Once upon a time long ago when the land was owned by the king, the church and the aristocracy and the Danes ruled Norway, a poor man had an idea. “Why do we not farm on Skagadalen ledge where the grass grows long for shepherding goats, Trolls bother not with snow avalanches and the rush of Seven Sisters Waterfall can be heard across the Geirangerfjord?”
“Outlandish,” exclaimed his wife. “The cliff rises straight as a mast. How will we scale down such precipices to sell our goat butter? The Trolls—especially Bøyg with his evil potions—will hurl rocks and lure us to mountain edges and to our death in the fjord we will fall.”
“Worry not thee,” said her husband. “We will build tree-trunk bridges and attach rope ladders in the most dangerous spots. It is said Bøyg hinders travellers—he will not bother we farmers.”
And so it came to pass that they blazed a trail up the mountain. (Their names were not recorded.) Their goats grazed on lush pastures, milk was churned into butter that melted on lefse throughout the county and farm Skageflå prospered.
“Hold steady while I rope thee,” mothers said, tethering their small children to a tree to prevent them from falling over the cliff. “Pull up the ladder. The lensmann is coming,” children shouted when they saw the tax collector from Geiranger on his way up the trail. “We shall take care,” children as young as six promised as they took to their heels for the day to watch over farm animals at the sætra, a hut near a grazing area. “Must we?” they whined in winter, climbing down the mountain to Skagehola from where they were rowed ten kilometres to school, collected at day’s end and rowed back in the cold and dark to the trail homeward.
And so life went on.
Until the nineteenth century when Skagadalen was visited by Magdalene Thoresen, mother-in-law of Henrik Ibsen. The Trolls detested the man for writing a famous play inspired by Per Gynt—the Norwegian folk hero who rescued three dairymaids—by shooting Bøyg! They feared too that Magdalene’s words would beckon travellers.
This fjord is surrounded by the steepest and, one is almost tempted to say, the most preposterous mountains on the entire west coast. It is very narrow and has no habitable shore area, for the precipitous heights rise in sheer and rugged strata almost straight out of the water. Foaming waterfalls plunge into the fjord from jagged peaks. There are, however, a few mountain farms here, and of these one or two have such hazardous access, by paths that wind around steep precipices, and by bridges that are fixed to the mountain with iron bolts and rings, that they bear witness in a most striking way to the remarkable powers of invention which the challenges of nature have developed in man.
It is unknown whether the words of Magdalene, concern for the farmers or urging from the lensmann (although we may surmise) caused the Geiranger council to affix railings along dangerous parts of the trail. A cable system was installed to haul food and supplies (it is unclear whose kroner paid for that). Displeased with the unwanted attention to their domain, the Trolls took their first big revenge. “Heave!” Bøyg shouted, ”Evil potions not scaring travellers! Landslide!”
Help arrived and, as love would have it, a brother and sister from farm Møllsæter married a brother and sister from Skageflå and the restored farm was split in two. The Trolls, perhaps because of their soft spot for lovers, fell quiet.
With hay from pastures on high and grain from small fields around the farm, Skageflå fed up to one hundred-twenty-five goats, sixty sheep, ten cows and two horses. In the first year of the twentieth century Rasmus Møll bought the lower farm, changing his name to Rasmus Skageflå, the last permanent resident of the farm until he abandoned it eighteen years later. The Trolls rested (well, mostly) for three-quarters of a century.
Until Queen Sonja and Prince Harald announced plans to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary at Skageflå, to helicopter in royalty and guests. “How dare they!” shouted the Trolls. However, Bøyg so admired Queen Sonja for hiking up the trail that the Trolls agreed, “No spells. No violent acts.”
Soon Geirangerfjord became one of Norway’s most visited tourist sites and UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site. Skageflå became a Protected Landscape Area, fences were secured into the mountainside and the farm was bought by a partnership of six. Bøyg pounded his fist. “Many travellers! Many delays on stronger potions! Landslide!”
