***  ICELAND  2017   -  WEEKS 7~8  ***

This week's Photo Gallery  Wild Flora of North-west Iceland Bird-life of North-west Iceland
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CAMPING IN ICELAND 2017 - North-West Iceland:  Western Eyjafj÷r­ur, ┴rskˇgssandur, HrÝsey Island, DalvÝk, Ëlafsfj÷r­ur, Siglufj÷r­ur, Hofsˇs, Hˇlar, Sau­arkrˇkur, GlaumbŠr, Varmahli­, Skagastr÷nd, Bl÷nduˇs, Ůingeyrar, Hvammstangi, and HˇlmavÝk:

Western Eyjafj÷r­ur coast to DalvÝk:  leaving Lonsß Camping on a bright, sunny morning, we drove down into the city outskirts to re-stock with provisions at Netto and finally left Akureyri. After 3 days in such a likeable place where people had been so friendly and helpful, we headed north on Route 1 along the Western Eyjafj÷r­ur coast (click on Map 1 opposite for details of route). Ahead across the coastal moors and farmland, the hefty wall of sculpted Tr÷llskagi mountains seemed to bar further progress northward along the fjord.

Click on the 2 highlighted areas of map
for details of North-West Iceland

Route 1 branched off SW-wards to disappear into the depths of H÷rgßrdalur, the only breach in this solid N~S mountainous barrier; we thankfully left the Ring Road tourist traffic behind, and turned off northwards following the shore of Eyjafj÷r­ur on Route 82. The broad meadows, sandwiched between fjord and elongated N~S mountain wall of Flßr, was some of the richest dairy farming land we had seen so far, and farmers were busily at work taking advantage of a few days of fine weather for hay-making. Bales of silage were lined up in the mown fields ready for the long winter ahead. Route 82 hugged the fjord-shore where the northern end of the enclosing mountainous spur tailed off at the opening of Ůorsvaldsdalur, the next breach in this mountainous mass. On the coastal side, the broad farming meadows of ┴rskˇgsstr÷nd opened up (see above left); we turned off onto Route 808 into the tiny fishing settlement of ┴rskˇgssandur and drove down to the little port where the HrÝsey ferry was being loaded (see left). Here we sat to eat our sandwich lunch, looking out on this beautifully peaceful morning across the northern end of Eyjafj÷r­ur where the flat island of HrÝsey seemed to fill the centre of the fjord. On the far side, a solid wall of snow-capped mountains forming the bleak and uninhabited northern extremity of the Lßtrastr÷nd peninsula were lit by bright sunshine.

Bruggsmi­jan Micro-brewery at ┴rskˇgssandur: ┴rskˇgssandur is home to the Bruggsmi­jan Micro-brewery, makers of Kaldi beers (see right), and we had phoned earlier to arrange a visit this afternoon. Iceland's still archaic licensing laws restrict the sale of wines, spirits and beers above 2.25% ABV to Vinbu­in, the state alcohol monopoly shops (prohibition in Iceland was imposed in 1915 and only lifted in 1989). The 2.25% ABV so-called 'beers' available from supermarkets have the taste of low grade washing up water and are produced by 2 major commercial brewers, Vifilfell/Viking from Akureyri owned by Coca-Cola (sic!), and Egill-SkallagrÝmsson in ReykjavÝk; after having to endure this for the past 6 weeks, we were looking forward to visiting the brewers of Kaldi quality beers at Bruggsmi­jan Micro-brewery.

We were welcomed at the small brewery in the village outskirts (see left) by a young friend of Ëlafur Trostur and his wife Agnes Anna, the family who had founded Iceland's first micro-brewery in 2006~7; ┴rskˇgssandur has 100 residents, and along with fishing, Bruggsmi­jan brewery is one of the village's major employers. Ëlafur had been a fisherman but an injury at sea had prevented him from working, and the family faced hard times. A chance viewing of a TV interview with a Danish micro-brewer prompted him and Anna to consider establishing a brewery, and despite scepticism from the banks, they went ahead. They chose to emulate the Czech brewing tradition, seeking malt and hops, brewing equipment and expertise from Czech sources combined with local mountain water from ┴rskˇgssandur, and with quality of product as their hallmark, they produced their first Pilsner-style Kaldi brew in 2006. By 2007 their small premises at ┴rskˇgssandur was producing 160,000 litres per year. Demand for quality beers in beer-deprived Iceland outstripped their capacity, and both their premises and production have expanded so that by 2015 annual production had increased to 650,000 litres, with a range of 5 regular beers plus seasonal specials.

And excellent the Kaldi beers are; the name Kaldi comes from Ëlafur's fishing days, meaning bitterly chill wind and weather. We viewed their production plant (Photo 1 - Bruggsmi­jan Micro-brewery) and fermentation/maturing vessels (see above right), and met Ëlafur and his eldest son Sigur who is now head brewer (see left). The cost of the visit was not cheap at 2,000kr each (ú15), but it was a joy to see such entrepreneurial enthusiasm and to taste such quality of resultant beers. Restrictive Icelandic law prevented them from selling us Kaldi beers after our tasting, but they presented us with a couple of bottles in addition to Kaldi glasses as souvenirs of our visit. Long may the Kaldi Brewery flourish!

DalvÝk fishing port:  we continued north on Route 82 around the spur-end of the next snow-capped mountain range, across the mouth of Svarfa­ardalur and River Svarfa­ardalsß, into the fishing port of DalvÝk to find the Vinbu­in shop in DalvÝk for further supplies of Kaldi beers. Down at the port, we walked along past the fishing boats and the large fisheries freezing vessels moored at the quays (Photo 2 - DalvÝk fishing port), against a backdrop of the magnificent range of snow-capped, sculpted peaks on the far side of northern Eyjafj÷r­ur (see below left), all lit by the bright afternoon sun (Photo 3 - DalvÝk fishing boats). Up in the town, we found the Vinbu­in in the main street but searched in vain for a supermarket for provisions. In the end we enquired at the TIC in the Culture House/library, and there got into conversation with the delightful elderly gent manning the desk who told us more about DalvÝk: although the town's fishing fleet was reduced in size from former days as larger firms bought up fishing quotas and reduced crew levels, fishing and associated support industries, including manufacture of plastic fish boxes seen universally at the ports, were still DalvÝk's major employers.

A rest day at hospitable H˙sabakki Camping:  leaving DalvÝk for now, we drove out on Route 805 along the broad, green valley of Svarfa­ardalur, past sizeable horse farms, to find tonight's campsite, H˙sabakki Camping (click here for detailed map of route). The large guest-house/hostel with its adjoining campsite occupied former boarding school premises, and was set alongside the Svarfa­ardalsß river and nature reserve. We had earlier telephoned and received a helpfully welcoming response from the warden who now received us hospitably, assuring us of site-wide wi-fi and washing/drying machine for our planned day in camp here tomorrow. We selected a pitch on the flat, grassy camping area with clear views along the length of the broad valley lined with green hills, with the valley head hemmed in by craggy mountains (see below left) and the shapely, snow-capped peaks on the far side of Eyjafj÷r­ur visible at the valley's lower end; it was a truly magnificent location. The strong wi-fi signal connected immediately, and the WC/showers in the hostel basement, although rather institutional from their school origins, were modern and spotlessly clean; a small, limited kitchen/wash-up was set in a hut by the camping area. This was the perfect setting for our much needed rest day tomorrow.

It had been 5 weeks since we had last had access to a campsite washing/drying machine and the following morning Sheila put H˙sabakki's to full usage to catch up with our laundry. Access to campsite wi-fi had also been disappointingly limited, and Paul made good use of H˙sabakki's to catch up with emails. The setting was truly inspirational in this open, green valley enclosed by snow-flecked mountains and distant views of the sculpted peaks lining Eyjafj÷r­ur, and the bird-life from the neighbouring nature reserve, including a handsomely coloured Black-tailed Godwit perched on the fence-posts (Photo 4 - Black-tailed Godwit) (see right), kept us entertained all day. All our laundry was dried, aired and folded; we had clean clothes again. It had also been a while since we had enjoyed the luxury of a campsite kitchen, and H˙sabakki's, although limited, helped to conserve our gas supply. With its welcoming hospitality, lovely setting, excellent facilities and good value price, H˙sabakki Camping merited a +5 rating, only the second Icelandic campsite so far worthy of this recognition. And tonight we concluded our productive day in camp with Kaldi beers.

Crossing by ferry from ┴rskˇgssandur to HrÝsey Island:  the alarm was set early in readiness for today's crossing on the 11-30am ferry from ┴rskˇgssandur for a day on HrÝsey Island. It was a beautiful morning when we returned to ┴rskˇgssandur's little port, and the view looking across the fjord with the sun lighting the snow-capped mountains on the far side of Eyjafj÷r­ur was truly magnificent (Photo 5 - ┴rskˇgssandur ferry port) (see left and right). At 11-00am we watched the little ferry SŠvar leave HrÝsey town to begin its crossing of the fjord, and 15 minutes later, it swung into ┴rskˇgssandur and moored at the dock (see below left) (Photo 6 - HrÝsey ferry).

HrÝsey, known as the Pearl of Eyjafj÷r­ur from its mid-fjord setting, Iceland's second largest island after Heimaey in the Westman Islands off the south coast, is 7.5kms long and 2.5kms at its widest point and has 200 residents (click here for map of HrÝsey Island). Sheep-grazing on HrÝsey was ended in 1974, allowing the natural vegetation and flora to regenerate; the name HrÝsey comes from the plant hris (dwarf birch) which once covered the island. Some 40 species of birds nest on HrÝsey; the reason for this large concentration is that all hunting of birds or gathering of eggs is banned, and there are no predators such as foxes, mink or rats. With its lush moorland, low-growing willow and plentiful food, conditions are particularly favourable for ground-nesting birds. The island has one of the largest population of nesting Arctic Terns in Europe, as well as a sizeable population of Ptarmigan. There are 3 marked walking trails around the southern part of the island, all starting from HrÝsey village, and we planned to walk the largest circuit at 5kms.

