The interplay between man and nature has created an extraordinary cultural landscape on the Vega Archipelago along the Helgeland coast.
In 2004, the Vega Archipelago was included in the World Heritage List as the first Norwegian Cultural Landscape because of the unique interaction between fishermen/farmers and their environment, and for the thousand-year-long tradition of tending the eider ducks on the remote islands.
But the Vega Archipelago is much more than this. Starting in April, the quiet and peace of this Nordic archipelago, whose 6,500 islands, islets, and skerries seem to have been randomly tossed in the water by a flock of wicked Bergrisar (mountain giants), is unmistakably interrupted when the first migratory birds move to their second homes on Vega and the outermost islands.
After the dormant winter months have slowly and finally faded away, an uncontrollable joy de vivre explodes and embraces both Vega’s inhabitants and their surroundings. New sounds, smells, and textures remerge with such a vehement force that the emergence of spring seems almost endless.
The air is saturated with the most harmonic cacophony ever. Disparate sounds such as the insistent and nearly metallic chirping of ‘tjeld’ (oystercatcher) and ‘storspove’ (curlew), the nervous bleating of newborn lambs, and the clanging noise of powerful tractors driving back and forth through vast fields blend together and create the perfect outdoor concert. My advice: find the perfect boulder by the sea on the large beach at Sundsvoll, sit down, close your eyes and let the diverse sounds hit your ears.
In the spring and summer the Vega Archipelago is also a paradise of fragrances, unless you are allergic to pollens. Every year, Vega’s tireless inhabitants and nature work in unison to create what I call the ‘Vega Blend’. There is the comforting smell of freshly cut grass at the beginning of the beiting (grazing) season. Animal grazing on Vega and the outer islands is very important because it helps support biodiversity in the archipelago by reducing the presence of undesirable plant communities and by allowing other plants to spread and grow.
The Vega Archipelago is a place where you can perceive things and events at different levels. You can take a stroll along Guristraumen on Husøy in Nes and gaze at the never ending dance between low and high flows or venture the top of the island’s highest point at Gullsvågfjellet (MSL 800 meter) and challenge your observational and mathematical skills by counting as many islands and islets as you can – there should be more than 6,000!
Along with absorbing sights, sounds, and experiences, don’t be afraid to touch and literally taste the Vega Archipelago. Take one of the several well marked walks around the islands, gently touch one of the many indigenous orchids, and feel and read the endless stories Vega’s stones can tell you about the origin of both the North American and European continents at Hestvika and on some of the outer islands such as Søla and Muddværet. You can also brave into the algid waters of the Atlantic Ocean and reinvigorate your entire being.
There are less dramatic ways to get a taste of Vega, however, if you are in the mood for a singular culinary experience. You can always stop at the renewed Vega Havhotell where the inventive chef Jon will delight you with some of his creations made of the freshest local ingredients or try Janne’s mouth melting Vega Lefse at Sandmo Gårdbakeri in Kjul.
The Vega Archipelago truly is a beautiful and generous place that will surprise and delight all of your senses. Anthropologist’s word.
Further information about the Vega Archipelago is available here (English version available).
Consuelo Griggio is a PhD candidate in Social Anthropology at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada. The anthropologist is currently studying Vegas inhabitants’ perception of their environment.
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