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Text: Morten Andre Samdal
Ever since the 13th century, Atlantic cod fishing has formed the basis of several fishing villages all along the coast of Namdalen in North Trøndelag. The idyllic Sør-Gjæslingan, a collection of 80 islands, islets and reefs, is one of those.
“This is a place where you really can find yourself. The light is overwhelming and cell phones hardly work out here. It´s like living in a different world,” says Anne Grete Walaunet, coordinator for The Coastal Museum Norveg, who is in charge of maintaining Sør-Gjæslingan.
The fishing village is a monument to former greatness and was designated a national heritage conservation in 2010. Most of the buildings and the traditional environment from the archipelago's grand era are still preserved. Old fishermen's cottages and fish landings tell about people's risky life and work at sea though the centuries.
Along the waterside you can jump into a rowboat and gently toss the fishing line into the deep, dark sea.
The only things reminiscent of modern life are the refrigerators humming inside cabins named after the places where the fishermen originally came from.
“It’s such a great feeling. This place is unique, even in Trøndelag. There are a lot of stories about this place, which was home for over 6,000 fishermen in the 19th century, during the winter season. In comparison Trondheim had 25,000 citizens. That says a lot about how important this place was,” says Walaunet.
It was a dangerous place, too. In 1906 the islands were hit by a major disaster. The fish was far out at sea that year, and 1,500 fishermen found themselves in a fatal storm. More than 30 fishermen lost their lives outside the village that was called “Little Lofoten” that day.
“Today, the abandoned and mysterious fishing village’s history can be experienced up close at the well preserved site. If you wish, these islands can be your home for a few days this summer,” says Walaunet. “With the waves and the wind hitting hard from the west, it is possible to stay over night in a 100 year old fishermans cabin, and take part in cod fishing in a distinctive and historical coastal landscape.”
“But don´t be afraid,” she adds, laughing: “It´s safe now.”
The famous Norwegian author Olav Duun described this island far out at sea as a “fairy tale land”. Today you can sense the history in the walls, and a visit to Sør-Gjæslingan is surely a memory for life.
Most of the people moved from the islands in the 1970s, and the last fisherman left his cabin sometime in the following decade.
Now the weathered islands facing the ocean have become an attractive meeting place again.
As the people used to harvest from the sea, the fishing guests today reap inspiration and recreation in a unique, authentic and historical setting.
“In Sør-Gjæslingan you will also get to hear the tale of Sea-Sara, a woman who lived around the turn of the 18th century and was the most skilful and fearless of all the fishermen and women in her days,” says Walaune. “The legend about her deeds as a fisherwomen, pilot and lifesaver live on in the present day...”
Using Namdalen as a place for rest and recreation is nothing new. Back in the day, English lords would come here to find peace – and fresh salmon.
The salmon itself is known to travel, of course. You can follow it inland through rivers and lakes, swimming alongside delicious freshwater trout.
Follow the Namsen river far enough, and you’ll be heading towards not one, but three national parks – teeming with wildlife and varied landscapes.
On the way there, you’ll encounter not just animals and fish, but of course – people. Be sure to stay and chat – because you’ll hardly find a place in Norway with such a strong sense of community as here.
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