A day's walking on HrÝsey Island:  the return ferry costs 1,500kr (ú11) each; there were few others crossing and on such a beautifully sunny morning, with the fjord calm, we stood out on deck in the bows looking out for whales or porpoises as SŠvar crossed the fjord (Photo 7 - Ferry crossing) (see right). As the ferry approached the island, HrÝsey village looked a picture-postcard place lit by the morning sun against the backdrop of snowy peaks on the far side of the fjord (see below left). The ferry deftly moored at the quay, and once ashore we headed up through the village to locate the path's starting point. The view westward across the harbour with the ubiquitous blue lupins growing in the foreground presented a magnificent panorama of the solid wall of mountains north of DalvÝk across on the mainland (Photo 8 - HrÝsey's lupin-lined quayside). Beyond the village, the track was lined with the bulky flowering heads of Angelica. Our path turned off inland past long-disused fish-drying frames. HrÝsey's fishing heyday was during the period 1930~50, when the herring boom made the island second only in size to Siglufj÷r­ur with its herring salting industry and deep-sea fishing, and seasonal workers flocked to HrÝsey for employment in the herring processing factories. In the 1960s however, whether through over-fishing, the herring suddenly disappeared, and HrÝsey settled back into quiet obscurity.

Redshanks and a Redwing perched on the fish-racks (see right), and the path continued ahead onto the island's moorland which was lushly covered with willow scrub, dwarf birch, heather, crowberry and bog bilberry. There were also residual traces of past unsuccessful attempts to re-afforest the island with coppices of spruce now largely dying off. The path gained height onto more open moorland dotted with flora: Mountain Avens their flowers now almost past and plants covered with seed heads, Alpine Bartsia, Northern Green Orchids and tiny white flowers of Slender Bedstraw. Arctic Terns soared and dived threateningly above (if you have ever been subject to an Arctic Tern screaming aerial Stuka attack, you will appreciate why in Icelandic they are called KrÝa), and Whimbrels paraded before us, both trying to deter us from their nests on the moorland. The path led across towards the island's eastern shore where we hoped to see Hump-backed Whales in the fjord, and at BorgarbrÝk down at the coast we reached the remains of an ancient volcanic dyke formed by magma flowing into a weakness in the bedrock. An inlet from the sea with cliffs towering above was all that remained of this eroded volcanic intrusion (Photo 9 - BorgarbrÝk eroded dyke). Fulmars nested on the inlet's cliffs with the male birds soaring around. We sat among the Sea Pinks on the cliff-tops to eat our sandwiches, with one eye scouring the fjord for any sign of whales. The brisk wind whipped up 'white horses' in the blue waters of the fjord, but none of this spray was the blow of a surfacing whale. On the far side of the fjord, the snow-capped line of peaks of the remote and uninhabited Lßtrastr÷nd peninsula was totally absorbing, compelling our attention.

The ongoing path edged perilously close to the cliff's edge, and down at sea level low, eroded basal dyke intrusions extended out into the fjord showing evident horizontal column layers with exposed polygonal faces of vertical column ends. Eiders were sitting on the rocks and swimming in the sea nearby (see left). Male Velvet Scoters swam in the shallows, with the distinguishing triangular white patches on their black backs. We continued along the cliff-top path, still scanning the fjord for any sign of whales, until the path turned inland gaining height across the lush moorland. Whimbrels (see left) and Golden Plovers (see above right) constantly drew attention from their nesting mates and chicks in the moorland vegetation, and being so close, they made ready subjects for our photographs as they paraded before us (Photo 10 - Whimbrel) or flew overhead. There were so many, it was difficult to decide which way to point cameras, surrounded as we were by their constant calling. A little further more Frog Orchids were seen by the path, and a Ptarmigan in full summer plumage; in spite of the number of Ptarmigan reported on HrÝsey, this was the only one seen today. The path eventually rejoined the gravel track of the island's shorter walking routes, and brought us back down to the outskirts of HrÝsey village through more thickets of planted spruce. A local lady we had talked to earlier about the island's bird-life had told us of Snow Buntings to be seen around the village's cafÚ, and sure enough as we passed, a Snow Bunting was perched on the roof crest (see right). Workmen were strimming the verges, cutting back the Angelica plants; Angelica from HrÝsey is used to flavour one of the Kaldi beers, Stinnings, giving the beer a subtle liquorice taste.

Down through the village to the harbour, where M/V SŠvar was waiting at the quay, the warm sun of earlier was now long gone. Huddled in cags against the chill wind blowing across the fjord, we sat waiting for the 5-00pm ferry departure. A small fishing boat returned to harbour and we walked over to watch the catch being unloaded from the hold into insulated plastic crates (made in DalvÝk). Each crate was brim full of cod, haddock and sad-eyed, thick lipped monk fish, all still with the long-line hooks in their mouth and packed with ice; the crates dripped with fish blood mixed with melted ice-water. For such a small boat, it seemed a remarkably large catch; dried fish hung from rails on the boat's decking. A fork-lift truck driver deftly hoisted up the crates, tipping their fishy contents into larger crates (Photo 11 - Unloading today's fish catch), stacking these for transportation into the nearby processing sheds, and hosing down the empty crates. It was a fascinating scene of activity. As 5-00pm approached, we boarded the ferry along with a number of other local passengers, and M/V SŠvar departed for the return crossing to ┴rskˇgssandur.

A final night's camp at H˙sabakki:  we returned along Route 82 across the ┴rskˇgsstr÷nd farming lands to DalvÝk with the intention of camping at the municipal campsite by the town's sports ground. This however was stark, rather like camping in a town playing field amid local houses (which it in fact was!); it was also noisy with basic, minimal facilities and unduly high price. We took one look, and the solution was clear: why pay all that for poor standards, when we could return just 6kms along Svarfa­ardalur to the peaceful setting, hospitable welcome, quality facilities and good value price at H˙sabakki Camping for our final night; and of course, we did just that. It only took us 15 minutes, and we were pitching in that lovely valley setting at H˙sabakki, welcomed back by the charming warden, after our rewarding day's walking and bird photography on HrÝsey. Even as we turned in at 11-00pm, it seemed extra light tonight. But again we were to get little sleep, being woken at 1-00am by young American tourists arriving late, slamming car doors with undue noise and no awareness of or consideration for sleeping neighbours. The following morning, we made it forcibly clear that arriving late at a campsite entailed a responsibility to show neighbourly consideration for others. Blank looks in response: such was the uncouth, impenetrable ignorance and engrained egocentricity of these sad folk that we might as well have been speaking in Mongolian for all the impact it made!

North through the M˙lag÷ng Tunnel to Ëlafsfj÷r­ur:  with little distance to travel today through the M˙lag÷ng Tunnel to Ëlafsfj÷r­ur, we took a leisurely morning enjoying the continuing fine weather. Departing around noon, we drove back into DalvÝk, and as we sat eating our lunch sandwiches by the port, one of the fish freezing vessels left the quay, turned in the harbour, and moved quickly out into the fjord. Having shopped for provisions, we headed north from DalvÝk along the Upsastr÷nd coast towards the M˙lag÷ng Tunnel which now links DalvÝk through to Ëlafsfj÷r­ur (click here for detailed map of route). The road rose steadily across the coastal land of now abandoned farms, with the bulky mass of Sau­aneshn˙kar towering overhead. The coastal strip now narrowed further with the road running along the cliff-tops. To seaward across the fjord, the northern tip of HrÝsey stood out, backed by the line of snowy peaks of the Lßtrastr÷nd peninsula on the far side (see above left). The fishing boat which had left port at DalvÝk just before us was now steaming northwards towards the mouth of Eyjafj÷r­ur and the lighthouse on the islet of Hrˇlfssker in mid-fjord. Ahead the waterfall of MÝgindisfoss, fed by melt-waters streaming over a headland from the mountains high above, plummeted headlong over a high cliff directly down into the sea. The road now turned abruptly into the mouth of M˙lag÷ng Tunnel, its south portal looking like a huge square concrete shed (see above right). The tunnel, single-lane only with passing places every 200m on the northern side and priority to south-bound traffic, cuts diagonally for 3.4kms through the otherwise impassable mountainous headland of Ëlafsfjar­arm˙li which tops the whole peninsula; only a trackway passes around the tip. The tunnel was opened in 1991, and before that there had been no direct connection between DalvÝk and Ëlafsfj÷r­ur.

With some trepidation we edged forward into the narrow tunnel which fortunately was well lit. Not far in, the lights of an approaching vehicle could be see ahead, and we pulled into the next passing place (indicated by the M-sign for MŠtast - Meeting place) (see right). In this way we progressed slowly through the tunnel, pulling into M-places to allow oncoming traffic to pass. We were later told that locals, who know the tunnel, pass through at speed; visitors are instantly recognisable by their more hesitant, slower speed. All went well until the final corner where daylight was visible ahead just around the bend beyond the final M-place; Paul missed the red illuminated sign warning that a car was entering the tunnel, and drove past the M-place, meaning a tight squeeze for the car to pass, doubtless provoking curses from the local driver!

Out of the tunnel's north mouth into gloomy rain, there was the little port of Ëlafsfj÷r­ur spread out around the head of the fjord in the valley enclosed on all sides by high mountains (see above left). Down into the town and along the main street past the ornamental lake, we found the municipal campsite by the town swimming pool and pulled in; the high mountainside rose steeply over the upper tiers of houses above the camping area. The campsite was well laid-out with sheltering hedges and we selected a pitch with George's nose into the fresh wind blowing from the fjord up the valley which stretched high into the mountains behind us. Facilities were straightforward and limited to WCs/hand-basins and wash-up sinks; showers were available in the swimming pool but when we enquired, full payment of 800kr was required for entry, so no showers! We set up camp, and kitted up with waterproofs to walk along past the ornamental lake to explore the little town and port; rain was forecast and heavy cloud was mustering above the mountains up the valley.

