Norway – A walk in the footsteps of children on the Child Wanderers Trail


The Child Wanderers in Agder county took place in the period 1720 - 1910. The path these children followed went from Kvinesdal in the west to Landvik (near Grimstad) in the east. A distance of 136 kilometers. Children as young as 6-7 years old walked on foot across mountains and through forests. Some walked more than a hundred kilometers. Often they were thinly clad and barefoot. They started at the end of April and wandered eastward to the larger farms to work. Either in the kitchen, tending livestock or to help harvesting. At that time there were both wolves and bears in the area, so cows and sheep had to be herded. When autumn came in October, they walked the long way back to their families.

The trail in Southern Norway

This 136 kilometer trail runs through 9 municipalities who have collaborated on marking the trail with signs and blue marks on poles, stones and trees, so it's easy to follow. The Child Wanderers Trail is divided into 7 sections. It's possible to walk a section as a day trip. Otherwise the option is to overnight on route. At the start of each section you will find an information board with a brief describtion of the route. Together with a friend I have started to walk the trail from west to east. We have now completed two sections – a walk that took us through beautiful landscape, geological phenomenons, historical sites and farmland while walking in the footsteps of the child wanderers.

The night before we started, we saw the Norwegian film called « Yohan – barnevanderer» which gives a very good impression of how these children coped walking the trail and how their life was.

Photo by Tone Steinsland

The next day we started on the first section - Årlia in Kvinesdal to Snartemo (11 kilometers). We startet at the parking lot. The start of the trail is marked with a wooden pole with a children's shoe and the blue mark that we will follow all the way. It made an impression to see the shoe that reminded me of the children who walked here in all kinds of weather and maybe without shoes ...

Cabin called «lyngløa»

Just before we crossed the border to the next municipality, we passed this cabin. There are tables and two chairs outside. We had a look inside and found a guest book where we wrote our names to document that we have been here.

As we continued we entered a wet and more open area with less trees. Our shoes did get wet, but we tried to dry them when we had a lunch break in the sun. The last part is along a road down to the valley where the small village Snartemo is located. We crossed a road and walked through the last forest area before we came all the way down. The final place of this section is Snartemo Bautapark.

We stoped here by the huge sword. A small hut with toilets next to it has posters that tell why the sword is here. In the 1930s, rich grave finds were made here at Snartemo. Two swords were among the finds, in addition to a couple of other things. All are from the Migration Period, which in Norwegian prehistory is dated to the period between 400 and the last half of the 500s AD. Since the original sword is in a museum in Oslo, a large-scale copy has been placed here instead. The area has lots of history I will have to look into some other time.

What is the story behind the child wanderers? In Agder poverty was widespread during the 19th century. There are many reasons for that. Population was increasing rapidly. The families were large, so there were many mouths to feed. Farms were small and a poor yields could lead to famine. That's why many families in the inland had to led some of their children go towards Kristiansand to work. The farms were larger and this area also had more people who were prosperous. The children most often walked in groups and an agent would pick them up at certain meeting points to follow them. The child wanderering were thus a manifestation of poverty in the countryside, but even though the crises such as famine led to poverty child wandering also led to the belief that the future could be better. Some were lucky living with people who treated them well. Others were not so lucky. By 1910 many families left when imigration to America began. The reason for this phenomenon of child wanderers is unique in Norway and the Nordic countries.

After a days break we started on the next section from Snartemo to Konsmo (18 kilometers )at the same place where we ended the first day – at the information board. The arrow on the tarmac shows the way to the heath and the tractor road that would lead us up and over the mountain to Mydland farm, the largest in the area. Then we walk a bit along the road before we get on forest trails again.

Child wanderer Tobias Torkelsen

Child wanderer Ole Rasmussen

The last half of the trip was along Hellevannet. Here we had a lunch break. We took our shoes off and put our feet in the water to cool them off! In several places along the water, memorials have been set up with photos and information about some of the children who came from this area. About Tobias Torkelsen it says that he was born here in 1841. His walk took him to Lillesand (east of Kristiansand). Ole Rasmussen was born in 1860 and walked to Birkenes (east of Kristiansand) when he was 9 years old. Quite impressive how far these children could walk.

Photo by Tone Steinsland

At a crossroad we chose the steep original trail towards the valley. The point where this section of the trail ends is Konsmo Church. The church is also one of the places where the childern gathered before the walk. In Konsmo there is a museum with an exhibition about the child wanderers, but it was closed when we were here.

A great two-day trip has come to an end. We have had time for reflection and I can hardly wait until we can start on the third stage. The plan is to complete the distance to Kristiansand during the summer. Then we will complete the last stages during October in reverse order just like the children did when they walked back to their families.

Sources: Information boards along the trail and Tourist information

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All the photoes are mine, Ulla Jensen (flickr, Instagram and facebook)

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