Climbing at Helleren

Helleren is a unique cultural heritage site of international importance. It is also the single most visited attraction in Dalane with over 20,000 visitors a year. People visit Helleren all year round. Dalane Folkemuseum wants Helleren to be a freely accessible cultural heritage site, open to all.

Helleren has been a worthy challenge for mountain climbers for many years. Rock climbing in itself is both an exciting and a challenging task. Unfortunately, it has proven impossible to combine the desire to preserve one of our most unique cultural heritage sites with mountain climbing at Helleren. Both the actual climbing and the bolting required, represents a clear risk for the cultural heritage site and for visitors. Climbing increases the risk of rockslides or falling blocks in the area. A geological report has been compiled that clearly explains the dangers climbing entails: "Description of the hazards for visitors, climbers and the houses at the Helleren area in Jøssingfjord".

Mountain climbing is not allowed in Helleren. We urge climbers to respect this climbing ban.

Hazards of Rock Climbing in Helleren (pdf)

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The history of Helleren

Utklipp av foto av Helleren. Foto: I. Mehus. Dalane Folkemuseum.

The houses beneath Helleren have fascinated people through generations. In 1745, Amtmann de Fine told the king in Copenhagen:

In Soggendal there is a rock overhang to see called Helleren, where there lives a smallholder who uses the overhang as a roof for his houses.
Amtmann de Fine, 1745 [translated]

Over a hundred years later, in 1868, the newspaper Egersundsposten writes:

At the innermost end of Jøssingfjorden, ¼ mile east of the staple port Soggendal, is an unusual cliff arch, “Haahelleren”. […] Beneath this arch stands 3 farmhouses and its farm buildings. […] Only western winds carry rain to the houses, that otherwise stand dry, so that a roof may be unnecessary.
Egersundsposten, 1868 [translated]

Stone Age settlement

The dark layer of occupation earth beneath Helleren is made from food waste and other kinds of waste over a long period of time, and is 60 cm thick. People lived beneath Helleren in shorter and longer periods in the Stone Age. There has been found fish bones, animal bones, oyster shells and fragments of flint tools. The settlement has likely been seasonal – and people made use both of the sea and the surrounding woodlands.

The smallholding at Helleren

Helleren was a smallholding (husmannsplass) subordinate to the farm Haneberg. The tenant farmers at Haneberg owned the land, and those living beneath Helleren (plassfolket) paid a yearly rent for right of use. They had contracts securing their right of use for life – as long as they paid their rent – and they owned their own houses. Farming was an important part of their basis of existence, but it was impossible to make a living of this alone. The smallholders, called “strandsittere”, were dependent on revenue from the outside world. Fishing has always been important – both for sustenance and as a source of income. Through farming and fishing, the smallholders beneath Helleren were able to pay their yearly rent to Haneberg. This combination of farming with other sources of income was typical for what is called a “strandsitter” or “bygselhusmann” in Norwegian. What we call a “strandsitter” was typical for Western Norway, and is different from what is usually called a “husmann” (smallholder) in Eastern Norway, as the latter were under obligation to work at the main farm and had much less freedom.

Life beneath Helleren

The houses beneath Helleren are small, and the area surrounding them is quite barren. Yet life beneath Helleren has been relatively good. Living conditions were similar to many other farms in Western Norway at the time.

Each household had a few cows and 5 – 6 sheep. On modest patches of field, they grew oats, barley and potatoes. In the heathland, animals grazed and the land was made use of as outlying hayfields. Hay was lowered down the mountainside, to the houses. It was only possible to harvest from the outlying hayfields every second year.

Who lived beneath Helleren?

Today, everything is quiet beneath Helleren. It has not always been this way. A great many people have lived here. Helleren has echoed voices high and low, children laughing and crying, animals bleating and mooing, and the rattling of many buckets. Many lives have begun, run their course and ended beneath Helleren. We believe people have been living here permanently since the 1500s. Meet some of them:

1752: One household

  • Børild Børildsen

1801: Two households

  • Ingeborg Salvesdatter with children Bernt, Salve, Berthe and Ingeborg
  • Lars Olsen and his sister Rachel.

1865: Three households

  • Jacob Jacobsen with wife Ingeborg S. Ellefsdatter, and children Bernt, Jakob, Elias, Torn, Janikken and Ingeborg. One married son, Karl, lives there as well. Karl's wife left him.
  • Ole Andreas Aslaksen with wife Ingeborg, their son Adolf and maidservant Ane G. Jakobsdatter.
  • Johannes Larsen with wife Birte.

1875: Two households

  • Ole Andreas Aslaksen with wife Ingeborg, sons Johan Julius and Jens Bernard. 2 cows.
  • Jacob Jacobsen with wife Ingeborg S. Ellefsdatter. With children Jakob, Elias, Torn and Ingeborg. 3 cows, 5 sheep, oats, potato, barley.

1900: One household

  • Ingeborg Elisebeth Jakobsdatter with two sons, Oskar and Ideus.
Photo of three houses beneath Helleren in the middle of the 1800s. Photo: Unknown. Sokndal Bygdetun.

Photo of three houses beneath Helleren in the middle of the 1800s. Photo: Unknown. Sokndal Bygdetun.

In the middle of the 1800s, the Norwegian population peaked. This is reflected in how many people lived beneath Helleren in this period – three families. In 1865, there were 15 people, 5 cows, 12 sheep and 1 pig living beneath Helleren.

Around 1900 (35 years later), the situation had changed. Only three people lived beneath Helleren, all adults.

How old are the houses?

As they stand today, the houses stem from the 1800s. The blue house is the oldest. Parts of the houses, such as the core cog joints, may be considerably older. The blue house’s timber has moving marks (look at the back). The house may therefore have stood somewhere else before being rebuilt at Helleren. It was once very common to move houses this way.

