North of the popular Snæfellsnes peninsula in West-Iceland, you will find a much less travelled peninsula called Fellsströnd and Skarðsströnd. This beautiful off the beaten path peninsula is often referred to as the Golden Saga Circle of Iceland.
The Golden Saga Circle of Iceland has got many historical places which are well worth visiting. I explored the peninsula for 2 days and stayed for one night at the Vogur country lodge in Fellsströnd.
It was so windy when I visited Krosshólaborg that I had to hold onto the stone cross
When you turn off road 60 and onto road 590 for Fellsströnd then you will notice a big stone cross on top of a hill. The hill is called Krosshólaborg, and there we made our first stop. The stone cross is a monument, erected in 1965 in the memory of the Norwegian Auður djúpúðga (834-900), one of our most influential settler women and the ancestress of the Laxdæla clan.
On the stone cross, you will find the following inscription in old Icelandic: "Auðr djúpúðga bjó í Hvammi, hon hafði bænhald sitt á Krosshólum, þar lét hon reisa krossa, því at hon var skírð ok vel trúuð" translated into English: "Auður the deep-minded lived at Hvammur, she prayed at Krosshólar hills, where she had crosses erected, as she was baptised and religious".
Auður settled in the year 890 at Hvammur in Dalasýsla county, close to where the stone cross stands. Before she came to Iceland she married Ólafur hvíti or Olaf the White, the king of Dublin, who got killed. So Auður djúpúðga, our settler woman, was an Irish queen. Auður had one son by Ólafur, Þorsteinn rauður, who married the sister of Helgi magri, who settled Eyjafjörður.
Þorsteinn got killed and Auður took his widow and many children and fled to Iceland.
Auður djúpúðga was one of the few Christian settlers in Iceland and raised crosses on a hill close to where she lived and where she went to pray. Thus the name Krosshólar or Cross-Hill. Her name djúpúðga means "deep-minded".
Auður djúpúðga was the daughter of Ketill flatnefur and the sister of Þórunn hyrna, who married Helgi magri and settled in Eyjafjörður. The children of Katell flatnefur settled a great part of Iceland, Helgi bjóla settled Kjalarnes and Björn austræni settled Snæfellsnes and lived in Bjarnarhöfn. At Bjarnarhöfn you will now find a popular shark museum.
It was so windy when I visited Krosshólaborg that I could barely stand on my feet. I wanted to show you a photo of me next to the stone cross, so you could see how big the cross actually is.
By the parking lot, you will find an information sign on the Settlement of Auður djúpúðga. I also had to hold onto the sign while the photo was taken as to not fly away!
My next stop was at Hvammur, which was the leading manor in this area. Here was the home of Auður djúpúðga.
Later on, Hvammur became the home of Sturla Þórðarson (1115-1183) aka Hvamm-Sturla, who was the 9th generation of Auður djúpúðga's descendants. Sturla Þórðarson was the father of one of the biggest and most influential Viking clans in Iceland, the Clan of the Sturlungs, but you can read about their story in Sturlunga Saga.
Here his son, Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), maybe the most influential man in Iceland's history, was born in 1179.
I am the 31st generation of Auður djúpúðga's descendants and the 22nd generation of Snorri Sturluson's descendants :)
Snorri was fostered by Iceland's lawspeaker, Jón Loftsson, at one of the primary cultural centres in Iceland, Oddi in South Iceland, when he was only 3 years old. Later on, he lived at Reykholt in West-Iceland and was mercilessly killed on his estate by his enemies.
Snorri was one of the richest and powerful men in Iceland of his time. He was a chieftain, historiographer, poet, and a Saga writer. Snorri was the author of the history of the Norwegian kings, called Heimskringla. And he wrote Prose-Edda about Nordic mythology and poetry.
Snorri Sturluson might also be the author of the Saga of Egill, about Egill Skallagrímsson and the settlers of Borgarfjörður in West-Iceland.
When you visit Hvammur you will find a monument by the Hvammskirkja church in the memory of Snorri Sturluson. Hvammskirkja church is one of 5 churches on this peninsula. The other churches, by all of which I made a stop, are Staðarfellskirkja, Dagverðarneskirkja, Skarðskirkja, and Staðarhólskirkja church.
Check out my travel-blog on Snorri Sturluson to read more about the life of this extraordinary chieftain
The next stop we made was at Staðarfell, where we visited Staðarfellskirkja church, a timber church, built in 1891. This is another historical place here on the peninsula, but there has been a church here since the year 1200.
Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir lived for a while at Staðarfell and Þórður Gilsson, the father of Hvamm-Sturla at Hvammur and the grandfather of Snorri Sturluson, Sighvatur and Þórður of the powerful Viking Clan of Sturlungar.
And Hallgerður langbrók from the Saga of Njáll lived at Fell with her first husband, Þorvaldur.
In the old school building at Staðarfell, the SÁÁ rehabilitation centre for recovering alcoholics was operating when we visited, but they operated their rehabilitation centre there from 1980.
