Norway 8 - The Rorbuer

Our Norwegian home was a rorbu - a cabin;  refurbished from raw, working, fisherman's hut to tourist cottage.

Some of the robuer where we stayed in Reine, the right most rorbu is on stilts. Those are fish (drying) racks in the foreground.

Some of the robuer where we stayed in Reine, the right most rorbu is on stilts. Those are fish (drying) racks in the foreground.

Traditionally, rorbuer (plural) consisted of just a couple rooms; a working / storage area and sleeping quarters. Fishermen often stayed 2 or 3 to a cabin, perhaps sleeping head-to-toe to maximize sleeping space. 

In this rainy view, you can still make out the stilts on which this rorbu has been built

In this rainy view, you can still make out the stilts on which this rorbu has been built

Nice views even at night

Nice views even at night

The basic layout of a rorbu hasn't really changed too much in probably hundreds of years. Even today, they're typically refurbished without the level of luxury one might expect of a nice hotel room. The one we occupied was well furnished; simply, yet beautifully, in wood - wooden floors, wooden walls and otherwise rustic wooden furnishings. It was simple and functional in an attractively and uniquely Scandinavian way.  It was fundamentally cozy, comfortable, traditional (I suspect they all are) and offered stunning views around Reine Harbor.

 
Drying racks and walkways to the stilted rorbuer

Drying racks and walkways to the stilted rorbuer

Rorbuer are usually situated partly on the rocky shore and partly on stilts in the water, the latter to enable docking of the fishermen's row boats. Many of them are covered with two kinds of roofing materials; slate shingles and grass. The latter is so traditional, I even noticed one local guy had gone to the trouble of constructing a tiny little grass roof over his mailbox. 

 
Sod roofs and slate shingles are the norm

Sod roofs and slate shingles are the norm

What about this word, Rorbu?   It seems bu is Norwegian for little house, though it may also be an alteration of the word bo - to live.  The word is used in similar contexts, such as redskabpsbu -  tool shed.   

 
Our domicile in Reine

Our domicile in Reine

As for the first syllable, it's ro as in rowing, a reference to the fact that all early fishing was conducted from rowboats. Apparently in Norwegian there is the concept of 'rowing fish', which is present in modern Norwegian in the phrase 'ro fiske' - I heard locals might even use a phrase like 'Lets go row some fish,' even though they may indeed head out in a motorized boat. 

 

But why fishing cabins built for overnights?  Why not just return home in the evening? 

Apparently, the winter fishing in the Lofotens is so rich with Cod and other species, that fisherman would travel from far away to participate.  They'd supposedly row their open boats for weeks to get to the islands and Lofoten became a destination.  

Fish drying racks are not old-fashioned relics, but are in use today and found everywhere you find rorbuer

Fish drying racks are not old-fashioned relics, but are in use today and found everywhere you find rorbuer

It's said that in an effort to support the burgeoning fishing industry in the early 1100s, King Øystein Magnusson had cabins built in Kabelvåg (formerly Vågar)  for the migrant fishermen. I suppose this is some sort of an indication of just how long rorbuer have been around and how important fishing was to the Lofoten.

The rowboats are beautiful.  We saw them stowed underneath many rorbuer.

The rowboats are beautiful.  We saw them stowed underneath many rorbuer.

Why does it seem all of the cabins are red?  National color of Norway?  No, apparently red fish oil paint was the least expensive and therefore the most used color.  At some point the burnt yellow (ochre?) came into use as well.  Today, it seems all rorbuer are either red or yellow and I'm guessing the colorations represent more of an upholding of tradition, than a need to paint inexpensively. 

Gorgeous wood work on these rowboats.  Hard to imagine putting out to sea, The North Sea, in these little things.

Gorgeous wood work on these rowboats.  Hard to imagine putting out to sea, The North Sea, in these little things.

As we drove around, it seemed every village, no matter how small, offered tourist rorbuer. For those wishing to stay in The Lofoten, it seems picking the village / area where you'd like to stay is the defining factor, not the availability of rorbuer. 

 

Our time in Norway and especially in Reine was so delightful, we're already scheming about going back.

 

Some Links about rorbuer