“Why be up here in the mountains, when the other kids have started school in the village?”
Thought the children at Tokvam
Ingrid, Bjørn’s mother (the little girl on the right in the photo below), is now 86 years old, but she still remembers the summers she spent at the summer pasture farm ‘Tvindane’. Every spring, the farmers moved their livestock up to their summer pasture farms in the mountains, and each farm could have more than one summer pasture farm. There the animals could graze on fresh pastures, while the children and women had to work, milking and making cheese, often from May until September.
For one child, it felt shameful that her school desk stood empty after the school holidays were over. The highlight of these summers was when her father came up to the summer pasture farm at weekends to collect the cheese – always cheerful, and with some sweets in his rucksack.
Last year, Bjørn’s mother moved back to the farm together with Bjørn’s father to see out her last days in Aurland, where her life started. We do not get much sun during the winter, but when it does finally peek over the mountainside in March, Ingrid laps up every last ray of it.
The farm is called Tokvam, and so is the neighbouring farm. Which is why we call ourselves 29/2 Aurland, after the farm’s land and title number. This area has been settled since the Viking Age, and there are several old burial mounds in Aurlandsvangen village, which, in its day, was the main seat of King Sverre’s maternal line. The buildings on the farm are not that old, of course, but the building we call ‘the fish house’ is one of the oldest buildings in Aurland, dating from the early 18th century.
The main ‘highway’ between Western and Eastern Norway ran past here. For centuries, cattle and horses were driven up the Aurlandsdalen valley on their way to the horse and cattle markets in Eastern Norway. The initials of old drovers heading east are carved into the old timber walls of the ‘fish house’.
Nowadays, we welcome guests from all the world to the farm.
With its tall mountains and glaciers, and its location in the innermost reaches of the world’s longest and deepest open fjord, Aurland has been a magnet for tourists since Kaiser Wilhelm and other European royal families sailed up the fjord on their steamboats in the late 19th century.
Norway is often referred to as ‘boulder country’. If you want grass and green pastures for livestock, you have to clear all the rocks off the land first. It’s a man’s job. And a woman’s. Bjørn’s uncle Ola had plenty of opportunity to test his strength – and his patience – like the men and women who farmed this land before him.
Eighty per cent of the land in Aurland is more than 1,000 metres above sea level. People gradually moved higher up the mountainsides and built farms there in order to eke out a living for themselves and their families. It conferred high status to have a farm down on the plain beside the river, where the grazing was richer and the land more fertile. As the population increased, resources became scarce, but Bjørn’s family held out. Later in the 19th century, the great migration to the USA started. It is a well-known fact that more Norwegians live in the USA than in Norway.
OUR BRITISH FRIENDS
The scientific revolution in the 18th century, the ensuing voyages of discovery and 19th century European imperialism led to more and more people travelling all over the world. The British Empire led the way in this connection, and the British upper class, which combined great wealth with a highly developed interest in sport and outdoor pursuits, sought excitement and fulfilment under distant skies.
And the British upper class ranked the Aurlandselva river as one of the best rivers in the world for sea trout. The British came with their fly rods and discovered our rivers and made angling a sport – or should we call it an art? We were most interested in putting more food on the table.
What made the biggest impression on our friend Bridget Buxton from Horsey in Norfolk on her honeymoon in Aurland (apart from her new husband, John Buxton, reversing up the incredibly steep hairpin bends to Myrdal station in a Land Rover) was how the local people fed their dogs on smoked salmon.
‘Such a delicacy – for the dogs!’
Grandfather knew how to process the fish – in the bakehouse. He liked to wear a suit while fishing – he had plenty of time to be a farmer otherwise.
THE NEXT GENERATION
he great migration to the USA started when resources gradually became scarcer as the 19th century progressed. It is a well-known fact, is it not, that more Norwegians live in the USA than in Norway?
Today, it is the big towns and cities that entice people away from rural communities, and nowadays they move away voluntarily. We, on the other hand, wanted to go against the flow, and we moved to Aurland in autumn 2012 to realise our dream of running a sustainable tourist enterprise on the farm where Bjørn’s mother comes from.
In 2013, the first baby was born on the farm since Ingrid saw the light of day in 1928, little Ensi.
Hopefully, we will harvest lots of joy and happy memories from our fields.
We at 29/2 Aurland extend a heartfelt welcome to guests from Norway and abroad.