The port of Ëlafsfj÷r­ur:  first stop was the town library/TIC in Ëlafsvegur, where the garrulous young lass in fluently colloquial Americanese (learnt from TV soap operas, she admitted) entertained us at length about life in Ëlafsfj÷r­ur, and its rivalry relationship with Siglufj÷r­ur. Since the 2 connecting HÚ­insfjar­arg÷ng tunnels were opened in 2010, the 2 townships were now united under the one municipal authority of Fjallabygg­; those living in Ëlafsfj÷r­ur felt resentment at being the poor neighbour. The residents of Ëlafsfj÷r­ur did not give the impression of being book-lovers and regular users of their impressively stocked little library, and clearly she clearly had not had a single customer all day to chat with, until we arrived! We did however eventually escape to continue along A­algata and found the local supermarket at the corner of Strandgata (see above right). Judging by its scale, Ëlafsfj÷r­ur's large port during the town's herring heyday would once have been home to a sizeable fishing fleet; today however it stood largely empty with an air of sad dereliction (see above left). The only ship moored at the quay was one token rusting fishing support vessel which looked as if it had not put to sea for many a month (see below right). The fish-processing factory was evidently closed, and others now seemed occupied by smaller scale industries. We walked around the dock, taking photos looking back across the port towards the little town with its mountainous backdrop (Photo 12 - Ëlafsfj÷r­ur) (see above right). Blue lupins grew like weeds among piles of scrap, and although most of the buildings and the town church were modern, the looming rain clouds gave the town a sad air (see above left). We walked around past the decaying port buildings to the smaller harbour where a few small fishing boats were moored (see below left) (Photo 13 - Ëlafsfj÷r­ur fishing harbour). We had managed to avoid the rain until now, but dark rain cloud was closing in over the mountains immediately above the town (see above right), and the inevitable rain started in earnest (see below right). We hurried back along Strandgata past the church, calling in again at the library for shelter and to use their wi-fi to consult the weather forecast.

A wet night's camp at Ëlafsfj÷r­ur municipal campsite:  back across to the campsite, we settled in, glad for warmth and shelter from the now pouring rain, and brewed tea (Photo 14 - Ëlafsfj÷r­ur Camping). At 6-00pm someone from the swimming pool came round to collect rent, and we paid using our Icelandic Camping Card. Again this set H˙sabakki's excellent value in context: Ëlafsfj÷r­ur charged 2,800kr with no showers, no kitchen, and no wi-fi; H˙sabakki's 2,000kr included all of these and excellent facilities. DalvÝk had been even poorer value at 3,500kr with minimal facilities. As the rent man sheltered under the awning from the rain, we learnt more from him about Ëlafsfj÷r­ur: for a town of 1,000 residents, fishing was clearly in major decline, but the town was taking initiatives to attract alternative employment. The new combined local authority focussed on attracting tourism income, organising a number of summer festivals, but such transient features do nothing for jobs. Ëlafsfj÷r­ur was managing to halt the population decline and had retained local schools from kindergarten through to senior schooling. But there was strong local resentment about health care being centralised at rival Siglufj÷r­ur on cost-saving grounds; the latest loss was the local ambulance station. Having said that, despite the apparent air of dereliction as we walked around the harbour, the houses were all modern, there were plenty of large 4WD cars, and although a work-a-day town, Ëlafsfj÷r­ur had a lively air.

The heavy rain eased at 7-30pm enabling us to light the barbecue for supper. Dense streaks of low cloud hovered along the sides of the surrounding mountains, gradually consolidating again into a solid, misty cloud mass almost down to fjord level; it was a thoroughly miserable evening. We turned in early, but were again woken at midnight by a late arriving caravan, this time an Icelandic family who had driven up from ReykjavÝk, arriving late with much inconsiderate noise and slamming of car doors. Such loutish behaviour and lack of neighbourly consideration deserved the robust outburst it received from us.

A wet drive north through HÚ­insfjar­arg÷ng Tunnels to Siglufj÷r­ur:  after a night of much rain, we woke to a miserably wet morning with low cloud obscuring the surrounding mountains. The fjord level mist gradually lifted, hovering in linear patches along the mountain faces (see right). In such weather we had certainly not seen Ëlafsfj÷r­ur at its best, but before leaving we drove across to the far side of the fjord to see the town's award-winning avalanche barrier whose turf-covered bund so blended into the mountain side as to be almost impossible to detect. And so we approached the entrance to the HÚ­insfjar­arg÷ng Tunnels (see left) (Photo 15 - HÚ­insfjar­arg÷ngáTunnels) which cut through the 2 northerly mountainous peninsulas separated by the intervening HÚ­insfj÷r­ur, and which since the tunnels' construction from 2006~2010 now connect the 2 towns of Ëlafsfj÷r­ur and Siglufj÷r­ur (click here for detailed map of route). The southern tunnel is 7.1 kms and the northern tunnel 3.9kms, and both are dual lane and well lit; the only concern was keeping below the 70 kph speed limit in the tunnels with their frequent speed cameras.

We emerged at the intervening gap at HÚ­insfj÷r­ur, and in pouring rain sat in the camper at the lay-by to eat our sandwiches. Low misty cloud obscured the magnificent view looking up-valley into the mammoth cwm carved out in the mountainous heartland, and down-valley along the fjord towards the sea (see right). Looking along the road, the 2 tunnel mouths seemed so tiny against the backdrop of these huge mountain faces, their overwhelming scale emphasising the enormity of the project to bore these 2 tunnels. A 7 year research project had been conducted by the University of Akureyri to evaluate the social, cultural and economic impact of the tunnels' construction on the 2 towns they now connect. Results showed tunnel traffic above expectations, with considerable commuting between Ëlafsfj÷r­ur and Siglufj÷r­ur, and residents travelling between them for shopping, healthcare, schooling and social events. Increased tourism resulting from the improved access by tunnels had strengthened the regional economy. But state and municipal services have been reduced as a result of the 2008 economic crisis, particularly health care: access to educations services has improved, but Ëlafsfj÷r­ur residents feel a resentment at not receiving due share of public services. Siglufj÷r­ur has seen an increase in population, and the population decline in Ëlafsfj÷r­ur has been halted with young people tending to remain in their home community. All of this reflected what we had heard from conversations with people at Ëlafsfj÷r­ur.

The former herring port of Siglufj÷r­ur:  emerging from the second tunnel into misty, gloomy daylight (see above left), there below was the little town and port of Siglufj÷r­ur, nestled almost precariously on a narrow spit of fjord-side land (eyri in Icelandic) towered over on both sides of this isolated, narrow fjord by mountains of unseen height, their tops totally buried in rain cloud (see below left). Siglufj÷r­ur claims to be Iceland's northernmost town, now with a population of less than 1,500 residents, and isolated from the rest of the country though not as much as in pre-tunnels days. There had long been a Danish fishing and trading station on the fjord at Siglunes point at the northern tip of the peninsula, with shark fishing for shark oil as the main catch. As demand increased prompting larger ships, the port moved to a more sheltered position inside the fjord where the town of Siglufj÷r­ur developed. But it was herring (sÝld in Icelandic) that gave rise to Siglufj÷r­ur's boom years from 1920~60s. The Depression of the 1930s and the 1940s war years produced a global demand for conserved food, and Iceland's herring fisheries prospered. By the 1950s, Siglufj÷r­ur was the largest port in Iceland with over 500 boats based here and sailing out to follow the summer migration of the herring shoals. It was the herring catches that brought the revenue to modernise the country, bringing the latest technology; it was herring and herring products that made up 25% of Iceland's exports, and the revenue from this underwrote Iceland's independence in 1944. We later saw photographs from the 1930s showing Siglufj÷r­ur's docks piled high with barrels of smoked and pickled herring. Seasonal workers in their 1000s flocked to Siglufj÷r­ur from all over the country and beyond for the high wages and good life associated with the summer herring run. The quays were lined with herring girl workers gutting and salting the herring from the returning boats for loading in barrels. This heyday however came to an abrupt end in the mid-1960s when the herring simply disappeared, either through overfishing or their migration pattern changed from Icelandic waters. In just a few years, Siglufj÷r­ur and other herring ports declined or closed down, leaving just proud memories of what Siglufj÷r­ur had meant for Iceland. All that is left now to recall the herring boom years is the much-promoted, but over-rated and over-priced Herring Museum that fuels the town's now economic dependence on a growing tourist industry.

Those who watch BBC4 will recall the 2016 Icelandic crime drama Trapped; Sey­isfj÷r­ur (where we had arrived in Iceland) was supposedly the setting for this Nordic Noir thriller in which winter snows on the enclosing mountains cutting off the small port, and the police investigation following discovery of a dismembered body in the fjord, all conspire to trap both the townsfolk and the Smyril Line ferry M/S Norr÷na. We had learned however that Trapped had largely been filmed at Siglufj÷r­ur because Sey­isfj÷r­ur on the east coast had insufficient snow that winter! As we drove down into the town from the tunnel mouth, a side road winding up into the mountains could well have figured in the snow-engulfed town of the film.

Click here to watch the trailer of the TV thriller Trapped filmed in Siglufj÷r­ur

The town and what remained of the port was strung out along the fjord-side, and right by the central square next to the fishing dock (see above right) we found the municipal campsite (Photo 16 - Siglufj÷r­ur Camping), all very public, overlooked by houses and passing traffic of the main street. After all the recent wet weather, the ground was soft and churned up in places, but we found a spot well away from the noise potential of a group of camping-cars, and settled in before kitting up in waterproofs for an afternoon of exploring the town (Photo 17 - Siglufj÷r­ur fishing dock) (see above left).

An afternoon's exploration in Siglufj÷r­ur:  across the central square by the Ra­hus (town hall), we found the TIC in the town library for a street plan, then ambled along past the fishing port and the expensive-looking Siglˇ Hotel built out into a pier to resemble a fishing station. Along at the Innrih÷fn harbour (Photo 18 - Siglufj÷r­ur over-towered by cloud-covered mountains), we stood dodging the Arctic Terns which swooped down above our heads (see right), aggressively protecting their nests in the tussocky grass by the water's edge. A Black-tailed Godwit paraded along the muddy road-way and over the grassy banks; being able to examine the Godwit closely showed what a truly elegant bird this was with its characteristic rusty-brown neck, speckled body and black-tipped tail (see above left).

