Ny-Hellesund is a unique outport in Norway
Ny-Hellesund has many small and large stories to tell – about the mountain that parted when St. Olaf struck it, about the hundreds of thousands of lobsters that were exported, about the painters who were captivated by the light and the sailors who were amused at the inns.
The inhabitants of Ny-Hellesund have taken good care of their archipelago and in 2016 parts of Ny-Hellesund were granted cultural environment protection. Today, a handful of residents live there, but the outport is visited by many tourists during the year.
Monsøya to the left, Kapelløya to the right and Helgøya at the back
Ny-Hellesund is an archipelago that consists of several large and many small islands. Monsøya is the largest island. From west to east it is over one kilometer long. Nordsiheia, where the Loshytta is located, is its highest point at just over 50 meters above sea level. The island is now quite forested and has had several farms on it. Monsøya has several pleasant paths and trails. Along them there are several 7,000-year-old Stone Age settlements.
Helgøya is more elongated and is situated exposed towards the sea. Therefore, there are buildings only on its north side. Most of its outermost part is now an outdoor recreation area. On Helgøya there are also nice hiking trails. Public jetties are found both in the Olavsundet Strait and the Masseskilen further north, with its German jetty that was built in connection with the coastal fort on the island.
Kapelløya is the third largest and the most central of the islands in Ny-Hellesund. Together with the other two, they form the narrow and picturesque Hellesundet Strait, which the German geologist Leopold von Buch wrote “reminded me of a crooked river” after visiting it in 1808.
And between Helgøya and Kapelløya a round and unique lagoon is formed that has a narrow inlet and outlet, the Olavsundet Strait. Kapelløya has a nice outdoor recreation area with good public jetties facing the strait.
Skarpøya is located further west and has a good number of cabins and holiday homes. Langøya and Skarvøya are undeveloped and fairly untouched. They have been used as sheep pastures for centuries and are both outdoor recreation areas. On the latter there are remains made from old volcanic diabase pathways and also a long mound from the Bronze/Iron Age. Also here is the region’s first discovered quarry for axe production from the Stone Age.
Southwest of Ny-Hellesund is Hunsøya and to the east the Hellersøyane islands. To the north is the Åroslandet peninsula and to the south is the Songvår archipelago with the Songvår lighthouse.
Ny-Hellesund was known as a good outport already in the Viking era. The inner shipping channel went right through the strait. It is likely that this was the Helgasund Strait which was told about in King Sverre’s saga and where he spent the night in the fall of 1197 with his fleet of warships which probably included 6,000 men and 100 large ships.
Particularly from the 17th century to approximately 1900, the outport was a busy place with a lot of ship traffic and business activities connected to it. At the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, Ny-Hellesund was not just Søgne Municipality’s trading center but also the district’s financial center. Members of the Langfeldt and Reymert families led the development of the islands during this period.
In the winter, close to 70 ships could be laid up together at the Hellesund Strait, Vrageviga northwest of Monsøya, Skarpøybukta Harbor, Langøysundet Strait and other places. There are many large mooring bolts there that can still be seen and for which in their time ‘ring money’ had to be paid for.
The Hellesund Strait. Monsøya to the left, Kapelløya to the right.
In 1984 a shipwreck was found on the east side of Langøya. The excavation showed that this was a Hanseatic hulk from about 1480 loaded with limestone slabs from Tallinn in Estonia, probably on its way to England. A large limestone slab from there is on display at Høllebrygga and two of the stones can be found at the Verftet. One of them is in the bar at the restaurant and the other is at the Tanken.
For about 150 years Ny-Hellesund was among the country’s largest export ports for lobster with up to 176,000 caught each year. There were separate lobster farms at the small islets in the Olavsundet and at Havbukta. A successful British acquisition company, Messrs. James Howard & Co., was located at Døbla northweast of Monsøya from 1828 to 1855.
During the Napoleonic War 1807-14, for a short period of time Ny-Hellesund was actually the main port in the country for postal and passenger traffic from Denmark. Several canon boats were stationed here. This was in the time of Terje Vigen when soldiers held watch with threatening British warships at Signalheia and Loshytta at Monsøya and at Årosveden.
Ny-Hellesund has also been a central pilot harbour with its own pilot master from 1720 to 1890, and a pilot station until 1965. There were pilot cabins at the top of all the three main islands. Also, the permanent head of costums position was located here from 1776 until 1963, in the customs station, which still is situated at the public quay on Monsøya.
At Helgøya there is a large and partially restored German coastal fort from World War II. There were soldiers from all three branches of the armed forces, Russian prisoners of war and a good deal of artillery.
