Wednesday, November 25, 2015

An unusual Sleigh Ride from Norway to Denmark -

Our climate has changed a bit and hard winters are rare, at least here in the Danish country. Some people still remember true winters with lots of snow and ice through the whole winter season -  snow for sleighing and ice for skating. It was a wonderfuul time for children.

In the old days, before motorcars arrived people either rode or drove in horse waggons. In the winter season they found their sleigh in the barn or another farm building. People had many varied horse waggons and horse-drawn sleighs. When the sleigh had been cleaned and was ready with furs and warm blankets inside, the horses were harnessed . They had got new safe shoes for the icy roads by the busy blacksmith.  Now the family was ready to take a sleigh ride through the snow.....                                                                                 .


A common sleigh was simple and could be used for both working use and for taking people on a sleigh drive -  in manors and other posh places they had some very fine sleighs with painted decorations,  some with carved decorations. A sleigh had usually one or two seats and a place for the driver on the back.


The sleigh drive is an elegant and romantic form of transport. There are many colourful 
descriptions of such romantic sleigh drives in Scandinavian literature. The horse or horses had to be equipped with sleigh bells, little ringling things, which  might be of silver. They were a necessary accessory, in order to tell other wayfarers that a big sleigh was coming near. A sleigh ran almost silently through the snow and was a  dangerous vehicle to a pedestrian.  A                 horse-drawn sleigh was used if people had to go to the city, to the church or on a visit - it was seldom used for long trips.

An unusual story is known about a sleigh drive from Norway to Denmark.

Venus passage

The date 3 June 1769 was by astronomers all over the world foreseen in excitement. A rare vision on the sky was expected, a Venus-passage, a phenomenon, which is like an eclipse of the sun - only that Venus cannot cover the whole sun but  only a small part of it. Some important knowledge was in waiting and several European states took the initiative to do something about it  In Denmark the young king Christian 7 invited his ambassador the Austrian-Hungarian Maximilian Hell to do some observations on Vardø at the Barents Sea in the northern part of Norway. Denmark and Norway had a Unity of the Realm at that time.
Maximilian Hell
Maximilian Hell was a Jesuit pater, but he had since 1755 very skillfully managed the emporial university observatory in Vienna. He got the allowance for the trip to Norway by empress Maria Teresia and travelled in 1768 to Denmark together with an assistant Johannes Sajnovics.

Vardø, island north east of Norway
Vardø means Wolf's Island in English. 
Vard = varg = ulv

It might seem odd they wanted to go to Vardø - almost as far north as possible -  but the calculations showed that the Venus-passage would happen at a time where the rest of Europe lay in darkness, except the northernest Norway, where the sun was low but up both day and night. The travel north was difficult, first across the Norse mountain roads to the city Trondheim and then by sea in stormy weather. It was now close to autumn in 1768 and the expedition was trapped in a small town by the coast, Kjelvik, the northernest parish in the world. Maximilian Hell met the parish priest Jens Eriksen Grøn and they became good friends

aurora borealis
The expedition continued   to Vardø and arrived here on the 17th October. On this part of the tour they had the assistance of the commander of the fortification Vardøhus, major Eckleff and 50 soldiers. Hell established an observatory which was finished at Christmas, and he did not waste time. He made observations of the aurora borealis and studied the phosphoresence of the sea water -  and he examined flora and fauna in the area. His assistant carried through studies of the Samic language.

And then came the 3 June 1769, there was a great excitement up to the date, bad weather could ruin everything but the time arrived and they were lucky. When Venus had done its passage and Maximilian Hell and his helpers had done theirs, a Te deum was sung and the canons of the fortress Vardøhus were saluting and the flag went up. Major Eckleff and several honoratiores were invited to see the star and they were celebrating with drinks.

The Austrian-Hungarian espedition - as it was -  started the home trip except for a two weeks visit by reverent Jens Grøn from Kjelvik, who told that he was not happy for his work as far north - and Hell promised him to talk to Christian 7, who listened to Hell's words. In the same year Jens Grøn became parish priest in the town Rudkøbing at the island Langeland.

Jens Grøn could not wait, he wanted to leave Norway as soon as possible, but the last winter ship had left the harbour in Kjelvik  Jens Grøn was resolute, he placed his wife and four daughters in a horse-drawn sleigh and began the long tour down through the winter-dressed Norway, a tour of 2500 kilometers. There is no information about the long difficult sleigh drive, he might have driven a part of the tour through Sweden ,  but he and his family arrived safe and sound to Rudkøbing where Jens Grøn started his new job.

The old sleigh was taken good care of because of this unusual travel from Norway to Denmark.. It is now at exhibition at Langelands Museum in Rudkøbing

Source: Archaeological magazine Skalk, nr. 1, 2004, Kanetur, Ole Mortensen

photo winter: grethe bachmann

other photos: wikipedia

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