Silje Sjøtveit, deacon of the municipality of Tinn, got the idea for this pilgrimage during a holiday in Italy. There she undertook a hike on the “Cinque Terre – Hiking Trail” and wondered whether one could also walk from one place to another around the Tinnsjø. Since there was one of these beautiful little white wooden churches in each of these places, it was obvious to put them at the centre of further thoughts.
Austbygde, Atrå, Mæl, Gransherad and Hovin with their churches lie like pearls on a string around the Tinnsjø.
The inhabitants of the past centuries wandered through the woods on narrow paths, from their houses to the churches. In Tinn there are many of these old church paths that lead partly over the mountain tops or along them. Parts of these paths are still intact and are regularly used by the locals for their tours, while others were almost overgrown and forgotten.
Silje had the idea to revive these old paths and thus make them accessible to all people again. If you are on one of these old paths, with their centuries-old retaining walls, you feel moved back to the time when these paths were the only connection between the courtyards and the churches. So it would be possible to experience Norwegian nature up close.
In the coming years, Silje, in collaboration with our pastor Kristin Fæhn, who loves to be on the road in nature, and the local population, worked out this pilgrimage piece by piece. They have very cleverly connected the old church paths with newer forest and gravel roads.
On Sunday 13 September 2015, the church in Tinn, together with Visit Rjukan (Tourist Information of the Municipality of Tinn), a village-connecting project and “Lure Historielag” arranged the first pilgrimage from the church in Austbygde to the church in Atrå. This hike led over beautiful gravel, forest paths and narrow paths with beautiful views over the countryside and the Tinnsjø. At that time, most pilgrims learned about the newly created Facebook page about this hike.
Since then, there has been a common hike each year on a section of the pilgrimage route around the Tinnsjø.
Each year another piece of the pilgrimage was presented to the public. During these arranged hikes
musical and cultural entertainment has always been provided.
So the locals learned more about the history of the old paths and their churches, heard poems or old songs about the villages and their people.
At the beginning there was a small pilgrim mass at the start church and a pilgrim service with music after arriving at the destination church.
At the end there was a refreshment and something to eat and made these arrangements in the course of the years a joyful meeting place for the locals.
With the planning of the last stage in September 2019, it was clear that this pilgrimage should be made accessible to a wider public. All of us, who have become part of this project, agreed that this is a very special experience. A hike where people from all over the world can get to know Norwegian nature, their culture and their people and perhaps a little bit of themselves.
We would be happy if we could inspire more and more people to accompany us on this special path.
And how did I, the german, come to this project?
I myself made a pilgrimage from Speyer to Santiago de Compostela in 2014. It was 4 long months with indescribable experiences. I was most impressed by an experience from Franche Compté. It takes about a week to run this route. The signposting of the path is great, but the path was turned out due to the construction of a new railway route and therefore no longer corresponded with my documents. I had to rely on everything that was true and I never really knew where I was and how far it was until the next overnight stay. In addition, there were hardly any villages, no hotels, little shopping and no hostels in the region. 2 days before I came to this region, I was told to contact Marie Claude that she would organise everything else for me. Yeah, that’s how it was for us. She took me into her house, gave me a bed to sleep and something to eat, but above all she gave me a feeling of security, a feeling of being absolutely welcome. She phoned for some time until she had found an overnight stay for me for the next 6 days. There were 2 monasteries, a mini hostel and 3 private individuals who gave me accommodation. They provided me with everything I would need on the way the next day. They gave me food, information and a lot of warmth and a feeling of security.
In 2016, my Norwegian husband and I bought a small house in Austbygde, Tinn. By chance I read about the pilgrimage that was to lead from Atrå to Mæl in the year. It was the 2nd organised pilgrimage. I missed my pilgrimage and was far from ready to process the experiences and so I just had to go with it. Until then I didn't know much of the Norwegian nature, had barely wandered there and had hardly seen anything from Tinn. I was fascinated by the experience, impressed by the nature and friendliness of the people who were strangers to me.
