Day 131 Akureyri, North Iceland.

This morning, the high winds had died down, but it was still a little dreich until mid morning. We occupied ourselves doing essential administrative stuff for a while, then headed out as the weather brightened.

Akureyri is Iceland’s second city, with a population of 18,000. Akureyri occupies a stunning position, nestled at the head of Eyjafjordur, Iceland’s longest fjord at 60km. All around sit beautiful snow-capped mountains, and this afternoon when the sun appeared for a bit, it looked just beautiful. The city is small and compact, with a dramatic modern church perched on the hill, a pretty botanic gardens and a harbour below, from where whale watching tours depart (boasting 100% sighting rates). It has a pleasant feel about the place, the people are friendly, and the main town area is completely pedestrianised. It is the only place outside of Reykjavik to host a university, so there are plenty of small cafes and coffee shops too, to cater for the students.

We drove along the eastern flank of Eyjafjordur, heading northwards for about 30km. The views along the side of the fjord took your breath away – everywhere you looked you were surrounded by the rugged peaks of snow-clad mountains. We stopped several times to just take in the view.

We came to a place called Laufas, famous for it’s traditional turf farmhouse. It dates from 1866, and we paid to have a look around. It is timber-fronted with five gabled turf roofs, despite being all one building, with a very distinctive herringbone pattern of the turf pieces. On one of the gable ends sits a carved Eider Duck, signifying that their abundance in the nesting area owned by the farm provided a good source of income from the eider down. Inside, there were displays of life as it had been back in the 1800s – pretty basic and utilitarian.

Following our visit, we drove westwards, along the huge flat-bottomed valley, a wide fertile flood plain surrounding the Eyjafjordara River, running down from the mountains. It was mainly cultivated with grass for animal feeds, giving it a bright verdant green colour. There were plenty of young lambs along the route – they must be pretty hardy to survive out in the weather we had yesterday.

We then re-traced our steps and had a look around Akureyri for one last time.

Not sure what tomorrow may bring – but likely to be out of contact for some time once we leave the city.

Day 130 Lake Myvatn to Akureyri

A difficult day today. We awoke in Lake Myvatn to gale force winds. The Iceland weather site had issued a weather warning of 60-70 mph winds, but at times it was gusting more. From our room in the guesthouse, we had to descend some steps, and cross a courtyard to reach the building where the breakfast was set. Stepping out of the room, I could barely stand, and Howard and I struggled across the yard, hanging onto each other for support. The lovely host came over to us and explained that the high winds were forecast most of the day, and that warnings had been issued not to go walking at any height. That immediately scuppered any plans of walking around the volcano cadera, but we had already realised that this would be impossible. Remarkably, one of the other guests was fretting that she wouldn’t be able to go Whale Watching today. I told her that she would be mad to even consider it, and reluctantly she agreed.

After a lovely home made breakfast, with ingredients from the farm, including their own milk, butter and eggs, home-made preserves, Angelica tea and lava bread, we sat and considered our options. We had already booked a room in Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city, and were keen to move on. However, when we went to leave, the wind buffeted and rocked the van so much, that we chickened out, and went off for another coffee. It wasn’t until lunchtime that we felt the wind had eased enough to drive, but even then, our host offered a room if the drive seemed too hazardous.

We eventually reached Akureyri, after a very slow and careful drive. At one point we stopped for a break by a spectacular waterfall, but the wind was so strong I didn’t have the strength to open the van door. The spray from the waterfall was being blown all across the car park, so I didn’t even attempt to get my camera out.

Tonight, in the last half hour, the rain has stopped, and the wind dropped completely. In Iceland, it seems you can experience all four seasons in a day. Camping for the last few days has been out of the question – in these conditions we are unable to raise the roof on Oscar. The unsettled weather is set to continue, so we will likely hold fast in Akureyri for a day or two.

No photos worth posting today – just rain and wet lenses!

Day 129 Raufarhofn to Skutustaoagigar, Lake Myvatn.

