Iceland Virtual Tourist Meet, day five
28.05.2018 - 28.05.2018
A tour of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
On the bus to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
While the VT meeting might have officially ended last night, quite a few of us were staying on in Reykjavik to experience more of what Iceland has to offer. Some of us had booked a minibus tour (with Troll Expeditions) of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula for today, and were blessed with the best weather of the trip for what was to prove a fabulous, if long, day out.
We were picked up from various points around the city (in my case, right from the door of our apartments) soon after 8.00 am and set out on the drive north. Our driver/guide Matthias, who was excellent throughout, had plenty to tell us along the way. The road took us through a long tunnel under the Bay of Whales, Hvalfjörður, and through the small town of Borganes, where we turned off the Ring Road, 1, towards the Peninsula. I managed to take some photos from the bus, despite bumps in the road and reflections in the glass, to capture the changing scenery and improving weather.
On the bus to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, skies clearing
I also shot a few video clips during the course of the day which include a snippet of Matthias' informative commentary and a snatch of music by Icelandic group Of Monsters and Men - Little Talks.
Gerðuberg from the main road
Our first stop was at the basalt column cliffs of Gerðuberg. This imposing formation is like a real-life geology lesson. The half kilometre long cliff looks remarkable even from the road, but drive up close and it is truly impressive.
Gerðuberg basalt column cliffs
The hexagonal pillars look more man-made than natural. They are quite regular in size, mostly twelve to fourteen metres high and about one and a half metres in diameter, which adds to the impression that they were somehow manufactured. In a sense they were, but by nature rather than man! The basalt was formerly lava flowing from a volcano which was rapidly cooled when it met the sea and formed these even shapes as a result.
Today the sea is some distance from this point and I would imagine that the land between here and there has been filled in gradually through the deposits made during volcanic eruptions.
Gerðuberg basalt column cliffs
Small church near Gerðuberg
Brunch at Rjúkandi
From here we continued a short distance to a welcoming café, where Matthias suggested we had brunch. Although it was a bit early to eat, most of us adopted the suggestion and tucked into some delicious food. I had a bagel with avocado and smoked salmon, which was excellent, and the soups looked particularly good too.
We were also all glad to be able to use the toilets here, as ‘comfort breaks’ would be fairly few and far between today. This was explained clearly to us, unlike the fact that this would be the last chance to eat until late in the afternoon - the only small criticism I have of this otherwise excellent tour.
Sign at Rjúkandi, and wall decoration
View from the cafe at Rjúkandi
More photos on the road
A mineral spring
Our next stop was just down the road, at a farm, Ölkelda, with a spring of mineral-rich water which we were able to taste from a small tap. The water was very metallic in flavour due to all the iron - I wasn’t keen on the taste, although pleased I’d had the opportunity to sample it, but some of the others liked it better than I did. What I did like was the opportunity to photograph the striking deep red colour of the water as it flowed away over the grass - beautiful!
Iron-rich waters at Olkelda
A sign by the spring says:
‘The mineral water was examined in the year 1754... The Icelandic mineral water was analysed in the year 1972 by the scientists Karl Höll and Ulrich Münzer. In their report [it] says that the water is good for people who suffer from heart and kidney diseases, as well as diabetes. Iron is good for the blood and fluor for teeth.
The mineral water at Ölkelda has been used as drinking water at the farm for centuries and still is.’
The sign also lists all the minerals found in the water, comparing the amounts found with those in ordinary tap water. You need to either speak Icelandic or know the chemical symbols, as this part isn’t in English, but it’s clear that all the minerals are found here in much greater amounts.
The beach at Ytri Tunga
The beach at Ytri Tunga
At the farm of Ytri Tunga, where Matthias told us he had spent summer holidays staying with his aunt who used to own it, we were able to walk down on to the beach to see seals basking on the rocks. They were some distance away and I couldn’t see them close enough to identify if they were common or grey seals (both are found here although I’ve read that the grey are more numerous) nor did I remember to ask Matthias, so that must remain a mystery. Maybe there were even some of each in this group!
