I received a very surprising and pleasant birthday gift from Catherine for my 60th birthday – a holiday to Norway; the closest landmass to us across the North Sea to the east. We travelled by plane from Sumburgh to Bergen, our first glimpse of Norway from the plane was a panorama below us of small islands and, unlike back home, a lot were connected by bridges. We travelled into the city of Bergen and stayed in a hotel very close to the sea, so we felt quite at home. The harbour front was a hive of activity, surprisingly not with fishing vessels, but mostly pleasure craft of all sizes, charter tour boats and the occasional oil related vessel.
All along the waterfront there were beautiful wooden buildings and at the rear of them on the tree-clad hillside were private houses seemingly perched on a very steep slope which rose to quite a considerable height. The city was overlooked by mountains, one in particular I was to get up close and personal with. As a child I had no fear of heights (climbing the cliffs back home was no problem), but I was reluctant; Catherine wished to explore the mountain despite this anyway! She assured me would travel to the top of the mountain Floyen by the Funicular railway, even if it was an almost vertical climb! This was a very eventful journey for me and, despite the stunning views, I was ill at ease, already concerned about the return journey.
When we reached the summit (much to my relief), the view was amazing, we began exploring and eventually escaped the crowds of people and entered a forest walk surrounded by huge fir trees. The further we travelled the more rugged the land became; we passed by lochs and came upon a clearing where we encountered our first Norwegian sheep, quite tame, and a red squirrel. Catherine did not want to stop and chose a darker, shadier path through the trees and I knew it, we came across our first Troll. I had always envisaged supernatural beings frequenting these mountain ranges, but I need not have worried as this one was made of wood.
We came to a sign saying the way down and the distance in kilometres, however Catherine as usual said, “No, we would travel back down the way we came up!” There was no point in arguing, I found myself standing up in the front of the train trapped behind a barrier with no escape, watching the vertical descent. It did not help, standing alongside me Catherine saying, “Open your eyes you are missing the view!”
The next trip was one I had actually planned, a day trip to visit a friend of mine I had met in Shetland on a visit to the wool store Gunnar Mhyr. His family owned a wool mill which his grandfather had built in 1898 called Hillesvag Ullvarefabrikk. It was situated on the shore of Osterfjord and was one of only a handful of mills left in Norway. We travelled by bus to Knarvik where Gunnar picked us up and took us to Hillesvag, and their mill. We met with the Mhyr family and were shown around the mill by Gunnar who told us of the history of the mill. In the beginning there was no road in, all traffic came by sea, and the farmers would row to the mill with their wool clip. If my memory is correct the mill at one time was powered by Hydropower. This refers to the conversion of energy from flowing water, and there was certainly plenty of that cascading down the mountains. This was a very special day for us and we really appreciated the hospitality and kindness shown to us by Gunnar and his family.
Our next outing was again very memorable, titled Norway in a Nutshell, here we witnessed some of the most stunning scenery we had ever seen; mountains, valleys, fjords and the highlight being a stop at a gigantic waterfall. We followed our travel companions out on to a damp platform viewing point, and out of the mist on the side of the waterfall you could make out the ruins of a croft house similar to ones back home. I was turning away when I heard a mournful wailing sound coming from the direction of the croft house. Suddenly an image appeared for several seconds, a beautiful long haired blond woman, and as she disappeared I saw what looked like a long animal like tail. A loud gasp came from the watchers as another one appeared. As usual I was to slow with my camera, and as Catherine always says “typical, missed it again”! We continued our journey onward to Flam and arrived at the head of fjord where on we boarded a ship and travelled down the fjord to Gudvagen and then by bus and finally a train to Bergen. I simply had to know about the person at the waterfall, and as usual Catherine provided the answer. The being was a Huldra (forest wife/woman), and is a dangerous seductress who lives in the forest. The Huldra is said to lure men with their charm, she has a long cow’s tail that she ties under her skirt to hide it from men. If she can manage to get married in a church her tail will fall off & she becomes human. I found native Norwegians reluctant to talk about their mythical creatures such as The Huldra and Trolls, perhaps they believe do exist!
Our next journey Catherine organised involved travelling by bus south west of Bergen, along a fjord and over at least one bridge. She wouldn’t say where we were going, I had my doubts when the bus we were travelling on had only one other passenger. Even more doubtful when the bus stopped on a barren stretch of rocky moor land, and the driver pointed to a building away in the distance with only a rough track leading toward it. We embarked and set off and finally she told me we were going to Televag. Televag is a village in Sund municipality in Hordaland County and is located on the island of Sorta, which explained the bridges. The building we were looking for and found was the North Sea Maritime Museum opened in 1998. Televag played an important part in the North Sea boat traffic between Norway and Shetland, including the Shetland Bus. Small fishing vessels would transport people and supplies back and forth across the dangerous North Sea in the Second World War. The village was the scene of the Televag Tragedy in 1942, the result of a shooting of two German officers by resistance fighters. The reprisals by the German occupying forces was swift and brutal, the entire village was cleared of people, houses and livestock. A very thought provoking, moving and tragic part of Norway’s history.
Us two along with the other solitary bus passenger sat in a huge auditorium in the museum and viewed actual footage of the tragic event and we were both quite moved by what we saw. The museum told the Norwegian side of the Shetland Bus story and it was heartening to see the other side and their experiences of the war year events.
Before catching our bus back to Bergen we decided to travel down to the sea shore, and explore the jetties and look at the boats. We were approaching the beach when this man appeared held out his hand introduced himself and welcomed us to his village. We told him where we came from and he immediately told us that he had received bottle messages one from the Island of Skerries, and people that we knew, he had written to the sender and still kept in touch with them. He told us he was retired now and was part of the local history group and had helped restore and looked after an old waterfront graveyard, victims of a shipwreck along the fjord. We said we would have to travel back to our bus stop to catch our bus to Bergen, and thanked him for all the information and his kindness.
We were waiting on the bus when the same gentleman appeared in his car and invited us to his home, and said we could catch a later bus. He introduced us to his wife and I remember it was a very hot day and we were very glad of the ice cream and coffee. We spent quite a bit of time with them before catching our bus back to Bergen. ‘The hand of friendship between Shetland and Norway’