Friday 29 September 2017--We're off to see the sights on the southern
fringe of the Westfjords today. Had we only stayed one night in Patreksfjörður,
we'd have had to give them a miss.
We drive around the head of the fjord, and almost directly across from town, turn up along the valley back of Örlygshofn. The road loops back down the other side, but we take the long spur out to Látrabjarg. The road is gravel, but very well maintained. Látrabjarg is the westernmost point of Iceland, and is famous for the 14 kilometers of cliffs which serve as a nesting site for a million seabirds--gannets, puffins, guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes. We take a short walk from the end of the road, seeing a very small stretch of the cliffs, and absolutely no birds. Not one. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I'm not really a keen birder, but I'm looking forward to travel after retirement--not too far off now--when I can visit places like this in a season more propitious to observing avian activity.
At Brunnar, back down from the cliffs, we have a look at the remains of a seasonal fishing station, abandoned around 1880. The ruined sheds remind me of the croft houses vacated during the Highland Clearances in Scotland. There is a village, a dozen or so houses, at the other end of the beach. It seems to comprise a modest farm and some holiday cottages. There is no sign of life, no parked cars or wandering animals or children playing in the street, just a folk- art dude admonishing us to watch our speed, for no apparent reason.
Over the next hill is the broad beach at Breiðavík. There's a hotel here, one I scouted in planning the trip. The location caught my eye on the satellite map, but the price was a bit high. Just as well--we again find a lifeless place. I suppose in midsummer it's bustling with birders and walkers...it's hard to imagine just now.
Back at the road junction at Hnjótur, above Örlygshofn, we decide on a whim to drive out the road to Kolsvík. It turns out to be a bad idea. The road is okay up to the farm at Hænuvík, but it's very rough after that, not suitable for our rental car. We realize pretty quickly that we've made a mistake, but the road is narrow, and there's no place to turn around until we reach the farm at Kolsvík. It's only about six miles, but it feels much, much longer. Marc--it's his turn to drive today--is sweating bullets. We probably ought to stop and go see the beach, as long as we're here, but we're so spooked that we turn in the first available driveway and head back. I offer to take a turn at the wheel, but Marc is serious about discharging his duties.
Back at Hnjótur, we stop for a look at the US Navy Douglas C-117D outside the local historical museum. I'm not really sure why it's here, but it must have been delivered in pieces, and that's how it sits. The museum itself might be interesting, if it were open--among other things, it houses artifacts pertaining to the heroic rescue of eighteen crewmen on a British trawler that wrecked off Látrabjarg on 12 December 1947. An information panel at the cliffs explains that the operation took several days, and involved virtually the entire community-- rappeling down the icy cliffs, hauling the men ashore, scaling the cliffs again, setting up camp, bringing supplies. It's quite a story.
Back toward the head of the fjord, a gravel road leads over to the farm at Saubaer, on the south coast. We park by the church, beneath high cliffs. From there, a trail winds through the marsh toward Rauðasandur, the Red Sands, the Westfjords' most magnificent beach. Marc chooses to snooze in the car as I head off. After a while, I come upon three German lads staring, perplexed, at a broad lagoon that separates us from the beach itself. I walk right across...it's about three inches deep. On the other side, I turn and flex my muscles at the German lads, and they applaud. They follow, but not before removing their socks and shoes, and rolling up their trouser legs.
The beach itself is gorgeous, stretching for six or seven miles. I'm not sure what causes its striking orange color--one source says scallop shells, but I think it more likely that it's something in the local geology. Whatever it is, it's beautiful, and I'd love to spend a couple of hours walking along. But Marc is waiting back at the car, so I cut my visit short. I'm gone an hour and a half as it is.
The restaurant at Fosshotel is open this evening, and we enjoy a very nice meal. It's been an interesting day, well worth the extra night here--some history, a bit of archeology, a whole lot of scenery. On the walk back to our guesthouse, we are treated to Northern Lights--just some very faint streaks, nothing spectacular, but icing on the cake. Last night's gas station meal is all but forgotten.
Map of today's route