Updated: Nov 13, 2021
By David John Smith
The Municipality of Vinje is located in the southern region of the Hardangervidda high mountain plains, from ancient times when the first stone age people came to this high mountain plateau to the most modern times, Vinje has been a place of stunning isolation and beauty. And the source of the Rjukan – Notodden Industrial Heritage Site.
Of the 29 highest peaks in Telemark, only one – Gaustatoppen – is located outside of Vinje.
Established in 1838, Vinje is a municipality in the county of Vestfold and Telemark with its administrative center of the municipality located in the village of Åmot. Named after the old Vinje farm, the name Vinje is actually the plural form of vin which means "meadow" or "pasture".
This rural mountainous municipality is home to many thousands of ‘hytter’ (mountain cabins), where people from all over Norway come winter and summer to experience Vinje’s rugged mountainous terrain and plentiful waterways to enjoy skiing, hiking, fishing, canoeing, mountain biking and many other activities.
This is also a place of arts, culture and famous for its traditional music and musicians. Since 1964, Rauland has since been part of the larger Vinje municipality. The local traditions of arts and crafts have been well maintained, and Rauland hosts a national academy for arts, crafts and traditional music.
To understand this cultural heritage and life here deep in the nature of the high Norwegian mountain plains, we must understand more about Møsstrond, an area inhabited by just a few hundred people around Møsvatn, the lake created by the Møsvatn Dam.
The dam at Møsvatn did more than create the potential to later fuel new industries with hydroelectric power. It created a massive manmade lake whose rising waters over the decades has changed the lives of the people living there. Completed in 1906, the water level was raised by 10 metres - and then over the next decades was raised another 6.5 metres, for a total rise of 18.5 metres.
With the coming of the waters over a century ago, change did come. Suddenly, the only way to reach these farms was by boat during the summer and over the frozen lake in the winter. But the people who stayed persevered - and thrived. At Møsstrond, the farms are few, but they are important to the culture, the tradition, the region.
The Herds of Summer
The rising waters have brought some changes here in the past century - but this is really just recent history in comparison to the length of time people have been here on the high mountain plains. In this unique area deep on the Handangervidda there is archeological evidence that people have been shepherding their herds of sheep and goats here for the past 6,000 years.
The summers are short, but they are intense with the sun shining nearly 19 hours on midsummers’ day. It is also a lush highland climate still attracting herdsmen and their flocks of sheep and goats during the summer months. But nowadays, summer grazing is done privately owned mountain farms - known as ‘seters’.
Traditionally as each spring arrived, herds would be taken far up into the mountains during the summer months from May to September. Some of the herds had hundreds of animals as they grazed the sweet summer grasses of the highlands each year.
Vinje’s coat-of-arms portrays a silver goat on a blue background, symbolic of the goat and sheep farming in the municipality
The Eternal Waters
A Norsk Hydro advertisement from the early 20th century perhaps says it all best:
‘Far, far in on the Hardangervidda mountain plain, where the east and the west of the country mesh into each other, this is where Rjukan Falls received its power through the millennia. Moisture springing down the mountainside, sliding slowly through the marshes of the Vidda, bubbling down through the countless small streams and brooks, all moving towards the source of Rjukan Falls power – Møsvatn.
The same today as yesterday as it has been for 1000. Years. Only now Møsvatn is larger and deeper, as now there is constructed the Møsvatn Dam, built to hold back over 1000 million cubic meters of water.
In measured portions the water is brought through tunnels and pipeline, then through the turbines where then provide their mighty power on the way down towards the valley and further to the sea.’
From a Norsk Hydro advertisement in the early 20th century
It is so, perhaps more than anything else in Vinje, the waters of the Møsvatn Lake speaks for the historical legacy of the region. If not for the waters that originate here in Møsvatn, the story of the Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site would have been told in a completely different way – or not at all.