Back along the waterfront, we glanced in at the herring Museum which was based in former fishing sheds, not prepared to pay the unduly expensive 2,000kr (ú14) admission charge. Their publicity promised demonstrations of herring smoking on Saturdays in July, but it turned out this was only when a cruise ship was in port; that said it all, and unimpressed by this sterile, over-rated museum, we left with just a passing glance into the conserved herring factory where herring oil had once been extracted and purified leaving the remaining fish-meal as fertiliser. By the fjord-side opposite, the decaying wooden piers of the former herring dock still stood in the water (Photo 19 - Siglufj÷r­ur's former herring dock piers) (see left). Back along at the Bßtadokk, we walked around examining the boats with their long-line fishing gear (see right) (Photo 20 - Long-line fishing boats). A poster promoted the free-entry Photographic History Museum in Vetrabraut, so we wandered past the dock and fish market along through Siglufj÷r­ur's open-spaced grid of streets, looking out for sights familiar from Trapped. At the far end of Vetrabrautopposite a factory and oil-storage tanks, we found the house with the Photographic History Museum, and were welcomed by a charming elderly gent Steingrimur Kristinsson, now age 83 and a life-long photographer. He showed us the impressive exhibition of historic photographic equipment and display of photographs taken by Vigf˙s Sigurgeirsson between 1929~52; this photographer and filmmaker from Akureyri had travelled each summer to Siglufj÷r­ur (no mean journey in those pre-tunnel days) to document the herring industry in a wonderful series of photographs. These showed the port filled with 100s of boats, herring girls working by the dockside piers where the catch had just been unloaded, and even an official visit to Siglufj÷r­ur by the Icelandic president in 1952. Sigurgeirsson had lugged his heavy camera and tripod up onto the mountainside opposite for aerial photos showing the port spread along the narrow spit of fjord-side land and piers stretching out into the fjord. This had been a thoroughly worthwhile chance-find visit, and we had learned more about Siglufj÷r­ur's herring history here than ever we should have at the over-priced Herring Museum. Back through the town streets to the campsite by the fishing dock, we were glad to settle into the warmth and shelter of George out of the chill, misty rain.

The Siglufj÷r­ur avalanche protection:  it was indeed a cold night, and we woke to a chill, wet mist down to fjord-level; the campsite's hot showers were very welcome this morning. As we were preparing to leave, the owners of the Photographic History Museum, Balvin and Ingar, professional photographers from ReykjavÝk whom we had met yesterday, called by on their way to the harbour to see the cruise-ship that had docked this morning. Last evening, the campsite warden admitted that such visiting cruise-ships brought no economic benefit to the town; passengers came ashore briefly, visited the Herring Museum, and immediately re-boarded. After calling in at the supermarket to re-stock with provisions, we departed northwards.

With low, wet cloud still clinging to the mountains, we paused at the northern outskirts of Siglufj÷r­ur to admire the impressive scale of the avalanche protection, huge turfed bunds extending across the face of the mountain slopes above the town, topped by steel fencing tiers, to trap and deflect falling snow and rocks (see above right). The avalanche defences were built at government expense in the 1990s to protect communities vulnerable to avalanches after the disaster which hit Su­avÝk in the West Fjords where we should stay later.

Through the Strßkag÷ng Tunnel and around Sau­anes point:  the onward road (click here for detailed map of route) shelved high above the sea around the face of the mountainside, which towered unseen in the cloud above, towards the mouth of Siglufj÷r­ur fjord. Ahead loomed the entrance to Strßkag÷ng Tunnel, looking like a gloomy, square concrete box. This single-lane tunnel, 830m long through the mountainous headland, was the earliest of the tunnel-links to Siglufj÷r­ur completed in 1967 (see above left) (Photo 21 - Strßkag÷ngáTunnel); before its opening, Siglufj÷r­ur had only been accessible by sea. With even more trepidation than usual at entering tunnels, we edged forward into the ultra-narrow tunnel. Lighting was better than feared, but the M-places were something of a squeeze (see above right); fortunately we were through before needing to pull over to allow any oncoming traffic to pass. We emerged into gloomy daylight at the northern end box-like portal, with the land falling away steeply towards the squat lighthouse at Sau­anes point on the peninsula tip (see left).

Lonely road around Sau­anes coastline past Miklavatn to H÷f­avatn:  the next stretch of road, shelving around the cliff-tops of the northern tip of Sau­anes, felt to be the most isolated, remote and lonely place we had travelled in Iceland, particularly in the gloomy light (click here for detailed map of route) (see right). The road looped inland to cross a water course above an abandoned farm, then continued high above the sea around the cliff-tops. Sections of this lonely road had been stripped of tarmac leaving just a gravel surface. From the lagoon of Miklavatn, trapped behind a sandbar stretching from shore to shore across the mouth of the bay, the road swung inland around the bay. At the innermost corner, the old gravelled Route 82 turned off inland along a murky valley; pre-tunnels, this had been the only land route connecting Ëlafsfj÷r­ur with Siglufj÷r­ur once the Strßkag÷ng link had been constructed through the peninsula tip in the late 1960s. Route 76 turned off right, cutting across a broad, flat and fertile area of farmland, the fields now cut for baled hay. Passing the mouth of Flˇkadalur which cut up into the hills, there were signs of this being an area of geothermal hot water, with a small natural swimming pool by a farm. As the road swung inland across moorland, the noticeable increase in tourist hire-car traffic driving at reckless speed indicated we were getting back closer to the Ring Road; it suddenly felt hazardous again. Off the coast, the low flat island of Mßlmey rose from Skagafj÷r­ur, with the 180m high sheer-sided, flat-topped volcanic plug of Drangey further out (see left).

Bird-life at H÷f­avatn:  beyond the mouth of Hrolleifsdalur, we pulled in by the shingle-bar which extends out to the island of ١r­arh÷f­i, trapping the lagoon of H÷f­avatn. We kitted up fully against the chill wind to walk out along the shingle-bar trackway out to the island alongside the shallow lagoon, hoping to see waders on the mudflats. A pair of Whooper Swans grazed the lakeside meadow, and Ringed Plovers pecked in the mudflats (see below left). As we continued along the track, a Dunlin insistently followed, probably decoying us from its nest. This beautifully marked small wader with its dark underside, boldly mottled back and down-turned bill paraded in front of us before eventually flying off (Photo 22 - Dunlin (Calidris alpina)) (see above right). As we clambered up over the boulders to peer across the embankment towards the sea, Arctic Terns swooped aggressively overhead, and across on the rocks a male Snow Bunting (Photo 23 - Snow Bunting) (see below right) hopped around with its mate and buff-coloured juvenile birds. As we returned along the trackway, several more of the Dunlins flew around, settling in front of us with their sharp, repetitive, staccato 'tew, tew, tew' alarm call, and Red-necked Phalaropes darted busily among the reeds of a watercourse. We had been entertained by an unexpected variety of waders and other bird-life along the trackway by the H÷f­avatn mudflats.

The Icelandic Emigration Centre at Hofsˇs:  we continued southwards along the shore of Skagafj÷r­ur, with young tourists in hire-cars speeding past, to approach the village of Hofsˇs set just off Route 76 on the seaward side. The main street led down from the modern village to a tiny harbour, site of the original settlement which had developed around the warehouses of a Danish trading station (Photo 24 - Hofsˇs harbour) (see below left and right). These conserved black-tarred wooden warehouses now house the much-publicised Icelandic Emigration Centre. Having rejected the equally much-vaunted, but over-priced, poor-value (in terms of learning potential) Herring Museum, we also now had grave reservations about the cost~value of this glitzy part-museum, part-genealogical centre which allegedly documents the history of the 1000s of Icelanders who were driven by failed farming, poverty and hardship to seek a new life in Canada and USA in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. We had earlier learned much about the causative factors underlying the emigration from the unpretentious but knowledge-packed Emigration Museum at Vopnafj÷r­ur (See log of our visit); our doubts about the over-publicised and pretentious Hofsˇs museum of Emigration were compounded by the evident superficial understanding of the causes of mass emigration shown by the American woman at reception. It soon became clear that, despite her claims of Icelandic descent from the Westman Islands, she knew absolutely nothing about Iceland, spoke no Icelandic, and her little knowledge about Icelandic emigration was book-derived. A glance at the display panels supposedly recounting ÚmigrÚs' experiences showed they were over-romanticised and failed to explain the social, economic and climactic hardships that led to emigration. There was no reference to the conspiracy between Canadian government promoting immigration schemes to attract settlers to populate new regions of the Dominion and Icelandic authorities trying to minimise poor-law support for the destitute, leading to land agents painting a falsely encouraging picture of life in the new country compared with the hardships faced on arrival in the new lands. Compared with all we had learned from the knowledgeable Kathy at Vopnafj÷r­ur, we should learn nothing here at Hofsˇs, and were certainly not prepared to pay even the seniors' reduced admission of 1,400kr (ú10) each. Our conclusion was that the Icelandic Emigration Centre at Hofsˇs, like the Siglufj÷r­ur Herring Museum, was over-priced and over-rated; you would come away with little depth of understanding about the causes of Icelandic mass emigration, and the real hardships faced by emigrants on arrival in the New World. For this, you would do better to talk with Kathy at Vopnafj÷r­ur which would cost you nothing, rather than spend vast sums to view pretentiously glitzy but non-informative display panels at Hofsˇs.

