Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!

Hólmavík is a lovely town on the east coast of the Westfjords of Iceland and the largest town in an area called Strandir. In this area, Strandir, at Trékyllisvík, 3 men were burnt at the stake for sorcery in 1654. A witch-craze followed and this period of time in Iceland, from 1654-1690 has been called "Brennuöldin" or the Fire century.

Another 16 men and 1 woman were burnt at the stake, the last one in 1690. You can learn all about this at the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík. I have written a special travel-blog on this ever so popular museum.

The Huge Sea-Turtle

Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!
At the "Þróunarsetur Hólmavíkur" - the Development Centre of Hólmavík you will find on display something very unusual for this area - a casting of a big sea-turtle, which was caught in 1963 close to Hólmavík!

This sea-turtle is called "Leðurskjaldbaka" in Icelandic or Dermochelys coriacea and is the biggest sea-turtle in the world! It is found in the tropical and sub-tropical sea, so it is very unusual to find one in Iceland.

You will find the casting of the sea-turtle hanging from the ceiling and in a glass box, you will find the remains of the sea turtle.

Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!

In 1963 Einar Hansen, who was a resident of Hólmavík of Norwegian origin, went out fishing in his boat. He found this big sea-turtle on Steingrímsfjörður bay and hauled it ashore in Hólmavík. It created quite a stir as sea-turtles (monsters) are not usually found in the cold ocean around Iceland.

The ocean was really calm on that particular day, but the ocean is often calm in this area. By the boat, they spotted the sea-turtle but didn't realize straight away what it was. They thought it might even be a barrel of rum!

They managed to put a shark-hook in the sea-turtle's mouth and fastened it to the boat. A 25-minute-ride to Hólmavík took them an hour while carrying this heavy sea-turtle.

Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!When the people in Hólmavík heard of this sea monster everybody left their workplace and ran towards the Kaupfélagsbryggja quay. Amongst them was the MD of the area and he pronounced the sea-turtle to be just recently dead - and thoroughly intact.

The sea-turtle weighed 375 kilos and was 2.03 meter's long - really huge! It was put in the freezer of the freezing plant of Hólmavík and was later shown to people in Akranes and Reykjavík in SW-Iceland. A couple of thousand people came to have a look at this rare find in Iceland!

The Icelandic Museum of Natural History bought the sea-turtle. A casting was made of the sea-turtle in Copenhagen which was on display at the Institute of Natural History.

Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!
The sea-turtle found its way back to Hólmavík in 1998, when it was lent to the town for the exhibition Sea-monsters from the South-Seas - the sea-turtle adventure in Hólmavík 1963. 

You can find the sea-turtle cast and the remains of the sea-turtle on display at Þróunarsetur Hólmavíkur, which is right opposite the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft.

Steinhúsið hotel

Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!
We stayed at Steinhúsið hotel for 2 nights. My husband was entertaining and teaching at the Cultural Festival for Children in the Westfjords for 3 days and we needed a place to stay in Hólmavík. We opted for Steinhúsið as it is conveniently located in the centre of Hólmavík above the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft, where we planned on having dinner during our stay.

Steinhúsið is an old building, built in 1911 - the first concrete building in Hólmavík. The owners, two sisters, refurbished this old house in 2006-2010 and did a marvellous job. 

Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!
It has got a lovely feel to it, there are 5 double-rooms upstairs and one has to climb up a steep wooden staircase where the rooms are located. Our room was bright and lovely and beautifully decorated. 

There was a beautiful and bright kitchen on the ground floor and 2 living rooms with books and board games and jigsaw puzzles and everything you need to feel at home. It is like you sat down in somebody's living room and they just popped out.

We had a lovely and very relaxing time at the hotel.

Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!
On the second floor, there was a big balcony overlooking the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft and the ocean with a great view of the town.

Displayed on the walls of the hotel were lovely little girl dresses etc., which the proprietors found in the house while they were restoring it. A lovely idea to put them on the walls.

Hólmavíkurkirkja church

Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!
Hólmavíkurkirkja church is one of the landmarks of Hólmavík. It towers above the village on top of a hill. This modern looking church was built from 1957-1968. I also visited the old church, which served Hólmavík, the church at Staður.

Staður is outside of Hólmavík, so it must have been nice for them to get a church right in the middle of the town. Below is a photo of the old church at Staður. I try to visit all the old country churches on my travels in Iceland. They are pure gems, which way too often are closed as they have been vandalised.

Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!The interior of the new church is made of pine, quite lovely and gives the feeling of warmth. And the view from the church windows is fantastic.

A former minister at the church wanted to block the view with stained glass windows, but the congregation disagreed as they did not want to lose the view. 
Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!
The altar and pulpit are also made of pine. There is no altarpiece, but a large wooden cross. It is quite a lovely Lutheran church.

The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft

Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!

Lying on the floor by the zombie with the late curator of the museum, the sorcerer Sigurður

In Hólmavík you will find a very interesting museum, which is a must visit while in this area. It attracts around 15,000 visitors annually, the late curator told me. The museum is called the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft or Galdrasafnið in Icelandic. This museum is the main attraction of Hólmavík town.

It is not for the faint-hearted though as here you will, amongst other horrible things, see a zombie crawling out from his grave and the infamous necropants!

Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!

I have written another travel-blog about the museum with a lot of photos, as there is so much to see there. And there you will see photos of the necropants:

Hólmavík is located some 230 km away from Reykjavík. To visit Hólmavík you can rent a car in Reykjavík and drive to the Westfjords in 3 hours.