The building housed a homemaking school for 50 years before SÁA moved in. I saw in the news in 2017 that Staðarfell was for sale and that the rehabilitation centre will be moved to Kjalarnes in SW-Iceland.
We reached Vogur Country Lodge at Fellsströnd in the evening. My aunt had stayed at this hotel on two occasions and was raving about it, telling me that I had to visit Fellsströnd and stay at this hotel. And that I should write about this area on Guide to Iceland :)
I was thrilled when I saw my room and now know why my aunt had liked staying here so much. Everything is new, modern and tastefully decorated. And spotlessly clean.
Vogur Country Lodge was renovated in 2012 and opened in January 2013. It is a converted barn, beautifully renovated. There are 24 rooms and 4 suites here.
There is also a barbecue hut at Vogur, where one can grill one's own food. You can also use the outside hot-tub at Vogur and sauna.
We dined at Vogur in the evening in the dining hall and got excellent food. My husband and I were celebrating our "2-years-together" anniversary and it just hit the spot staying in such a beautiful place.
The hotel offers boat-trips to the Breiðarfjörður islands and rents out bikes to their guests. You will find a horse-rental close to Vogur so there is a lot to do for fun in this area. I was here to explore the area and the history of the peninsula, which is also fun to do :)
Above Vogur Country Lodge is a lovely, small waterfall so after dinner, we went on a short hike (15 minutes) up to the waterfall and enjoyed the breathtaking view of Breiðafjörður bay with its innumerable islands.
The day after we made an early start so we would be able to visit all the major sights in this area. I take a lot of photos, so travelling with me can be trying as I want to stop so often ;)
Our first stop the following day was just outside Vogur Country Lodge at a beautiful Memorial Grove in memory of Bjarni from Vogur.
Bjarni from Vogur (1863-1926) was a well- known Icelander, a politician, writer, and a university teacher. He has, funnily enough, a cigar brand named after him. On every box of cigars was written "Bjarni frá Vogi" with a photo of Bjarni and the Icelandic flag colours.
After visiting the memorial grove and making many photo-stops we drove to a peninsula called Dagverðarnes cape. When the settler woman Auður djúpúðga and her men were looking for their high-seat pillars, they apparently went to this cape and had breakfast. The peninsula got its name from the lunch "Dagverðarnes" cape meaning Breakfast cape.
A small church, Dagverðarneskirkja, on the very end of the cape is now abandoned and locked. On the door of the church, I noticed the date 1867. But from what I have read then there has been a church here since 1758. The current church was rebuilt in 1934 and is now protected.
It is kind of surreal standing by the church. One gets the feeling of being alone in the world, looking at the innumerable Breiðafjörður islands. It is so silent and so remote.
The trail leading to the church is 5 km.
My father-in-law makes view dials and my husband and I stop by every view-dial in Iceland, given that they are not located on mountain tops, and photograph them and the surroundings. There is a view-dial at Klofningur west of Dagverðarnes cape with a beautiful view of the Breiðafjörður islands.
From here, and in other places at Fellsströnd, one can see two cones in the sea. These cones are called Dímonarklakkar islands and they are the highest islands in the Breiðafjörður bay, 39 meters high. I have sailed right up to them on a boat trip on the Breiðafjörður bay.
Unfortunately, it was not sunny when we visited, but my aunt tells me that it is breathtaking watching the sunset on a clear day from this place. I hope I will be able to visit again on a sunny day.
Klofningur means a split and the road lies through the split. It makes for a good photo opportunity to drive the car through the split and turn around and take a photo of the car driving through the split again.
By now we had reached the Skarðsströnd part of the peninsula, and our next stop was at the historical farm, Skarð. Skarð used to be one of the splendid manors in Iceland.
The same lineage has been living at Skarð since the 11th century and the farmers at Skarð today are the 27th generation from Húnbogi Þorgilsson, who lived at Skarð in the 11th century.
I have also met the 29th and 30th generation, as the granddaughter of the farmers at Skarð was working in the reception at Vogur Country Lodge (and she was carrying her daughter, who is the 30th generation).
Here lived Björn Þorleifsson, governor, and his wife Ólöf-the-Rich Loftsdóttir.
Englishmen killed Björn in 1467 at Rif on the Snæfellsnes peninsula and Ólöf-the-Rich is quoted to have said: "Eigi skal gráta Björn bónda, heldur safna liði og leita hefnda..." - meaning "Shed no tears for farmer Björn, but gather men to avenge him...". I think almost every Icelander off age knows this quote.
Ólöf revenged her husband and had her men kill some of the Englishmen and imprison 50 of them. She kept the men imprisoned and used them as slaves. She forced them to build a pavement of rock, which can still be seen at Skarð. She then had them all killed.
The church at Skarð was the main church for this area and inside treasures can be found. A beautiful alabaster artwork above the altar dates back to the 15th century. It was donated to the church by Ólöf-the-Rich and in the middle, we can see Ólöf herself to the right giving blessings to the congregation.
Ólöf is buried beneath the altar and her husband, Björn, is buried beneath a rock on the south side of the church, the farmer at Skarð told us.
