What has amazed me on my travels in my country is that every village in Iceland has its own museum - and in the village of Bíldudalur in the Westfjords of Iceland I found Skrímslasetrið - the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum! I was intrigued by the name and paid them a visit.
Skrímslasetur - the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum is located in Arnarfjörður, which is no coincidence as nowhere else in Iceland have there been more sightings of monsters than in this lovely fjord in the Westfjords.
Bíldudalur is a small village in Arnarfjörður with a population of less than 200 people. This lovely little village has been called "The Good Weather Capital of the Westfjords" as the mountains shelter the village from the wind. The 2 days I visited Bíldudalur the weather was totally still and lovely.
In the old dilapidated building of the "Matvælaiðjan" food processing, especially known for their Bíldudalur green beans, work started in 2007 on creating a sea monster museum with the help of many a people who had moved away from Arnarfjörður and wanted to do something for their old village. The museum building was restored with many a helping hand, which shows the solidarity of the people in Bíldudalur.
We Icelanders have known about the sea monsters ever since the Vikings settled Iceland in ca 874 or even earlier. Throughout the centuries there have been over 4,000 recorded sightings of sea monsters and lake monsters all around the shoreline of Iceland, imagine that! But they have most commonly been seen in Arnarfjörður and the Westfjords of Iceland.
There have been ca 180 recorded sightings of sea monsters in Arnarfjörður fjord alone! Arnarfjörður is a beautiful fjord, the second longest fjord in the Westfjords - 30 km - and 10 km at its widest. There are many beautiful inlets in Arnarfjörður and the Jewel of the Westfjords, Dynjandi waterfall is located in Arnarfjörður. So you see that it is a must visiting this fjord.
Sea Monster stories became a bit of a taboo - but why - as we all know that there are endless species of fish in the ocean, both large and small - so why not sea monsters - I for sure believe that they exist, I don't know what they are, but there are for sure more creatures lurking in the sea than we know of!
In Hólmavík on the east-side of the Westfjords a huge sea-turtle was found - the biggest species of sea-turtles in the world! How did such a big sea-turtle come to be found in the cold sea around Iceland?
Now take a walk with me through the museum :)
I timidly walked down a spooky corridor only to be greeted by 2 ugly monsters, the Shore Laddie and the Sea Man!!
The Shore Laddie and the Sea Man which have frequently been seen on the shore in Iceland! What are these creatures and why have they so often been seen on the shore in Iceland? The Shore Laddie is even the most commonly seen sea monster in Iceland!
Icelanders have through the ages believed in monsters, trolls and elves - we have myriad of such stories written f.ex. in Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason, which I refer to a lot in my articles, as I am very interested in folklore and seek out elf locations in Iceland, which I have read about in this series of books.
But it is only after I visited the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum that I became interested in these scary creatures walking ashore from the cold ocean surrounding Iceland.
I spent 9 days in the Westfjords and slept for one night in a tent in a remote valley in Arnarfjörður. I am glad that I didn't choose to camp by the ocean in Arnarfjörður as I had planned on - as I would not have wanted to wake up by a sea monster knocking on my tent!
I had already started putting up my tent on the campsite by the ocean in Selárdalur, but changed my mind as an Icelandic traveller scolded me and told me - in English - that I could not camp anywhere I liked! I tried to explain - in Icelandic, which is our common language - that this was a marked campsite, but she kept on telling me in English that I could not camp just anywhere I wanted.
It wasn't until I showed her that this was in fact a legitimate campsite that she understood that I was Icelandic and knew that I could not camp outside of the campsites in Iceland. But this put me off camping here. We have recently been seeing tourists camping everywhere, which is such a nuisance, so I understand why she felt the need to tell me to go to a campsite.
I moved my tent further up into Selárdalur valley. In Iceland it is only allowed to camp on campsites, unless there is dire need for camping for one night - and then you must get permission from the landowner first.
I was a bit reluctant putting my tent up in the valley, but as it was getting very late and there was nobody in the valley - and the closest farm, Uppsalir, was abandoned - I decided that my situation was indeed dire need and camped here for one night. I didn't sleep well though and thought that the landowner would show up and tell me to leave.
