Berserkjagata on Snæfellsnes Peninsula - is this the Oldest Man-made Road Construction in Iceland?
In this travel-blog I am going to show you the oldest man-made road construction in Iceland of which the builders are known. The account is to be found in the old Icelandic Sagas.
This old trail is called the Berserkjagata trail and leads through the Berserkjahraun lava field on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in West-Iceland.
Top photo: Berserkjahraun lava field
Berserkjahraun lava field
This travel-blog is a side blog of The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part IV- Mt. Kirkjufell & Grundarfjörður and much more, which is a part of my 5 parts travel-blog series about the Snæfellsnes peninsula, where I show you what there is to see and do in chronological order on this beautiful peninsula in West-Iceland.
Here is part one if you want to follow my journey around this very interesting peninsula from the start: The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part I.
Walking on the Berserkjagata trail
There are many volcanos and thus many lava fields on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Berserkjahraun lava field - the Lava field of the Berserks, which is located on the northern side of the Snæfellsnes peninsula is 3,600-4,000 years old.
The lava stems from four differently sized scoria craters.
It formed 2 lakes, one of which you can see if you visit the beautiful waterfall in Vatnaleið,
The lava is massive here and we often stop the car by the information signs leading to Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum and have a walk in the lava next to the road.
The shark sign leading to Hákarlasafnið - the Shark Museum at Bjarnarhöfn
It is fun taking photos here, but just imagine what it must have looked like during the volcanic eruption! Let's be careful in the lava, it is no fun falling on the sharp lava.
Hidden treasures can be found in this lava field: the old Berserkjagata road, the stacked Berserkjagarður lava fence, and the burial mound of two Berserks.
Berserkjagarður fence by Berserkjagata
The Viking Saga which happened in this area is depicted in Eyrbyggja Saga and the Heiðarvíga Saga.
It is a long and very interesting story, but a very short version of the story is that two berserks from Sweden, Halli, and Leiknir, were killed here and buried by Víga-Styr the Slayer after the berserks made a bridle path through the rugged lava field on his demand.
Víga-Styr's brother, Vermundur hinn mjóvi or Vermundur the thin in Bjarnarhöfn, had imported the berserks to Iceland from Norway in 982. But they were just too rampageous, so he couldn't manage them and gave them to his brother.
Mt. Helgafell is close to Berserkjagata and Bjarnarhöfn
Víga-Styr had his hands full trying to control the brothers. Halli the berserk then asked for Víga-Styr's daughter, Ásdís, hand in marriage or they would "unfriend" him, as it were.
Styr consulted the Chieftain Snorri at Helgafell, which is close by. They walked to the top of Mt. Helgafell and talked until the evening. Nobody knows what they talked about.
When Styr got back home he told Halli that he could marry his daughter, Ásdís, after the berserks finished making the path and a boundary fence across the lava.
By the boundary fence in Berserkjahraun
But Víga-Styr was not going to make his daughter marry a berserk, so he tricked the brothers after they finished making the path. (And later on, Snorri goði married Ásdís).
Víga-Styr invited the berserks to take a bath in a hot bath (baðstofa) he had made in the ground and after the berserks had stepped into it he closed it and put big rocks on top of it with the purpose of killing the brothers in the heat from the hot bath.
The berserks managed to break their way free from the hot bath but Víga-Styr killed them as they exited the bath. He then had them moved to a small valley in the lava field and buried them there by the Berserkjagata trail.
Berserkjadys by Berserkjagata where apparently the berserks are buried
Berserkjadys is approximately 7 meters long and 3 meters wide according to Minjar í Berserkjahrauni which is a good article in Icelandic about this area.
So if you want to walk in the Berserkjahraun lava field know that there are two berserks buried in it. And thus the name of the lava field - Berserkjahraun.
A sign by the Berserkjagarður fence showing us that here we find preserved old archaeological finds - "friðlýstar fornleifar"
Berserkjahraun stretches down to the sea by Bjarnarhöfn and south-east of it you can see the path, which the berserks made and a grave has been found with the bones of two very large men (berserks).
There was no yellow sign "friðlýstar fornleifar" - indicating preserved antiquities by the Berserkjadys burial mound, but I found such a sign by Berserkjagarður fence. The sign, which used to be by the burial mound must have been blown away or been stolen.
These signs are very important to us and often they are the only indication of where these preserved antiquities are to be found. I look for antiquities all over Iceland and it is often impossible finding them if this little yellow sign is missing.
I have written about many such interesting locations in my travel-blog: Viking Ruins and Burial Mounds I have visited on my Travels in Iceland.
The sign by Berserkjagata in the dusk
Berserkjahraun is on the Natural history site register. Here you can see the location of Berserkjahraun on the map.
I have visited Berserkjagata a couple of times, but always seem to be here at the dusk, so I have hurried a bit as I do not want to get lost in the lava field in the dark! The Berserskjagata trail is approximately 1.2 km long.
Here seemed to be the end of the Berserkjagata trail and it was getting late so we turned around the same way
There is no mention in the Eyrbyggja Saga of the berserks rising from death and revenging their murder.
There are several such accounts in Eyrbyggja and it contains some gruesome ghost stories that will make your hair rise like this one Fróðárheiði Heath & the Fróðá Wonders - Icelandic Folklore: Ghosts and Zombies in the Viking Age! and another frightening story from Álftafjörður on Skógarströnd.
A lava troll, which resembles a berserk by the end of the trail
I recommend reading the very interesting Eyrbyggja before you visit the Snæfellsnes peninsula - it is one of my favourite Icelandic Sagas as after reading it, the Snæfellsnes peninsula becomes alive with Viking settlers, old parliaments, ghosts, Viking disputes, and battles.
I tell you more in my travel-blog, where I show you the site of the old Þórsnessþing parliament, which dates back to the Settlement of Iceland:
The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part V - Stykkishólmur & the Trip back to Reykjavík
I show you the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum on Google Maps as the Berserkjagata trail is not marked.
I also recommend visiting the Shark Museum, it is quite a unique experience. I tell you about my visit to the Shark Museum and much much more in my travel-blog: The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part IV- Mt. Kirkjufell & Grundarfjörður and much more.
Have a lovely time on the Snæfellsnes peninsula :)
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