When last we left off from our post-Christmas relaxication in West Iceland, Mark, Graham, and I were doing a lot of reading, a lot of sleeping, a lot of fish-dinner eating, and a lot of listening to the eaves creaking and the roof sounding like it was going to fly off the house, Wizard of Oz style, due to the super intense gales swooshing around our cozy cabin which were even more formidable in that we were situated just on the edge of a fjörð. (If you take anything away from this blog, let it be this: the wind in Iceland is something fierce.)
Of course, it (the wind) somewhat adds to the whole cozied effect if you are warm and pj’ed inside. But we had hoped to get outdoors at least a little bit, for maybe a day hike to a nearby waterfall or up Akrafjall, the mountain just outside of Akranes which “boasts of one of the biggest breeding colonies of the great black-backed gulls in the country.” Given the wind, however, spending a lot of time exerting ourselves out-of-doors was just not going to work, so instead, we decided that we’d make the most of it and take a day’s drive around Borgarbyggð, which is, as Wikipedia helpfully explains, the collective name for the “various amalgamated populated rural areas in the West or Vesturland region of Iceland.”
I’ve posted the photos from this excursion here, but will give you a little more info about the highlights below.
- Borganes: A sort of sister town to Akranes, which is about 30 minutes away. Borganes, which today has a population of about 1,700, was a site in Egil’s Saga (where it was referred to as Digranes). For tourism purposes, the main attraction is The Settlement Center, which contains two exhibitions–one on the settlement (obv) and one on Egil’s Saga. We didn’t actually go to either exhibition, but we did enjoy a beer and some absolutely delicious bread (the soup was good, but the bread was incredible) at the upstairs café.
- Deildartunguhver: a hot spring in the vicinity of Reykholt (see below), which boasts “the highest-flow hot spring in Europe,” at 180 liters/second. Water from this hot spring is used for heating in both Akranes and Borganes.
- Reykholt: The church and dwelling at Reykholt was home to Snorri Sturluson, a medieval poet, historian, chieftain, and parliamentarian who is an extremely notable figure in Icelandic history. Snorri is known, among other reasons, for authoring the Prose Edda, and perhaps also Egil’s Saga. He was assassinated at Reykholt in 1241. (Delightfully, there is much made at Reykholt of Snorri’s modest personal hot pot, Snorralaug, which has its own historical signage and place of pride among the other locales of interest here.
- Just off to the side of Reykholt–and directly next door to someone’s house, I might add–was a recreated turf hut called Höskuldargerði. From what I read on the linked to article there, this hut and the rock which stands in front of it with two carvings on either side–one of a horse and one of a man’s head–is a monument to Höskuld Eyjólfsson, a local farmer and horseman who lived to be 102.
- Just behind Höskuldargerði was one of five Millennium Forests in Iceland. Per that website:
The Millennium Forests project started in 2000, in celebration of the new millennium and the 70th anniversary of both the Icelandic Forestry Association and Kaupthing Bank. Five areas were selected for the project, one in each region of Iceland (see map): Reykholt (W-Iceland), Gaddstaðir (S-Iceland), Holt and Skriðnafell (Westfjords), Steinsstaðir (N-Iceland) and Landnyrðingsskjólbakkar (E-Iceland). In 2000 members of regional forestry associations, along with volunteers, planted one tree for each Icelander, or over 280 thousand trees…
- Our last real stop was the frosty, ice-blue waterfall Barnafossar, which is surrounded by lava fields. This place was really amazing, although it has a sad folk history. Per Wikipedia:
Many Icelandic folk tales have been associated with Barnafoss, the most famous being about two boys from a nearby farm, Hraunsás. One day, the boys’ parents went with their ploughmen to a church. The boys were supposed to stay at home, but as they grew bored they decided to follow their parents. They made a shortcut and crossed a natural stone-bridge that was above the waterfall. But on their way, they felt dizzy and fell into the water and drowned. When their mother found out what had happened, she put a spell on the bridge saying that nobody would ever cross it without drowning himself. A little while later, the bridge was demolished in an earthquake.
We had intended to keep going from here, a bit further toward the interior of the country, where apparently there are lava tubes, but it started snowing, it was getting dark, and the road being less traveled at that point was looking a bit sketchy. So at Húsafell, we turned around and headed back. Wish we could have done more walking or hiking, but it was definitely a nice, quick taste of West Iceland.