Seals at Ytri Tunga
The beach here was sandy but strewn with seaweed-draped rocks. Inland we could see the Snæfellsjökull ice-cap, and between that and the beach were the bright green shades of the Icelandic farmland. It was here that I took one of my favourite photos of the whole trip!
Landscape near Ytri Tunga
By now we were surrounded by the natural beauty of Snaefellsnes and there were wonderful landscapes to photograph wherever I turned.
On the road near Bjarnarfoss
Our next brief stop was at the waterfall of Bjarnarfoss, where the people climbing the path alongside the falls gave a good sense of their scale, as did the noise of their waters, just audible at this distance.
The waters and basalt columns of Bjarnarfoss
The falls are the largest of several which tumble down the sheer face of what appeared to me to be a natural amphitheatre, above which loomed a volcanic crater. There were more basalt columns here too. I hope my short video gives some sense of the dramatic setting:
There was no time for us to hike to the falls however as we had loads more to see!
Next on the itinerary was the picturesque church at Búðir, which Matthias told us is a popular spot for weddings - I could see why!
The church at Búðir
The graveyard and coast at Búðir
An informative sign in several languages explains the history of the church:
‘In 1703, Bernt Lauridsen built the first church at Búðir which was demolished later and rebuilt again. In 1816 the parish at Búðir was abolished. Steinunn Sveinsdóttir, one of the ladies of the parish, fought strongly for a new church, but the national church rejected her request. Eventually Steinunn received a royal permission to build a new one, which stood ready in 1848. A quote on the door ring says, “this church was built in 1848 without the support of the spiritual fathers.” In memory of this achievement Steinunn Sveinsdóttir, this noble woman, is buried in the churchyard in Búðir. Between 1984-86 the church was reconstructed and consecrated in 1987. Among the valuable possessions of the church are a bell from 1672, an altarpiece from 1750, an old silver chalice, two messing candlesticks [I assume candlesticks for use during the mass] from 1767, and a door ring from 1703. The church is protected and one of the oldest wooden churches in Iceland.’
Probably because of that protection we found the church locked, but Isa and I did manage to take photos through the windows – of each other!
Taking a photo of Isa taking a photo of me!
This was also a good spot for a group photo.
VTers at Búðir
Landscape near Búðir
The next stop was a much longer one, to do a walk along the cliffs at Arnarstapi. Matthias drove us to a spot near the small harbour and explained that he would meet us at a parking lot a little further down the coast. With his clear directions, a marked path, and Regina as unofficial guide, we set off in the direction he indicated.
Near the start of the walk
And what a walk this was! This was my favourite stop of the day, I think. The sea was a clear deep blue, the rock formations fascinatingly photogenic, the kittiwakes charming and the sun pleasantly warm on my face - just wonderful!
The harbour at Arnarstapi
Birds on the rocks at Arnarstapi
In one rocky cove, Regina pointed out a spot where the sea had carved a hole through the rock, creating a stone bridge. Some of the group scrambled down over the rocks for a closer look but I was content with what I could see of it from above.
VTers on the rocks at Arnarstapi
Regina at the stone bridge
Under the stone bridge
As well as far too many photos I shot several video clips, trying (and largely failing) to capture the full beauty of the landscape here.
Typical view, Arnarstapi
The cliffs at Arnarstapi
Rock colours of Arnarstapi
The natural stone arch here is called Gatklettur or Arch Rock, and is just one of many examples of how the sea has eroded the cliffs to create this dramatic coastal scenery.
There are smaller holes and arches, several caves, numerous rocky islets (several topped with basalt columns tipped horizontally) and some sea stacks. As at Gerðuberg, I felt myself to be in the middle of a living geology lesson.
The cliffs at Arnarstapi
Although I focused mainly on the coastal scenery in my photographs, there is much beauty inland too. I learned from Regina that the small pyramidical volcano is Mt. Stapafell and the black and white house in front of it, much-photographed in its lovely setting, is Amtmannshúsið, the erstwhile home of the Danish Prefect.
