Bronze bracelets, Bronze Age, Moesgaard Museum, Aarhus.

Bronze bracelets, Bronze Age, Moesgaard Museum, Aarhus.
Bronze bracelets, Bronze Age, Moesgaard Museum, Aarhus.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Norwegian Forest Cat by the Old Watermill





























Deep into the forest lies an old watermill, it is not a run down, but a very well maintained building. Someone lives here, but they are usually not showing up when people are passing by. They probably want peace and quiet like we do when we seek out into those quiet desolate places.


















I had been here by the old watermill at Fussingø many times in each season through the years but on a day
in June this year one of the inhabitants of the house was sitting outside the door -  a magnificent cat with a thick furry coat. The cat was looking through me with golden eyes like I was not existing -  looking across the yard down to the lake in a calm and dignified posture. I took a few shots, and the cat did not react in any way. What a proud, independent soul!


This was the Norwegian Forest cat, which is now a very popular breeding cat. Many myths and legends are attached to this pretty cat-creature.

The Danish born priest Peter Clausson Friis lived in Norway for many years; together with his priest work he was very occupied by nature - and he described the animals he met in the Norwegian nature. In 1559 he began writing about the lynx. He divided the lynx into three categories: wolf-lynx, fox-lynx and cat-lynx. It was later discovered that all three belonged to the same species, but what he called the cat-lynx might have been the Norwegian Forest cat. It is very likely since there are many similarities between the forest cat and  the Norwegian lynx. The most apparent is that they are both high-legged big cats with a big fur collar and hair upon the tip of the ears, the socalled tufse - and they both like water. The stories about swimming forest cats catching fish in lakes and rivers are numerous. The forest cat used exactly the same method as the Norwegian lynx. These similarities between the lynx and the forest cat have once and again caused that people have taken a great interest in the forest cat.

There are many cats in the Norwegian country settlements, but in the oral handovers and fairy tales the big longhaired cat is always mentioned. Because of its size and the lynx-like characteristica many people thought that it was a mix of dog and cat - or more commonly that this cat was a half lynx.



In the Norwegian fairy tales of Asbjørnsen and Moe the forest cat appears several times. It is called a *Huldrekat - and is described as a forest cat with a thick bushy tail. The fairy tales and the legends are not the only proofs of the big natural presence of the forest cat. In 1912 the Norwegian author Gabriel Scott wrote a very popular children's book called Sølvfax (Silver Fax).The main person is a forest cat called Sølvfax.

*Huldre is a forest spirit ( see wikipedia).

"Huldra's Nymphs" by Bernard Evans Ward (1909)
The Norwegian forest cat is adapted to survive Norway's cold weather. Its ancestors may include black and white shorthair cats, brought to Norway from Great Britain sometime after 1000 AD by the Vikings, and longhaired cats brought to Norway by crusaders. These cats could have reproduced with farm and feral stock and might have eventually evolved into the modern-day Norwegian Forest cat. The Siberian and the Turkish Angora longhaired cats from Russia and Turkey respectively, are also possible ancestors of the breed. Norse legends refer to the skogkatt as "a mountain dwelling fairy cat with an ability to climb sheer rock faces that other cats could not manage".

Many people believe that the ancestors of the Norwegian Forest cat served as mousers on Viking ships. The Norwegian Vikings had the forest cat as a domestic cat, and in their expeditions around the world they brought the forest cat with them on their ships. This should be the cause of the large numbers of half-wild longhaired cats in Normandy.

The forest cats lived in the Norwegian forests for many centuries, but were later prized for their hunting skills and were used on Norwegian farms. Norwegian Forest cats would continue acting as mousers on Norwegian farms until they were discovered in the early twentieth century by cat enthusiasts.


The Norwegian Forest cat is now a popular breeding cat in many countries. The cat has a quiet voice but can develop a loud voice if kept in a house wit a dog. They are friendly and intelligent and are good with people. They have a lot of energy and can be very demanding of attention. Those cats that live primarily outdoors become swift and effective hunters, but the breed can also adapt to indoor life. The cats usually live to be 14 to 16 years old. As they are heavy-boned and tall they require more food than most other domestic breeds. Males are considerably heavier and larger boned than females. There have been kidney and heart diseased reported in the breed. The breed has also been known to suffer from hip dysplasia which is a rare partially hereditary disease of the hip joint. The breed along with several other cat breeds can be poisoned by things that are considered safe to humans.

But no matter, I had a lovely meeting with a beautiful forest cat in the midst of the forest. I hope I'll see it again the next time I'll go there. 


source: Skovkattens historie, Dansk Skovkattering; wikipedia: den Norske Skovkat, den Europæiske Skovkat.  
photo Fussingø June 2013: grethe bachmann; 
photocopy "Huldra's Nymphs", wikipedia.