southwest Iceland: icelandic horses & keldur

Wednesday, August 24:  After leaving Seljalandsfoss, we continue west on the Ring Road until we reach the unsurfaced Rt. 264, which we take north through the Rangarvellir valley.  Our destination is the medieval turf-roofed farm at Keldur.  On the way, we see a sign for horseback riding and follow the directions down a long private dirt track through fenced pastures.  At the end we find a strange farmhouse that seems to have no entryway, and though we look around for humans, we don’t find a soul.  Feeling defeated in our attempts to ride the Icelandic horses, we at least stop to visit with them and take some photos.

Icelandic horse
Icelandic horse
Icelandic horse
Icelandic horse
Icelandic horse
Icelandic horse
Icelandic horse
Icelandic horse

We continue bouncing down this dirt road, seeing Iceland’s usual grand views spread out before us.

scenery along the route to Keldur
scenery along the route to Keldur
Icelandic views
Icelandic views

We arrive at Keldur and park our car, walking past a picturesque stream and what looks like an ice house.

at the entrance to Keldur
at the entrance to Keldur
farm at Keldur
farm at Keldur
icehouse at Keldur
icehouse at Keldur

Keldur is the site of a unique cluster of turf farm buildings from bygone centuries.  Most of the buildings date from the 19th century, although they include timber from older structures, some with decorative moldings. A sill in the hall, for instance, is carved with the date 1641.  A tunnel which leads from the hall down to the brook has been excavated; it was probably built for defensive purposes in the 11th-13th century, a period of conflict and unrest in Iceland.

Keldur
Keldur

Keldur and its inhabitants make appearances in various Old Icelandic sagas, such as Njáls saga, Sturfunga Saga and the Saga of St Þorlákr. The farmhouse was inhabited until 1946, since when it has been part of the National Museum Historic Buildings Collection.  The farmhouse contains domestic articles from the Keldur family.

Church at Keldur
Church at Keldur
turf houses at Keldur
turf houses at Keldur
church at Keldur
church at Keldur
cemetery at Keldur
cemetery at Keldur
turf houses
turf houses
turf house at Keldur
turf house at Keldur
Mike at the Keldur church
Mike at the Keldur church

After completing the loop that brings us back to the Ring Road, we stop to enjoy our last Icelandic gas station hot dogs.

me eating a hot dog at a gas station along the Ring Road
me eating a hot dog at a gas station along the Ring Road

The rest of our drive back to Reykjavik is uneventful except for one stop to wash off all the gravel and volcanic ash that coats the underbelly and wheels of our little red VW Polo rental car.

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southeast iceland: lón ~ driving from djúpivogur to eystrahorn

Saturday, August 20:  The drive from Djúpivogur to Höfn is about 105km, stretching around Iceland’s southeast corner.  There are no towns along this stretch, and thus no place for breaks.  We get one last glimpse of Bulandsdalur before we leave Djúpivogur, and, though we don’t know it at the time, we won’t see blue skies for the rest of the day.

last view of Bulandsdalur before leaving Djúpivogur
last view of Bulandsdalur before leaving Djúpivogur

Fog settles over the southeast Ring Road as it winds between sloping mountains and the North Atlantic Sea.  The sloping mountains look like giant piles of gravel that seem avalanche prone, made up as they are of gabbro (dark, often coarse-grained igneous – i.e. volcanic – rock rich in magnesium and iron) and granophyre, which has a fine texture and smaller grain size.

a stop near Eystrahorn
a stop on the Ring Road from Djúpivogur to Höfn

We pull off at the bottom of one of these strange mountains, and I feel unsettled, fearing that one loose rock could start a rush of all the rocks to the bottom, engulfing us and our economy-sized car.

Eystrahorn
a stop on the Ring Road from Djúpivogur to Höfn
Eystrahorn
a stop on the Ring Road from Djúpivogur to Höfn
Eystrahorn
a stop on the Ring Road from Djúpivogur to Höfn

The black sand beach is pretty, but it’s very cold and windy out here today, and foggy as well, so we don’t stop here for long.

Lón
a stop on the Ring Road from Djúpivogur to Höfn
our car and Mike near Eystrahorn
our car and Mike on a Ring Road stop
our car near Eystrahorn
our car on the southeast Ring Road
Lón
a stop on the Ring Road from Djúpivogur to Höfn

As we drive on, we come to a pull-off overlooking Lón (“lagoon”), a shallow bay whose 30km-wide estuary is framed by Eystrahorn and Vestrahorn, two granite spikes to the east and west.  A long sand and pebble beach stretches out between the two mountains and almost connects them except for some small estuaries.