Last night it was still light at eleven thirty, as the sun just dipped below the horizon. By one thirty it was light again. In a few weeks time, there will be 24 hour daylight up here in Arctic Iceland.

The day started as expected – cold and wet. Howard and I hung around in our guest house for as long as we could to eek out the warmth, watching the Royal Wedding on our phones. We had to leave before the ceremony, but saw the guests arrive, including George Clonney – so I was happy!

We headed south initially, then followed the coastal road, passing through the Jokulsargljufur National Park, where we had intended to stay, had the weather been more favourable. We passed by the horse-shoe shaped canyon, where the campsite was sited. I cannot tell you how desolate it looked this morning in the rain – it held no appeal at all. So we passed straight by and drove around the coast to the pretty fishing town of Husavik. The wind was biting by the time we arrived, and it was even hard to open the van doors. We had a quick look around the harbour, with it’s collection of colourful fishing boats, with the wonderful backdrop of snow-clad mountains on the other side of the inlet. It was everything you would imagine if trying to muster up a vision of an Icelandic harbour in your mind. The cold drove us into a small cafe, that as well as serving hot drinks, was also doubling up as selling whale watching tours. He had read that Husavik is the main hub for whale watching in Iceland, but didn’t think for one minute that they would be running tours today. How wrong we were – some poor souls were buying their tickets, along with their sea-sickness tablets – more fool them. After they left, and we watched the boat chug out of the harbour, I spoke briefly to the woman selling the tickets. She said it was mainly Humpbacks and Minke Whales that they were spotting most days, but that in June and July, the enormous Blue Whales come into the area. I’m still wondering how they got on out on the water today – it certainly didn’t appeal to either of us.

Next we headed on to Lake Myvatn. The translation for Myvatn in Icelandic is midge – and in the summer months this place is swarming with the little blighters. Fortunately for us though, they are unable to fly in high winds, so thankfully we were spared the ordeal.

The scenery around the lake is extraordinary. It is like a carpet of volcanic lava, creased up into folds, with volcanic mountains forming the backdrop. We first drove to the south of the lake, where we had booked to stay in a farmhouse guesthouse for the night, in view of the awful weather. Having identified where it was, we continued on around the lake. Lake Myvatn is renowned for it’s bird life, and many areas are set aside as nature reserves. In other parts, you can witness the peculiar formations made by the lava. In one area where we stopped there were collections of crumpled and contorted lava towers, forming a very lunar appearance. There was a small restaurant, closed to the public today due to a private party, but behind it were restrooms. Needing a pee, I asked Howard for the change required – it turns out they charge a whopping £1.40 to use the toilet – it was definitely the most expensive pee I’ve ever had!

We continued on around the lake, and came to an extraordinary field of solfataras – sulphur smelling blue-grey bubbling mud pools, with steam belching out of small geysers and fumeroles. Around the pools minerals had crystallised to form yellow /ochre patches on the edge of the mud. It was a spectacular sight, and we spent some time wondering around the laid out paths.

By now, time was getting on, so we re-traced our steps to the guesthouse, and grabbed some supper. Immediately opposite where we are staying is a large pond completely encircled with a series of pseudo-craters, formed by steam explosions when burning magma encounters lakes or wetlands, which abuts into the main lake. After supper, it had brightened up a bit, so we had a wander through these odd cone shaped grassy mounds. Although by now the sun was out, the wind, if anything, was stronger than ever – and at times, it was hard even to stand upright. 

It has been a tiring day battling with the wind and cold, and as I type, Howard has nodded off. This, of course, may be because I am multi-tasking, and watching the wedding highlights – maybe he isn’t quite as interested as I am! 

Hopefully tomorrow the wind chill won’t be quite so bracing – but at least the midges aren’t out. Our midge cagoules will have to wait for another day!

Day 128 Vopnafjordur to Raufarhofn, Arctic Circle, Iceland.

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!

Day 127 Nordifjordur to Vopnafjordur, North East Iceland.

