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The village on Hernar in early 1900s.

The village on Hernar in early 1900s. (photo: O. Schumann Olsen, owner: Billedsamlingen, Universitetsbiblioteket i Bergen (S.O. 960)).

Hernar is a small group of islands northwest of Seløy, an old outlying harbour on the western route. This is where ships were lying in wait for favourable weather before heading out west, and this is where the ships from the western Isles came in. Hjeltefjorden is proof of this. The fjord is named after the people from Hjaltland (Shetland).

But at the same time, Hernar is part of the great communications network along the west Norwegian coast; one of the privileged trading and guesthouse places from the 1600s. In written sources from the 1600s and 1700s Hernar was called Henøen. Even today people say Hedna and “hednamann” in everyday speech. In the older dialect the H fell away, thus rendering the pronunciation Edna. The written form Hernar, which corresponds to the Old Norse form, was reintroduced in the inter-war period. The name means “ a head-like hill”.

The right to carry on trade on Hernar in the 1700s was linked to the person running the trading and guesthouse place in Bøvågen on Radøy. For more than a hundred years the owners of Bøvågen had turns about for the trading rights on Hernar. Today there are 10 commercial units at Hernar, a local community of 50 inhabitants. Fish farming has created new employment and new optimism. The old trading post may yet again become a guesthouse place.

The fishing village on Hernar

In 1828 there was a case before the spring judicial gathering in Alversund. Merchant ship captain Hans Lauritz Smith had summoned farmers on Radøy for having broken up the doors of several fjord houses that were sealed. Witness no. five, Lasse Instebø explained that he arrived at Hernar at 2 am on January 8. Then there were a lot of people and excitement, and a lot of doors had been broken up. These were the fishing sheds belonging to the farmers from Radøy, who were here for the annual winter fishing. But it was captain Smith who owned the ground. He was the owner of most of Hernar and the old guesthouse place, and would have preferred that the farmers had taken lodgings at his guesthouse. The reason for the sealed doors however was that the Radøy farmers were behind with their rent, which was normally paid in goods or services. But at the spring judicial gathering in 1823 another case had been raised that showed the antagonism between the fishermen and the guesthouse keeper. Court witness no. 6, Mons RAsmussen Marøy explained that for 20 years he had sold everything he had of fish and herring to the merchant at Hernar, and they had had an amicable relationship. But last year there had been difficulties. They lacked salt and barrels at Hernar and they refused to receive the herring. Mons Marøy had not even been able to get enough salt for his own fish, which he needed for the fishing season. Naturally this caused bad feelings amongst the fishermen farmers; “the Marøy man” and “the Toska man” and other folk from the communities at Radøy.

Prominent families in viking times

  • Hernar i dag


In a text in the Icelandic Landnåmabok  the author gives advice on which direction to take when sailing westwards to Greenland:


“Should one sail from Herna in Norway towards Hvarf on Greenland, one must sail straight west, then one should sail north of Hjaltland (Shetland) which can be caught sight of in very clear weather; but south of the Faeroe Islands, so that the sea is visible halfway up the mountainside, and to the south of Iceland, there to see birds and whales.”


The explanation shows that the writer was well versed with the sailing route, and that he probably had knowledge that Hernar and Hvarf were on roughly the same latitude (61° N).