Mt. Stapafell near Arnarstapi
As we neared the end of our walk we arrived at a huge stone sculpture, the statue of Bárður Snæfellsás, the work of Icelandic sculptor, Ragnar Kjartansson. Bárður Snæfellsás was half-man, half-troll. He was one of the early settlers of Viking times - he landed at Dritvík and Djúpalónssandur, and settled with his family at Laugarbrekka on the south coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. His half-brother Þorkell also settled in Iceland, at Arnarstapi, with his two sons, Sölvi, and Rauðfeldur. But the story of Bárður Snæfellsás gets interesting at the point when he flies into a rage after Þorkell’s sons play a prank on his daughters, leading to him losing his mind. He gives away all his land and all his earthly belongings and vanishes into Snæfellsjökull (the glacier that dominates the peninsula). There, it is said, he builds an ice cave and becomes known as the Guardian Spirit of Snæfell. The locals worship him and see him as their saviour.
Looking towards the statue of Bárður Snæfellsás
The statue of Bárður Snæfellsás
Over the centuries people here have called on Bárður in times of hardship and trouble. He is said to wander the region wrapped in a grey cowl held together with a rope made of walrus-hide. In his hand he holds a cleft staff for climbing the glacier.
What a perfect position for this giant sculpture of the giant, in the shadow of Mt. Stapafell and Snæfellsjökull!
Londrangar sea stacks and cliff-top views
But there was much more to come! We made a shorter stop a little further along the cliffs to see the dramatic lava sea stacks known as Londrangar – another wonderful view point, and with more kittiwakes.
I later read that these stacks are basalt volcanic plugs, part of a former crater, which has been eroded to its present form by the sea. The highest is 75 metres tall and the other is 61 metres. The nearby hill, Svalþúfa, is part of the same volcanic crater. The farmers in the area never make hay on this hill, as they don’t want to disturb the elves who are said to live there.
The black sands of Djúpalónssandur
Next was Dritvik, which used to be an important fishing cove, and which rivalled Arnarstapi as my favourite place on this tour. Here you can walk down a narrow ravine, known as Nautastígur, on to the black lava Djúpalónssandur beach. The path is lined with impressive cliffs and interesting rock formations, including, according to a nearby sign, one known as Gatklettur, the Rock with a Hole – the same name as the arch rock at Arnarstapi.
Walking down Nautastígur (taken by Regina)
Rock formations, Nautastígur
Arriving on the beach
Just north of these, above the beach and visible from it, are the two pools, Djúpalón (Deep Pools), which give the beach its name. I loved the colours and reflections here. A sign by the path explains that the level of these pools rises and falls with the tide, and that only the surface water is fresh, so you have to be wary of drinking from them.
The pools, Djúpalón, at Djúpalónssandur
As you arrive on the beach you see four large rocks known as the Lifting Stones. Fishermen used to lift them to test their strength. If you couldn’t lift at least the third largest you were considered too weak to face the pressures of a life at sea.
The lifting stones
In addition to the rock formations beside Nautastígur, there are many more on the beach itself and out to sea. The weather now had turned a little hazy and there was a slightly eerie atmosphere. Perhaps this was due not just to the haze but also the stories told about the rocks. Regina told me that one is said to be the troll Karl, the fiancé of the giantess in the mountain pass above the restaurant Rjúkandi where we had eaten brunch.
Rock formations, Djúpalónssandur
Troll rock, Djúpalónssandur
I took so many photos here!
On the beach you can see some rusty remains of the trawler Epine, which fished out of Grimsby on the east coast of England. She was wrecked here in March 1948, with only five out of the crew of nineteen saved. A sign on the beach describes the rescue effort:
‘Rescue teams from Anarstapi, Hellnar and Hellissandur came to help, but conditions were difficult, with bad weather and heavy seas. Members of the crew could be seen on the forecastle and the wheelhouse and tied to the rigging. The tide was coming in and huge waves broke over the ship. One man was washed up on the beach still alive. After the tide turned it was possible to shoot out a line which the crew managed to tie to the mast, and the four men who were still alive were pulled to safety in a rescue seat.’
Wreckage of the trawler Epine
The remains of the ship are left here as a memorial to those who died so it is important not to disturb them.
