Vega Archipelago World Heritage Site
The distinctive natural surroundings, with the many smaller islands west and north of the main island of Vega, form an ancient cultural landscape in which humans have lived in close interplay with the fish resources in the sea, the annual breeding cycle of the eider duck, and the grazing of Nordland cattle and rearing of sheep outdoors all year round. These are the reasons why UNESCO has inscribed Vega’s unique landscape on its list of World Heritage sites.
The landscape is of a type known as “strandflat”: here made up of a myriad of low islands, islets and skerries, with sandy beaches, rocky shores, sheltered coves, round fjords with narrow inlets, and little inlets in between. The only wooded areas are in sheltered spots in the lee of low hills. However, the grass grows green and lush all the way down to the sea, fertilised by the droppings of eider duck, lesser black-backed gulls and barnacle geese on their spring migrations.
Fishing, farming and eider duck communities
Up to 100 years ago, most of the people of Vega lived on the smaller islands. The men fished, as the nearest fishing banks were off the small islands, and the women mostly ran the farms and smallholdings – although the men helped with the seasonal work. A Nordland cow has to be a good swimmer, so that it can reach out to the grazing on the little islets and holms. But the most unusual feature of life in the Vega Islands is the eider duck “farms”, with the collection of eggs and eider-down from the birds.
Old wooden houses, cowsheds, piers and ebaner (eider duck houses) were abandoned in the decades after World War II. Which is why you won’t find many post-war standardised modern houses, interior wood veneer panelling, or revolving windows, but mostly old coastal architecture in various stages of decay or restoration. In more central areas of the mainland, buildings were pulled down or modernised, while out on the Vega Islands most were left in peace.
In summer, island cruises by catamaran are organised with guaranteed scheduled departures. There are relatively many seats on board the boat, but we would nevertheless recommend that you book in advance. The boat has its own guide (Norwegian/English) accompanying the cruise, and out on the islands the local people are your hosts.
Lånan is a community made up of a number of small islands connected by little bridges. When the boat arrives, visitors are received by a small group of the locals who live here all the time in summer. On a guided walk around the islets, you will hear about the history of Lånan and stories from the time when it was an important centre for the eider-down gathering industry in this island realm. There are also exciting tales from World War II, when the people of Lånan were active in the Norwegian resistance movement. Lunch is a fish burger made from freshly caught saithe, and coffee and the traditional, delicious Vega lefse are also served.
To Emårsøy and Skogsholmen
On the island of Emårsøy (from emår, the local name for the lesser black-backed gull) there is an old cotter’s smallholding owned by Turid and Gisle, with a cowshed, a well and a farmhouse. When the boat arrives, Gisle sings us some colourful old ballads from Vega (listen carefully to the lyrics!), and tells us about the history of life on the island. The house was virtually falling down when Turid and Gisle took over, and they have done an impressive job of restoring it. Skogsholmen is a slightly larger island. A boarding school was built here in 1940, which kept going until 1973. Today there are no permanent inhabitants, but in the summer season there are plenty of people in the old houses, both holiday visitors and descendants of the islanders.
Read more about the Vega World Heritage Site at www.verdensarvvega.no. Vega’s enterprising tourism office has all the practical details at www.visitvega.no.
By: Knut Hansvold, NordNorsk Reiseliv as