Day seven… (Varmahlíð, sort of Blönduós, Hólmavík, opposite Reykjarfjörður, Drangsnes)

OH our very good grief! What an inordinately long day. Vast swathes of driving, and bucketloads of +/- excitement in between! It began with a mystery meat breakfast, plus soaking in a hot tub in Varmahlid’s mountain surroundings, before dropping off the keys at Hestasport. Hestasport had a visitor!

“He’s not ours and we don’t know where he comes from,” they said, “but he’s visiting one of our lady dogs and he seems alright, so we let him stay around.” And very alright he was, too. It was sore difficult to keep him out of the car, and more than a little tempting to let him in. 

Then goodbye to the valley…

And on to the road! LOTS of road, for I had ballsed up google maps, and we had 5hrs of driving instead of three. Oop. Isafjordur was more like 7hrs, so looking ever more evanescent. 

A also forbade me from posting too many pics with the sun in shot today, so I tried some other things. Not least, taking pictures of buildings:

There were also “horse”phases, and a couple of pictures dedicated to pylons. 

The main attraction, again, though, was the mountains. We’d already passed through this way, but it had not yet snowed. And passing through the stretch of land between Varmahlid and Blondius BACKWARDS also felt kinda different. 

There were some striking differences in landscape. The roads from Varmahlid remained pretty filthy, but far more grass was visible all round. (Even if it was usuallyknobbled, knurled, and clearly covering a lava field). Valleys were broader. The landscape more open. Mountains smaller, fewer, and further between. 

The road rolled on, and on, and on, until we stopped at Blondius for petrol, photos of their fantastic church, and gender-appropriate kinder eggs. 

I won a dune buggy. A won a my little pony bracelet. Hell yeah! Go, team me!

We had a long, straight haul over the next hour or so, with some spots of interest. I wondered if I was seeing some “shield” volcanos, identifiable by their long low dome shapes, caused by low-silica low-viscosity lava. (I read that on wiki. I will *never* have a chance to wrangle it into conversation. So obv needed to state it here.)

That ^^^ is a terrible example. I think I was trying to photograph the houses. 

A was awestruck by a frozen mountain. 

And we passed more grass-coated horse-holding lava fields than you could shake a stick at. 

Mostly we were passing distant mountains and long, low bays, though. 

If I remember correctly, it was a bit more awe inspiring before we saw the windblasted, crater-raddled lava plains!

So, yes. We turned up route 62 along a bit of coast that looks remarkably like the Scottish highlands. Properly squiggly, and about the right shape, too. Roads began to get a wee bit fruity as we progressed – they’d completely given up paving most of it, and the gravel was covered in really quite substantial fields of fresh snow and compacted ice. As always, Icelandic 4x4s, hatchbacks and school buses hurtled past us on blind corners with cheerful abandon, wondering what on earth these daft foreigners were driving so slowly for.

We stopped after a while, to consume bananas by a Lutheran church. 

As we later discovered, Icelanders have a real thing for positioning these identikit churches in spectacular places. 

Their graveyards were in some curios places too – often nowhere near human habitation, or any visible churches. And houses and farms occupied some tiny wee spurs of land (in case you can’t find the house in the next pic, it’s at the end of the TINY spit of land in the middle).

I’m guessing the westerfjords must be tsunami proof, as even a large wave could cause national devastation. The whole of isafjorthur looks as if it’s built inches above the sea. 

The road seemed to wobble through a temperate zone, with patches of south-facing good roads, and north-facing ice roads on either side of several small bays…

But eventually, we got sight of what we’d been waiting for – the promontories, which held our journey’s pause and eventual end. We’d be pausing just after the second of these:

Holmavik was now less than an hour’s drive away, but some of the conditions before then were both beautiful, and awful

The bays began to develop increasing character, with mountains beginning to reappear, single track bridges at every bend, and piles of driftwood heaped up on the shore…

Most of the settlements we passed looked a bit dilapidated, and very quiet indeed. (One did boast an active Labrador, though. WOUF WOUF.)

My arse was beginning to ache, and A was verbally knackered, but this did feel like a proper little bit of adventuring. Still, aching arses need tendering. There was a real let-up in grumbling from my leftmost quarter when Holmavik hove into view. 

