Tresfjord Museum and Gjermundnes Burial Cairns – rural Norwegian history and ancient monuments

Above: View towards on the funereal cairns at Gjermundnes taken from the footpath. Photo: Thomas Alexander Husøy

Museums and heritage sites are crucial institutions meant to preserve history, educate, and function as community centres. In this post, I shall focus on a small museum in rural Norway and a cultural heritage site with several burial cairns. The museum in focus will be Tresfjord Museum and the cultural heritage site of Gjermundnes funeral cairns, both found in the municipality of Vestnes in Møre and Romsdal county. I first visited Tresfjord Museum as a young child, with my school (Helland Skole on Vestnes). Following this visit, it took several years before I visited again in 2019 with my partner. It was after this that I visited the funeral cairns at Gjermundnes for the first time. I have always been interested in history and have spent several years studying history at university; as such, during a visit home in the winter of 2019 I wanted to explore some local history and cultural heritage sites in my home area, a municipality rich in maritime history, with a proud shipbuilding tradition.

Part of the exhibition in the tailor workshop
PHOTOGRAPH BY Thomas Alexander Husøy

The museum in Tresfjord functions both as a local community centre and as a staple of local history, serving an important function in the local community. It is both an indoor and outdoor museum for local heritage housing several historical buildings, relocated to the site from villages around the fjord. Inside these buildings are historical artefacts drawn from the local communities. Amongst these are a smokehouse, a Stabbur (the name of an old food storage building in Norway), a 19th Century barn from the local area in Tresfjord, a shop and a tailor workshop from the village of Skorgen, and a café from the early 1950s called Lauparen café (named after a local mountain peak). The museum is normally only open during specific local events throughout the year but can also open upon the request of groups seeking a tour of the museum. When my partner and I visited in 2019, it was at a time when the museum was ordinarily closed; however, after dropping a message to Tresfjord Museum on Facebook, they agreed to open it for us and kindly provided us with a tour of the principal buildings.

View towards the fjord from inside the Lauparen Café
PHOTOGRAPH BY Thomas Alexander Husøy

Next to the collection housed within the local historical buildings: the museum holds the collections of medals won by the local sports heroes Jakob Kjersem and Jakob Rypdal. Rypdal competed in Triple Jump, as well as the European Athletics Championship in 1958, he also won several Norwegian Championships. Kjersem on the other hand was a long-distance runner who competed in the Olympics in 1948 and 1952 and won several national medals in his career. In the same room, you also find a shoe collection as well. These displays are in the basement of a tailor's workshop from 1918, which still contains an exhibition on the ground floor featuring the equipment of an early 20th century tailor, including the machines and fabrics. In the Smokehouse from 1750, you can see a collection of several local household items and in a small glass display, some artefacts dating back to the Viking Age found at the nearby Villa Farm. An interesting observance on this display from the Villa farm is that we can also find several items found here in the British Museum in London, including a famous Divination Staff. (for this famous artefact in the British Museum Catalogue see;

Viking Artefacts found at Villa Farm
PHOTOGRAPH BY Thomas Alexander Husøy

Now that I have described some of the collections of the museum, I shall briefly provide some directions for how to get there. You can travel to the museum by using the centre of the municipality, namely the town of Vestnes, as a starting point, which can be reached by taking a ferry from the city of Molde across the Romsdalsfjord. When driving from Vestnes, follow the road along the fjord; do not cross the bridge until you reach the small town of Tresfjord, where you see a beautiful church from 1828. Follow the sign for the museum onto county road 164 from here, the signs should lead you directly to the museum.

Inside the Smokehouse
PHOTOGRAPH BY Thomas Alexander Husøy

Throughout the year several events take place at Tresfjord museum, including tours for schools, a family day, days for open café, and the Norwegian Olsok celebrations. Oslok is a celebration of the Norwegian Viking king Olaf Haraldsson, who became a martyr after the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030 and has since been named the Eternal King of Norway. At Tresfjord Museum this celebration annually sees over two- hundred visitors. Whilst the family day brings in parents with kids for activities such as flatbread baking, butter making, and archery, and have an attendance of around two-hundred people. The museum also hosts pub nights in one of the historical buildings, in the ‘Løe’ (dating to before 1650), which has a set up where people can sit inside local historical surroundings and enjoy a drink and conversations. Next to this area, there is another outside sitting area. When not in COVID times, they also organise music nights with local artists and have recently finished a pavilion on a small hilltop in the museum grounds, with fantastic views both towards the fjord and the spectacular mountains behind it.

The outside sitting area with a small stage and view towards the mountains.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Thomas Alexander Husøy

Not too far from Tresfjord Museum, near the mouth of Tresfjord, you can visit some ancient funerary cairns dating from the Bronze age to the Iron age of Norwegian history. You can spot several of these in the terrain on a footpath, below the village of Gjermundnes, and I am embarrassed to admit I first visited these in 2019, despite having grown up in the nearby town of Vestnes. But in 2019, together with my partner and parents, I finally took the trip to visit these historical monuments. The largest of the funerary cairns here is on the small island of Gjermundnesholmen, with a cairn which measures twenty-two to twenty-five meters in diameter and is around four meters high, believed to be the resting place of King Gjermund. Several of the other cairns have been opened and have a dip in the middle. We do not know who did this. The size of these funerary cairns may hint at these being elite burials of their time.

As with Tresfjord Museum, these historic monuments are free to visit and can be reached either by following the heritage signs leading down to a parking lot near the coast or by following the footpath from the village of Vikebukt. Most of the cairns can easily be spotted from the path, except for one, which is a little overgrown but nevertheless findable when paying close attention to changes in the landscape. The forest around is beautiful and the perfect place for a walk along the fjord. I should also mention here that another local museum, The Agricultural Museum of Møre and Romsdal at Gjermundnes, sometimes organises guided walking tours along the footpath. Unfortunately, I do not have space or the opportunity here to provide more information about The Agricultural Museum of Møre and Romsdal, but I hope to one day write a blog post about this museum as well!

The dip in the funereal cairn mentioned above
PHOTOGRAPH BY Thomas Alexander Husøy

I have here highlighted parts of the museums and heritage that can be observed in my home municipality in Norway, Vestnes. Awareness of such heritage and institutions are important, as they highlight local history, which we often forget about when discussing historical developments. Hopefully, sometime soon we can get back to a relatively normal world, and once more visit places like Tresfjord Museum and Gjermundnes funeral cairns and learn about history at a local level as well as its place in the wider world. Places like Tresfjord Museum not only provide information about local history but are also important as a local community centre with events such as Olsok and gigs for the local community.

I am grateful to Steinar Kjersem from Tresfjord Museum for providing me with information about the museum, its collection, and activities.

View from the pavilion at Tresfjord Museum, showing the spectacular surroundings of the museum.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Thomas Alexander Husøy

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Thomas Alexander Husøy

Dr Thomas Alexander Husøy holds a doctorate in Ancient History from Swansea University, in Wales, United Kingdom. He also holds an MSc in the Hellenistic World from the University of Edinburgh, and a BA Joint Honours in Ancient History and History from Swansea University. Dr Husøy is now employed as the Heritage Officer at the Norwegian Church Arts Centre in Cardiff Bay.