If you are continuing your journey to the Westfjords from Hólmavík town then remember to fill up on gas here as there is no other gas-station until Súðavík village, which is 204 km away.

I would recommend a visit to the remote Strandir and the village Drangsnes before you continue on your journey.

Drangsnes village, the hot tubs and the trollsHólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!

Drangsnes is a lovely village in Strandir on the eastern part of the Westfjords, just 30 km away from Hólmavík village. At Strandir you will find 3 hot tubs by the sea just as you enter this very small fishing village. They are one of the main attractions of the village Drangsnes.

It is really lovely soaking in these hot tubs by the sea and they are very popular, as here you really become one with nature. We popped up for a visit to Drangsnes when we were staying in Hólmavík, but somehow I forgot my swimsuit so I could only dip my legs into the hot tubs. The hot tubs are two normal hot tubs and one fish tub with different degrees of hot water. 
Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!Hot water was discovered in Drangsnes in 1997 and the geothermal water in the hot tubs comes from a borehole. The inhabitants were clever and only a short while after the hot water was discovered they put up these 3 hot tubs.

There are changing rooms across the street from the hot tubs (please do NOT go into the hot pots without a swimsuit, that is very much frowned upon here as they are in the village). 

Notice the carved teardrops in some of the rocks by the sea and the hot tubs, carved by the artist Mireya Samper.

Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!

And Grímsey island is also a popular attraction, with its myriad of puffins in the summertime. This is Grímsey in Steingrímsfjörður, and not to be confused with the Arctic circle Grímsey. You can join a 10-minute boat ride to Grímsey island to check out the puffins.

And you might spot some seals and whales as well. I joined a whale watching tour of Steingrímsfjörður while visiting Hólmavík.

Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!

The pillar Kerling and Grímsey island in the background

Close to the swimming pool, you will find a pillar of rock, which is one of the 3 trolls, who meant to separate the Westfjords from the mainland. I found the story in Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Compilation of Folklore by Jón Árnason:

"In ancient times there were three trolls in the Westfjords who wanted to dig a channel between the Westfjords and the other country (the mainland of Iceland), between Gilsfjörður and Kollafjörður fjords, close to where it is at its narrowest. (We locals often refer to the Westfjords as the head of Iceland and you will see why if you look at the map. So the trolls wanted to sever the head from the rest of Iceland - RHR).

Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!

At the same time, they had another purpose; they wanted to build islands from the material they dug from the channel. The trolls digging on the west side had a speedier process, as Breiðafjörður bay was shallower than Húnaflói and two trolls were digging there, Karl and Kerling, and they formed all the islands dotted on Breiðafjörður. (These islands are innumerable and counted amongst the 3 innumerable things in Icelandic nature).

But the troll woman Kerling on the east side wasn't making much progress by herself, as Húnaflói bay is both deeper and the islands she was supposed to create turned into sunken skerries; everything went awry.

Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!

The trolls were digging through the night and didn't pay attention to how quickly time passed and that the sun was rising. When they noticed, the trolls on the west side started running and ran east as fast as they could north across Steinadalsheiði heath and meant to hide in Kollafjörður bay.

But as they reached the seafront the sun rose and they got turned into rocks, which are called Drangar. They stand together at Drangavík close to Kollafjarðarnes cape. The bigger rock, which is narrower at the bottom is Karl, the Troll, and the other rock is peaked, and fatter at the bottom, so it looks like it has a stomach and even thighs; that is Kerling or the Giantess.

Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!

Grímsey island

The Kerling who was digging on the east side also got caught by the rays of the sun. As she noticed the sunrise she jumped north across Steinsgrímsfjörður bay and stopped by an escarpment north of the bay, by the name of Malarhorn, where the sun shone upon her. 

The giantess was livid as she had not been able to create but a few islets and skerries on the Húnaflói bay, that she slammed her shovel down in anger and the big blow broke off the piece of land and formed Grímsey island. It is the only big island which the giantess was able to create. The story goes that the rocks are of the same material on the island as at Malarhorn.

Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!

Grímsey island and the bull on the left side of the island

On the east side of Grímsey island, you will find a rock in the shape of a bull; it stands tall and erect. This rock is called Uxi or the Bull. Its pointy end looks like a church tower; that is the bull's horns.

The bull belonged to the giantess, but she had left her bull on the part which separated from Malarhorn; the bull then turned into stone. The giantess was turned into stone as well while looking back at her bull on the island. 

Since then nobody has tried to separate the Westfjords from the mainland nor tried to create islands and scerries on the Húnaflói bay and Breiðafjörður fjord".

(Translated into English and recapitulated from Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Compilation of Folklore by Jón Árnason)

Hólmavík in the Westfjords of Iceland - the Sorcery Town!

The Kerling rock

Drangsnes gets its name from this pillar of rock, but such a pillar is called drangur in Icelandic. You will see such pillars of rock in many places in Iceland and many of them have a folklore connected to them. They are either called Kerling or Karl, depending on their sex and they very often come in pairs. See also:

I am going to visit Grímsey island next summer as I love seeing the puffins. Then I will add more photos to this travel-blog. The lighthouse in Grímsey island was erected back in 1915, but was destroyed by a bomber in WW2, and rebuilt after the war in 1949.

15 km north of Drangsnes you will find Bjarnarfjörður with its lovely hot pools and the mystical Sorcerer's Cottage - Kotbýli kuklarans, which is a must visit in the summertime.

Have a lovely time in Hólmavík, Drangsnes and Strandir in the beautiful Westfjords of Iceland :)

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