Here, we can see the black sand and pebble beach reaching out into the lagoon.  A cold wind is howling across the lagoon here, and after taking our pictures, we huddle back into the warmth of the car.

Lón - glacial river valley
Lón – glacial river valley
rocky peak at Lón
rocky peak at Lón

We drive a bit further and see people walking out over the pebble beach. Of course I have to get out to see what there is to see.  Mike by now is so sick with his cough and sore throat, he opts to stay in the car with the heat on.  I’m also getting sick, and this little jaunt over the pebble beach, which isn’t easy to walk on, probably does me in for good.

the black sand and pebble beach at Lón
the black sand and pebble beach at Lón

From this pebble beach, I have a great view of Eystrahorn, a mountain with barren and gravelly steep cliffs, at the eastern end of Lónsfjördur.

Eystrahorn
Eystrahorn

You can glimpse our little red car in the parking lot; Mike is sitting inside, warming himself by the heater, while I’m being buffeted about by the gale-force winds.

Eystrahorn from the black pebble beach
Eystrahorn from the black pebble beach

Of course I have to take some pictures of the pebbles.  Between the wind and walking on these, I feel like I’m struggling through a sea of quicksand.

pebble beach at Lón
pebble beach at Lón

A little farm sits nestled in the folds of Eystrahorn across from the pebble beach. With all those slopes of gravel surrounding this farm, I don’t know how the people can live here without being in constant fear of a rock avalanche.

Eystrahorn from the black pebble beach
Eystrahorn from the black pebble beach

Even though my throat is hurting and I’m freezing through and through, I must take some pictures of the pretty wildflowers that are growing stoically from the amidst the pebbles.

wildflowers among the black pebbles at Lón
wildflowers among the black pebbles at Lón
wildflowers at Lón
wildflowers at Lón

Finally, I stumble across the quagmire of pebbles and make it back to the car, where I am grateful beyond belief that Mike has stayed in the car and kept the heater on.

farm in the shadow of Eystrahorn
farm in the shadow of Eystrahorn
farm nestled next to Eystrahorn
farm nestled next to Eystrahorn
Eystrahorn
Eystrahorn

We continue on around the lagoon.  Spotting a few dapples of light on mountains, I beg poor beleaguered Mike to pull over for a few more shots.

Mountain on the way to Vestrahorn
Mountain on the way to Vestrahorn
farmland along the southeast Ring Road
farmland along the southeast Ring Road
farm along the southeast Ring Road
farm along the southeast Ring Road

Finally we’re reaching the western end of Lón.

the western end of Lón
the western end of Lón

We’re not too far from Höfn now, but we have one stop to make before we get there: the Viking Cafe and Stokksnes. 🙂

the ring road in east iceland: breiðdalur

Saturday, August 20:  This morning, after another wonderful breakfast at Hotel Aldan, we leave the pretty town of Seyðisfjörður to make our way south on the eastern part of the Ring Road.  Our destination for tonight is Höfn, a fishing town in the southeastern part of the country.  We cross over the pass to Egilsstaðir, where we fill up with gas and buy orange juice, coffee, and snacks.  Mike picks up some earplugs so he can sleep despite my snoring. We then head south on Route 1 through Breiðdalur, the longest and widest of the valleys in Eastern Iceland.

As we head south, we go through another pass, and we see majestic views to the south and west.  We pull into a gravel pullover to get out and explore.  The wind here is fierce and icy.  I walk around trying to get decent photos, but the light isn’t good and it seems an exercise in futility.

Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur

We do find some cairns left by some hardy souls.

Cairn in Breiðdalur
Cairn in Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur

We jump back in the car to escape the wind and cold and continue on our way.  I ask Mike to pull over for a couple more photos, but he stays warm and cozy inside the car.  He’s already sick, and, though I don’t know it this morning, I’ll be sick by the end of the day.  😦

Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
taking a roadside stroll
taking a roadside stroll

The low-lying fog makes for spectacular views, but sadly these views don’t come across with the camera.

Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
fog-covered mountains in Breiðdalur
fog-covered mountains in Breiðdalur

Much of our drive through this valley is on a gravel road, and it’s a long drive!  The Ring Road is definitely not paved all the way around, and this is the longest stretch we’ve encountered. I don’t know how long this unpaved portion of the road is, but it takes us well over an hour, with a few stops, to get back to a paved surface.

Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur

We stop at a bridge over the impressive Breiðdalsá river, famous for salmon-fishing, which winds its way across the valley basin to the sea.

Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
a river runs through Breiðdalur
a river runs through Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur

We see little civilization in this broad valley, but every once in a while, we find a farmstead and some sheep scattered here and there.

Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
sheep in Breiðdalur
sheep in Breiðdalur

After leaving the valley, Route 1 takes us to the coast at Breiðdalsvík, a town of only 139 people.  From this point we will drive along the coast of the North Atlantic Ocean until we reach the little town of Djúpivogur.

north iceland: driving north on the ring road to akureyri

Tuesday, August 16:  After we finish our hike, we get into our car for the long haul to Akureyri.  Unless we see enticing hikes along the way, we don’t plan to stop, except to take pictures.  Our first stop is on a bridge over a river where we see a couple of horseback riders in the middle of nowhere.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
a river found along the road

When we see these sheep close to the roadside, we have to stop to take a picture of the horned fella scratching his back on the bottom of the sign.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
sheep having a back scratch

A field of yellow flowers with a barn on a hill also entices.

another farm
another farm

Sometimes it’s the sky over a grand sweeping landscape that beckons.

peaks and valleys
peaks and valleys

A mountain bathed in sunlight with sheep in the forefront seems unspoiled and pastoral.

idyllic Iceland
idyllic Iceland
pastoral scene
pastoral scene

Luckily, we’re seeing a lot more blue sky than we have so far in Iceland.

blue skies
blue skies
sunny dapples
dappled sunshine

Some of the farms seem to be huge operations.

a large farm
a large farm

We pull off at a spot below where a bridge crosses a river; here we find a woman out salmon fishing.  Later, we hear that Eric Clapton likes to go salmon fishing in Iceland.  An article in Ice News, published on August 6 of this year, tells of how Clapton nailed one of the biggest salmon so far this summer, at 28 pounds.  You can read an article about it here: New York Daily News: Eric Clapton catches giant salmon, breaks local record in Iceland.

farm across the pond

a fishing spot

While we’re at this spot, someone drives up in a car, and, voila!, it’s Wang Wang and her mother, who we last saw this morning at Freyja Guesthouse in Reykjavik.  What are the chances that, having left at different times, we would meet again at this minor pull-off?

fisher woman
fisher woman
grasses and peaks
grasses and peaks
more grasses and peaks
more grasses and peaks

Of course in typical Chinese fashion, we take pictures of each other and then do a selfie. 🙂

Mike and I at the fishing spot
Mike and I at the fishing spot
Wang Wang and her mother
Wang Wang and her mother
Wang Wang, her mother, Mike and me
Wang Wang, her mother, Mike and me
river and dappled mountains
river and dappled mountains

By the time we leave, the fisher woman is thigh high in the river.  She doesn’t seem to have caught anything by the time we leave.

fishing
fishing

We continue on our way, making a couple of stops for more scenic views.

another pretty farm
another pretty farm
farmstead
farmstead
red-roofed farm
red-roofed farm
bales of hay in the fields
bales of hay in the fields
another farm
another farm

I adore this little church, which almost looks like someone’s private church, all lit up as if from the heavens.

glowing church
glowing church
pretty church
pretty church

Finally, we come in our journey to the narrow 30km long scenic valley known as Öxnadalur on the Ring Road between Varmahlíð and Akureyri.

green valley
green valley
a view with a lake
a view with a lake
lake view
lake view

At one spot, we find glimmering intertwined ribbons of water flowing over a rocky terrain.

a river flows through it
a river flows through it
river on the rocks
river on the rocks
Mike on a bridge
Mike on a bridge

We pass multitudes of waterfalls falling from the rock faces in the gorgeous valley.

jagged peaks along the way
jagged peaks along the way
jagged peaks up close
jagged peaks up close
sweeping valleys
sweeping valleys
yet another pretty farmstead
yet another pretty farmstead
northern views
northern views
along the Ring Road
along the Ring Road

At long last we are approaching Akureyri.  We stop for this magnificent vista right before the road heading north to Dalvik.  Finally, we have blue skies!

idyllic spot near the road to Dalvik
idyllic spot near the road to Dalvik
idyllic spot near the road to Dalvik
idyllic spot near the road to Dalvik
farmland and mountains
farmland and mountains
a wooden fence
a wooden fence
idyllic spot near the road to Dalvik
idyllic spot near the road to Dalvik

We leave our little paradise viewpoint and continue our drive through Akureyri, in route to our hotel, Lamb Inn Öngulsstadir; it is 6.2 miles south of the town.  Before we head out of the town, Mike searches in vain for a Vinbudin, the state-run liquor store (the only place to buy booze aside from the Duty-Free, bars, and restaurants).  There are 48 Vinbudin locations across Iceland and they all seem to close between 4:00-6:00.  We usually arrive too late to find one open, and tonight is no exception.  Oh well, I guess we’ll have to buy wine with dinner later in Akureyri.  Buying alcohol in a restaurant or bar is never an economical choice in Iceland.  That won’t stop us though. 🙂