Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/The Ruikan Foss


On the 9th of July we made our excursion to the Ruikan Foss. It was a splendid morning; the great heavy rain clouds that had hung over the valley for several days had all passed away, and the mountains seemed bathed in sunlight. At the foot of the Gousta Fjeld, the highest mountain in Southern Norway, lies the little village of Dalé, where we had taken up our quarters. Down the valley runs the Maan river, which connects two of the great inland seas of Thellemarken, the Mjös Vand, and the Tind Söe: these two lakes are about fourteen miles apart, in which distance the river falls 1275 feet. The Maan river is therefore very rapid and clear as crystal; shut in by lofty mountain ranges, it rushes down the narrow valley, now foaming among the rocks, and now “storming and streaming” among its well-wooded islands.

But the great attraction of this district is the celebrated Ruikan Foss, or “Reeking Fall,” perhaps one of the grandest waterfalls in the world, and second only to one other in Norway, namely, the Voring Foss. At a short distance from the Mjös Vand—the upper of the two lakes—the entire body of the river falls over an awful precipice, seven or eight hundred feet, into a fathomless abyss below.

Of this magnificent fall we had read much, and perhaps imagined more, and it was one of the objects which had attracted us into Thellemarken.

Breakfast was soon over, and preparations made for the start. Bread and cheese was pocketed, flasks filled, pipes lighted, and with sketch-books and sticks in hand we turned our faces up the valley bound for the Ruikan Foss.

For the first three or four miles the road lay beside the bed of the river, which ran on our left, at times through avenues of overhanging birches, which formed a pleasant shade from the great heat of the morning sun. By the roadside the monkshood grows most plentifully—in fact, this poisonous plant is one of the commonest in Norway. After walking about an hour we began to ascend, and, crossing the bed of a torrent, had a most splendid view down the valley of the Gousta Fjeld. The summit of this mountain consists of a long ridge covered with eternal snow. “The edge of the ridge,” says a traveller, “is so narrow that one might sit astride the top, each leg hanging over a descent of upwards of 5000 feet.” From Dalé we had merely seen the flat side, but now, owing to the curve of the valley, we had a view of the end of the ridge; it was certainly very magnificent, like a sharp-pointed cone, or pinnacle. Far above the valley, the summit stood out against the clear blue sky.

From this point we kept gradually ascending, the river roaring several hundred feet below in a rocky narrow channel. Here there were none of those runs where the great trout lie; the entire river was one mass of foam, as from time to time we caught glimpses of it far below, between the birches and firs which covered the mountain side. At last, on turning a corner, we saw, far up the valley, a light floating cloud resting on the hill-side; this is the spray from the fall.

Soon after this point we left the road, and followed a foot-track; now across a few pine logs over a rushing stream; now up a rugged water-course, still ascending to the higher table-land. The weather was intensely hot, and many were the halts we made to rest and drink the cold spring water. At last we reached a small söeter, or châlet, not far from the fall, the roar of which was becoming more audible every minute—a loud deep booming sound, then a slight cessation, and then the heavy booming sound again. Here we rested a few minutes, and had some milk and wild strawberries, which grow so plentifully in Norway. The rudeness of the log hut and the roughness of its inmates seemed somewhat in harmony with the stern and savage grandeur of the scenery. A few yards further on, and we stood on the edge of the chasm into which the river falls: words are but a weak medium to convey any notion of the magnificent sight before us.

The first object the eye rests upon, or rather is fascinated by, in the very centre of the picture is the fall itself, before which are two enormous barriers of steep, jagged, black rocks, forming a natural gateway to the fall. Over these, centuries ago, the water must have come; gradually, little by little, year after year, the irresistible rushing water has worn away those iron rocks into their present form. All the lower part of the fall is completely hidden in rolling clouds of spray, which rise far above the top. From this circumstance it is impossible to estimate its exact height, for who shall penetrate the recesses of that fearful chasm? Seven, eight, and nine hundred feet have been stated as the height by different writers, and some have even fancied that the height might be ascertained from the pulsations which the water makes in its descent. Far above the fall there is a cloud of spray from another fall, which the river makes before its grand and final plunge; this first fall is invisible from below. It was quite fascinating to watch the actual fall of the water; there is no grand rush or tremendous leap, it seems rather to slide over the edge of the precipice; all idea of weight is lost; it seems to be water spiritualised, and falls over in light and airy wreaths of snow, the edges of which break away into lighter and airier wreaths of foam. Ever varying is the play of the sunlight on those fairy foam-wreaths as, one after another, they break off and roll up again in clouds of spray. All round the scenery is very grand; so much so,that it somewhat dwarfs the fall. Right above on one side towered almost perpendicularly one of the Fjelds, presenting a surface of bare rock, while far behind stretched the lovely valley, clothed with the birch, the alder, and the fir; far above on the right was the pinnacle of the Gousta, while here and there down the valley might be traced the river like a line of light. It was a scene long to be remembered, the roaring waterfall, the jagged rocks, and the light and shadow in the valley, and on the distant hills. I have often thought of it since, while sitting beside an English fire-side; what a contrast it must be in its winter dress, all the hills covered with snow, icicles clinging to those black rocks, but the mighty river still rushing on!

Nearly the whole of Thellemarken is one vast pine forest; and those who have once been in a real pine-forest will never forget the rich fragrance of the cones, and the luxurious undergrowth of ferns. The full force is at once felt of the poet’s lines:

This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the hemlocks
Bearded with moss,

which here really hangs down from the boughs like

Harpers’ beards that rest on their bosoms.

And when views of the distant country are obtained, it is still the same eternal forest stretching for miles, now dark and black, with here and there silver lakes, like diamonds sparkling in the sun, and the dark shades gradually dying away soft and hazy into the distance.

Rude desolations wild and bare,
Kissed into colours by the wandering air.

We disposed of our lunch and tried, vanitas vanitatum! to sketch the fall, and then, casting many a “lingering look behind,” turned homewards down the valley.