RØROS, glued to a treeless mountain plateau some 160km northeast of Kongsvoll, is a blustery place even on a summer’s afternoon, when it’s full of day-tripping tourists surveying the old part of town, which is little changed since its days as a copper-mining centre. Mining was the basis of life here from the seventeenth century onwards and although the mining company finally went bust in 1977, its assorted industrial remains were never bulldozed, making Røros a unique and remarkable survivor of the resource towns that once littered Norway’s more isolated regions. Copper mining was dirty and dangerous work and even if the locals supplemented their incomes with a little farming and hunting, life for the average villager can’t have been anything but hard.
Remarkably, Røros’ wooden houses, some of them 300 years old, have escaped the fires which have devastated so many of Norway’s timber-built towns, and as a consequence the town is on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Firm regulations now protect this rare townscape and changes to its grass-roofed cottages are strictly regulated. Film companies regularly use the town as a backdrop for their productions: as early as 1971, it featured as a Soviet labour camp in the film version of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a choice of location that gives something of the flavour of the place.
Røros makes for a pleasant overnight stay, which is just as well given its solitary location. The uplands that encircle the town are good for hiking, with one of the more popular being the five-hour trek east to the self-service DNT hut at Marenvollen. In winter, the uplands are popular with cross-country skiers; the tourist office has a leaflet mapping out several possible skiing routes.
On the first part of any hike west from Kongsvoll into the Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella Nasjonalpark, you’re quite likely to spot musk ox, the descendants of animals imported from Greenland in the late 1940s – which are also viewable on a musk-ox safari (see Hiking the Besseggen ridge). These hefty beasts have lived in the Arctic for thousands of years, protected from the cold by two coats of hair and using their hooves to dig through the snow to reach the roots, lichens and mosses on which they depend. So far so good, but their habit of herding together with the adults surrounding the young when faced with danger proved disastrous when they were hunted by rifle. By the mid-1940s, the future of the Greenland herd looked decidedly grim, so some were transferred to Norway to help preserve the species, and here in their new home they have prospered in a modest sort of way and now number about one hundred.
Conventional wisdom is that they will ignore you if you ignore them and keep at a distance of at least 200m. They are, however, not afraid of humans and will charge if irritated – retreat as quickly and quietly as possible if one starts snorting and scraping. Incidentally, there’s no truth in the rumour, promulgated by the mockumentary film Trolljegeren (“Troll Hunter”; 2010) that the musk ox serve as a handy larder for local trolls; or is there?