First thing this morning, the day didn’t look too promising. It was cloudy and overcast, and grey clouds loomed in the distance over the mountains. Over breakfast, we consulted our trusty Iceland weather app, and decided to continue heading north, away from the bad weather.
After bidding farewell to our host, we left our very comfortable B & B, and headed north westwards. Initially, the road was tarmac, but after a few miles it turned to gravel. We took it slowly, and fortunately were only passed in the other direction by a handful of cars. The locals were tanking along this road, and we were petrified of getting a shattered windscreen, so tended to pull into the side as much as we could, and wait for them to pass. However, the road was so narrow, that our Garmin satnav was constantly beeping to tell us that we were crossing the midline of the road – it was impossible not to, and in the end we just turned it off.
Our first stop was a town called Porshofn. It is a small coastal town, with an active fishing fleet, and a fish processing plant. Apart from an attractive church overlooking the harbour, there was not much more to it, apart from the highlight of the town – ‘The Cosy Corner Cafe’. Initially, we thought it was closed, but on trying the door we found stairs leading up to a small cafe /restaurant /bar. Inside, a couple of the guys from the fish processing plant were having an early lunch. We looked at the menu – the usual pizza, burgers and chips were on offer. Then we spotted the local speciality – Minke Whale steak! At that point, we declined food altogether, and just opted for a coffee. Howard noticed that at the bar, various cocktails were on offer, including a ‘Rusty Nail’ for £14. Others included a ‘Moscow Mule’ and ‘Sex on the Beach’, which seemed most incongruous for this sleepy out of the way place. After coffee, we went for a wander around the town. As we walked past the Fish Processing building, a loud revving white Corvette Stingray drove past us, driven by a man with a long white beard on his mobile phone. Then, as we walked past the church, he passed us again, this time going in the opposite direction, but still on his mobile phone. Then, when we crossed the street to pick up some fresh rolls at the shop, he passed us yet again, once more having changed direction. In total, this car passed us six times, and each time having turned around and changed directions. We had the sense that we were maybe part of an Icelandic murder mystery, or about to witness some dodgy drug deal. It was bizarre, and we left the town none the wiser as to what this guy wad up to – but it looked very suspicious!
After Porshofn, the road became metalled again, and we started driving over moorland with distant snow capped mountains which looked identical to the far north of Scotland. We were delighted to find that the birdlife in this area was prolific – Arctic Terns, Eider Ducks, Ringed Plovers, Hooper Swans. Indeed so much so, that Howard rummaged in the boot to extricate my telephoto lens, but sadly after we had witnessed a pair of Hoopers doing a courting ritual in the distance, each mirroring the others neck and body movements. We did however get lucky and spot a Ptarmigan sitting on a rock, not far from he edge of the road. It had lost it’s pure white foliage, and now had a sprinkling of brown on it’s feathers. Very special.
We continued on, leaving the metalled road again, and heading northwards to our destination for the night, Raufarhofn. The road was so deserted, that as I drove, there was only one car that passed by for the entire route. Raufarhofn is a small fishing village on the eastern coast of the Melrakkasletta peninsular – and is the most northernmost inhabited place in Iceland – at 66.27.26 degrees north. It’s population is only 200, and it’s main business is fishing. There is a natural harbour, protected by rocky protrusions before opening into the Arctic Ocean.
The odd tourist is attracted to Raufarhavn, firstly to reach the Arctic circle, which lies just 3km north of the town, and secondly to visit the ‘Arctic Henge’. The Arctic Henge is a more modern take on Stonehenge, and consists of an arrangement of arching stone pillars, set in a circle on the top of the nearby hill. We were really lucky to arrive when the sun was shining, with clear blue skies, and not another soul in sight. We were beginning to feel a little spooked, since at this point, we hadn’t spotted anyone at all in this small town. We eventually found a small cafe, decorated on the outside with driftwood, where there were two people – the lady who ran it, and one other. The inside of the cafe was decorated with an eclectic mix of objects – old teapots, old telephones, a vintage child’s woodwork set and a random mixture of artwork. It sounds awful, but in fact, it was quite characterful – and it was a good place to warm up.
Next on the list was a visit to the Arctic Circle. Howard carefully drove Oscar along the rather bumpy track the 4km or so to where we crossed the Arctic Circle, then on a further two or three to reach the headland where the Hraunhafnartangi Lighthouse sits. The entire drive was a ‘ Birder’s’ delight – with many species of waders, Eiders, Arctic Terns and Ringed Plovers all along the shore and in the surrounding grassland. We stopped Oscar and got out to admire the scene. The light was really quite special – somehow seeming much brighter than back in the town. The shoreline was studded with pieces of driftwood, and Howard collected a small piece as a memento of our outing. I have no doubt it will be given to me as a birthday gift, since my Christmas present this year was a twig with five fir cones attached – don’t ask!!
We re-traced our steps back to Raufarhavn, where we have relented and opted to stay in a small guesthouse for the night – we really draw the line at camping in the Arctic Circle. Tomorrow, the bad weather that has beset most of Iceland today will be catching up with us too. But today, we were very fortunate indeed to avoid the rain and experience Arctic Iceland in all it’s beauty.
I’m just hoping I don’t have nightmares about the man in the Corvette Stingray!