A beautiful pulpit in this church had the date 1847 but seems to date back to the 17th century according to Kirkjukort. Kirkjukort, by the way, is the website, where I upload all the photos I take of the Icelandic churches I visit on my travels.
The pulpit was donated in memory of Daði Bjarnason and his wife, Arnfríður, who were farmers at Skarð.
The farmers at Skarð gave us a guided tour of the church, for which we paid a small fee, and told us the amazing history of Skarð. I recommend stopping at Skarð for a guided tour of the church.
The farmers at Skarð specialise in eiderdown production, which they sell to Japan.
After an hour's visit at Skarð, we visited the remaining sights on Skarðsströnd. We passed the magnificent Grafardrangur in Mt. Grafarfjall where the sword of the Viking settler, Geirmundur heljaskinn, is supposed to be buried.
Geirmundur heljarskinn has been called the noblest of the Viking settlers, but he was the son of the Norwegian king Hjör and the princess Ljúfvina from Bjarmaland. Geirmundur lived at Geirmundarstaðir at Skarð and was very powerful and always travelled in the company of 80 men. He also had 4 farms in Hornstrandir.
He had a twin brother, Hámundur heljarskinn, who settled in Eyjafjörður with Helgi magri, but he was married to the daughter of Helgi magri.
We next stopped by an abandoned coal mine by the seashore. Coal was mined here from around 1890 until the middle of the 20th century. Here one can see a small railway track and the remains of a bridge, which makes for a good photo opportunity.
Nowadays the algae factory at Reykhólar harvests seaweed from the sea and if you look closely you can see them working on orange machinery harvesting the seaweed from the sea below the road on Skarðsströnd.
Now we had come to our final stop on this tour around the peninsula - Saurbær. There below Staðarhólskirkja church you will find a monument; 3 different pillars in remembrance of 3 great poets, the Dalaskáld poets, who have had links to this area.
These poets are Stefán from Hvítidalur, Steinn Steinarr and Sturla Þórðarson, but Sturla (1214-1284) lived in the 13th century at Staðarhóll in Saurbær, and was a member of the Viking Clan of Sturlungar - and the nephew of Snorri Sturluson himself.
Sturla Þórðarson was one of the influential men of the Age of the Sturlungs, and not only a poet, but a great historian, a chieftain and a Lawspeaker at Alþingi, and a politician. He wrote f.ex. Íslendingasaga - the Saga of the Icelanders, which is a part of Sturlunga - the Saga of the Sturlungs.
The information sign by the 3 pillars
Sturla fought alongside the Clan of Sturlungar in 1238 in the biggest Viking battle Örlygsstaðabardagi in Skagafjörður, where some 2,800 Vikings took part in a very bloody battle amongst the most powerful Viking clans. There his uncle Sighvatur fell together with Sighvatur's 4 sons. Sturla was given pardon after the battle, as his blood-brother was a member of the opposite clan.
There are plans now (2018) to add information signs and a memorial grove at Staðarhóll in Saurbær in the memory of this great man. I didn't include it in my stop during my visit to the peninsula, but will make sure to stop there and take photos on my next visit.
There is no gas station on the peninsula so remember to fill up on gas in Búðardalur town before turning off road 60. I didn't know this and almost ran out of gas, i.e. I had to choose between driving into the valley of the keeper of the church-key, or drive to the next gas station.
I chose to drive to the next gas station so I will have to visit Staðarhólskirkja church on my next visit to the peninsula. The first records of a church at Staðarhóll date back to around the year 1200, but the current church dates back to 1899. In 1981 it blew from its foundations (yes, it can be windy here on the peninsula as I experienced) and was rebuilt.
The reason why the church is closed is due to vandalism and sacrilege in the church. I find it very sad that the churches around Iceland have to be locked due to vandalism. My goal is to visit every church in Iceland and I have been visiting them for the last 10 years during my travels.
Now that they are locked we have to bother the farmer for the key to the church, and sometimes it is not possible to enter the churches.
We now turned back onto road 60 towards Búðardalur and stopped at Guðrúnarlaug hot-tub as always before continuing on our way to the Snæfellsnes peninsula. It had been lovely and informative visiting the peninsula, and I am glad we didn't rush through it and stayed at the peninsula for the night.
This peninsula is off the beaten track and it has been said that time stands still here. So if you want to see a different side of Iceland do pay Fellsströnd and Skarðsströnd a visit. To me, it felt like stepping back in time, when I was travelling with my family. Then very few tourists visited Iceland and we had the roads almost to ourselves when we were travelling.
You can visit this area by renting a car in Reykjavík and drive to the west. The road number for the peninsula is 590.
You can also drive further on and visit the wonderful Westfjords of Iceland; I would recommend that you stay in the Westfjords for at least 3-4 days. Once in the Westfjords, the local tour companies offer many guided tours, several of which I have joined.
Have a wonderful time in West-Iceland :)
25 Gönguleiðir í Borgarfirði og Dölum, Reynir Ingibjartsson