I would love to have spent more time here but there were still more places to see, so we turned our back on the sea and climber back up Nautastígur to the waiting bus.
Climbing back up Nautastígur
View from Nautastígur
At the small volcano of Saxhóll I opted not to climb the 300+ steps to the top to look down into the crater - not a bad decision from what those who did go up told me about the crater (there is no water in it, just a dry earth hollow), although the view from the top would have been worth seeing perhaps.
The steps up Saxholar
Instead I took photos near the foot, of colourful mosses and the many small lava tubes - perfect homes for the Hidden People.
Mossy rocks, Saxholar
Jón had told us yesterday about these Hidden People, the Huldufólk, who have been part of the folklore here since people first came to live in Iceland. One account of their origins places them within the Christian belief system. The story goes that God planned a visit to Adam and Eve. The latter wanted to bathe all her children and dress them nicely for the visit. But God arrived before all the children were clean so she told those that were not ready to go and hide. God asked if the children he could see were all the children they had, knowing of course what she had done, and when she lied and said that they were he declared that the children she had hidden would remain forever hidden from everyone, and their descendants too, and thus the Hidden People came into being.
Many here still hold to the old beliefs. They say that the Hidden People live in the rocks, invisible to man. Icelanders will rarely throw rocks, because they might accidentally hit one of the elves. Construction and road-making projects are sometimes altered to prevent damaging rocks where they are believed to live, and they are said to have interfered with machinery, making work impossible to complete until plans were altered to avoid their homes. I was reminded of a motorway in Ireland which was routed around a thorn tree after a local folklorist said that the tree was a fairy bush and was sacred ground (see Fairy bush survives the motorway planners)
The road to Saxholar
Leaving Saxhóll the road took us up to the northern side of the peninsula, through some rather bleak but beautiful scenery. The hillsides were dotted with waterfalls, a few small villages clung to the coast and the mountains inland were still (in late May, remember) well covered with snow.
Views from the bus, northern Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Waterfall seen from the bus, northern Snaefellsnes Peninsula
There was one stop left to make, possibly the most famous on Snaefellsnes, at Kirkjufell, which means Church Mountain. It takes its name from its resemblance, from certain angles, to a church steeple. Interestingly, Matthias told us that it was this mountain’s shape which inspired that of the Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, as well as the basalt columns we had seen earlier at Gerduberg, clearly visible in the church’s design. But from other sides it looks quite different – like a witch’s hat perhaps.
VTers at Kirkjufellsfoss, taken by Regina
Here a picturesque waterfall, Kirkjufellsfoss, tumbles down under a bridge in front of one of the most photographed mountains of Iceland. Unfortunately the weather had turned hazy by now, and the light was rather flat, so it was hard to get a good version of the classic ‘waterfall and mountain’ shot. I preferred to focus on the falls themselves, trying (not always successfully) to avoid including other visitors in my shots. This is a popular spot!
Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss
The views of the surrounding landscape from the top of the falls were wonderful too – a beautiful lake reflecting the snowy ice-caps, distant waterfalls and the nearby village of Grundarfjörður.
Views from Kirkjufellsfoss
Grundarfjörður, and another nearby waterfall
I also shot a brief video clip of the view from the top of the falls:
The journey back
From here we completed our drive along the northern coast of the peninsula and turned south to drive through the mountains. The weather had turned cloudy by now, but (as I had throughout the day) I grabbed photos of the scenery whenever I could and was pleased to find later that a few had come out OK - extra reminders of our day out in this fantastic landscape.
On the journey back
We stopped for a short while at the same café as on the outward journey, where we had hot drinks included in our tour price, before climbing back into the minibus for the long journey back to the city.
We were dropped off at various points, and along with several friends I opted to get out at Hlemmur Square rather than the apartments so that we could go for something to eat. There weren’t a lot of options in the immediate area and we were too weary to go far, so we ate in a cheap (by Icelandic standards) and cheerful noodle place before heading back to our rooms to rest up. Some would be leaving tomorrow but for a few of us there was still one more day of adventure to come …