Now it came to pass that the travellers Spice and Magellan arrived in Norway eager to see Skageflå. From Geiranger they planned to take the morning’s first boat on the fjord, jump off at Skagehola and hike to Skageflå. They would continue upward to farm Homlongsætra and down past Homlong alongside the fjord to a dirt road returning to Geiranger.
There is no dock at Skagehola so naturally, Bøyg takes pleasure in casting spells on disembarking travellers. The boat stops in front of a slippery patch of wet bank. All who have gone ashore over the centuries know one must step quickly, precisely.
“Forget young,” hissed Bøyg from above the pier-less trailhead. “Four eyes in grey jacket fearless,” he growled, glaring at Magellan, “Trip old lady.”
But the potion was too slow, all six hikers landed safely.
Before Spice could catch her breath, the young couples were out of sight. Her heart racing from the steep climb, Spice was happy to have railings to hold onto and in forty-five minutes she and Magellan arrived to farm Skageflå.
Now Bøyg and his bunch had come to hate Henrik Ibsen even more. For in his poem “On the Heights” Henrik Ibsen had invented the word friluftsliv, “the sense of freedom and simplicity one experiences in the mountains.” It annoyed the Trolls to see Spice and Magellan so plum full of friluftsliv:
Here in this deserted dwelling
I have housed my wealth of treasure;
There’s a bench, a stove, sweet smelling Air,
and time to think at leisure.
“Attack on cliff up to Homlongsætra,” said Bøyg. “She read ‘path is long and strenuous with exposed sections.’ But she not see pictures of cliff!”
Luring nearby, Bøyg and his Trolls telegraphed their evil potion, aiming it at Spice’s heart, clouding her brain with thoughts of falling, inveigling l’applel du vide, the subconscious call of the void.
But the Trolls were unprepared for the power of Magellan’s loving persuasion. “I’ll take your poles. You can do it,” he calmly encouraged.
Resolute, Spice clung to the wire, leaned into the hill and rounded the corner to where the trail widened and veered inward toward the forest.
Though at the time she was unaware, it is believed poetic lines from “On the Heights” helped defeat the Troll’s wicked intent:
What is life? But war waged with the trolls
That haunt us in heart and brain…
Relieved the path from this point was not treacherous, Spice and Magellan came to the remains of a sætra at Bjonnástein. There they picnicked on goat cheese, flatbread and cold lamb. “The food of farm Skageflå,” Spice said.
Now as everyone knows, folk tales rely on the power of three and some day, Bøyg may be angry enough for a third act. Folk tales carry morals, although the underlying message in Norwegian ones is often ambiguous and more importance is granted, as you have seen, to luck and extreme wilfulness. Hikers to Skageflå returning to Geiranger via Homlongsætra: Beware of Bøyg! Know the fearful potion he may attempt to instill in you can be overcome. For beyond luck and wilfulness you will receive a magic power from your visit to Skageflå: Everlasting friluftsliv.
Asbjørnsen, Peter Christian and Moe, Jørgen. Norwegian Folk Tales. Translated by Pat Shaw. Oslo: Font Forlag, 2010. It was from the foreword in this delightful book purchased in Bergen on our first day in Norway that I learned (and tried to apply) how Norwegian folk tales differ from those of other countries. Theodor Kittlesen, illustrator of some stories in this book, drew the troll Magellan placed in our feature image. Bøyg is the Troll said to hinder travellers. The tale above (if you believe in Trolls) is based on true facts. Landslides occurred in Skagadalen in 1873 and again in 2011. Queen Sonja and Prince Harald celebrated their 25th anniversary in 1993 at Skageflå and Queen Sonja, an avid hiker, walked up to the farm. UNESCO declared Geirangerfjord a World Heritage Site in 2005. A partnership of six people now owns Skageflå.
Here is Outtt’s Guide to the hike.
The full text of Henrik Ibsen’s poem “On the Heights” can be found here.
Edvard Grieg composed the music for Henrik Ibsen’s play “Peer Gynt.” (So don’t hum or whistle that in Bøyg’s presence either!) Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 Op. 46 1. Morgenstemning (Morning Mood) played by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra is the music playing in our video.
In addition to tourist sites about Skageflå, luck and wilfulness led me to this informative history about the area.