Hofsˇs Camping:  arriving early at Hofsˇs Camping close to the community centre in the modern village, we were able to select a corner pitch and protect our space from disturbance by late-arrivers with picnic tables (see left) (Photo 25 - Hofsˇs Camping). During the evening, the campsite began to fill with tourists in hired cars and camping cars now that we were closer to the Ring Road. Many of these tourist tent-campers were clearly ill-equipped, ill-clothed and ill-prepared for tent camping in Icelandic conditions, displaying comical incompetence at putting up a tent and cooking supper even in fine weather. The lad from the campsite-owning family called round at 9-00pm to collect payment of 1000kr each for seniors plus 800kr for electricity. Facilities were limited to WCs, showers and wash-up sinks with hot water, but all were modern and totally clean; there was no kitchen, wi-fi, common room or bad weather shelter for tent campers. Behind us, the bulky mountains of Tr÷llskagi peninsula lying between Eyjafj÷r­ur and Skagafj÷r­ur were indented by craggy ridges dividing off long valleys cutting deep into the uninhabited interior, with distant snowfields and glaciers covering the peaks and cwms at the valley heads. The Skagafj÷r­ur western side is lined by a wide coastal strip with fertile, moraine-rich farmland providing sheep, cattle and horse grazing. The wind dropped, and clear evening sky brought sunlight, picking out all the details of the shapely peaks lining the valleys of the mountainous hinterland beyond the farming lands of the broad, flat coastal strip, and later the sun set over this mountainous backdrop (see right).

Hofsˇs village:  Hofsˇs village clearly still functions as a service centre for this farming hinterland, just as in times past farmers had brought their surplus produce here to trade with Danish merchants. But the modern village was something of a puzzle, far larger and livelier than the run-down backwater implied by our guide books. It was a surprisingly large settlement with rows of modern and affluent-looking single-storey houses extending along the side streets, and a school, community centre, shop and filling station at the village centre. The large number of houses seemed to indicate that the original community had now increased with holiday- and weekend-homes, particularly as with the improved state of the Ring Road and Hvalfj÷r­ur tunnel, Hofsˇs was now within weekend range from ReykjavÝk. This impression was reinforced by the modern village of Hofsˇs having what was referred to as a 'designer swimming pool' which had put the place 'on the map'. We should stay here a second day and investigate the swimming pool tomorrow.

Hofsˇs swimming pool:  the following day, after a morning in camp, we walked along to Hofsˇs' geothermally heated swimming pool. The small outdoor pool was designed by the same architect responsible for the Blue Lagoon bathing complex in SW Iceland which was fed by effluent from a geothermal power station (not something any self-respecting professional would admit to on his CV!). It is landscaped into the hillside above the fjord in such an integrated fashion as to give an impression of infinite view from the pool extending over the sea to the mountains beyond (see above left). The pool was reported to have been donated to the village just before the 2008 financial crisis by 2 bankers' wives who presumably had holiday homes in Hofsˇs. Admission to the pool was 900kr each, and while Sheila swam in the 32║C warm water, Paul took photos of the setting against the fjord and mountainous backdrop (Photo 26 - Hofsˇs swimming pool), before joining her in the pool. Even the sun managed to shine as we enjoyed the comfortably warm pool, and wallowed in the 36║C geothermally heated hot-pot.

A final night at Hofsˇs Camping:  from the pool, we walked back down to the little harbour, with the restored log-built warehouses (pakkhusi­ in Icelandic) from the Danish trading station. The far side of the grey shingle beach was edged at the fjord-side with grey basalt polygonal column bases (Photo 27 - Basalt column bases) (see above right), replicas of which formed features at the swimming pool. Across the bridge, the Hofsß river tumbled down from the Tr÷llskagi mountains into the sea by the harbour wall (Photo 28 - Hofsß river) (see left). Walking back to camp, we were still intrigued by the size of Hofsˇs and the number of modern houses extending along the newer part of the village away from the original settlement which had developed down by the harbour. Dark cloud, which earlier had been gathering over the mountains on the far side of Skagafj÷r­ur, gradually crept nearer bringing a miserably wet evening. We sat in George to cook and eat supper, looking out into the rain and heavy cloud which tonight covered the Tr÷llskagi mountains, obscuring the deep valleys cutting into the hills behind us. When the campsite lad called round later for payment, we asked more about Hofsˇs: there are now less than 200 permanent residents, and as we suspected, many of the modern houses are holiday-, weekend- or summer-houses owned by distant city-folk. This would explain why fat-cat bankers' wives lived in Hofsˇs, with enough money to endow the 'designer swimming pool'.

Cathedral church at Hˇlar:  the overnight rain had just about stopped, and heavy overcast beginning to clear from the 3 valleys of Unadalur, Seljadalur and Vesterdalur which penetrate deep into the Tr÷llskagi mountainous interior. We returned to Route 76 and turned south across the broad coastal farming strip where hay had been cut and baled (click here for detailed map of route). The road swung inland across the open mouth of Kolbeinsdalur to reach the Route 767 turning into Hjaltadalur and Hˇlar 12kms along the broad valley. Herds of Icelandic horses grazed the farmland pastures, and in the distance the small cathedral church with its bell-tower at Hˇlar could be seen, set among woodland under the bulky, looming shadow of snow-fringed Hˇlabyr­a mountain (see above right).

There had been a church here a Hˇlar in Hjaltadalur since Iceland's 11th century conversion to Christianity (Photo 29 - Hˇlar cathedral church) (see left). Set at a cross-roads of N~S, W~E communication routes, the site at Hˇlar in Hjaltadalur was for centuries Northern Iceland's episcopal seat, ranking in importance with Skßlholt in the south (see right). The Bishopric at Hˇlar was founded in 1106, with the church and seminary developing as the ecclesiastical, educational and cultural capital of the north. Until the Reformation, Catholicism flourished with the Church acquiring vast land holdings, along with the wealth and power from tithes income. The last of the Catholic Bishops of Hˇlar was Jˇn Arason 1484~1550). Denmark adopted Lutheranism in 1536, and the Kingdom outlawed the Catholic Church, taking over its lands and wealth including those in Iceland. The Icelanders' vehement resistance to the enforced Protestant Reformation was politically motivated, with the Catholic Church becoming a powerful and independent counter to Danish imperial control. The Bishop of Skßlholt was unable to resist Danish demands and was arrested in 1541, dying in a Copenhagen prison; the south soon fell to Lutheranism. In the north however, the Catholics rallied around Bishop Arason who amassed an army to resist the Danes and marched on the Althing. After defeat in battle, he was arrested and beheaded in 1550 along with his 2 sons. Arason had been a man ahead of his times: while mainland Europe was in the throes of the Reformation, Bishop Arason had shipped a printing press to Iceland and installed it at Hˇlar to print religious texts. The second Lutheran Bishop of Hˇlar, Gu­brandur Ůorlßksson (1541~1627) had himself translated the Old Testament from Hebrew to Icelandic. A group of monks at Hˇlar had, before the Reformation, begun illicitly translating the New Testament from Greek, but none of this work had been distributed. Then in 1584, Gu­brandur Ůorlßksson used Arason's printing press to produce 500 copes of the Bible translated into vernacular Icelandic (see right); the work took 7 years and was paid for by every church being required to purchase a copy. Gu­brandur produced his own woodcuts to illuminate the Bible headings. The current church at Hˇlar was built from local red sandstone in 1763. Although the bishopric was abolished in 1801 and school closed, the cathedral church remained, and the school was revived in 1882. This has developed as a college teaching equine science and agriculture, and has now acquired university status. Hˇlar became an episcopal seat again in 1997.

Our visit to Hˇlar cathedral church:  reaching the cathedral church and college with the mountain looming overhead, we walked back down the road for photographs. To one side of the site below woods, a timber log house had been reconstructed to commemorate 1000 years of Christianity in Iceland, based on the original Au­unarstofa structure built by the Norwegian Bishop of Hˇlar, Au­un the Red in the early 14th century (see above left). The wooden building displayed early religious printed texts from Hˇlar. The bell-tower had been erected alongside the small cathedral church in 1950 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Jˇn Arason's execution; his remains had been re-interred in a small chapel at the foot of the bell-tower.

Over at the cathedral, we learned from the pastor more about the history of Hˇlar and its 2 renowned bishops Arason and Gu­brandur. The church's treasures included a late Baroque 1674 baptismal font carved from a piece of soapstone said to have floated to Iceland from Greenland on an ice floe (see below left). Of particular interest was an original of the Gu­brandur Bible printed at Hˇlar in 1584 which stood on a lectern (Photo 30 - Gu­brandur Bible), overlooked by a portrait of Bishop Ůorlßksson (see left) whose tomb stone was set in the chancel floor. 2 works of art that remarkably had survived the Reformation's Lutheran bigotry were a beautiful carved and gold-leaf inlaid altarpiece from the Netherlands displaying the crucifixion and figures of saints and presented to the cathedral in 1520 by Jˇn Arason (see above right), and an ornate alabaster altarpiece made in Nottingham around 1470.

Up the hillside behind the cathedral stood the NřibŠr, a restored mid-19th century turf-built, multi-roomed farm-house and rectory with walls 3m thick. Like the farmstead at GlaumbŠr which we should see later, these represented superb examples of Icelandic rural turf-built dwellings. A path continued over the hillock down through conifer woods to the modern college building. The peaceful environs of Hˇlar and its wonderful setting in Hjaltadalur (Photo 31 - Hˇlar in Hjaltadalur) looking up the length of the valley to the snow-covered Tr÷llskagi peaks had been a restful interlude, with a chance to understand more of Iceland's turbulent history and see the cathedral's precious works of art.

The port-town of Sau­ßrkrˇkur with its dismal campsite:  back down the valley, we turned off onto Route 75 across the broadly spreading delta of the J÷kulsa glacial river's estuary, to approach the port-town of Sau­ßrkrˇkur (click here for detailed map of route). With 3,000 residents, this is Skagafj÷r­ur's largest town. We made first for the town's campsite, a bleakly barren, open field by the swimming pool alongside the main street. There was little to commend the place other than the newish facilities block, with WC/showers and wash-up sinks, but ill-designed, poorly equipped and not particularly clean, and no kitchen or wi-fi. A number of caravans and camping-cars were already taking up the best spots; it all looked very dismal. We found Sau­ßrkrˇkur's Vinbu­in which stocked Kaldi beers but not the local microbrewery's products, stocked up with provisions at the large supermarket, and filled George with diesel. Given the campsite's unattractive urban setting, we considered our camping options: should we stay here in these dismal and noisy surroundings, or drive on 25kms down to Varmahli­? We decided to brave it out here (a decision later regretted), and selected the least bad spot away from the noise potential of the camping-cars but close to the main road's traffic noise. By later that evening, we were totally hemmed in by hired camping-cars and their inconsiderately noisy occupants. It was a drizzly, cold evening, wretchedly noisy on this dismally bleak urban site.

