The landscape of Norway’s western coast, with its snow-capped mountains, deep fjords and narrow inlets, is full of contrasts – both majestic and mild at the same time.
Roughly paraphrased, that is how the Norwegian poet Tore Ørjasæter (1886-1968) opens his hymn to the west country. He puts into words what so many people are struck by when they come here: it is wild and beautiful, but also gentle and hospitable.
The west country us probably the part of Norway that offers the greatest contrasts. Here you can climb up the mountains surrounding the busy city of Bergen, or take a boat from Ålesund to the islands dotted like stepping stones to the open sea.
You can wander in shady forests or rest in a quiet inlet. The west country can be described as the distillation of everything that is typical of Norwegian nature – the fjords, the sea, the mountains, wide open spaces and deep forests. All this must have left its mark on the people living here through the generations?
“Yes, I think so,” says Olav Grinde, who together with photographer Per Eide has written a richly illustrated guide to the region: “The Magic of Fjord Norway”. This is not a typical travel book which shows the surface of towns and villages, and tells you how to get there. “We did that too,” he goes on. “But first and foremost we wanted to paint a colorful and diverse picture. We also wanted to tell the story of the west country, about how the mountains were created, how the landscape has influenced the west country character, and how the people and culture have gone hand in hand for generations.”
Olav Grinde talks enthusiastically about his roots and his love of the west-country. He is, like most west-countrymen, a fierce local patriot, but one that does not let it tip into maudlin sentimentality. That is certainly not part of the west-country character.
“I think west-country people aee rather taciturn and unsentimental, frugal and temperate,” says Grinde. “I think that is to do with how they have learned to live with the elements and made a living from the land and the sea.”
The power of nature
That is precisely what the first part of the book is about – the sea, the fjords, the mountains, woods and glaciers. Here the reader learns how the fjords were created through a series of ice ages, but is also tempted by the prospects in store for them if they decide to explore themselves on foot or by bike.
The second part of the book does not go as far back as the ice age, but the reader gains a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the Vikings and their way of life.
The book is also about religion. For it is in this part of the country that Christianity was introduced in the 11th century, and it is here that strict Protestantism, Puritanism and temperance still hold sway in some local communities.
Surrounded by history
Character, local culture and customs are one thing. Just as exciting is to get an introduction into local architectural and craft traditions. And this book provides it.
“You just have to look around you,” says Grinde enthusiastically. “Much of the architecture we see today is built in ancient wisdom. And today’s wooden fishing boats resemble the old Viking ships in their design and construction. The book is a result of countless hours of research and I have spoken to a great many people with knowledge I didn’t even know existed. I learned, for example, that people had waterproofs long before Helly Hansen. But they used garments made of oil-impregnated hides or birch bark. However, I don’t mean that we should focus only on history and get all romantic,” he adds.
“The west-country is also a modern region. That is why we have devoted a lot of space to presenting and describing our thriving towns and villages. Today. Road building, shipbuilding and oil production are important economic drivers. And the fishing industry. You could say that most of the raw materials exported from this country are produced here – oil and fish, the backbone of the Norwegian economy,” says Grinde, who emphasizes that the book is also published in English. You can also buy a paperback edition with the text in Norwegian, English and German.
Yes, we will allow him that much advertising space. The glossy hardback edition is certainly a joy to behold.
The Norwegian West Country, written by Admin.