We have made our way along the remote northern and north west coast of Iceland. After leaving Akureyri, the scenery became even more spectacular, with mile upon mile of dramatic vistas of snowy mountains. It was hard not to pull over every few hundred yards to take photos, but Route 1, the main Icelandic ring road is not really conducive to stopping, except in designated lay-bys or viewpoint. A few times, if there was no traffic in sight, we did pull in briefly, or take photos through the car windows, but often we were unable to stop, and so will have to remember these wonderful scenes in our minds. Indeed, it is one of Howard’s favourite phrases, when I urge him to stop yet again – ‘Just remember it in your mind’, he will say. But any photographer reading this will know, the there is nothing more totally frustrating that to see a brilliant shot, than to just go sailing past. I have also been doing quite a bit more of the driving, to give Howard a bit of a break at times on a long drive, which makes it all the more difficult to capture the scenery. Howard makes a bad co-driver. He fidgets in his seat, he fiddles with knobs, he crumples the map, and he gives approximately 5 seconds notice when I need to turn off. If I say so myself – I am a much better map reader (all down to the Girl Guides!), I give precise and much better instructions to the driver, and I don’t constantly fiddle. So I think we know where our strengths lie – since I am the first to admit, that he is a much better and more confident driver than me. Maybe by the end of the trip, his co-driver skills will improve – but at times, it is reminiscent of driving with my middle child!
Back to the trip. The guide book informed us that there was not much habitation along the north coast, so to fill up with petrol at any opportunity, since garages were few and far between. This proved exactly to be the case, since after filling up in Akureyri as we left, I don’t recall seeing anything along the route for a hundred kilometres or so, and there were certainly no towns at all. The first stretch of the journey west follows Oxnadalur, a narrow 30km long narrow valley through the mountain pass, flanked with stunning peaks and tall rock pinnacles. White water rafting and horse-riding seem to be the main attractions in this area, but we chose to give both of those a miss. Later, the road follows Langidalur, the ‘Long Valley’ west, then northwest, eventually reaching a rather non descript town called Blonduos. We stopped there briefly for coffee and to buy supplies, but didn’t linger. We made a detour off the main road to Pingeyrar, the site of a legislative assembly in the 10th century. It was also the site of Iceland’s first monastery, built by the Bishop in thanks to God for relieving a sever local famine in 1133. The monastery remained in existence until the Reformation in 1550. Today, it is the site of a 19th century church, constructed from large blocks of basalt. Sadly, the church was closed when we arrived – since it is it’s interior that is the key attraction. We peered through the window to see the stark white walls and simple painted green pews, but above a ceiling of deep blue decorated with a thousand golden stars – quite impressive. By now, the wind had whipped up again, and the rain showers returned. Iceland really is a country which experiences four seasons in a day. One minute we have glorious sunshine, and are sitting outside drinking coffee, the next we are layering up and putting on waterproofs.
We then headed up through the beautiful Vatnsnes Peninsular. We stopped at at the only town of Hvammstangi, which looks out over Midfjordur and West Fjords, and is renowned for it’s seal population. It hosts a Seal Museum, which we didn’t bother with, but I was amused to see that it offered boat trips out to go seal spotting. At home, seals are a common in the Tay Estuary, and we regularly spot them when out skiff rowing, so I was tickled to see that people were paying money for the privilege. As we were leaving the town, Howard spotted a huge frame hung with drying fish of all shapes and sizes. They looked quite grotesque, and heavens knows what they taste like – but I know for sure that I won’t be trying them.
Tonight we have arrived in Stadarskali, which denotes the transition from North West Iceland to Western Iceland. Finding camping increasingly difficult in this changeable weather, we have opted yet again to stay indoors. Our ‘hotel’ is a self check-in establishment. It’s really weird – there are no staff here. You arrive, pick up the phone at reception, speak to someone (who knows where), and they tell you your room number, and the key code. You then go to your room, retrieve your room key from the ‘key safe’ outside your door, and let yourself in. In the morning, you are instructed to leave your key in the basket by the front door. Certainly a first, and not an experience I particularly like. It is somehow quite comforting being greeted by a real person, but maybe this is the taste of the future, I don’t know? Despite the lack of hospitality, our room is actually fine, and has the most superb view looking out over the valley to snow-clad peaks. It is certainly warmer than camping, and has hot running water, which to our surprise is often not on offer on Icelandic campsites, and certainly no WifI. In fact, most of the campsites seem to just be a field with a toilet shed and an electric hook up. Many have no showers or hot water, but may be sited near a local swimming pool, where I guess these are on offer. This is clearly where the larger ‘Big Whites’ have an advantage in this country, as well as not being as vulnerable as we are to the frequent high winds. It is a little surprising however, considering that last year, Iceland made ‘wild camping’ illegal, forcing everyone to use these campsites. In retrospect, we were very clearly very spoilt in our first campsite, where the water was so hot, it was hard to even stand under the shower!
Tomorrow we are heading to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Hopefully, the weather Gods will be kind, and Howard will stop fidgeting!