Today, our day ended up completely differently as to how we had planned it. Last night, we sat in Oscar, and plotted our route south, selecting a campsite in one of the East Fjords a little further south from Nordifjordur. This morning, we awoke to brilliant sunshine, and a clear blue sky. The water in the fjord was still, and there was barely a breeze. The scenery looked utterly stunning. We still couldn’t believe our luck to be the only ones in this wonderful campsite. Perhaps they knew something we didn’t!

After packing up the van, we decided to have one final coffee in our lovely coffee / woollen shop. The two ladies from yesterday greeted us like long lost friends. We ordered our coffees and selected a cake from he counter. ‘Ah!’, said the lady, ‘That is my Happy Marriage cake’. Apparently the recipe had been handed down from her grandmother, to her mother, to herself, and now her daughter makes the cake. We laughed, and told her our surname. ‘Then this cake was meant for you!’ 

It was indeed a very fine piece of cake, and as we sat chatting to the two of them, the ladies asked us where we were going next. They frowned. Then they proceeded to get the weather forecast up on the internet for us to see. There were strong gales forecast from tonight, covering almost the whole of Iceland, but especially worse in the south east, just where we were heading. After much discussion, they sent us the few yards to the swimming pool, which doubles up as a Tourist Office. There, the man greeted us like he knew us. Turns out he had been on the ferry from the Faroe Islands, and thought we looked familiar. He then studied his computer intently. We explained that our difficulty with the California, was that we were unable to put up the pop up roof in high winds. He advised us that the only part of Iceland being spared from these severe gales was the North East corner. He recommended a campsite in one of the National Parks, and bade us farewell with ‘Bless, bless’, which is apparently a farewell greeting for friends. We were touched. So often, a visit to a place is made special by the people that you encounter along the way, and without exception, everyone in Nordifjordur was welcoming and went out of their way to help us. We left with very fond memories of this place.

So that is how, when we left Neskaupstadar, instead of turning south, we headed north. But is definitely one of the advantages of not planning too far ahead – our flexible approach had paid off.

The first part of our journey today passed vistas of spectacular snow capped peaks. Then the mountains gave way to gently undulating valleys, with the odd volcanic peak. The landscape changed from snow on rock, to moorland and pasture land. At one point, Howard and I commented virtually simultaneously, how similar this landscape was to Sutherland on the North Coast 500 – it was just like being back in Scotland. Later, we stopped for a roll and drink by a waterfall, or ‘foss’ as they call them here. The water made a thundering noise as it descended – the snow melt is really underway here now.

Although the road was near deserted, and tarmac most of the way, we found our progress was quite slow – these are not the sort of roads to drive fast on. By mid afternoon, we realised that we would never reach our campsite in a decent time. Despite it staying light here until nearly midnight – we are now approaching the Arctic Circle – we had both had enough of driving. So we shifted to ‘Plan B’ and decided to email a B & B that was on our route. Due to poor reception, we only got the reply in when we were just 10 miles away – yes, there were vacancies. When we got out of the van, the wind had picked up, and we could barely open the doors. If this is the best of the Icelandic weather, then we have made a wise decision.

We are now holed up in a lovely old Icelandic farmhouse. Our bedroom has windows on two sides, with views out to the mountains, the river below and out along the fjord to where it meets the sea. Howard has just dozed off on the bed – so he clearly had had enough! Our host tells us that following an eruption of the volcano Askja in 1875, over a thousand of the villagers here chose to emigrate to Canada – an extraordinary number considering how small the town is. It was effectively left as a ghost town for many years. She regularly has visits from Canadians descended from the Icelandic migrants, in search of their ancestors.

So a day of meeting lovely people and changing directions. I’m wondering what tomorrow brings?!

P.S. Looking at where we are headed – looks like there will be no WiFi, and not sure whether I will get any 4G – so may not be able to post blog for day or two.