The GlaumbŠr turf-walled farmstead museum:  a warm and sunny morning at last, but Sau­ßrkrˇkur Camping had been a thoroughly unpleasant experience: this bleakly barren, open field next to the town swimming pool and alongside a busy main town road, amid all the noise of traffic and dismal urban setting, combined with the intrusive presence of tourist camping-cars and their inconsiderate occupants crowding in on us, made this one of the trip's worst campsites (see above left). How we regretted not having moved on last evening down to Varmahli­. With much relief this morning we departed, glad to leave this dismal town, and turned off onto Route 75 down the broad farming valley of the J÷kulsa river (click here for detailed map of route). 12kms south, we reached the GlaumbŠr turf-walled farmstead museum, set alongside GlaumbŠr church (see above right).

The GlaumbŠr site has been farmed since the 9th century time of Settlement, but the conserved turf-walled and roofed farmstead complex dates from the 18~19th centuries, and had been inhabited until 1947 (Photo 32 - GlaumbŠr turf-walled farmstead) (see above right). This style of turf construction was typical of farm dwellings in rural Iceland until around 1900, when it was gradually replaced by reinforced concrete seen in most contemporary Icelandic buildings. Extensive turf-construction evolved in rural Iceland owning to the acute shortage of large trees for timber construction. The traditional turf-built farm-complex of small separate rooms connected by central passageway, and fronted by a row of 5 gabled fašades as at GlaumbŠr (see right) (Photo 33 - GlaumbŠr gabled-frontage), shows the impoverished lifestyle in rural Iceland before the 20th century. Externally, the cut turf 'bricks' were laid in courses or bonded together in a herringbone pattern (see above left) (Photo 34 - GlaumbŠr external turf walls). Inside the gabled compound of storage rooms and living space, the 2~3m thick turf walls built around a wooden frame gave effective insulation against the freezing temperatures of winter. The inner walls were lined with thin panels of drift-wood separated and insulated by thick layers of turf, and roofed with the same materials. Icelandic grass grows thickly, and this combination of turf, roots and compacted soil gave a strong, binding and enduringly insulating layer (see left and below right) (Photo 35 - Turf block construction) . Turf walls in areas of moderate rainfall can, with continuing maintenance, last for up to a century. The pitch of the roof must be sloped at just the right angle: too flat and water pools, causing the turf roof to leak; too steep and the water drains over-quickly so that the grass does not grow, or dries and cracks in dry weather, both again causing leaks. The turf-walled and roofed farming complex at GlaumbŠr is superbly conserved and administered by the National Museum of Iceland. The original preservation was begun by an English aristocrat, Sir Mark Watson, who travelled around Iceland in the 1930s and was so impressed by GlaumbŠr that he donated ú200 for its refurbishment as a museum.

Having examined the exterior details of the turf constructed farmstead, we paid the 1,200kr entry to explore the interior of the hobbit-like warren. Each of the 16 carefully conserved rooms was filled with a collection of period furniture and equipment to demonstrate rural living and working conditions (see below left and right) (Photo 36 - Storage pantry). GlaumbŠr was in fact quite a wealthy farm, providing a living for  the pastor who not only ran the farm but also provided rudimentary education to local youngsters. An extended family with its workers occupied the complex, with accommodation for up to 22 people. Tiny wood-framed windows set into the grassy turf of the roof admitted light, and although it was a cold day, it felt totally snug within the insulated depths of the building's thick turf walls, with not a trace of earthy, musty smell. Various store rooms, pantries for storing preserved food for winter, and a kitchen led off the central passageway, and at the far end the ba­stofa provided living and sleeping space with 11 beds sleeping 2 to a bed (Photo 37 - Ba­stofa living and sleeping space) (see below right). They eat or worked at domestic tasks sitting on the beds, and at night slept under woollen blankets or eider-down duvets, tucked in on the outer side by a removable bed-board (r˙mfj÷l) made from a length of drift-wood and often elaborately engraved with owner's initials, date and a night-time prayer. Along with 19th furnishings, the room displayed personal belongings such as food bowls (askur), and working equipment for spinning, weaving and sewing. The displays were a superbly presented illustration of cramped living conditions within the farmstead complex.

On the southern side, an exit door from a store room led out to what was now a grass-covered mound. It seemed clear that this may once have been the farmstead's midden, a waste tip for dumping rubbish and ashes; human waste along with animal dung would have been re-cycled to manure the fields. Over at one of the nearby wooden buildings, we found the site director and archaeologist, SigrÝ­ur Sigur­ar and from her learned more about GlaumbŠr's history. It was known that the site had been farmed since Settlement times: the Saga of the Greenlanders describes how 2 of those who had sailed with Leifur EirÝksson on the abortive voyage to found a settlement in Vinland on the shores of North America, Ůorfinnur Karlsefni and Gu­rÝ­ur Ůorbjarnardˇttir, returned to Iceland in the early years of the 11th century after the expedition's failure, along with their infant son Snorri Ůorfinnson, the first American born of European parents in 1003 AD. The Saga records that they purchased land in the J÷kulsa valley at GlaumbŠr, and that Snorri built the first church here in memory of his mother. Although the authenticity of the Saga's account linking GlaumbŠr to Snorri Ůorfinnson has been questioned by scholars, the existence of a Settlement era farm at GlaumbŠr is known. It was believed that this was located on the valley side above the river on the site of the 18~19th century farmstead. But analysis of materials and artefacts from a test trench dug into the midden mound at the rear showed an earliest date of around 1104 AD, implying that the farm here was built or moved from elsewhere sometime later after 1100 AD. Remote sensing however on a levelled area 150m eastward of the present farm complex lower towards the river indicated building remains under the surface turf. Excavation of the site unearthed a 30m longhouse (skßli) and its associated midden dated to the 11th century. Its shape and layout was exactly like the 11th century Viking farmsteads we had seen in the Faroes. The original settlers would have sailed up-river from their landfall at the coast, to build their skßli a safe distance up the valley. Perhaps the farm dwelling had later been moved further uphill around 1100 AD to a more secure site away from river flooding. The intriguing question remains unconfirmed: was the skßli the farmstead of Snorri Ůorfinnson? We spent time with SigrÝ­ur discussing the archaeology of the GlaumbŠr site and the possible but umprovable links with Snorri Ůorfinnson. The skßli longhouse and the later turf farmstead represent 2 different forms of rural dwelling, but together they show that this land at GlaumbŠr had been farmed for more than 1000 years. What a rewarding visit this had been.

GlaumbŠr church, J÷kulsa valley and VÝ­imřri turf-walled chapel:  as another party of tourists arrived at GlaumbŠr simply to take their 'selfies', with little more than fleetingly superficial glances at the magnificent turf-walled farmstead, we walked over to visit the church. The present church dates from 1926, and replaced earlier turf-covered wooden churches on the site facing the farmstead which had provided a living for the pastor (see left). The most interesting of the church's decorations was a series of wooden panels from an earlier pulpit, painted with figures of Christ, Mary and apostles, dating from 1685.

Before leaving the J÷kulsa valley to return to Sau­ßrkrˇkur, we drove on down to VarmahlÝ­ (click here for detailed map of route), both to investigate the campsite there and to visit the turf-built chapel at VÝ­imřri. The broad, green valley was fertile farming country, with many horses grazing by each of the farms, and the fields spread with silage bales. VarmahlÝ­ was little more than a service station at the Ring Road's junction with Route 75, but on the far side of the village a side turning led to the tiny rural chapel of VÝ­imřrarkirkja. This turf-walled and roofed chapel, built in 1834 to replace an earlier medieval structure around a frame of driftwood with wooden fašade ends, is still in use as a parish church (see above right) (Photo 38 - VÝ­imřri turf-walled chapel).

VarmahlÝ­ Camping:  back in VarmahlÝ­ we found the campsite tucked away uphill behind the village. The site was divided into a number of secluded grassy areas, each with power supplies and sheltered by mature trees, most un-Icelandic and more like a French campsite. How we wished we had come here last evening. Rather than continue with our journey over to Skagastr÷nd tonight, this was too tempting a campsite to miss, and we found a well-hidden corner protected by picnic tables from disturbance by late-arrivers and screened by clumps of spruces. We later leaned from the warden when he came round for payment that until 2008, this had been a government operated forestry preserve and tree nursery which had been sold off and converted to a campsite. It was perfect, with modern, clean facilities and the same good-value pricing structure as the other sites in the Skagafj÷r­ur group. The following morning was bright and sunny, enabling us to sit outside for breakfast at the picnic table (see above left) (Photo 39 - VarmahlÝ­ Camping). The campsite with its secluded bays was able to absorb the numbers of holiday-making caravans without feeling crowded; despite being close to the Ring Road, it was relatively tourist-free, making for a delightfully peaceful stay for once. With its arboreal environment, VarmahlÝ­ was the best of the Skagafj÷r­ur group of campsites.

