On my 9-day-exploration of the beautiful Westfjords of Iceland, I was now on my 7th day and after having stayed in Patreksfjörður town for the night I thought to myself that it was time to head north to Akureyri town. But before we headed north we wanted to explore the south part of the Westfjords better.
We had already been on a tour to Rauðasandur and Látrabjarg, which are the best-known pearls in the southern part of the Westfjords, but there were still some lesser-known areas which I wanted to explore. We found so many interesting places, which I will be writing about later on.
By now we were kind of running out of time and we saw that driving to Akureyri was not possible. So we drove down to Barðaströnd by the south coast of the Westfjords and decided on camping somewhere later that night. But later in the evening the temperatures dropped so camping didn't seem that appealing to either of us anymore.
Three years ago we were travelling in the Westfjords and had stayed for one night at Reykhólar village so we phoned Álftaland lodging at Reykhólar, where we had been staying, to see if they had any vacancies. It was already 10 pm and we were just crossing our fingers that they had something for us.
We were so relieved when they told us that they had one room free - so 2 hours later - at midnight - we found ourselves in a lovely warm room with access to a kitchen and a living room, showers and WC - at Reykhólar Hostel Álftaland.
Since we had stayed at Álftaland three years ago it had new owners and had been changed into a hostel. I love hostels as there you meet other travellers who are travelling in the same area so lively discussions can be had in the evenings in the living room and the kitchen.
We were going to leave the next morning, but found this place to be so intriguing that we ended up extending our journey for 3 additional days!
During those 3 days, I hiked up to the northernmost glacier in Iceland, visited the sorcery area of the Westfjords called Strandir, saw an authentic turf house, visited the extraordinary basalt column cape where the Market Town of the Elves is located, bathed in seaweed, saw the loon in its hundreds and listened to an amazing choir of loons singing for me, saw hot springs and walked in the steps of the well known Viking and outlaw Grettir Ásmundarson the Strong - just to name a few of the things I would have missed had we driven straight up north!
For many years there was a state-run agricultural experimental station at Reykhólar. A house was built in 1947 for the experimenter and his staff and in that house, the lovely Reykhólar Hostel Álftaland is now located.
I asked the owners of Reykhólar Hostel what there was to see and do in this area and they wrote down suggestions for me. They told me that Reykhólar is a paradise for bird watchers as most bird species can be found in this area. Even the eagle has its main nesting place in the vicinity! I have only once seen an eagle soaring in the sky in Iceland and would love to see it again.
You will see the owners of Reykhólar Hostel with me on the photo below. They are very, very nice people and it was a delight staying with them.
As the weather was gorgeous the next day I walked down to Lómatjörn - the Pond of the Loon, where the owners told me that I would find myriad of loons. I love the sound of the loon ever since I spent my summer vacations in a summer cottage at Þingvellir when I was a little girl.
When I was fishing alone in Lake Þingvallavatn, Iceland's largest lake, the loon would often sing, so that sound is connected to happy memories for me. So I was eager to see the loon at Reykhólar!
The hike to the pond and Lake Langavatn starts from Grettislaug swimming pool. As in all towns and villages around Iceland Reykhólar has got a lovely geothermal swimming pool.
There are several signs to mark the way. My husband was staying in the car as I was just going to be a short while, but found so many interesting places that I ended up staying there for 1.5 hours!
You will start by seeing the sign Fuglaskoðunarleið 2.3 km - which translates into the birdwatching route. The next sign read Lómatjörn 0.7 km and Einireykir 0.4 km pointing in one direction, and Fuglavaktin - birdwatching - 0.5 km in another direction.
I wanted to see the bird hut so I took that route. There I encountered a big rock, Grettistak, but there are several rocks in Iceland by that same name, which the Viking and outlaw Grettir the Strong Ásmundarson is said to have lifted.
The Saga of Grettir is one of our best known Icelandic Sagas. I seek out places where Grettir has stayed and have written a couple of travel-blogs about his whereabouts. I read the Saga of Grettir in college and am interested in the life of this troublesome Viking, who spent almost 20 years as an outlaw.
Grettir was slain in Drangey island in the 11th century, where he stayed for 3 years as an outlaw on this steep sea cliff, which I visited a couple of years ago.
Grettir spent one winter at Reykhólar with Chieftain Þorgils Arason. In the 50th chapter of the Saga of Grettir, there is an account on a trip made by Grettir and the blood brothers Þorgeir and Þormóður to Ólafseyjar islands to fetch an ox.
This drawing of Grettir carrying the ox on his shoulders at Reykhólar is epic :) Wouldn't it be great if such a statue of Grettir were to be made and erected at Reykhólar? I would love to see more statues at Viking places in Iceland to make history come alive for us. But making these statues is too costly.
At Grettislaug or the Pool of Grettir, opposite the swimming pool with the same name, you can find an information sign with the 50th chapter of the Saga of Grettir, which describes his stay at Reykhólar.
The information sign is both in Icelandic and in English.
Grettir seemingly used to bathe in Grettislaug hot pool, which by now has dried up. I found this description in a research report for Þjóðminjasafnið our National Museum of antiquities at Reykhólar:
"In earlier days Grettislaug pool was relatively large and carefully built and defined by large basalt rocks, which had to be imported to this area. There is a hot spring above the pool and hot water ran into the pool via a chute. The chute could be jammed, and thus the hot water could cool down to a comfortable temperature in the pool.