Day 126 Nordifjordur, Iceland

Last night was not as cold as I had anticipated, made considerably warmer by running the van’s heater on low all night. The showers were probably the hottest that we have experienced the entire trip, with no timers or extra charges, but as Howard pointed out, power is not a problem in Iceland due to the large amounts of geothermal energy produced. Howard met the Frenchman in the shower block this morning, and enquired as to whether he was cold in the night. He replied that he was using a 30 TOG sleeping bag, designed for polar expeditions, but was still chilly.

This morning was bright and sunny, with clear blue skies, but by mid-morning, it was clouding over – I suspect that this will often be the case – we may have to get used to having early starts and making the most of the weather.

After breakfast, we walked down into the town. It is an attractive settlement sitting on the side of the fjord, which at this point is very narrow. On the other side, basalt mountains plunge down onto the fjord, very much like Wastwater in the Lake District. The rocks are coloured an olive green in places due to the vegetation, and the rock layers are highlighted as thick grey lines. On their tops, there is still a considerable amount of snow, which as it melts, are forming waterfalls and streams, forming vertical fissures down the mountainside. It is a dramatic scene, one which I can see a full 180 degrees from the window of Oscar – quite spectacular.

Our trip down to the village was productive. We bought some groceries, then found a lovely little coffee shop, which also doubled up as a woollen shop. We had noticed yesterday after coming off the ferry, that in the supermarket in Seydisfjordur they had an entire aisle of various colours of balls of wool – an interesting local variation! Knitting is obviously very big in Iceland, since in the shop where we had purchased our flag, the two elderly female shop assistants were sitting at the counter, knitting needles in hand.

After consuming one of the best coffees we have tasted the whole trip, certainly since Italy, we proceeded to browse at the woollens. The outcome was a jumper for me (which matches Oscar’s colour blue perfectly), and a pair of multi-coloured socks for Howard. He picked the pink and turquoise pair. The lady looked a little baffled, perhaps they were meant for women – but Howard was delighted with his purchase.

As we were walking back to the campsite, we spotted a huge ‘Big White’ slowly processing along the High Street, like it was looking for something, and had thought that perhaps by the time we returned to the campsite, we would have company. But when we returned, the Frenchman had left, and we are still the only ones here.

As a result, we opted to spend another night here. It is unlikely that we will find another campsite in such a wonderful position, with copious hot water, all to ourselves. It may well be one of the best campsites of the trip, since looking in our Camping Card brochure, most are sited in the centre of towns, and many look like car-parks. Less than fifty percent have hot water or showers – I guess they are mainly catering for the bigger camper vans that have all this on board. Since last year, they have made it illegal to ‘Wild Camp’ in Iceland – the numbers of camper vans here in the height of summer were clogging up the place, and were likely a bit of a blot on the landscape. As a result, the Icelanders opted to keep them all to certain camping areas, which is fair enough.

This afternoon we took a walk along the shore of the fjord to the headland. We were lured on by the deep blue sky ahead, only to turn around to see rain clouds fast approaching. We got back to Oscar just as the first drops were starting to fall.

We will probably spend another day or two exploring the Eastern Fjords. Certainly at the moment, we seem to have the better weather over this side of the country.

I will leave you with some photos of the views from our site and around Neskaupstadar. Check out the socks – he thinks he looks the bee’s knees now!!

Day 125 Faroe Islands to Nordfjordfur, Iceland.

So, we’ve finally arrived in Iceland. As we sailed in to Seydisfjordur in the Eastern Fjords first thing this morning, first it started to rain, then sleet, then snow. A few hardy souls stayed up on deck to witness our arrival, but the wind was blowing a gale, and it was almost impossible to stand upright without hanging on to something. Fleetingly, I had a flashback to Cres in Croatia – the warm sunshine, the al fresco dining, the gently lapping shore, the ice-creams, the shorts – then I jolted back to reality – we had arrived in Iceland. As Howard wryly said, “The clue’s in the name”.

