Saturday 30 September 2017--It's a hundred miles and change from
Patreksfjörður to Ísafjörður, on a road that skirts the heads of numerous fjords
and passes over the mountains and highland plateaus between them. Most of it is
unpaved, and is subject to closure in winter conditions, which was why Win and
I abandoned our planned visit in early November of 2013. In hindsight, we were
lucky we didn't come all the way up here and subsequently get snowed in. It
would have been a very long and expensive winter.
We begin by driving over the back of Patreksfjörður to Tálknafjörður and its namesake village. The other night, it was suggested to us that we might make the fifteen-mile drive to the restaurant there, rather than eat at the gas station. It didn't seem like a good idea then to make the trip at night, and looking at it now in daylight, we're happy we didn't, crappy burgers notwithstanding.
Then it's over the next mountain and down to Bíldudalur, on the southern shore of Arnarfjörður. This great fjord splits into Suðurfirðir and Borgarfjörður, each of which in turn splits into smaller fjords--Fossfjörður, Reykjarfjörður, Trostansfjörður, Geirþjófsfjörður, Dynjandavogur. Circling around the ends of all of these, on unpaved road, takes a good deal of time, but we are in no hurry; the scenery is spectacular. We're feeling lucky, as the weather forecast was for rain all day. Instead, we get broken cloud and plenty of sun. At Dynjandavogur, we stop to see the stunning waterfall Dynjandi, a bit surprised to find ten other cars in the parking lot--it's felt like we've had the road pretty much to ourselves until now. It's a gorgeous sight from the parking lot, all the more so if you walk up the trail along the lesser falls below, to the foot of Dynjandi itself. It's much bigger than it seems from a distance.
We round the end of Borgarfjörður and drive along the north shore of Arnarfjörður. Just before the road turns north up over the next mountain, we stop at the farm Hrafnseyri. We're maybe seven miles from Bíldudalur as the crow flies, but fifty miles and four hours (including an hour at Dynjandi and many photo stops) by road. Hrafnseyri is a national historic site, the childhood home of Jón Sigurðsson (1811-1879). Jón was a scholar who studied the medieval Icelandic manuscripts in Copenhagen, but he is best known as the father of Iceland's independence movement. Hrafnseyri is now a museum, and in summer hosts an institute attended by students from the University of Manitoba, which offers studies in Icelandic language and literature. (There are about 25,000 people of Icelandic descent in that province, the largest Icelandic community outside of Iceland itself--about a quarter of the population emigrated following the catastrophic eruption of Mt Askja in 1875, and some thought was given to evacuating the entire country. See New Iceland at Wikipedia.) The museum is closed for the season now, but we can enjoy a stroll around the grounds.
It's midafternoon now, and we have some miles to go. Up Húsadalur we drive, over the pass and down Brekkudalur to Þingeyri, on Dýrafjörður; around the end of the fjord, then up Gemlufallsdalur and down Bjarnadalur to the head of Önundarfjörður. We take a quick look at the village of Flateyri, then head up over our last mountain of the day, or through it, actually, in the four-mile tunnel Vestfjarðagöng. Partway along, there is a junction with a side tunnel leading toward Botnsdalur, Súgandafjörður, and the village of Suðureyri. I'm already feeling some regret that we didn't plan two nights in this area, so we could visit that and some other places around.
Roll into Ísafjörður around 4:00 and make a quick drive-through. This is the largest town in the Westfjords, with a population of about 2500. The downtown core is two or three blocks of buildings that look like they were transplanted haphazardly from less charming parts of Reykjavík. Surrounding that are warehouses and light industrial buildings which, I assume, are associated with the fishing industry; and then a few residential streets. I'm not enthralled. Maybe it's just that the sun has already dipped behind the mountain back of town, and everything looks a dusty gray. I'm not sure if I'm sorry or not we won't really have time to hang around here.
Our Airbnb is nice enough, sitting in a residential area just up the hill. The landlady is adjacent, which is very helpful when we are trying to figure out the Icelandic settings on the washing machine. And she comes through big-time for us with a carton of beer, the local Vínbúðin having closed just before we arrived. She bought it for her husband, who ended up being delayed an extra night out of town. There's a joke in there somewhere, but let's let it lie.
Dinner tonight is at Húsið, an informal restaurant in a converted house. The meal is very good [the best I will have in Iceland, in fact], healthy portions at a reasonable price, by Icelandic standards. I've been feeling ambivalent about Ísafjörður, at best, but knowing that a place like this is here makes it easy to think about returning some day. We feel satisfied after a long and very scenic day.
Map of today's route