with gaudy flowers; the head-dress consists of a silk kerchief arranged as a turban, its ends falling to the waist behind.
A great drawback in travelling in this province is the poor fare at the stations; the food is of the plainest kind, and, to one unaccustomed to it, not very appetizing. The valleys are very irregular in every direction, and most of the means of communication are by simple parish roads, which lead to out-of-the-way places and to old farms.
Among the most characteristic styles of building on these old farms is the stabbur, where the wearing apparel and stores of the family are generally kept. In the dwelling-house one sees quaint rooms where are found the old bedsteads reached by a high step; shelves on which is kept the Bible or some sacred book ; cupboards with old china, mugs, etc. ; here and. there biblical inscriptions, and ancient seats made of a single log.
The traveller enters Thelemarken either by water by the Eidanger fjords to Skien, and thence by canal to Nordsjo, or by land from Christiania, by Drammen and Kongsberg. From the north a magnificent high-road from Odde on the Hardanger crosses to Roldal, the greatest elevation being 3500 feet above the sea ; then over the Haukelid down towards Silgjord. Another route branches off to the south by the Bandaks V and, upon the shores of which is the hamlet of Laurdal, where, in contrast with the wild district of Upper Thelemarken, one sees large elm, linden, aspen, ash, alder, and maple trees ; the apple, cherry, and walnutthe last not common in Norway were here loaded with fruit. In the fields they are so trimmed that their shade cannot retard the growth of the crops. The lake is 210 feet above the sea, and Laurdal is a well-protected spot.
Bandaks Lake is 30 miles long, but hardly a mile wide; the scenery is wild, and the water of a deep olive-green; the neighboring mountains are clad with fir and pine to their tops. From this lake, through a series of other lakes, one may go to the sea, with the exception of a drive of 14 miles from Straéngento Ulefos.
One year, towards the middle of August, I found myself in Kongsberg, which has a population of 5000 souls, and is built on the shores of the Laagen, 500 feet above the level of the sea. This town is celebrated for its silver mines, the most productive of which is the Kongens Grube, which has already reached a depth of 1800 feet.
Leaving Kongsberg, a drive of twenty miles brought me to a forest on a plateau 1700 feet above the sea; descending a ravine through a dark wood, suddenly burst into sight the Bolkesjo farm, 1240 feet above the sea. I know of no farm in Norway so picturesquely situated, and none with such peculiarly superb landscape. It was nestled among fir-clad hills, whose dark color contrasted with the green meadows and fields which they surrounded. The place was partly hemmed in by barren mountains, on which were seen patches of snow. Here in a steep valley, two lakes, apparently overlapping each other, are noticed: the Bolke, of a triangular shape, 1000 feet, and a little beyond the Tol, 690 above the sea-level. Everywhere little streams trickled down the hill-side, filling the air with the sweet music of their waters.
Ole Gulliksen Bolkesjo, the owner of the place, belonged to one of those old Norwegian families who trace their genealogy for centuries. He was worth about a quarter of a million dollars, and was a true type of a bonde-working in the fields like any one of his farm hands.
The stile, or house, was in unison with the surroundings. It had an upper story ; in the lower everyday room was carved in the wood 1778 (the date of the finishing of the structure), and “Soli Deo Gloria.” In the upper room, two beds, like the berths of a ship, had been built along the walls; they were painted blue inside, with the exterior ornamented with highly-colored flowers. By the inscriptions in old Norwegian one could at once know the religious feelings of the builders. Over one was written, and badly spelled, “May God send seed to all sweet creatures.” In another part I read, ” Houses and goods are inherited from parents, but a sensible woman comes from the Lord.” Somewhere else, “Trust in God :” the remainder I was unable to translate. There were other inscriptions besides. In a corner was a cabinet, with the letters O. E. S. B., under which was 1797.
About seventeen miles west of Bolkesjo, the lower end of Tin Lake is reached, upon the water of which plies a little steamer. The shores of the lake are thoroughly Norwegian, with rugged mountains covered with forests to their very tops.
Towards the northern portion, on the western shore, one enters a part of the lake called Vestfjord, running east and west ; the scenery increases in beauty, the landscape reminding one of the Hardanger. Leading from this fjord is a fine narrow valley, called Vestfjorddal, on the left of which Gaustad rises 6000 feet. It is celebrated for the Rjukandfoss at its end, one of Norway’s highest and most beautiful water-falls. The valley terminates abruptly, closed by gigantic walls, but the spray of the turbulent waters is seen long before the fall is reached.
The Rjukandfoss (reeking or smoking waterfall), plunges into a chasm from a height of 780 feet over a perpendicular ledge mi the table-land. It is formed by the river Maan, which rises in the Mjôs Vand. The sight is appalling as the eye seeks the depth below amidst the roar of the water: it is a fascinating spot.
Leaving the Rjukandfoss, I travelled towards Lake Silgjord, a charming part of Lower Thelemarken. At its upper end are the valleys of Morgedal, Flatdal, and Grundingsdal, which abound in fine mountain scenery.
One of the most fruitful regions of Lower Thelemarken is south of Lake Silgjord, in the valley where its outlet finds its way towards Nordsjo. On both sides of the stream, on the hills overlooking the flat dale in which the river flows, there are numerous fine farms, with large houses and buildings, which give a fair idea how the well-to-do farmers of Thele live. This district is known under the name of BO.
I went to Silgjord for the first time in the following manner: I ,had become acquainted at the sæters in Upper Thelemuarken with a number of bonder, who grazed their cattle there in summer; when the season was over I came down with them from the mountains, following the horses and cattle, in-tending to go with them to the horse fair in Silgjord, and to the cattle show a few days after in Skien. The herds belonging to the farmers joined, till at last there were several hundred head of cattle with many horses. At dusk we would stop at special places built for the purpose, where the animals were penned for the night. In the cortege were also many carts loaded with the produce of the dairy.
At Silgjord I had, through the kindness of a friend in Christiania, secured a number of rooms for my friends and myself at the store of the place, which was also an inn. He had tried his best to get me quarters at some farm, but all the farmers excused themselves, being ashamed to receive a stranger in their modest dwellings. On the way down I had made some friends, and invited them to stay with me during the fair; they accepted the invitation with pleasure, and put me down as a very good stranger. When I made my appearance with my bonder friends, in their odd Thelemarken costume, the owner of the place remonstrated ; he said he thought the room had been secured for gentlemen and their wives. I answered, “Never mind ; they are honorable, straightforward bonder, well-known in your district.” I ordered dinner for twelve. He said he could not accommodate me, that he had no food, no bread, etc.
At last I became annoyed, and told him that it was all non-sense; that a good honest farmer, even if he wore a peasant costume, was as good as anybody. Most of the men who were with me were white-headed, and belonged to the best class of bonder. The rooms had been secured for me, and I insisted on having them and on treating my friends.. Finally, I said that, if he refused, I would expose him in the public print. He then relented, but with bad grace; he never gave us enough to eat, and his charges were exorbitant. This misunderstanding soon spread, and I became very popular with the bonder. Since that time I have had many a good time among my Thelemarken friends.