Disembarking off the ferry was an adventure. The car deck was packed so tightly, that people couldn’t open the doors to get in their cars, yet alone transfer their bags back. We devised a nifty solution. I crawled under the side of the car, slid in through the side door, whilst Howard passed me, bit by bit, the contents of our holdall in small ‘gap sized’ pieces until it was empty. He then slid the empty holdall through there gap in the door, but  Howard was still left outside himself, unable to get back into the driver’s seat. Eventually, he limboed in through the passenger door, after breathing in deeply. The guy in the van next to ours was neither able to get his bag or himself bak into his vehicle until we had moved.

Getting off the car deck involved reversing, with approximately two inches of space either side, and no wing mirrors, since they were collapsed in. I just screwed my eyes up and refused to look, as two crew members gently coaxed Howard out of our very small hole.

So then we found ourselves ashore. Thankfully the rain had abated, and we took stock.

We had already decided last night, that initially we would go clockwise for a bit, having looked to see where the ‘better’ weather was. What we hadn’t decided was where we would stay. The tiny town where we landed at the end of a stunningly beautiful fjord apparently had a camp-site in the middle of the town. We checked it out. It was essentially a windswept car park.

We then referred to our Iceland camping card booklet – and there were several options a little way south. We stopped for a coffee (at the petrol station) and a quick wander around. It was a pleasant little place, with brightly coloured houses with corrugated iron roofs collected around the head of the fjord. There was a lovely little church, painted pale blue, with a rainbow coloured path leading up to it – great fun. We stopped by a small knitwear shop, that also sold flags, and purchased our Iceland flag. We also paid a visit to the town’s supermarket – about the size of ‘Morning, Noon and Night’, and bought essential items like bread, milk, yoghurt, chocolate and Pringles. Then we were off!

It wasn’t a huge distance to the next fjord south, where we had decided to camp, but the going was slow. No sooner had we exited Seydisfjordur, than the road started to incline sharply, and within minutes we were above the snow-line. A sign at the side of the road indicated it was zero degrees, and once more, a few flakes of snow started to fall. Snow lay along the geological layers of the dark grey mountainside, contouring the mountainside, and making the landscape quite stark. All around, fast flowing streams were gushing out of crevices, and here and there, waterfalls were tumbling over the rocks.

Several times, I got Howard to stop the car, so I could take some photos, but it was bitterly cold, and I could only bear to be outside a couple of minutes, before I started to shiver. In reality, this is of course no cooler than the first week of our trip on the North Coast 500 – but having become accustomed to much warmer weather, it is going to take some getting used to. Even the day before yesterday, I was sitting out of the deck of the ferry, and the sun was so hot that I had to retreat into the shade, for fear of burning. What a difference a day makes!

Having reached the summit of the mountain, we then had to drive down the other side, so we took it very slowly indeed, for fear of black ice. On the hair-pins, I just hid my head in my hands, until I could sense they were past. Once down in the valley, we repeatedly stopped along the roadside to take in the views – just stunning.

A couple of other campervans stopped besides us at one point at a viewpoint, and we wondered if perhaps they were heading to our campsite. When we did eventually arrive here, we completely missed it at first. It is essentially an elevated grassy field, with a small hut at one end, which functions as the toilets and wash block. If it hadn’t been for a lone Frenchman in a tent (bbrrhhh!) – then we would have passed it by. The photo in the brochure showed a campsite filled with camper vans – but today, we are the only ones, with a view to die for, looking out along the fjord.

As I am typing, Howard just shrieked and frightened the living daylights out of me. ‘Look – in the field!!” he shouted. Just yards from the back of Oscar, four reindeer were strolling past. I crept outside to try to take a photo, but two young girls walking their dog came running past, and frightened them away. So that is where we are now. Sat in Oscar, having a cup of tea, wearing our puffy jackets, still pretty cold – but in the most spectacular place. Thankfully, the wash block is heated, and there is hot water, but whether or nor I can muster the bravery to go outside and shower is a another matter. I did wonder this morning on the boat, whether that may be my last comfortable shower for a while. I should count my blessings though – at least I’m not in a tent, like the Frenchman.