The pool is now damaged - seemingly in the attempt to make it smaller, so it would fill up with hot water quicker and that the water would cool down quicker. Somebody began doing so and left it half-finished. It is said that a merchant from the south did it (from South-Iceland)".
Grettislaug pool is now preserved.
After checking out Grettistak rock I carried on walking down to the lake. The path led me through a lovely geothermal area, where warm water was running in creeks.
When I arrived at the birdwatching hut by the lake and was overjoyed when I saw a loon with its chick swimming on the lake. Little did I know that I would be seeing hundreds of loons in a little while ;)
As when I was taking photos of the loon mother with her chick I heard the most beautiful sound as a choir of loons started singing. I was in awe and put the camera on record. I was reduced to tears at the beauty of this spot, it was sunny and warm, there were different kinds of birds flying around me and then the loon choir singing for me!
I consider this moment to be one of the most beautiful moments in my life <3 I add the video here so you can hear what I heard. Then add the feeling of being outside in beautiful nature on a warm and sunny day.
I carried on following the path and one whimbrel followed me the whole time singing - I know that it was directing me away from its nest, but I enjoyed its company. At one point it landed next to a plover and on the photo below, it looks like the whimbrel is talking to the plover :)
These two migrating birds represent summer for me. We are always happy when they start arriving in spring, as then we know that the long Icelandic winter has almost come to an end and the bright summer nights will soon be here.
As I carried on walking on the path I reached a beautiful hot spring - a mound with exquisite purple flowers and white rocks. So much of this area is geothermal and thus the name Reykhólar - Smoky Hills, named after the steam coming from the ground.
Reykhólar is the biggest geothermal area in the Westfjords of Iceland.
Geothermal water was flowing from the hot spring into a creek which then merged with the lake. The name of this hot spring is Einireykir also called Eini Reykir.
The beautiful purple flower is called vatnamynta in Icelandic and the Latin name for it is Mentha aquatica and is strictly preserved. It can only be found in 3 places in Iceland and always by hot springs. A German gardener brought this plant to Iceland and cultivated flowers at Reykjanes by Djúp on the northern side of the Westfjords.
This flower was then sent to Svanshóll in Bjarnafjörður at Strandir in the Westfjords and down to the southern part of the Westfjords here at Reykhólar. So it is quite amazing seeing this beautiful, scarce flower here.
Folklore is connected to two of the hot springs at Reykhólar. I found this folklore in Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Compilation of Folklore of Jón Árnason. It goes like this:
"One of the hot springs at Reykhólar in Reykjanes goes by the name of Gullhver or the Golden hot spring. This hot spring is located some distance from the farm at Reykhólar.
Once a gold ring was lost at the farm only to be found later in this hot spring; it is therefore believed that there is an underground conflux from the farm and to the hot spring, and it is believed that there is an opening in one of the farm storehouses from this underground tunnel.
It is said that from this opening there was great warmth. Dogs and cats on the farm seek to go to one spot in the storehouse as it is warmer there than in other parts of the farm.
There is another hot spring at Reykhólar called Þjófahver or Thieve's hot spring. The story goes that once a thief was going to cook a stolen sheep in the hot spring, but the hot spring quaffed both the thief and the sheep"!
(Translated into English from Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason).
Gullhver hot spring is located on the other side of the road, close to the view-dial at Reykhólar, but I add it here to this account. Þjófahver hot spring is a little south of Gullhver. The photo above is of the geothermal area by the lake.
By the hot spring Einireykir you will see old ruins.
I finally came to another sign Lómatjörn 0.2 km and Neðravatn 0.5 km, the latter name pointed towards the lake from where I was coming. Seeing that there were so many loons on the lake I thought it must have been Lómatjörn or the Loom Pond. I very much wanted to see this pond, so I phoned my husband in the car and he joined me.
I did not want him to miss seeing and experiencing this beautiful place!
We followed the path to Lómatjörn where we saw a myriad of loons, it was just unbelievable. The owners of Reykhólar Hostel told me that ornithologists hadn't believed their own eyes when visiting this pond and told him that nowhere had they seen as many loons as at Lómatjörn pond!
Some of the loons were so close, but the majority was swimming by the other end of the pond. And when we came closer the whole group got spooked and flew a little bit further away. But there was one loon close to us which "sang" the whole time, maybe it was a warning signal? Or it was just happy, I don't know.
I recorded that loon as I found it to be so extraordinary to be so close to it. We sat by the pond and took in this beauty - I will never forget this beautiful day.
This day was only to get better though as after visiting the loons I visited the Reykhólar Seabaths and soaked in a hot tub filled with seaweed powder.
At Reykhólar village you will also find Þörungaverksmiðjan Thorverk, the only seaweed processing factory in Iceland, so it is fitting to have seaweed baths here.
Reykhólar is located some 228 km away from Reykjavík which is a 3-hour-drive. Not that far so it is perfect for staying for the first night when you are visiting the Westfjords of Iceland. Or more nights of course; I stayed there for 3 nights and don't think I saw everything I wanted to see, so I will for sure be back for more.
Several of the visitors at Reykhólar Hostel were also staying there for more days and going on day trips from Reykhólar.
To be continued in my next travel-blogs:
Have fun at Reykhólar :)