This is about the Kongevegen hike, one of many hikes on the coast of Jæren, Norway. The hike on grass is 8.5 km one way.
The King’s Road (Kongevegen) between Hå Old Vicarage and Varhaug Old Cemetery (Hå): The historic road from the 1600s has had royal users, but that was a long time ago. We do not find many remnants from that time. However, we find on this hike a number of other attractions, including Grødalandstunet. Enjoy the lovely cemetery (!) and visit the exhibitions at the old vicarage.
The trail winds between boulders near the shoreline, and on grassland a few metres away. Walking straight between the cemetery and the parsonage is about 8.5 kilometres. If you take the detour up to the old farm houses at Grødalandstunet about mid-way and continue from the parsonage down to the Hå River, the distance will be 10.6 km.
If we decide to return the same we get a rather long hike, and there is no alternative route. We used two cars parked at both ends, and visited Grødalandstunet after the hike. It is also a good idea to split this hike into smaller parts. One will find public parking available at both ends, as well as at Obrestad Harbour and Grødalandstunet in the middle. Public transportation is no option, biking is only feasible on some stretches. This hike is not suitable for wheelchairs and strollers. The rest of us would need good boots.
What to see
Varhaug Old Cemetery
We started our hike in the south at Varhaug Old Cemetery walking north. The cemetery is quite small and situated a few metres from the shore. With a little white chapel in the centre, this is a lovely place regardless of weather and season. This is also a good base for trips north and partly south on the old King’s Road.
There have been at least three churches here. The first was a stave church from the 1300s, the second church was built in the 1600s. In 1725 neighbours took ownership of the church, but it went into a period of decay. The congregation built a new church, the third, in 1828 in the white style, so common everywhere in Norway. (The architect was Hans Linstow who also designed the Royal Palace in Oslo.). The third church was removed in 1905. These days we find nothing but the old burial chapel with a 1791 clock tower on the grounds. The cemetery has been in use from The Middle Ages until now.
The King’s Road
The King’s Road was up until the 1700s the main road from Stavanger to Ogna in the south. Actually many travellers would skip the boggy land between Stavanger and Sandnes by taking a ship the length of the Gandsfjord and continue on land from there. The kings of Denmark and Norway reportedly visited the King’s Road on few occasions. It was a very rough and basic road, like a bridleway. In order to allow for carts and carriages, the road was in parts and over the years extended in width.
During the 1800s new north-south roads were constructed inland. By the advent of the railway at the end of that century, the old coastal road was left in oblivion. It would from now on only be used by local farmers. The road-like structure we are now able to hike on, for some of the stretches, are more like tractor roads and may reveal its royal history only to the trained eye.
The first boathouses, Varhaugstøene
The first landmark after the cemetery is easy to spot; the three boathouses called Varhaugstøene. Their construction is the traditional one on the coast. Walls of large stones, wooden framework in the front and inside, and red roof tiles. These kind of boathouses are by no means windproof – and they are not meant to be. The wind blows in between the stones drying the boat and fishing equipment inside.
The farmers used to rely on fishing as a means to get an extra income, and for food. They never had large boats, because they had to pull them up on land after use. The exposure to wind and waves year-round made it impossible to have them lying on the boulder beaches. Consequently Jæren boats and boathouses are quite small.
The next boathouses and an old mill
Next we arrive at Bådle (Bodle), between North and South Varhaug. Besides a large new boathouse and a concrete slipway we find two old buildings with a water wheel, once run by a small stream. This old little mill and the adjacent drying house have been restored but are left to decay.
One may easily argue that this is the case with a number of buildings along Jæren. On this hike we pass by rusty pieces of metal, presumably related to shipwrecks and salvaging. There are a lot of old boathouses and even cabins to be seen which are perfect for those who are keen on studying the beauty of deterioration. To others these sights may look like neglected examples of cultural heritage objects.
Across boulders and on grassland
Our hike continues north partly on a path between the boulders, partly on grassland below the farms. This is sheep and cattle land. Along the shore we also encounter “steintipper”, places on the beach where farmers would throw stones removed from their cultivated farming land. These sites are found several places on the coastline and might sometimes be confused with being one of the numerous Iron Age burial mounds found here as well. (Close to Obrestad harbour there is even a boulder mound made during the Second World War as a barrier for invading armoured vehicles.)
Here at Varhaug we find one of the many ship-breaking sites along the coast of Jæren. As described in my article The Coastline Explained, salvaging, stripping of capsized ships and later auctioning of the remains, was an important side job for the farmers decades and centuries ago. A rusty winch on the beach belonged to the Varhaug ship breaking organisation, founded in 1909.
Jæren’s protected landscape area of approximately 70 km has about 25 kilometres of sandy beach. The rest is rock and boulders like on this hike. The coast has almost no forests. The Grødaland Forest is an exception. It even has an industrial area, quite unique as well along this coast. The most notable exception is found up north at Risavika. The well-marked trail leads us through the forest.
On the other side of the forest, we get a wonderful panorama of Grødalandstunet. The unique, preserved farm with farmhouses and barns dates back to the 1700s. It is possible to walk a few hundred metres up to it, but we decided to continue and return by car later in the day. Read more later on in this article.
At the Grødaland beach there was in 1873 an effort to find coal. They drilled 133 metres down to the bedrock without satisfying their optimism. This activity was undertaken elsewhere on Jæren as well in those years.
Continuing on past Sør-Reime
The area between Sør-Reime and Obrestad is one of eight areas of floral protection on Jæren. On this quite short distance there are about 175 different species of plants growing on or near the beach. On the beaches of Hå municipality, where we are now, there are roughly 200 different species. Looking at the picture below, and the ones above, one might wonder where they are.
