Go West (it’s the end of road, and we know it)

Day 3. 17 June 2004

Thursday. Independence Day. I wake to bright sunshine filtering in through the windows – a good day for the Icelandic National Holiday. Apparently there has been wind and and rain in the night though I haven’t heard it.

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We are up early to have a quick breakfast and be on our way to catch the ferry from StykkishÓlmur across to the western fjórds. This proves to be a charming little fishing village with colourfully painted houses; a blue-roofed church, supermarket and petrol station – selling hot dogs no doubt.

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We board the ferry and, once out on the open water I duck down below stairs, leaving all the tourists and the majority of the passengers, to catch up on my journal, whilst the Icelanders sleep.

The ferry docks for all of ten minutes at Flatey Island to let off day trippers, before setting out north agains on the crossing of Breiðafjórður.

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The docks at Bjánslækur are no more than a collection of fishing sheds and one shop on the other side of the road. In blazing sunshine we drive west around the coast on a road that weaves between foarms set in sloping pasteurs and craggy cliffs rising from slopes of scree, and beaches of golden sand stretching out into the flat calm sea.

A few kilometres on we stop to picnic on the beach on rye bread and cheese, flatbrauð and pâté, and kleinur to follow. Setting out again we turn right and head inland on a road that rises steeply over a high pass before dropping away sharply in a series of hair pin bends to views of Patreksfjórður – clear in the distance across the fjord – and fronted by two shades of irridescent turqoise water. It is like nothing I have seen in Iceland before.

Continuing on west the good, paved road just past a farm nestled in the lee of a fjord. A little further on we turn off this road onto a lesser track that rises steeply away to thr right and plunges steeper still down a scree slope to a southern bay and the farm with it’s little , well-preseented farm at Lambavatn. In the local tongue, Lambavatn means lambs lake and we did attempt to atake phtographs of a sheep grazing in the water on the beach, but they moved off before we had a chance.

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Retracing our steps we rejoined our original road and headed out west again. Rounding a headland we arrive at the ramshackle, red-roofed, stone-peeling farm at Hnjotur, surrounded by sheds, hangers, and boats, fire engines and a US Army plain, a wreck Egils Ólafsonar museum. We decide to visit.

For IKR500 a-piece we gain access to a museum that tells the history of the southern Vestfjórds to the present day. It’s main focus is the modernization of traditional Icelandic agricultural society.

In one room there is an extensive collection of fishing and agricultural artifacts, sail cloths, nets, spears, and skyr churns. In the other and of the building there are larger items, a quantity of medical equipment and dental chairs along with an old telephone exchange and early banking computers make for fascinating viewing. A further room is largely given over to artefacts gathered from a trawler wrecked off the westenmost cliffs of Iceland.

Látrabjarg Peninsular

When the British trawler Dhoon foundered off Látrabjarg in 1947, the residents of nearby Hvallátur employed their expertise to haul 12 crew members to safety on the clisffs. So casual was the procedure that, halfway up, they fed the sailors warm soup to elleviate the chill before taking them to the top.

The following year a film crew, hoping to film a documentary about the rescue, set up a re-enactment of the scene. En route to Látrabjarg, however, they encountered a trawler that ahtd run onto the rocks. Several of the crew had already perished and the others were in danger, so the villagers were obliged to repeat the previous year’s rescue. It was captured on film and there was no need for a re-enactment.

The founder of the this museum is an eccentric with a love of collecting artefacts and preserving history. It is our first insight into the obsessional nature that is rampant in the Vestfjórds.

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Onwards we drive past Breiðavik, our place to stay tonight, driving on still further west on an ever degrading road. Heading down, rightonto a beach we arrive at a community built right on the beach itself, Hvallátur – by it’s a name ‘the place where whales come ot have their calves’.

There’s an air strip on the beach here, and the road becomes one with the sand for a while before the last climb up the cliffs to the lighthouse at Bjargtangar – the most westerly place in Europe.

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Gulls and puffins were nesting in their thousands on the cliffs, 400m at their highest point. Four hundred metres of sheer rock down into soft, tufty grass at the cliff top and gaze sideways at the rocks plunging dwn with the Snæfellsjókull glacier visibable across the water.

Back at the lighthouse a young man is selling harðfiskur, locally wind blown fish.

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In search of refreshment we head back to the former House of Correcion for Boys at Breiðavik that is to be our bed for the night. AFter finding our rooms I enjoy a very relaxing shower and head to sit in my shorts and shirt sleeves in the sun and write this journal.

At 8 o’clock with the sun still pouring in the windows we sit down to dinner of soup and local, fried cod, coffee and desert, and we plan a walkk out across the beach tonight to see the midnight sun, the sunset and sunrise…

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Following supper we set out across the field of buttercups beneath Breiðavik, across sweet, lush, shore side meadows, and then the beach.

In the setting sun, the shadows lengthen minute by minute, drawn out across the sand, and golden. Every grain, and every sheep’s footprint cast deep.

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An hour or so later, a little after 11 o’clock we return – by a route not devoid of danger. Adi finds himself electrocuted on a fence and almost caught in an aminmal trap, and I am continuingly mobbed by artic terns.

Now, as I sit outside our lodgings in the final setting sun with a glass of calvados I find that I am writing to the whir-whir sound of snipes familiar from my days on the Skaftafell campsite in 2001.

Day Four: Fjórd obsessions, a single track tunnel, and the most beautiful town in the north…


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