Where the name ‘Kapelløya’ comes from is debated. Some believe that the island got its name from a chapel that stood on the outermost field by the Olavsundet Strait and which was torn down in 1760. A burial ground was also here for a long time for those dead sailors who washed up on shore. Others believe, however, that the name comes from a tow cable that was used to pull big boats through the strait and they point to an old sea map where the island is marked as ‘CabelØ’.
The Olavsundet Strait is named after the canonized Norwegian King St. Olaf (Olaf II). A legend written down around 1460 in Ribe in Denmark connects St. Olaf’s name to the ‘Hyllets Sund’. This is assumed to be the Olavsundet Strait in Ny-Hellesund. Olaf (995-1030) was racing in a sailboat with his half-brother Harald Hardråde (1015-1066) and ordered his helmsman to steer the ship right towards land. “And suddenly the land divided in two and there was open water that has been called all the way down to our time Det Hyllets Sund.” Through oral traditions This event has been passed further down orally through the ages.
A more exciting version of how the strait came to be was that it was formed when on one of his coastal journeys St. Olaf was being pursued by the Egdehøvdinger and they steered their ships into the strait. The pursuers thought that they had him in a trap but according to the legend the hillside opened up and the king sailed right through the island and got away.
His profile can be seen on the hill in the Olavsundet Strait at the inlet from the north. Here there are also several royal monograms: Haakon VII, Olav and Märtha and Harald and Sonja.
The Danish kings Fredrik IV and Christian VI visited Ny-Hellesund on 1 July 1704 and 21 August 1733 respectively. In addition, Peter Wessel Tordenskiold himself, our great sea hero, sought shelter here in the outport on his frigate Løwendahls Galley 20-23 November 1712. A model of this is a church nave in Søgne Old Church.
At the top of Helgøya, about 60 meters above sea level, tower the Helelvarane (Hellevardene) cairns. According to Peder Claussøn Friis in their time these were the biggest in Norway. Until the occupying forces blew them to pieces in 1942, they were made of stones and had huge dimensions – in 1797 there were just over 15 meters in diameter at the base at 11 at the top, five meters high and a three-meter post at the top (originally a cross). According to legend, St. Olaf erected both the cairns and the chapel.
Ny-Hellesund is not least know as a haunt for writers and artists. The Southern Norwegian [rm1] poet Vilhelm Krag lived in his house ‘Havbukta’ on Helgøya for long periods and he died there in 1933.
Gabriel Scott was also there in 1928 when he wrote his famous novel “Gypsy” at Sankt Olavs Strand on Helgøya. In the room where Krag wrote his poetry in Havbukta, Nordahl Grieg wrote the play “The Defeat” and the poem “For the Youth” in 1936 and the novel “Young Must the World Still Be” in 1938.
Amaldus Nielsen, known as ‘Sørlandets maler’ (‘Southern Norway’s painter), was often in Ny-Hellesund and painted many pictures from there, not least his great and famous “Morning in Ny-Hellesund’ (1885) with is hanging in the National Museum in Oslo. Since 1990 textile artist Ingrid Juell Moe has been a permanent resident of Ny-Hellesund.
In its time, Ny-Hellesund also had several ship chandlers and shops. The last shop was shut down in 1960. There was a post office from 1886 to 1979. The place has its own distinctive architecture which is typical for outports in the Southern Norway region. The outport has had several guesthouses and the most well-known of them is probably “Det kongelige privilegert gjestgiveri” on Kapelløya from the 18th century.
Today there are about 10-15 permanent residents at Ny-Hellesund. In the 1860s there were just over 200 here, about 12% of the district’s population at the time.
In 1825 Ny-Hellesund got the first permanent school in Søgne Municipality and its own schoolhouse in 1865. The school was closed in 1963 and the old schoolhouse is now a parish house and cultural center. There have been theater performances here each summer for years and regular events and topical lectures of various kinds. Widely known is also the bazaar held during the general staff holiday in July and it is the bazaar in Norway that has been running the longest continually since it started in 1864.
Today Ny-Hellesund, together with Blindleia (between Kristiansand and Lillesand), is among the most well-known areas people think of when they talk about the Southern Norway region. In 1921, the silent film “Miss Faithful”, based on Krag’s book, was shot here. In the fall of 2006, Ny-Hellesund and Monsøya were shown on the Norwegian TV series “The Farm” and in 2019 the final of TV Norge’s program “All for Norway” was shot here.
Several houses are protected and in 2016 parts of Ny-Hellesund were granted cultural environment protection by the government, as the country’s first outport, and the eighth protected culture environment in that category. In 2020 Ny-Hellesund is one of 12 protected culture environments.
The pilot cabin at Monsøya. In the background you can see the two cairns at Helgøya
The small entrance to the Olavsundet strait, which divided in two so that the King could escape his enemies.
At the top of Helgøya, about 60 meters above sea level, tower the Helelvarane (Hellevardene) cairns.
The old scoolhouse from 1865 at Monsøya.