Summer mountain farms
For hundreds of years, farmers have led their livestock along steep and winding farm roads to summer grazing pastures in the mountains. This continued until the last farm was closed down in 1972. A summer mountain farm can be found in every single valley and on almost every mountain terrace on the slopes leading down to Sognefjord. Many of them are very old, others are relatively new, and some of them are just a faint trace in the terrain. This use has given Stølsheimen its name and created the cultural landscape that we continue to enjoy today. Visitors can still experience 30 summer mountain farms, and 26 mountain farming areas that have traces of buildings and past operations.
Summer mountain farming was an important part of traditional, pre-industrial agriculture in Norway and was widespread. Most of the farms around Stølsheimen were small, located on steep slopes and had limited resources. In the mountains, on the other hand, rich grazing pastures could be found. Therefore, it was important to keep the animals in the mountains for as long as possible so that what was produced on cultivated land and in the hayfields near the farm could be used as a winter fodder. In order to utilize the uncultivated land as much as possible, it was normal for farms to have both a ‘homestead farm’ at moderate elevations above sea level, for use during spring and fall, and a mountain summer farm located on the tree line to utilize the actual mountain pastures during the summer. Some farms also had a homestead farm down by the fjord. At Nese in Arnafjorden, the farms had the Tenne homestead farm by the fjord, intermediate farms at Fossesete and Rosete, and summer mountain farms at Vatnane, Hest and Dunevollen.
Long and steep farm roads set an effective limit on how much the people could develop their mountain farms. Therefore, the farmhouses were often small and spartan, and often built of materials and stone that were found on site. It was normally the women who tended to the farm. They milked the cows and goats and made butter, cheese and other dairy products.
We know little about how old the summer mountain farms in Stølsheimen are, but it is likely that some of them may be almost two thousand years old. Currently, there is no longer any active dairy farming in Stølsheimen, but many of the summer pastures are still used as grazing areas, and the mountain farmhouses are important regarding the supervision of grazing livestock. Many of the mountain farmhouses are also used for recreational purposes. Stølsheimen offers some great experiences in the places where mountain farmhouses are well maintained.
Trails / cattle roads
Farm roads formed a link between the home farm and the summer mountain farm. During spring and fall, many farmers had to cross relatively high sections of mountain with their livestock, and the farm roads were often long and arduous. Cairns were erected along the trails so that it was possible to find one’s way if the weather turned bad.
Today, these old cattle roads are still used to take cattle up to the mountain pastures and also as hiking trails. Many of them have been painstakingly built with stone walls and bridges that wind up the mountainsides. The cattle road from Ålrek to Vøvringen is a good example of a trail that has many sections of old stone walls.
Some of the oldest cultural traces in Stølsheimen are the trapping sites that were used to catch reindeer. Ancient trapping sites and pitfall traps show that Stølsheimen has been a habitat for wild reindeer for a long period of time. Wild reindeer are nomadic animals that require large habitats. The pitfall traps are important cultural monuments and must be preserved in order to gain knowledge about areas that are important for wild reindeer, also in the future.
In Stølsheimen, it is common to find either single pitfall traps placed on their own in the landscape, or just a few together. They are often placed in narrow corridors between lakes on the one side and steep cliffs/mountainsides on the other. Pitfall traps can be found both to the south and northeast of Holskardvatnet lake, and close to Øksevatnet lake in the north. The terrain, created by the special geology, steers the animals’ migratory routes. The pitfall traps have been placed in order to take advantage of the terrain formations. The pitfall traps located east and south of Kvilesteinsvatnet lake are good examples of how the terrain has been used to catch wild reindeer.
As the glaciers melt and retreat, many cultural monuments are revealed that are associated with hunting and trapping in the mountains. If you are out hiking and find any objects that could be cultural monuments, you must not touch them. Instead, you should notify the county authority’s archaeologist. When cultural monuments are moved, they can be easily damaged and cultural history will be lost.
Cooking pot production
Evidence of soapstone cooking pot production is an exciting part of Stølsheimen’s cultural heritage. The many deep hollows in the rock formations at Gryteberg show that people have removed sections of soapstone to make cooking pots. Soapstone is a soft type of rock that is easy to shape. In addition, it is fireproof. Soapstone has been used since the Stone Age and has had many uses. The first stone cooking pots were made during the Bronze Age. They were made by shaping the outside of the pot first and then hollowing out the inside. At Gryteberg, visitors can see many half-carved cooking pots that are believed to be between 500 and 2000 years old.
Unfortunately, the soft stone has tempted many to carve their name into the rocks. We would like to point out that this is a protected cultural heritage site and ask everyone to safeguard our shared cultural heritage. Do not write on or carve into the rocks!