Meandering further and further down one of the many winding arms of the Hardangerfjord in western Norway, I felt as if we were entering another world, a mythical dimension with beauty and mystery around every corner. Nestled deep in the heart of this labyrinthine fjord, cradled by the gently imposing mountains, sits a picture-perfect fairy-tale village – Eidfjord.
The history of Eidfjord
The village’s name comes from the Old Norse word eið, meaning “land between two waters”, and fjord, which indicates one of the aforementioned waters; the second is the lake behind the village, Eidfjordvatnet. Isn’t it wonderful how some languages are able to convey such complex meaning in so few words? The closest English translation of eið is isthmus; personally, I find it easier to say “land between two waters” than to attempt to pronounce all those consonants.
The land upon which Eidfjord was settled is actually a terrace from the end of the last Ice Age. Eleven thousand years ago, rivers of meltwater flowed out from a glacier and formed an ice front delta. The glacier terminus, which sat where Eidfjordvatnet is today, gradually retreated and melted away, leaving behind a terrace made up of sediment, sand, gravel, stones, and large rocks. The river Eio now flows from the lake into the fjord and has split the terrace into two plains; these are known as Lægreid (the low eið) and Hæreid (the high eið).
Hæreid Iron Age Burial Site
The earliest known settlers in this area were Stone Age reindeer hunters on the Hardangervidda eight thousand years ago; Eidfjord’s coat of arms, which features a pair of reindeer antlers, reflects this part of the village’s history.
During the Iron Age, Nordic people in Eidfjord made use of the large rocks deposited here by glacial runoff to construct burial mounds on the Hæreid plateau. Evidence of Eidfjord’s ancient history is remarkably intact; around 350 of these burial sites, which date back to 400 – 1,000 AD, have been uncovered. Many of the graves now lie on private land but are visible from the path that goes through the woods. Who would have thought that this unassuming village would be home to the largest collection of Iron Age burial sites in western Norway?
Exploring the village of Eidfjord
This seemingly secluded Norwegian village is, in fact, a major port of call for cruise ships and is a tourist favourite – Eidfjord was nominated Destination of the Year at the 2018 Seatrade Cruise Awards!
The touristic highlights include the troll train which takes visitors around the village and a souvenir shop full of – you guessed it – trolls!
For idyllic scenes of rural Norwegian life, look no further than Eidfjord village. The painted wooden farmhouses and cottages set in front of a dramatic backdrop of dark cliffs and cloud-topped mountains are charming and perfectly instagrammable!
There are even one or two sod roof buildings, a traditional Scandinavian method of insulation. Before the 20th century, this was the most common type of roof in rural Norway and Sweden; the materials are cheap to produce and the insulation was vital during the cold winter months.
Off the beaten path
Hiking through Hæreid’s rich emerald-green forest is a brilliant way to become acquainted with Eidfjord more intimately; dare to venture out into the woodlands and find stunning vistas, plus a closer view of the region’s natural history. And really, you haven’t experienced Norway until you’ve trekked through the woods, wondering if that was a rock or a troll you just saw moving in the shadows between the trees…
Spotting evidence of glaciers
Following the trail through the woods, we began to notice more geological features of the landscape. The fjords were shaped by melting glaciers slipping downhill under the force of gravity, carving the land into the deep valleys that exist today. But the fjords themselves aren’t the only evidence; along the woodland path towards the lake, Eidfjordvatnet, there are large areas of moraines (accumulations of rocky debris left behind by glaciers), further evidence that Eidfjord is an Ice Age terrace.
Admire the Hardangerfjord
Part of Eidfjord’s popularity must be because of its location in the beautiful Hardangerfjord, the second-longest fjord in Norway (and fourth-longest in the world).
As we departed Eidfjord, we admired the Hardangerfjord while cruising down the mirrorlike path once forged by a colossal glacier. The vast expanse of trees carpeting the sloping mountains; impossibly steep cliffs on either side; waterfalls aplenty, cutting their way through the forest and the rock; the occasional rural community, settled at the water’s edge.
The Hardanger Bridge
Situated in the Hordaland county in Western Norway, the Hardangerfjord is not only home to some of the world’s most beautiful natural scenery, but also to some impressive feats of engineering. The Hardanger Bridge is the longest suspension bridge in Norway (and fourteenth-longest in the world). It also happens to be the world’s longest tunnel-to-tunnel suspension bridge; on either side of the bridge, cars will pass beneath mountains and villages through tunnels. The tunnels themselves are 1.2 km and 7.5 km in length – also fairly impressive.
Following four years of construction, the bridge opened in August 2013. Connecting the two sides of the Hardangerfjord by road, the Hardanger Bridge replaces a ferry connection and thus shortens the journey time between Oslo and Bergen, Norway’s two largest cities. Admittedly, this drive still takes seven hours, but at least there’s no waiting around for ferries now!
Views from Eidfjord
Elevated 110 metres above sea level, the Hæreid plateau offers spectacular land-based views into the fjord. In peak tourism season, there will often be one or two conspicuous cruise ships in sight – enhancing or diminishing the scene, depending on how you look at it!
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