The Westman Islands of Iceland - the Settler, the Beautiful Stave Church & more interesting Things

In Herjólfsdalur valley in the Westman islands in South-Iceland, you will find a turf house which blends in well with the landscape. It is a replica of Herjólfsbærinn - Herjólfur's old farmstead; a hypothetical farmstead of what might have been one of the oldest human habitation signs in my country Iceland.

The remains of the farm were discovered in 1924, when the first director of the National Museum of Iceland was doing excavation work in Herjólfsdalur valley. He discovered 3 ruins; one longhouse (the oldest type of the Icelandic turf houses) and two smaller houses.

The Westman Islands of Iceland - the Settler, the Beautiful Stave Church & more interesting Things

It seems like it might be the longhouse of Herjólfur Bárðarson, the first settler of the Westman islands in around 900 AC. Now there have been speculations that these old ruins might even be older and that Herjólfur's farm had been located in another part of Heimaey island.  

An extensive digging took place in Herjólfsdalur valley from 1971-1983 - being delayed by the volcanic eruption in 1973. The remains of 8 houses were discovered from 4-5 building periods.

In 2006 a hypothetical farm was built in Herfjólfsdalur valley in the liking of the farm that stood here in the 10th century. The hypothetical farm is a longhouse and an outhouse, built with rocks, wood and turf.

Herjólfsbærinn - Herjólfur's Old Farmstead in the Westman Islands

There is very little written about Herjólfur in Landnáma - the Book of Settlement In Iceland. The chapter on Herjólfur goes like this: "Herjólfur Bárðarson, the brother of Hallgrímur sviðbálki, first settled the Vestmannaeyjar islands and lived in Herjólfsdalur valley a little inside of Ægisdyr, where there is now scorched lava, his son was Ormur auðgi, who lived in Ormsstaðir down by the rock, where everything is now blown away, and he owned the islands all by himself.  There was a fishing station and there was none or very little activity in winter time".  

Here in Herjólfsdalur valley was about the only place where fresh water could be found, so it might be a very likely place in which to build one's farm.

The Westman Islands of Iceland - the Settler, the Beautiful Stave Church & more interesting Things

I found this account on Herjólfur in Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason:

"The story goes that in ancient times a man named Herjólfur lived in the valley in Vestmannaeyjar, which has since been called Herjólfsdalur valley. This valley is sheltered by high mountains on 3 sides and the opening of the valley is in the south in the direction of the sea on the west side of Heimaey island;  Herjólfur's farm was located on the west side of the valley beneath a tall and craggy rocky-mountain.

He was the only one of the islanders who had access to a good water source and many people came to the valley to ask him for water, but he didn't want to give them water unless they paid for it.

Herjólfur had a daughter called Vilborg. She had a different temperament than her father and found him to be rigorous in selling the water on his land to his own neighbours. So she often gave water to their neighbours at night when her father couldn't find out.

The Westman Islands of Iceland - the Settler, the Beautiful Stave Church & more interesting Things

It happened once that Vilborg was sitting outside close to the farm sewing shoes for herself. A raven approached her and took one of her shoes and went away with it. She was upset at losing her shoe, stood up and followed the raven, but as she was a short stretch from the farm a surprisingly large landslide fell from the mountain and on Herjólfur's farm, but he was inside the farm and got hit by the landslide.

But Vilborg could thank the raven for saving her life. She had often fed the ravens and they had grown fond of her.

Then the story goes that Vilborg built a farm at what was to be called Vilborgarstaðir stead, and named the pond south of the farm Vilpa and instructed that nobody would be harmed from drinking the water from Vilpa, even though it didn't look that tasty.

Herjólfsbærinn - Herjólfur's Old Farmstead in the Westman Islands

Allegedly Vilborg was buried in the western part of Vilborgarstaðatúni field - that spot is still called Borguleiði or the grave of Borga (short for Vilborg RHR).

In Herjólfsdalur valley, above the pile of rocks which fell on the farm, there is still a clear water fountain which never runs out even though everywhere else there is a water shortage. A short distance from the pile of rocks there is also a pond and on the east side of the pond there is a watercourse, which looks like it is man-made. This mouth of the watercourse can be seen where it runs into the pond.

The pond south of Vilborgarstaðir stead is still called Vilpa and it is a common water source for the farms closest to it.

(Translated into English from Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar).

Herjólfsbærinn - Herjólfur's Old Farmstead in the Westman Islands

Vilpa was filled up in 1972 after a very sad accident when a child drowned in it, and in 1973 it went under lava from the volcanic eruption in Mt. Eldfell.

I adore such old houses and I think they add a magical touch to Iceland. As those of you, who have read my travel-blog, know then I have written travel-blogs about almost all of the remaining turf houses in Iceland.

I have also written several other travel-blogs on Vestmannaeyjar - the Westman islands for those of you who are interested in exploring the island:

Visiting the volcanic Westman islands and hiking on top of a warm volcano, checking out the adorable puffins and seeing a house dug out from the ashes from the volcanic eruption makes for a very memorable visit.

Herjólfsbærinn - Herjólfur's Old Farmstead in the Westman Islands

You can rent a car in Reykjavík and take the ferry Herjólfur over to the islands and make a day-trip out of your visit. Or even spend the night and explore all that this magical volcanic island has to offer. 

Also check out the top Westman islands tours and this self-drive tour which includes the Westman islands 5 Day Self Drive Tour | Westman Islands, Puffin Tour & Whale Watching.

Have a lovely time in the Westman islands :)

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