The Illusive Eider and the Old School

Day 5. 19 June 2004

Saturday morning, I wake, and roll up the blinds onto another sunny day broken only by low cloud over the sea and in the mountain tops. I have slept—and dreampt—well in this old hospital of ísafjórður.

Breakfast is another fine one of cereal with assortments of milk and skyr followed by cold meats, cheese, and herring on rye bread and malt loaf.

We pay our (very reasonable) bill and depart, stopping at the Bonus store on the edge of twon to stock up on provisions for lunch, chocolate raisins for the journey, and food for the grill tonight, when we will be joined by Signý and Drífa and their boyfriends, Níls and Kjartjan.

Onwards we drive round the fjórds, with the Drangajókull glacier always looming tantalisingly close across the water, to Suðavik, a town on the edge of the mountains and the water, when in 1995 there was a terrible avalanche of snow that tragically swept away many houses and killed a dozen people.

In every fjórd we see many Oyster Catchers and Eider Duck. I am told by Adi that the Eider are so relaxed about people that you can go right up to them whilst they are sitting their nests and take the down … I figure that I should be able to get a good photograph. On my first attempt, no sooner than I have left the car and inched slowly closer, than they are off, flying away over the fjórd.

On my second attempt I approach and a flock of arctic terns take to the air and begin mobbing me again. Persecuted, I retreat to the car. I try again on a few more occasions throughout the day only to find the flying off at the slightest approach, or nesting with the terns who are always ready to attack.

A couple of fjórds further on, whilst halfway back out of Skóturfjórður we find a little fishing hut that looks a little like a small run-down church. It’s sheltered and we settle down to lunch whilst watching the swans and the oyster catchers out on the water.

At the end of MjÓifjórður we have a choice, to off the road and cross the hills to take the fast road, or to continue round this fjód to Reykjanes. Always, out for adventure, we choose the latter.

And glad I am, that we did, for on the unpaved but good road towards Reykjanes, we are surprised to discover a little hot pool and changing hut just down from the road near to the shore. It is fed by hot and cold pipes, and looks so inviting that I am tempted by the waters. Sadly, my travelling partners are not big when ith comes to the world of hot posts and swimming and so we move on without trying the waters…

Reykjanes is an old school built in an area of hot springs, and sulphurous pools. It never reached its full potential and later fell empty before eventually being turned into a hotel. When we arrive there is obviously some large, family gathering with tents erected on the grounds, and sports in play on the playing fields outside the old school entrance. To wander the school’s corridors is an unsettling experience. In its transformation from school to hotel, nothing has been changed. I half expect the school bell to sound at any minute and for children to pile out of classrooms into the corridors. On an upper floor on the corridor outside the dining-room-once-classroom-which-still-presents-a-whiteboard are photographs of the classes going back to the 1940s. It’s a sad reminder to this place, now with it’s once grand fa¸e;ade peeling away, concrete, weathering and dilapidated.

It’s a great place for a school, set on a spit sticking out into a fjód with geothermal activity, but it’s isolated, and the roads were not good—and it was built at a time when the time of the boarding school was beginning to fade. Eventually the experiment closed and the site fell vacant.

We leave Rekjanes and find the paved road to HÓlmavik again. Driving up the valley we are soon crossing a high plateau, above the snowline surrounded by tumbling water, patches of grassy meadow amongst escarpments of rock, lakes…

…and downinto the east, and beginnings of the north of Iceland. At the bottom of thi hill we turn off and into the little fishing village of HÓlmavik with its cruising police car and the bar where we have ho chocolate and traditional Icelandic waffles, rhubarb jam and whipped cream.

Taking to the coast road again, the roadside scene of Eider ducks is replaced by piles of driftwood gathered and stacked along the shore. Swept in on the tides from logging mills far away in New Foundland and Siberia, the collection of driftwood has become an important and valuable industry, and farms along the coast have the rights to collect.

From here we turn off the coast road before we reach Route 1 and onto Route 59 into the Laxardalsheiði valley, across to Buðardalur and back to Brautarhold.

Minutes after we settle back into the old shop do Signý and Níls, Drífa and Kjartan and Tyra arrive, bearing food and coals for the grill.

A family reunited we crack open the beer and wine and enjoy a meal of burgers, hot dogs corn on the cob, grilled bananas and chocolate, and cheesecake. At around one o’clock we wind our way to bed.

Day Six: Picture Postcards, and the Return to Reykjavik…