Day 135 Stykkisholmer to Arnarstapi, Snaefellsnes Peninsula, West Iceland.

We had a brilliant day today driving around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. We were treated to a lovely breakfast in the boutique hotel we had been upgraded to – it was truly delicious, with lots of local Icelandic products, like local smoked salmon and cheese, home-made smoothie and home made bread. I did feel slightly guilty though, that all the poor souls who were eating breakfast with us had paid the full price. The hotel itself was tiny, more like an old Icelandic house, with ten tiny bedrooms. The lounge /dining room was so small, that they had to offer breakfast in two sittings. We looked up the regular price for the rooms and it was astronomically expensive – hard to justify, we thought, even though it was lovely.

Last night in the fish restaurant where we ate, the couple on the table next to us were served large speckled boiled eggs and toast, as a second starter. In polite conversation with them, I commented that I hadn’t seen eggs on the menu. It turned out it was a ‘special’ of Seagull’s Eggs. I’m still wondering what they tasted like – very fishy I would imagine.

I diverge. Back to today. I was relieved to find that the route was on a metalled road all the way. Within minutes of leaving town, we were met with the most stunning scenery – towering snow-clad mountains, volcanoes and lava fields. The surface of the lava is a mixture of black pumice, covered with moss and vegetation, producing a green /brown tinge to the rocks. This morning the sun was shining, and the mountains looked amazing against the bright blue sky. After two hours, our progress was minimal, having only driven twenty miles or so, such was the temptation to stop and admire the vistas, and read the frequent information boards.

At one point we came to a beautiful fjord, Kolkgrafafjordur, and Howard read the board. We were told that between December 2012 and February 2013, 52,000 tons of herring – yes, that’s correct – 52,000 tons – had died in two separate catastrophic events. In the years preceding the herring mass mortality, the Icelandic population of spawning herring had started wintering in Breidafjordur Bay, by the fjord. In 2008, they reached peak numbers of 800 – 900 thousand tons. The day before the mass mortality, 300 thousand tons of herring were located in the fjord. The mass mortality was caused by lowered levels of oxygen concentration in the seawater, probably as a result of prolonged calm weather, and the high biomass of herring in the fjord.

We carried on along the peninsula road, and came to the town of Grundarfjordur, set in a dramatic bay, and dominated by the iconic mountain Kirkjufell on it’s western flank. This is one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland – it certainly looked impressive today, and I guess is the Icelandic equivalent of the Scottish Buachaille Etive Mor.

Moving on, we came to the Snaefellsjokull National Park, with it’s volcanoes, lava fields and the Snaefellsjokull Glacier. The scenery was dramatic, and very different. Odd lava tubes sprouted out from the lava boulder fields, giving the whole landscape an eerie feel. Indeed, Jules Verne based his novel ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ on this bizarre landscape. We came to the Saxtoll volcano crater, which was responsible for much of the lava in this part of the park. We braved the cold wind and climbed up to the shattered caldera of this volcano, which gave magnificent views over the lava flows below. We got back to Oscar just as the rain clouds loomed, and within minutes, the rain had set in.

Further round the peninsula, we stopped briefly to observe the strange rock pillars formed  by glaciation effects on the lava, and cliffs home to thousands of nesting sea-birds. But by now, we had seen the best of the weather.

We ended our day in Arnarstapi, with its smattering of holiday cottages and a monument to Jules Verne.

It has been a day of wonderful scenery and unearthly landscapes – a very special place indeed. Our Danish friend had recommended that we visit this peninsula, off the main Ring Road route, and I am very glad we did. We were lucky to have a half decent day weather wise, also. For the next couple of days, heavy rain is forecast, so photographic opportunities may be severely limited.

Both Howard and I feel weary tonight – all these photo opportunities have exhausted us! Howard has started doing competitive photography – I’ve taught him too well – leading lines, rules of thirds, interesting foregrounds etc etc. At one point today, I found him skulking down a bank to use a stream as a leading line – sneaky, or what? I think all the requests for group photo shots earlier on our trip have just gone to his head. I even found him sporting my camera earlier today. I think I’ll need to have words!

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