Thursday 28 September 2017--We are away north today, excited to be
starting our planned circuit of Iceland, something I've wanted to do for a long
time. Route 1, the Ring Road, is 828 miles (1332 kilometers) long. We intend to
do considerably more than that, starting with a visit to the remote Westfjords.
Win and I planned to go there in 2013, but weather forced us to change our
itinerary. In hindsight, early November wasn't the best time for it.
I remember much of this route from 2013--the Hvalfjörður Tunnel, the gas station at Borgarnes. We don't have time to do a full circuit of Snæfellsnes, but manage a truncated tour along route 54, stopping in Ólafsvík for a noontime break. We stop, also, at Kirkjufell. Somehow Win and I missed Kirkjufellsfoss, the pretty little waterfall across the road--I guess we had our eyes fixed the other way. We can hardly miss it now. To my amazement, there are twenty cars jammed into a little dirt roadside lot, their occupants trailing along the path up to and around the falls. I thought we'd left the tourists behind in Reykjavík.
We're in Stykkishólmur early enough to pick up some supplies (i.e. beer) before boarding the ferry Baldur for the two-and-a-half-hour sail across broad Breidafjördur to the southern shore of the Westfjords. In summer, there is a morning sailing, and if it were so now, I'd have booked us a night here; it looks like a charming little town. Instead, we are away at 3:00, the late afternoon sun illuminating the hundreds of islands dotting Breidafjördur. A small number of these have houses or cabins on them, and one, Flatey, is home to a small village. We get a teasing look as Baldur docks to unload supplies. At one time, this was an important place, a center of culture and commerce. There was a monastery built in the 12th century, although no trace of it remains. Even into the twentieth century, before the development of a reliable road network, it was a significant transportation nexus. Today, the winter population is five, but the village bustles during the short summer months. The hotel, closed now for the season, is rather pricey, but I'm thinking it might be worth a splurge. Alternatively, it's possible to spend a few hours here during the months when the ferry runs twice a day. But an overnight--even two--would be better.
Flatey's most significant contribution to Icelandic culture is the Flateyjarbók, Iceland's largest surviving medieval manuscript. Produced on commission by two priests in the late 14th century, likely at the monastery in Þingeyrar on the mainland, it was a family heirloom in the possession of Jon Finnsson of Flatey when Bishop Brynjólfur Sveinsson of Skálholt requested that any and all old manuscripts be turned over to King Frederick III of Denmark, in 1651. Jon needed some arm-twisting, apparently, but he finally relented, and the book was placed in the Royal Library of Copenhagen in 1656. There it survived the great fire of 1728 and the Second Battle of Copenhagen in 1807, before finally being repatriated to Iceland in 1971. The book's 225 illustrated vellum pages comprise a large collection of sagas, poems, and tales, some of which (notably the Grnlendinga saga) have no other surviving source.
Flatey recedes tantalizingly in our wake; it's another hour to the landing at Brjánslækur. Along the way, Marc strikes up a conversation with a woman wearing a Montreal Canadiens cap. She and her boyfriend have been doing the Ring Road counter-clockwise. They tell us they were lucky to get around before a bridge washed out in the southeast, after a period of torrential rain. Such things are not unheard of, and all too often there is no reasonable detour- -the Ring Road is the only way through. So it is in this case. The washout is just west of Höfn, and anyone planning to go from there to Reykjavík or Keflavík will either have to make the long circuit around the north, or wait until a temporary bridge is erected, two or three days of delay in either case. There will be travelers missing flights. We'll keep an eye on the situation for the next few days. We have until Tuesday to cancel our reservations in the east without penalty.
It's a 45-minute drive from Brjánslækur to Patreksfjörður, first along the shore, then over a fairly hairy mountain pass. I'm thinking that it's a good thing Win and I didn't come here in 2013, as we'd have been trying to negotiate the mountain road in the dark...or maybe it would have been better not to see things quite so clearly. Just before the descent to the fjord, there is a peculiar monument at the roadside, erected by the workers who built this road in 1947, out of leftover materials. I'm not sure what it's about--it's said to resemble a local politician, although that apparently wasn't the intent. It looks to me like former Québec premier Lucien Bouchard.
We roll into town and find our lodgings, a reasonably comfortable small hotel. I'd originally booked us another night in Reykjavík, with just one night, tomorrow, here, but decided that we needed a day to see more of this area. As we go looking for dinner, I'm starting to feel that I've made a mistake. I already know that the one really cool-looking café in town is closed for the season. The only other decent restaurant is at the nearby Fosshotel, and we are dismayed to learn that it's closed for a private function tonight. We end up having crappy burgers at the N1 gas station. Not a good start to our Westfjords sojourn...at least we have beer back in the room.
Map of today's route