Fish-drying history at Sau­ßrkrˇkur, and farewell to Skagafj÷r­ur:  we returned northwards to Sau­ßrkrˇkur via Route 76 on the far side of the J÷kulsa valley (click here for detailed map of route). This was very much horse rearing country on a large scale, with every farm having large herds grazing its home pastures. At the north end of the valley, we turned across the delta-estuary into Sau­ßrkrˇkur (see above right), and along Strandvegur at the far end of town found the small boats harbour (Photo 40 - Sau­ßrkrˇkur fishing harbour) (see left). Beyond the shrimp factory with its giant painted crustacean mural (Ceci n'est pas une crevette announced the graffiti!), we reached the industrial container port, and beyond this, the modern fish-drying factory, which had replaced the rows of fish-drying wooden frames now standing empty and abandoned (Photo 41 - Sau­ßrkrˇkur fish-drying frames) (see right). Until recently, these would have been loaded with 1000s of cod, gutted bodies and heads as we had seen in the Lofotens, hanging for drying in the cold Icelandic air, for export as Bacalao to Nigeria (Skrei­ = dried fish in Icelandic). We recalled seeing the wooden frames in 1972 loaded with drying fish rattling in the wind, with luxuriant growth of chickweed beneath. Here at Sau­ßrkrˇkur the wooden racks now stood empty and abandoned, some demolished and poles lying in heaps, their former role for drying fish now usurped by a modern freeze-drying factory. Back into town, we shopped for provisions and used the Arion Bank's ATM to withdraw cash; it was finally time to leave Sau­ßrkrˇkur and wave farewell to Skagafj÷r­ur around whose shores we had travelled and camped over the past week.

Over the fells to the eastern shore of H˙naflˇi:  Route 744 rose steadily up the long, bleak valley NW of Sau­ßrkrˇkur, gaining height on a newly engineered road below the Tindast÷ll fells, wild and empty country with just a handful of abandoned farms (click here for detailed map of route). Over the watershed, the road dropped steeply to the junction with the gravelled Route 745 which turned off northwards hugging the coast around the tip of the Skagi peninsula. Route 744 climbed to another bleak fell-land watershed to descend the long and lonely Nor­urßrdalur through the mountainous terrain of Ůverßrfjall. The road dropped down to the broad valley bottom, passing isolated farms one of which had a huge, circular horse and sheep gathering coral (hammarsrÚtt) (see left), used during the autumn round-up when the animals are brought down from high fell-land pastures for sorting by owner. At the junction with Route 74, we turned north along the eastern shore of H˙naflˇi, with the jagged peaks on the far side of the fjord silhouetted against the bright afternoon light. Some 12kms north, past more horse rearing farms, we turned off to the small fishing port and trading post of Skagastr÷nd.

Skagastr÷nd Camping:  at the edge of the village we found tonight's campsite, Skagastr÷nd Camping; this was a Camping Card site, fortunate since the cumulative pricing was expensive totalling 3,200kr with showers. Facilities however included both a common room and kitchen with electric cooker, the first seen in quite a while, plus washing/drying machine but no wi-fi. Despite the presence of tourist camping-cars and caravans with their inconsiderately noisy occupants (all thoroughly unsavoury company), we found a quiet corner on the far side sheltered by hedges and under a craggy outcrop (see above right). Mid-evening, an officiously rude Jobsworth character called round for payment, his petty rule-book manner giving immediate offence and provoking suitably curt response; he had clearly overlooked the fact that it was those staying at the campsite who paid his wages. The following morning was bright and sunny at last, but with a chill wind blowing along the exposed H˙naflˇi shore-line. As some counter justice for the campsite's unduly expensive showers, this morning we discovered that the coin machine was not working meaning free hot showers. The unsavoury Jobsworth posted a note on the shower door saying 'Out of action'; we ignored this and went ahead with our free showers, prepared if need be to defend this with the response 'Well if the shower's not working, how could we use it?' Although intrinsically a reasonable municipal site, Skagastr÷nd was spoiled by its offensively ill-mannered warden.

Skagastr÷nd fishing harbour:  Skagastr÷nd (meaning Skagi shore) was aptly named given its location along the western coast of the wild Skagi peninsula, but most of the village's houses were tastelessly modern dating from the 1940~50s herring boom years. Before leaving however we drove down to the fishing harbour for photos in the bright sunshine (see above left and right) (Photo 42 - Skagastr÷nd fishing harbour), against its backdrop of derelict and unsightly concrete former fish factory.

Blanda river-rapids at Bl÷nduˇs:  returning along the Skagi coast (click here for detailed map of route) into the underwhelming service centre town of Bl÷nduˇs, we pulled into Gla­heimer camping in the outskirts where the campsite reception served also as the town's tourist information centre. Here, in total contrast to the offensive Jobsworth character at Skagastr÷nd, we were greeted by a charming and helpful elderly gent who readily gave us advice on bird-watching sites along the glacial river Blanda where it flowed through Bl÷nduˇs. A short way back uphill, we parked to cross a footbridge above the Blanda river-rapids over to the river-island of Hristey, now a nature reserve with walking trail. The surging rapids were impressive and we hoped to find Harlequin ducks here in spite of the lateness of the season. At this late stage of the year however, bird-life was there none. Down in the town, Greylag Geese with goslings were swimming by the main bridge (Photo 43 - Greylag Geese) (see below left), and along a side road we found a bird hide overlooking the Blanda river-mouth where the now wide and shallow river flowed towards its exit into H˙nafj÷r­ur. There were again large numbers of Greylag Geese here, both swimming on the river and standing on the river banks. But that was about it for Bl÷nduˇs; despite the reports of flocks of Harlequin Ducks both here and on the Laxß river at Mřvatn, for us these elegant ducks remained elusive.

Around H˙nafj÷r­ur:  we now faced a long stretch of Ring Road around the flat, fertile horse farming lands of the shores of H˙nafj÷r­ur (click here for detailed map of route); the recklessly speeding tourist traffic was worse than ever, making this the most stressful driving in Iceland so far. Shapely peaks lined the southern horizon as we passed around the shore of Hˇp lagoon which was trapped by a huge glacial moraine sand-bar separating it from H˙nafj÷r­ur. Thankful for some relief from Ring Road tourist traffic, we turned off onto the unsurfaced Route 721. Just by the junction, a curious cluster of conical-shaped hillocks covers an area of some 4 km2; some reports ascribe the Vatnsdalshˇlar mounds to the debris remains of a massive landslide from the Vatnsdalsfjall mountains east of Hˇp Lagoon, but in such an obvious glacial terminal location at the estuary delta of the Vatnsdalsß river, they seemed far more likely to be drumlin heaps of glacial moraine. This moraine-rich, fertile farming land bordering H˙nafj÷r­ur bay and Hˇp lagoon at Ůingeyrar had originally been the long-established meeting site of the regional assembly, the H˙na-Thing during the time of the Icelandic Commonwealth (930~1262 AD). The first Bishop of Hˇlar, Jˇn Ígmundsson, pledged to endow a church with its associated farm as a living for the priest here at Ůingeyrar in return for relief from a local famine. When the land began to regain its productivity, Bishop Ígmundsson kept his word and founded not only a church but Iceland's first monastery, Ůingeyra-Klaustur, here in 1133 AD. The monastery prospered and became a centre of culture, with Iceland's most outstanding texts of medieval Saga literature transcribed here, so preserving them for posterity. The monastery was closed at the 1550 Lutheran Reformation and nothing now survives of it except the church and farm. The present stone church was endowed in 1877 by a wealthy local farmer and member of the Althing, built from cut basalt blocks transported on sledges across the winter frozen Hˇp Lagoon from the hills to the west. It now stands in splendid isolation out here in these remote and lonely farmlands by the flat lagoon shore next to Ůingeyrar Farm (Photo 44 - Ůingeyrar church) (see right), clearly still prosperous horse-rearing lands.

The church at Ůingeyrar:  we drove out along the 6kms of dirt road through the empty H˙nafj÷r­ur farmlands to reach the isolated church at Ůingeyrar, to be greeted by a young attendant from the nearby glitzy visitor centre with demand for payment of 800kr each 'service charge' to visit the church. Hmmm .. first mistake! His second mistake was showing us the church before collecting his pieces of silver! In our view, turning a church into a tourist attraction was no pretext for charging admission however euphemistically disguised. The oldest and most attractive piece of artwork in the stark 19th century dark stone Ůingeyrar church was a 15th century alabaster relief altarpiece, made in Nottingham and originally in the form of a triptych (see above left). This was the only treasure remarkably to have survived from the monastery after its dissolution. The ornate but rather less attractive 17th century Baroque hexagonal pulpit and octagonal baptismal font were both over-decorative with gilded canopies and painted panels. The organ loft rail was lined with carved figures of Christ and apostles (see above right); those here are copies of the originals which once had decorated the rood-screen of an earlier Ůingeyrar church and are now in the ReykjavÝk National Museum. The church's blue-panted ceiling was covered with 1000 stars, representing 1000 years of Christianity in Iceland. We spent time photographing the church's artwork, then walked over intending to see the replica Saga manuscripts in the visitor centre. But instead we were distracted by the sight of attractive Icelandic horses grazing the nearby pastures (see left) (Photo 45 - Icelandic horses), and somehow the 'service charge' got overlooked! Returning along the dirt track to the Ring Road, we paused to photograph more of the horses farmed in these lonely H˙nafj÷r­ur lands, and a typically Icelandic setting of lupins growing along the VÝ­idalsß estuary (see right) (Photo 46 - Lupins at Ůingeyrar).

Koluglj˙fur Canyon and Kolufossar waterfalls:  continuing westwards past VÝ­idalsfjall ridge in oppressively speeding Ring Road tourist traffic, we turned off onto the gravelled Route 715 along the farming valley of VÝ­idalur (click here for detailed map of route). Some 6kms along, we crossed the VÝ­idalsß just where the river emerged from the 2kms long Koluglj˙fur Canyon carved out along the valley. At Kolugil Farm, we turned into a parking area for the Kolufossar waterfalls, expecting to be able to enjoy this little known and unpublicised natural wonder in peace. But we should have realised: never underestimate the all-pervasive reach of the mass tourism industry; Kolufossar had been discovered. A number of tourist cars were parked here along with even a tour-bus whose rowdy occupants spilled everywhere along the canyon top. We waited until the tourists' brief span of attention wearied and they were hastened on for another set of 'selfies' at the next 'attraction'. Then in relative peace, we were able to study the falls from the narrow bridge (see right), as the shallow and rather insignificant VÝ­idalsß river spilled over the brink, its ice-blue cascades tumbling in multi-layered falls into the depths of the canyon carved out over aeons into crumbling rock (see left and right) (Photo 47 - Kolufossar waterfalls). The far side of the bridge looked downstream along the winding length of the 40m deep gorge, with rock pinnacles standing stark along the canyon's length (Photo 48 - Koluglj˙fur Canyon). This localised area of softer, friable rock must have been eroded away by the river before it emerged at a lower level to flow along the surface of harder rock. Having photographed the falls and canyon from the vantage point of the bridge, we clambered down the rocks below the bridge to the head of the falls for photographs at closer quarters (see below left) (Photo 49 - Kolufossar waterfalls), and stood at the brink of the canyon precipice peering down into the depth of the gorge (Photo 50 - Koluglj˙fur Canyon) (see below right). This was truly as magnificent a sight of natural beauty in such a wild and lonely setting along this valley as we should see in the whole of Iceland, and still remarkably free from the pollutant intrusion of mass tourism.