Afterwards I cut a small film together with short recordings of the performances at the side of the road and pictures I made. I made it especially for my family, but also asked in the pilgrim group if there is any interest in sharing it there. And so I came into contact with Silje. She was very happy about it because she couldn‘t go with her and therefore couldn’t make any recordings. Together we cut a 2nd short film that was shared at Visit Rjukan.
Through this first contact I got further into the church. Every now and then Silje asked me to bake cakes for the Altentreff and other things. Also in the project “Kvite Kyrkje” I became more active from year to year. In 2018 we spoke for the first time about a pilgrim guide. We are both enthusiastic about the idea of wanting to share our way and the associated experience with other people. So we started collecting all the necessary data, taking pictures and creating maps and GPS files. Through this work and the therefore collected data, I also created this homepage. We wanted to start collecting the information and making it available to the public.
In 2019 we then brought together all the data in our pilgrim guides. Most of the texts we wrote together, they in Norwegian and I in German, others we searched together on the Internet and I translated them afterwards. Two wonderful books with lots of information and pictures have been created and we both hope that they will make many people lust and courage to go on our pilgrimage.
So I became part of the project, which helped me to become part of the community at the same time.
who is that?
Most of us know that a pilgrim usually makes a pilgrimage to a sacred place. Many will therefore associate pilgrims with the Church. In the past centuries, it was mostly people who moved abroad for reasons of faith. At that time, a pilgrimage was made to repent, to gain indulgence, or to fulfill a vow.
But “Pilgrim” means “foreigner” in the proper sense and comes from the Latin peregrinos which means “to be in the foreign”.
To be a pilgrim means to be foreign in a new environment, not to have to know the landscape and to rely on the signs that show him the way.
A pilgrim depends on the help of the people he meets, who offer him a place to sleep, a meal.
A pilgrim usually travels alone, silence surrounds him, there are hardly any distractions from the outside and so he has the opportunity
to deal with oneself and his thoughts. This is not always easy and perhaps not always pleasant, but it offers the chance to get to know yourself a little better again.
Being a pilgrim means getting involved in an adventure that you don't know exactly how it will end.
All of this means to be a pilgrim and you can experience all of this here on our small pilgrimage trail around the Tinnsjø, even if this pilgrimage does not have a sacred place as its destination.
In Norway there are several of these ancient pilgrimage routes, which have been pilgrims for a variety of reasons for centuries. The best known among them is St. Olavsveg, which runs from the medieval park in Oslo to Nidarosdom in Trondheim.
Thus it is for the One the goal to reach a sacred place and for the other the way is the goal. To put one foot in front of the other, to let the thoughts wander, to concentrate on finding the way. A pilgrim needs nothing but to stand up in the morning and run further. His only responsibility is to walk and find a bed and a meal in the evening. Thus the life of a pilgrim is reduced to the essentials. All this can offer a pilgrim the opportunity to let go of old burdensome thoughts and difficult life situations.
The modern pilgrim has rediscovered the value of hiking and, in recent years, has also gained enormous popularity in the Way of St. James. More and more people are embarking on a pilgrimage.
Tinn is an independent municipality in Telemark, Norway, with a population of just under 6000 and one half lives in the administrative seat of Rjukan and the other half is divided between Miland, Mæl, Atrå, Austbygde, Tessungdalen and Hovin. The municipality covers an area of about 2000 sq km. By comparison, the urban area of Berlin comprises about 900 sq km with almost 3.5 million inhabitants. In the area of Tinn there are about 800 lakes, one of which is up to 435 m deep Tinnsjø, which lies 191 m above sea level. The lakes occupy about 10 % of the total area. The Tinnsjø with its length of 35 km and a maximum width of 2.5 km is about 50qkm.
Between Hovin to the east and Rjukan to the west, it is about 60 km away.
So each of the districts knows a strong life of their own. Thanks to the mountain huts, the hamlets of Atrå, Austbygde, Tessungdalen and Hovin still have a “supermarket”. In Austbygde there is also a bakery/café, bank, retirement home as well as general and dentist.
In Austbygde, Hovin, Tessungdalen, Atrå and Miland there is still a school so that the villages remain very independent. Old traditions and crafts are cultivated here, even if this may not always be visible on the outside.