Sure enough I was awaken a couple of times during the night by heavy tramping by the tent. I woke up with such heart palpitations and didn't dare look out - but then I heard bleating and realized that local sheep had come to check out the tent :)
When I left the next morning the sheep were standing by the car looking at me accusingly as this spot was seemingly their night-lodging in the valley!
Don't follow my example, this was a one off and no sleep to be had. If you are going to camp in this area opt for the campsite at Bíldudalur village, which is renowned for its calm weathers. You could then pay a visit to the Sea Monster Museum in the morning.
This was the night before I visited the Sea Monster Museum, so I didn't know that sea monsters had been seen in this exact area in Arnarfjörður - Iceland's most notorious monster fjord! Live and learn, eh!
I want to tell you about that sea monster sighting in Selárdalur valley, before I continue walking you further through the Sea Monster Museum.
The two legged monster shot at Selárdalur
I got this account from the website of the Sea Monster Museum:
"A man named Árni from Skeiður set off from Selárdalur to hunt a fox at the Gammur cliff, which stands on the shore in the Krossavík inlet, a bow-shaped bay containing a cave in which men can become trapped at high tide. He lay in wait for the fox fairly high up the shore, with a band of seaweed lying between him and the waterline. A bright moon shone in the sky, but it was half dark in between. The weather was warm and calm, with a light breeze.
As the night wore on, Árni noticed something that seemed to be alive emerge from the sea. As the surrounding water rose up, it took on the form of some kind of creature that looked to be shaped like a trunk, but broadening out towards its base. When the creature came ashore, it appeared to be the height of a tall man, but the breadth of its lower torso made it appear cone-shaped. Nothing else, including a head, could be seen on its body, but it was very dark in colour. Its crotch was short and its legs thick, with claws like a frog’s on its feet. No front legs or other appendages could be seen.
The creature headed straight for Árni, its movements slow and sinuous. Before it had reached the band of seaweed, Árni decided not to wait any longer and fired off a shot from his gun aimed at its middle. It didn’t fall, but turned round and headed back towards the sea a much faster pace than it had come ashore. Diving beneath the waves, it then disappeared. Árni said little of his experience to others, because no one believed him and dismissed his tale as superstitious drivel."
Courtesy of the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum.
And here I was camping in this area, totally oblivious of the sea monsters!!
At the museum you can watch accounts on-screen from people who actually encountered sea monsters. And in one corner of the museum there are armchairs by a large old radio where one can listen to stories on sightings and encounters with the sea monsters. It was so lovely sitting there listening to these stories that I could have spent hours in this chair.
There is an excellent interactive multimedia monster table at the museum, where you can learn about the legends of the sea monsters. I have not seen such an interactive table before, but you move a puck shaped "shell" around to find monster locations and get to know what kind of a monster was seen in which areas. A brilliant idea. On the website of the Sea Monster Museum you can see how the multimedia interactive monster table works.
The photo above shows the multimedia monster table. It is in Icelandic though as I read the text in Icelandic ;) I must have spent half an hour by this table - totally emerged in finding out where sea monsters have been found and reading the stories.
Now, here below you will see what the well known recluse, Gísli in Uppsalir in Selárdalur valley, had to say about meeting sea monsters.
It goes something like this, loosely translated: "If you meet a monster, don't be afraid, you will only be in a worse place by fearing the monster. Just great it politely and carry on walking"! Gísli (1907-1986) obviously knew what he was talking about, having lived his life as a recluse in Uppsalir in the remote valley of Selárdalur.
Which incidentally is the same place where I camped for one night in dire need, as I was telling you about earlier in my article!
The monsters seen around Iceland can be divided into 4 main monster categories - the Shore Laddie, the Sea Man, the Shell Monster and the Sea Horse. What makes Arnarfjörður fjord stand out is that all of the monsters have been seen here in Arnarfjörður! And many other extremely large monsters and other smaller. So this beautiful, tranquil fjord in the Westfjords stands out as being the Sea Monster Fjord in Iceland!
The Shore Laddie
The Shore Laddie is the most frequently seen sea monster in Iceland and there have been many sightings of this ugly creature, shown in the photo above. I wonder what it is and why there were so many sightings of it in different locations in Iceland. It has been described as being as big as a ram with fangs and long fur with mussels and barnacles hanging from the fur - brown or grey in colour. When this creature walks the mussels make a clicking sound. I would freak out if I were to meet this clicking monster while looking for shells on the shore!
