Rjukan: the Small Town with the Big History
Rjukan is a small town in Telemark county and is situated in Tinn municipality. Nestled between high mountain walls on both sides in the Westfjord valley, this place is special both location and scenery wise. The town got it's name after Rjukanfossen, “the Smoking Waterfalls”. The waterfall is 104 meters tall or about 341 feet. It got it's name from the West Norse Rjukandi which is derived from the verb rjuka, 'to smoke'. This stems from all the froth from the waterfall.
In 1905 the waterfalls was built out to produce hydro electrical power for the saltpetre production when Norsk Hydro was established.
Rjukan is a very touristy place and has been for more then a century. Much due to it's location at the foot of Gaustatoppen and the southern gateway to Hardangervidda National Park. The scenery is spectacular here and it's all there for you to enjoy. Rjukan and it's area offers a wide range of activites.
Take the Krossobanen, a cable car, to the top of the mountain. Up there, at 886 meters (about 2.907 feet), you will have the most fantastic view over Rjukan down below and you can see for miles and miles in every direction. Take another few steps up, to the observation tower and you'll have an even more amazing view. And here you can start your Hardangervidda adventure, as you're just a short distance from the parks entrance.
Other adventures you can partake in in Rjukan, is Bungee Jumping off the Vemork suspension Bridge. This will for sure give you an adrenalin kick.Located right below the Vemork power plant, it drops straight into a 84 meters (about 275 feet) gorge and is considered the toughest in Norway.
More relaxing things are the canoing, cycling or horseback riding in the mountains and at the Hardangervidda plateau, fishing ( the area offers more then 800 lakes to fish in) and boat trips across Lake Møsvatn. And if after all this, you and your family needs some R&R, try the Rjukanbadet to unwind.
What makes this place even more special is the events of World War II. Those who know about these things, says that the sabotage of the heavy water plant at Vemork and the sinking of the ferry 'Hydro', is the greatest sabotage of all of WWII. It took 3 attempts, Operation Freshman and Operation Grouse, which both failed miserably, and the final attempt, named 'Operation Gunnerside', which we all know made it all the way. Operation Gunnerside consisted of SOE (Special Operational Executive) trained Norwegian officers. They came skiing over the mountain in the darkness of the night, one hour before midnight, February 27, 1943. The made their way across the river, up the steep rock wall underneath the power plant. There they managed to gain access to the power plant, set off the explosives, get out and disappear in all directions in the shelter of the dark winter night.
Lots of books have been written about this important incident in our history, and both films and television documentary serious have been made. A Norwegian film was made in 1948, based on the 2 failed attempts of Operation Freshman and Grouse, called 'Kampen om tungtvannet' ( it translate to something like 'the Battle for the Heavy Water.') The other is a Hollywood film from 1965, called 'Heroes of Telemark', starring Kirk Douglas. For kids in Norwegian schools, this is mandatory learning. I mean the history itself, not the movies.
Today Vemork is a museum, called the Norwegian Industrial Museum, surrounded by breathtaking scenery, a stop here should be mandatory when in Rjukan. That is, if it's open. Which it unfortunately was not, when I was there.
You will be guided around and shown films from this era of Norwegian industrial times. And of course you'll learn about the events that took place here during the second world war.