The area around Tinnsjø was inhabited very early. At the edge of the road we still see the old “Stabbur” (food stores) that are so typical of Norway. Atrå is said to be the oldest settlement in Tinn and you pass, for example, two Stabbur from 1350. Atrå was the town’s commercial centre until 1905, when Rjukan took over this role.
Around the Tinnsjø, which in former times was the lifeline and the only roadway, finds from the Bronze and Iron Age appear again and again (i.e. already before Christ’s birth)
The water has always played a major role, it served as a source of food, the transport of the tree trunks or also for the production of energy. Due to the difference in height between Hardangervidda and Tinnsjø, great forces were released, which were used in the 18th century to drive mills and sawmills.
The farmers in Tinn usually had to stand up wide in order to survive. The farms lay on often steep, impassable and infertile terrain. So they lived in principle on what nature (forest, mountains, lake and farm) brought them.
In the 18th century, pets came to the farms and every spot that was difficult to access was used as pasture.
Even today in the municipality some “seters” run the Norwegian alpine pastures in summer, such as the “Håvardsrud Seter” belonging to Austbygde. It is a managed seter, which offers not only the restaurant but also huts. The “Stordalen Gardsbruk-Brunost” awarded with the silver medal at the 2018 World Championships is also from Austbygde. Their goats can be found in summer on the “Bergstaulen Seter” west of Rjukan. The “Brunost” is a classic Norwegian cheese, but in the true sense it is not a real cheese. The (original) goat whey is boiled, whereby the length of the cooking process decides on the sweet-caramell-like taste of the cheese, as the milk sugar caramelises. A solid cheese is created, which is then sliced into thin slices with the cheese planer, e.g. on bread or typical way also eaten with waffles.
In the long winters, the farmers sought additional sources of income. Some made their money as carpenters/carpenters, others offered tourism in the mountains or overnight stays for tourists. One of the typical sources of income, however, was the forging of knives and scythes. In many coal mines, the necessary coal was burned. Almost every farm had a blacksmith in that time. As the “Tinndølen” grew up in a barren landscape, they were forced to orient themselves outwardly and expand their horizons and field of action. So they were a travel-loving people who were open to new things to develop.
After bringing the technique of forging with Borax to Tinn, the production of scythes grew enormously. In 1879, for example, 30000 Sensen were sent over the Tinnsjø, further to Skien and thus to the whole of southern Norway. Even today, knives are still hand-forged in Tinn and worn, for example, to the men’s costume.
The “Tinndølen” also used their creativity for new and groundbreaking art forms such as “Rosemaling”, folk music with the “Hardingfele” and especially in connection with their costumes. The real “Tinnbunad” has a hand embroidered “rose hem” and are true works of art. You will get an impression of this cultural heritage at the Crafts Centre in Atrå.
In the 18th century, many farms were divided, by the large number of children, and were then too small to live on.
So many “Tinndøler” migrated from Atrå/Sandven to America. On 17 May 1837, the first “Tinndølen” left their homeland. The lust for emigrants lasted until the turn of the century and almost 2000 Tinndølen emigrated to America. It was the barren hard life in the homeland, but also their adventurousness and interest to look beyond their own limits to build a new livelihood that drove them.
The most famous emigrant from Tinn was Snowshoe Thompson. His achievements as a postman on skis over the wild mountains of Sierra Nevada helped him to great honor in the USA. In Tinn it is said that he taught the Americans how to ski.
Even being a pilgrim ‘only for one day’ can be a great experience, as she could see in this video. it was taken up in the course of our joint migration with the framework programme in autumn 2016.
This stage became a special event, as the historic railway and the M/F Storegut ferry, both of which were part of the World Heritage Site, were involved. This time it was also possible for a large number of inhabitants to take part in the otherwise difficult stages.
We would encourage all pilgrims to plan a journey with the museum and ferry to complete the migration.
Part 1: Hovin Kirche - Heie Schule, 30. Mai 2019
Part 2: Alte heie Schule - Austbygde, 15. September 2019