Holmavik is awesome. Utterly awesome, in a way that many teenage kids would gladly kill to avoid. The views are chuffing amazing. There is one shop, which sells three kinds of ham, tepid broiled sandwiches, two varieties of chocolate, and extremely small punnets of the worlds saddest strawberries. The state alcohol shop is in there, too. It’s a booth, about 2m by 2m. No discounts allowed. Someone’s mum probably staffs it. No other villages for a good hour’s drive in any one direction. Roads surprisingly open from March onwards, but a good chance of total isolation for much of the year. I’d imagine most local kids grow up to be extraordinarily good at something, be it chess, music, sex or origami. 

Speaking as post-teenagers, we found Holmavim *stunning* in sunshine. 

All local restaurants were closed, so we picnicked. I dined on rolled smoked lamb fat with vanilla skyr, A on bananas and cheese. And then we sought out the local piece de resistance – the museum of sorcery and witchcraft which, on arrangement by email, was to be specially opened for us!

Siggi met us at the door, gave us English language leaflets, and then went outside for a fag or seven, leaving us to escort ourselves around. The exhibition is absolute gold, enhanced by the superb English descriptions. 

Constructing necromancy seemed to require a remarkable degree of imagination, determination and commitment to wealth:

Whoever had constructed their necropants seemed to have had fun. 

For the female sorceress (of which Iceland had few), there were Tilburis on offer instead. 

The whole exhibition was presented with humour and gusto, and I really wish I’d bought something from their shop. They deserved far more than our £9ish combined entrance fee. (I did, though, donate £5isb towards a fund for hippopotamus – a single stray local cat. This may have been more useful to them than buying a £5 mug!)

After leaving, I coaxed A into letting us drive over the closest mountain pass, so that we could see the opposite side of Reykjarfjordur. We’re within spitting distance of the Westerfjords, but know we won’t get to them – so this seemed to be a nod, at least, in their direction. A quietly questioned my judgment, and perhaps rightly so! The mountain pass was… Passable… But had begun to accumulate weighty snow drifts. 

By the time we got there, clouds had begun to set in. Moreover, a quick look at contour lines on A’s map indicated that this was never going to be the most glamorous of Westerfjords – a good 5-600m lower than the peaks surrounding Isafjordur, another 150km west. 

Still. I’m glad we had a look. 

Conditions on the return leg were less favourable. It’s always reassuring, though, to know that the Icelandic road authority really is shit hot at what they do, and if they say a road is open, then in some form or other, it will be open. And almost certainly navigable, with a sensible attitude and decent car. Still, a white-out is never pleasant. And we really came to appreciate the sticks marking the sides of the roads. 

It got a fair bit whiter after that but, for contrast, here’s a closed road off to one side:

Very definitely closed!

Down the other side, and on to find our bed for tonight, at Drangsnes. Google maps has a slightly odd take on where we are:

Whilst we’re drier than ^^^ that might imply! the conditions here are tremendous.

We’re metres from the sea, in a wooden but that is being hammered by wind, and a passably robust snowstorm. Lights out, A snoring quietly, and blogging away, the sound is visceral and raw. And not a little bit scary, in a safe kinda scary way. 

Our few hours here have been incredible. The couple who run the place opened up the restaurant, just for us. They speak little English,and our Icelandic is pitiful – so we communicated through gestures and a few shared words. Like chocolate. My dinner contained more beef than I’ve seen on a single plate in years. Big, huge, hearty food, and supremely well-cooked. A drowned under the weight of fish she had on her plate. And they’re re-opening for our breakfast, too. 

Drangsnes also offers seafront hotpots – dents in an elevated piece of the seafront, bare feet from the crashing sea, filled with geothermal spring water. We went out to investigate, despite the snow. And saw our first glimpse of the aurora borealis instead – a huge, blue, neon streak across the sky. I only had my iPad on me, so have bit the sketchiest of pictures. A has better pics, to follow. 

Am extraordinary end to a day that was, despite a massive amount of driving, a little bit experimental but utterly worthwhile. 

 

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