There are still sightings of the Shore Laddie in this area.
The Sea Man
If I thought I were going to freak out if meeting the Shore Laddie then it would be the end of me if I were to meet the rampant Sea Man! This sea monster is what nightmares are made of - a pure monster and ugly as sin! I don't think I have to describe it - the picture says it all! Although I have to add that the Sea Man drags its belly on the ground. It has long hind legs, meaning that it walks on all fours when it is not rampant. Its arms are very short and have claws instead of fingers. Fortunately it hasn't been seen since the 19th century - but that doesn't mean that it isn't out there!
The Shell Monster
The Shell Monster is described as being scaly and tubby, hippopotamus shaped but larger, four-legged sea monster with a huge head, puffy, bulging eyes and a huge mouth. Now, if you hear a rattling sound behind you while you are walking on the shore, then you might be followed by a Shell Monster!
The last known sighting of a Shell Monster was in 1951 in Arnarfjörður.
The Sea Horse or Faxi
This sea monster looks like a Chinese dragon with a small head and a bright red mane and glowing green eyes! It was seen often in Arnarfjörður with the last sighting being in 2009 or 2010 in Geirþjófsfjörður!! This kind of gives me the chills! What on earth is lurking in the sea!!
People have been wondering if this sea monster might be the same sea monster as has for ages harassed seamen - that sea monster is called the Red Comb Monster and there are great similarities. It attacked boats and killed the seamen on board. I have seen tales of similar sea monsters. Just imagine being on a small wooden boat and a hellish creature jumps up from the ocean and attacks you :(
There is an account of the six-oared boat "Heppinn" or Lucky running aground on a Sea Horse in 1915 at the mouth of Arnarfjörður. The photo above is from that account.
On the multimedia table I found this account of a Red Comb Monster sighting in 2000 and 2002. The Icelandic seaman, Sverrir Garðarsson, saw this awful monster twice.
The text says that it raised its long neck up by Sverrir's boat and the monster hovered high above the wheelhouse of the boat, where Sverrir was standing!
So there have been 3 recorded sightings of this dreadful monster in the last 16 years!
In the middle of the main showroom of the museum there is a big bookcase with several books and portraits of eyewitnesses of sea monsters.
In the photo below you see what Eiríkur Eiríksson had to say about his meetings with the Sperðlahlíð monster in Geirþjófssfjörður.
The information next to the portrait explains how Eiríkur told of a monster he had seen both at Sperðlahlíð and at Krosseyri. He claimed to have seen its excrement, which lay in three huge clumps and looked like chalk-coloured mud covered in green slime!
These stories, which I have told you here, are only a few of thousands of stories on human encounters with sea monsters in Iceland. There is so much more and I am pretty sure that you can spend hours at the museum.
After our visit we had lunch in the lovely restaurant settings of the Sea Monster Museum and talked to the owners about sea monsters and the museum. Kudos to them for preserving the stories of the sea monsters and showing them to us in their museum.
The Icelandic Sea Monster Museum is an ongoing project as they are collecting more and more stories - old and new - seeing the last sighting of a sea monster in this area was only 6 years ago (2010)!
Maybe the sea monsters don't appear any longer - who knows - maybe they do - but you can learn all about them at the Sea Monster Museum in Bíldudalur. Around the area of the museum many of the sightings of the sea monsters have taken place.
The Icelandic Sea Monster Museum in Bíldudalur is open daily from 10 am - 6 pm from the 15th of May until the 10th of September. Do pay them a visit - it is both scary and very informative. It is both for adults and children alike, although very small children might get scared of the first 2 sea monsters.
I am pretty sure that you will have a different view on the existence of sea monsters when you leave Bíldudalur :) Here you can see the exact location of Bíldudalur on the map.
To reach the Westfjords it is best to rent a car in Reykjavík. You can also buy a 8 Day Self Drive Tour|Westfjords & Snæfellsnes Peninsula or a 14 day Self Drive Tour|Circle of Iceland & The Westfjords depending on how much time you plan on spending in Iceland.
Also check out the many interesting guided tours of the Westfjords of Iceland - here you can see the selection of the most popular tours.