There have also been several other farm buildings.

The Modern Age comes to Jøssingfjord

Photo of Helleren 1916. The barracks to the left was used by workers at the smelting plant. Photo: A,B, Wilse. Titania A/S.

Photo of Helleren 1916. The barracks to the left was used by workers at the smelting plant. Photo: A.B. Wilse. Titania A/S.

Industry came early to Jøssingfjord. In the years 1901 – 1902, “Den norske Chamottefabrikk” (The Norwegian Grog Factory) manufactured roofing tiles, bricks and pipes at a factory located at Holmen, further out in the fjord. Some years later, “The Jøssingfjord Manufacturing Company” start their business at the innermost end of the fjord. The power station and smelting plant were built in the years 1970 – 1908. The power station is still there.

In 1909, the last tenant beneath Helleren, farmer and smallholder’s widow Ingeborg Elisebeth Jakobsdatter, sells her right of use to The Jøssingfjord Manufacturing Company, and so is the last “strandsitter” leaving Helleren.


«Dråben» (The Droplet) at Helleren is legendary. Water drips continuously from the mountainside behind the red house. The people living beneath Helleren have always collected this water in buckets and pails.

“Dråben” is said to taste especially delicious!

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Preserving the houses at Helleren in Jøssingfjord

Historic paint analysis of the blue door

The large number of visitors

The houses beneath Helleren have stood there for 150-200 years. They were left vacant in the 1920s, and have since then stood with their doors open to the public. Helleren is the single most visited attraction in Dalane with over 20.000 visitors a year. This is a number to be proud of, but can the old houses handle so many visitors?

Careful restoration

All maintenance and restoration work is about making choices. We wish to share some of the choices we have made so far – and our reflections regarding these choices. When the museum took charge of the houses, they had stood abandoned for nearly 80 years. Dalane Folkemuseum has chosen to let the houses keep this expression of abandonment – of having stood derelict for so many years.

Excerpt from the guestbook at Helleren. Photo: Jon Ingemundsen

Excerpt from the guestbook at Helleren. Photo: Jon Ingemundsen

What do we do with the houses?

Dalane Folkemuseum has made as few changes as possible to the houses, because we wish for them to be as authentic as possible. Therefore, we have only done careful and necessary maintenance work so far. In managing these unique buildings, the goal is to do a minimal amount of modifications, to preserve the original building parts. But how do keep and care for the original parts of the houses, at the same time as we keep the houses available to visitors? This is a big question Dalane Folkemuseum needs to answer.

Door and chair at Helleren. Photo: Jon Ingemundsen

Door and chair at Helleren. Photo: Jon Ingemundsen

In the Norwegian Year of Cultural Heritage 2009, we tested various restoration strategies in Helleren. Our main principle is what we call careful restoration. This means we progress slowly and carefully in our restoration work. Careful restoration is about both process and time. This work began in the Norwegian Year of Cultural Heritage and will continue after.

Which colours did the houses have?

In 2007, experts from the Museum of Archaeology in Stavanger took colour swatches from the painted facades. Now we know the original colours of the houses, one was red and the other blue. Today, the houses stand weather-beaten with worn paint. We can choose to paint them again, but then maybe people will perceive them as newer or less authentic than they appear today. Paint flakes and colours fade through the years. How strong have the colours been?

We have treated the houses with clear linseed oil paint. This functions as waterproofing, binds the old paint and saturates the colours that are already there – the houses gain a deeper red and clearer blue colour.

It has been, and still is, a problem that people carve their names and initials into the walls – especially for the red house. This is something we want to discourage. Every inscription is painted over with a thin brush. The colour is made at the museum and is called English red. Time will tell if we have to go over new inscriptions with another coat of paint.

Dilapidated stairs

The staircase up to the red house is worn out. It is probably very old and has served its purpose for many years. The staircase, as it stood, could not take the many visitors using it each year. Should we reinforce it or build a new one?

We wish to replace as few elements as possible. The staircase has been heavily reinforced from below and attached to the wall, and is now standing steadily. It can serve for a while longer, but the reinforcement is just a temporary reprieve.

The dry stone wall

The red house stands on a dry stone wall. A dry stone wall is made without any mortar to bind the stones together. The southern part of the wall has been repaired and straightened so that it stands as it did when sheep lived in the basement beneath the house. The wall was drawn out from the house wall so that it was easy to feed the animals.

Doors and frames

Picture of the blue door at Helleren, from the inside.

Picture of the blue door at Helleren, from the inside.

Historic paint analysis of the blue door

Historic paint analysis of the blue door

Historic paint analysis of a green door

Historic paint analysis of a green door

Inside the red house, a door has been painted in one of its previous colours. In the blue house, the same has been done to a cabinet door. There have been done historic paint analyses of the doors, where the oldest colours were chosen.

The doors stand in stark contrast to their surroundings. Precisely this contrast can be a good vantage point for further reflections. How comprehensive should our interventions be?

The window frames are also marked by the passing of time. For now, we have chosen to paint one of the window frames of the blue house anew.

Types of paint and colour shades

Finding the right shade of colour involves a great deal of experimentation. The museum’s craftsmen mix all the colours we use in the traditional way. The paint used both inside and outside is an older kind of paint. We are unsure of which binding agent was used, but choose to use linseed oil paint. Linseed oil was a common binding agent in the past.

Outside area

The grounds of Helleren are protected by law. The museum, in consultation with Rogaland county municipality, has cleared the area around the houses and restored stairways and paths. A firm layer of gravel now covers the path to the houses, to keep sand and dirt from being transferred from shoes to floors.

North of the houses, tofts from outbuildings have been carefully cleared to make their contours more visible.

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