Hvammstangi Camping:  returning to Route 1, we continued westwards for the final stretch of speeding tourist traffic to the turning onto Route 72 along the shore of Mi­fj÷r­ur up to Hvammstangi (click here for detailed map of route). This was a sizeable fishing port, lit by the now bright afternoon sun, and high on the fell-side above the village we found Kirkjuhvammur Camping, aptly named alongside the municipal graveyard and chapel. But alas, so had half the caravanning holiday-makers of Iceland together with vast numbers of tourists, and it was only with difficulty that we managed to secure a reasonably free space towards the top, preferring the peaceful company of the graveyard incumbents to that of rowdy holiday-makers with all their materialistic paraphernalia. On such a sunny evening, we relaxed a while with well-earned beers before setting up our barbecue for supper (see below left) (Photo 51 - Hvammstangi Camping).

Hvammstangi fishing port:  it rained heavily during the night and this morning the air was still moist with rain cloud on the hills above the village. Last evening the fells had glowed in the late sun which picked out all the detail of the rocky outcrops; this morning they were totally hidden in low, misty cloud. We had expected someone to call round for payment but no one appeared; Hvammstangi was a Camping Card site, but how can you pay when there was no reception or no warden calling. The facilities were reasonable with a large common room, a small kitchen/wash-up and outside a covered grill-house with seating, and wi-fi around the facilities building. The WCs were modern and clean but with minimal hand-basins, and extraordinarily no showers whatsoever; clearly you were not expected either to wash or shower at Hvammstangi! Before leaving the village, we drove down to the fishing harbour for photos (see below right) (Photo 52 - Hvammstangi fishing harbour), shopped at the Vinbu­in and well-stocked supermarket and admired the even better stocked hardware stores where seemingly anything you could possibly imagine was on sale. Nearly a decorative fish-drying rack was hung with a few token fish (see below left). Having re-filled George's diesel, we finally left Hvammstangi to return to the Ring Road.

A long and lonely drive north through wild terrain to HˇlmavÝk:  the first stage of today's long drive north was 28kms down Route 1 across the fertile farmlands of the Mi­fj÷r­ur estuary past Laugarbakki and down the long eastern shore of Hr˙tafj÷r­ur to round the head of the inner fjord close to the large Ring Road service station of Bru (click here for detailed map of route). Before reaching Bru, we turned off northwards onto Route 68, all the way back along the western fjord coast passing the shore-side farming settlement of Bor­eyri. This was still farming countryside, but 15kms further at the farm and isolated church of Prestbakki, the tarmac ended for 18kns of gravelled road through wild fell terrain dotted with abandoned farms. At the farmstead of Kolbeinsß, looking out over the mouth of Hr˙tafj÷r­ur to the wild, open expanse of the Arctic Ocean, the tarmac began again. The narrow road ran along the shore-side, and the surf from the open sea beyond the sheltered fjord was wilder, littering the shore-line with driftwood washed across the Ocean from who-knows-where in the Siberian forests (see below right). At one time, driftwood was prized picking for the settlers in treeless Iceland, used for making timber frames for dwellings and for furniture. Ahead the cliffs of Skarfatangi loomed ominously above the ocean appearing impassable, but the road turned inland climbing steeply over a high shoulder to descend on the northern side down to the shore of Bitrufj÷r­ur. The way forward had to make a long sweep inland around to the isolated farmstead of Sandhˇlar at the head of the narrow fjord inlet, followed by the long return leg along the far side, passing another isolated shore-side farm church at Ëspakseyri. The weather had now become oppressively gloomy, making the fjord seem even more narrow.

As the road reached the open sea again beyond the mouth of Bitrufj÷r­ur, the gravelled surface began again, this time wet after recent rain, coating the road with muddy slurry. Ahead beyond a turning to a lonely farm, the sheer cliffs of the formidable Ennish÷f­i headland towered above the sea. The road again turned inland to climb even more steeply, gaining height via hairpins to surmount the headland's shoulder. With uncertain grip on the narrow road's muddy slurry, George bravely tackled the gradient to reach the highpoint, and began the long and equally steep downward slope to Broddanes on the shore of Kollafj÷r­ur (see left). Along the fjord's southern shore to its head, we paused to photograph more Icelandic horses at Lj˙fusta­ir farm. Just around the northern side, the tarmac began again as the road passed another isolated farm church at Kollafjar­arnes. Route 68 now continued around the shore-line of SteingrÝmsfj÷r­ur, and here the heaps of driftwood were piled high along the wild beach of Gßlmastr÷nd. Just beyond the farmstead of H˙savÝk, we passed shallow lagoons on both sides of the road. This was clearly a birding area: Red Throated Divers could be seen in the distance, and along the shore-side mother and chick Oystercatcher pairings waded and pecked in the shallows. Some of the chicks were still young and covered with fluffy down (Photo 53 - Oystercatcher with chick) (see right); others were juveniles, almost fledged and recognisable as young Oystercatchers (Photo 54 - Oystercatcher with juvenile young) (see left).

HˇlmavÝk Camping:  just beyond the junction with Route 61 coming in from the SW, we reached the outskirts of HˇlmavÝk. We had 2 campsites identified for tonight, one here and the other 20kms further around on the far side of SteingrÝmsfj÷r­ur at Drangsnes. HˇlmavÝk Camping at the entrance to the fishing village, near the community centre and swimming pool, was already quite full of holiday-making Icelanders in caravans, but we found a secluded bay enclosed by a bund which we hoped would restrict the inevitable noise. There was every reason to believe that in July, Drangsnes would similarly be full of holiday-makers, and was set on a more exposed hill-side overlooking the fjord. At least it was more sheltered here and we decided to stay at HˇlmavÝk. Facilities were some distance from the camping areas in the community centre, but both kitchen and WCs were out of bounds today reserved for a private function. The only showers were at the swimming pool at full admission prices. The camping area had minimalist facility huts with one functioning WC and a wash-up sink. Despite there being in effect no showers, no wi-fi, and limited access today to WCs and kitchen, the campsite charges were unprecedentedly expensive: 1,240kr/person plus 1,240kr for power making a total of 3,720kr. This was just silly for what was a very basic municipal site! But with George's undersides caked in mud sprayed up from the wet gravel roads, we settled in. It was a bleakly chill evening, gloomily overcast with cold wind blowing from the north. Despite being mid-July, we were glad of the fan heater tonight for warmth. More caravans and tourist hire-cars arrived later, but weary after today's long drive, we turned in early, looking forward to a day in camp tomorrow.

A day at HˇlmavÝk Camping and HˇlmavÝk fishing harbour:  amazingly the wind had shifted overnight, and we woke to warm sun enabling us to sit out for breakfast (Photo 55 - HˇlmavÝk Camping) (see above right). What an amazing difference in weather and temperature wind direction makes. After a restful morning in camp, we walked along a pathway from the campsite into HˇlmavÝk where Lupins grew on the fell-side above SteingrÝmsfj÷r­ur (see left and below left), past the modern church set high on a rocky bluff above the village, to wander around the fishing port (Photo 56 - HˇlmavÝk fishing harbour) (see right). HˇlmavÝk's small fishing fleet catches shrimps out in the fjord and in deeper waters off the coast. Back at camp, more holiday-making caravans were arriving, their occupants making enough noise for the entire ReykjavÝk conurbation where they all clearly came from. And to cap all of this hullaballoo, long distance refrigerated lorries began parking immediately by the campsite with their engines constantly running, making incessant intrusive noise. Yet more caravans arrived later in the evening, and with the campsite full, a pair of them with arrogant indifference tried parking across our front. They reluctantly moved, seeming surprised at our objection! HˇlmavÝk Camping was without doubt the trip's (and Iceland's) worst campsite, particularly in peak holiday season of July; it was rated at a sordid -5, for its ridiculously over-priced charges, combined with worse than minimalist facilities, no showers, overcrowding, and constant intrusive noise of trucks parked nearby overnight with engines running. Today had been a far from restful rest day, and we had no intention of parting with money for this disgraceful campsite. It is a place to be avoided.

Tomorrow we should move on for the next phase of our Icelandic travels, exploring the remote West Fjords region of NW Iceland. Normally of course we should continue to complete our series of last summer's travelogues over the winter months. This year however, such were our experiences in Iceland, with so much opportunity for learning, spectacular volcanic terrain and unprecedented wealth of wild flora and birdlife, all deserving duly detailed attention, that time constraints are catching up with us. We simply cannot complete our writing up at present. But do not worry: we shall take a pause with our Icelandic travelogues, and resume this series in the autumn. The editions published so far will be included in the normal country index page, with the remaining missing editions to be added on our return. We must now turn our attention to preparing for our summer 2018 travels when we plan to circumnavigate the Baltic, focussing on a re-visit to the three Baltic Republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, with a crossing to Helsinki to return along the Baltic's northern seaboard through Finland, the ┼land Islands and southern Sweden to our start point back at LŘbeck. So join us again shortly.

The Prologue to our summer 2018 travels around the Baltic will be published quite soon

Sheila and Paul

Published:  8 February 2018


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