We pass Sør-Reime and continue north into the bay of Sørreimsvika. Here we take a break at one of the picturesque boathouses before continuing on an easy grassland walk up the cliff at Kummeltangen. From this promontory, past Obrestad harbour and right up until the Obrestad lighthouse we find the highest cliffs on the coast of Jæren. The cliff faces are almost vertical, covered by grass, but never rising more than 30-40 metres above the sea.
Ski jumping has for (almost) centuries been a very popular sport in Norway. Jæren is not the place where this sport comes to mind. For natural reasons: The mild climate offers very little snow during the winter, and it never lasts long. Fighting back the natural disadvantage there was a ski jump ramp put up on the cliff at Obrestad. The competions took place from 1938-1941 gathering up to 4,000 spectators. The jumping lengths ranked those of more famous Holmenkollen in Oslo, about 45 metres.
At Kummeltangen there is a nice view towards the next important landmark on this hike, Obrestad harbour.
Obrestad harbour was built in 1874 as the first man-made fishing harbour on the Jæren coast. It was enlarged and improved in 1903-06. The harbour area and the boathouses were secured a status as national heritage in 1994. During the war the harbour was used as a staging point for the Resistance, with boats departing for Scotland. Just off the pier and harbour, we find the only sandy beach on this hike. Jæren has a number of beautiful sandy beaches; this is not one of them. The harbour is in contrast a nice little place to rest a few minutes, just to savour the atmosphere.
“Konvoi” is one of few sculptures along the Jæren coast. This one is made by Lisabet Jarstø and positioned on the breakwater at Obrestad Harbour. It consists of a number of ship bows pointing up from the rocky surface of the breakwater, presumably displaying ships about to sink. I doubt the boats leaving the secure harbour on a windy day find any comfort in this artwork.
Coming up next is the Obrestad lighthouse. You may want to postpone your visit until you have picked up your car at Hå Parsonage, for there is good public parking at the lighthouse. If not, don’t miss hiking up the steep cliff from the promontory and have a look at the lighthouse buildings.
It was built in 1873. The Germans used it as a lookout during the war. Apart from that the lighthouse was automated in 1991. It now functions as a cultural site for the municipality of Hå. Accommodation is possible in some of the buildings on the premises. They date from different periods. There is a permanent exhibition in the lighthouse building.
The municipality must have had a cultural spree at some time, for there is a nonsensical graffiti on the lighthouse tower.
The end of the hike
After the lighthouse we face the end of today’s hike. Hå Old Parsonage has one building dating back to 1787 but its history as a residence for the local ministers dates back another 150 years. It has for centuries functioned as a cultural and administrative meeting place, like it does today. The buildings are preserved, and are used for exhibitions throughout the year. It is a very popular destination.
This hike could perfectly well end here, for a coffee and home baking at the parsonage. One should on the other hand not miss what is right past the old barns. Here you will discover a number of graves from the Iron Age, around 300-900 AD.
On a fine day I would recommend the eager ones to continue down to the mouth of the Hå River. There is a fine view towards the boathouses on the other side of the river. This river is famous for its salmon, and in earlier times, pearl fishing.
Video from this hike
This charming farm museum in the municipality of Hå in the south of Jæren consists of the two oldest surviving Jær houses, two barns, and an outhouse.
Grødalandstunet has ample parking for the benefit of those who are driving. The farm contains the oldest Jær house in the country, complete with ships (“skut”) on both short ends of the houses.
The oldest part of “Gamlehuset” (the old house) dates back to about 1715. It has now been made to resemble its appearance in the mid-1800s. “Torehuset” (the Tore house) next to it was built in 1830. It stands as it looked a hundred years later.
The two farm houses had a barn each. There is a wind machine (mill) moved from Vigrestad here as well, and an outhouse in between the farmhouses. We notice that the clapboarding on Gamlehuset is tarred, as we find on stave churches in Norway. The museum is open during the summer. On our visit we had to peer inside the windows of the farm houses. The barns have none. That way we also missed the opportunity to study the framework of the barns. They are largely made out of ship material, a testimony to what life was like on the coast of Jæren.
This video is from Grødalandstunet
One last piece of advice
You will find the farm a few hundred meters from the hiking path called the King’s Road, and you may visit it in conjunction with a hike. If you come here by car, I would recommend walking down to the boulder beach and have a look around. The Grødaland Forest and the pond called Stemmen are nice places to visit as well.
This article presents one of many hikes on the coast of Jæren, Norway. Get an overview here. The hikes and corresponding articles are sorted in a north to south order. The adjacent hikes are:
North: Orre – Skeie – Hå Old Vicarage (Klepp & Hå): Varied hike on grass, gravel roads, boulders and sandy beaches. There are some very fine sandy beaches, unknown to most. This is a tricky hike: Forget crossing the Orre river, watch out for the extensive use of barbed wire fences and electrified fences even inside the protected flora and fauna reserve, there are few fence climbers and attacking birds do hit your head.
South: Varhaug Old Cemetery – Madland – Haarr – Kvassheim (Hå): Madland and Kvassheim offer small picturesque harbours. If you are driving the coast of Jæren, Haarr is the place to stop to enjoy the pebble beach, the ocean, the waves, the wind, the sky, and the flat farming land of Jæren behind you. The northern part, between Varhaug and Madland is one of the best hikes on the entire coastline. (8.9 km).
The website ut.no has a description of the same stretch. Turanbefalinger.com offers an article about Grødalandstemmen and Kongevegen. An article from a local history association is very good. Two newspaper articles in Stavanger Aftenblad (1) and (2) describes Kongevegen, and lokalhistoriewiki.no has an article about the Old Parsonage.
Read more in my special article about Jæren’s geology, flora, fauna, history, people and art: Jæren – The coastline explained.