Rauðasandur Beach & Sjöundá in the Westfjords of Iceland - Red Sands & a Crime Scene
Rauðasandur beach or Red Sands beach is a beautiful red beach in a very remote area in the Westfjords of Iceland. Most beaches in Iceland are black, but the beaches in the Westfjords are golden or pink.
Rauðasandur is kind of reddish in colour and the name of the beach is most likely derived from the colour of the sand. The sand, in turn, gets its colour from pulverized scallop shells. But the name can also derive from the settler in this area, Ármóður rauði Þorbjarnarson or Ármóður the Red.
You might also notice that the beach is either called Rauðisandur or Rauðasandur, but either of these names is valid a local told me. I prefer the name Rauðasandur and have seen it marked like this on old maps. The sand changes in colour from yellow to red to black.
Rauðasandur beach stretches for around 10 km from Látrabjarg bird-cliff in the west towards Skorarhlíðar mountainside in the east.
The winding gravel road leading to Rauðasandur
The roads in this part of the Westfjords are not paved. The road leading to Rauðasandur is a gravel road, winding and steep so drive it slowly.
Some call it the most frightening road in the Westfjords, but to me, it looks ok, just very winding.
I have on the other hand driven on the most dangerous road construction in the Westfjords!
See my travel-blog:
Directions to Rauðasandur
Once down the mountain, Rauðasandur can be reached from both the right-hand side and the left-hand side, where there is a camping area. There is a couple of km drive and the car can be parked in a small parking lot.
By the parking lot, there is a map explaining how to get to the beach. Handwritten on it in Icelandic were directions that there is a 1 km walk to the beach and a shallow river has to be waded.
Funny troll signs lead the way :) Ok, now, wading a shallow river; how shallow and how wide is that river and where is it?
Wading the shallow water
We walked for around 30 minutes by the sea seeing Rauðasandur on the other side and wondering when we would get there.
French tourists followed us, wondering the same thing, how to get to the red sandy beach on the other side of the sea.
All of a sudden I spotted a man walking on the sea in the distance. It was a surreal sight; it looked like he was actually walking on water! I walked faster so I could ask him how to get to the other side.
Walking on water
The man was the farmer in this area and had been to the beach to collect whale bones from a whale that had beached here 2 years earlier. His daughter made artwork from the whale bones.
The farmer said that it was easy to pass the river (sea) and that it was shallow. It was indeed shallow and easily passable but ice cold.
A beached whale
Although it is a bit difficult getting here, driving to this remote area of Iceland, driving down the steep mountain, walking for half an hour, and wading the cold sea/river, it is so worth it when you reach the destination, the red sands.
It is just lovely being here in tranquillity and beautiful nature. And one can take beautiful photos here, given that the light is right.
Sheep at Rauðasandur
There are not many farms left (only 3 in 2022) at Rauðasandur, at Lambavatn, Stakkar, and Melanes but at Lambavatn farm you will find the westernmost dairy farm in Iceland. And the only farm on the Westfjords where grain (barley) has been grown.
The milk truck cannot always reach the dairy farm though, as transportation in bad weather over the heath can be very difficult.
A photo taken out of the window of the car, so it is bad quality but shows the farms at Rauðasandur
We also visited Rauðasandur from the camping site on the left-hand side when you come down the winding road. Here the farmer at Melanes, Ástþór, has run a travel service since 2007.
Ástþór had a bad car accident back in 2003, when his car slid off the winding road leading to Rauðasandur, and has been in a wheelchair ever since. So he got rid of most of his sheep in 2017 and turned to tourism instead.
A passion crime story is related to this area:
Morðin á Sjöundá - the Murders at Sjöundá farm
Ruins of the old turf farm at Sjöundá
At the farm Sjöundá around the year 1800, there lived two married couples. Bjarni Bjarnason, the husband from one marriage, and Steinunn Sveinsdóttir, the wife from the other marriage, had an affair.
They ended up murdering their spouses, Jón Þorgrímsson and Guðrún Egilsdóttir in the year 1802. Or so it is believed. Guðrún died suddenly and the body of Jón was found on Rauðasandur.
Bjarni and Steinunn were placed under arrest and trialed for the murders. Bjarni said that Jón had fallen from cliffs and into the sea. But the body of Jón was unbroken when it was cast up on the shore the following autumn.
The farm at Sjöundá
Steinunn confessed that she had given Guðrún porridge with poison in it from which she got ill. And injuries on Guðrún's upper body indicated that she had been suffocated.
11 children were involved in this tragedy, as Bjarni had 5 children and Steinunn also had 5 children, and they had 1 child together when Steinunn was in custody at Hrísnes, a boy named Jón.
Steinunn and Bjarni were found guilty and sentenced to death. They were put in prison in Reykjavík (which now houses Stjórnarráðið - the Cabinet of Iceland). No executioner was found so they were to be moved to Norway where they were to be executed.
The view of Rauðasandur from Sjöundá
Steinunn had a child in custody and died in prison in 1805 a few days prior to her departure to Norway. Bjarni was tortured and executed in 1805 in Norway.
Bjarni's 5 children were put into foster care and tragically died after escaping. This is such a tragic story :(
Having been found guilty of murder, Steinunn couldn't be buried in the holy ground in the cemetery so she was buried under a pile of rocks (dysjuð) close to Hallgrímskirkja church, which is one of the landmarks of Reykjavík.
Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík
This was by the thoroughfare out of the growing town and passers-by were urged to throw rocks onto the pile, which grew and grew.
Her grave was called Steinkudys, but dys is the Icelandic term for this kind of grave. When rocks were needed back in 1915 as a building material for the harbour, they were taken from the pile.
The view of Rauðasandur
The Director of the National Museum ordered that the removal of the rock was immediately stopped and that the bones were taken and buried in an unmarked grave in Hólavallakirkjugarður cemetery in Reykjavík.
The ministers of the Dómkirkjan church refused to take a part in her burial.
In 2012 her descendants (she has got more than 2,000 descendants now) put a gravestone with a plaque on her grave.
The plaque on the gravestone of Steinunn in Hólavallakirkjugarður cemetery in Reykjavík
They took a rock from the farm at Sjöundá here at Rauðasandur and some red sand to put on her grave. And in 2019 Christmas lights were put on her grave and a minister from Dómkirkjan church signed her grave with a cross.
I visited her grave, as Hólavallakirkjugarður cemetery is also where my family plot is located. A stone's throw away from my family plot I found Steinunn's grave.
The cross at Steinunn's grave in Hólavallakirkjugarður cemetery in Reykjavík
So finally, some 200 years after her death, Steinunn got a tombstone. The plaque says that she was born in 1769 but Íslendingabók - the Book of Icelandic Relations - says that she was born in 1767?
Here is the information I found in Íslendingabók, in Icelandic only though:
"Steinunn Sveinsdóttir 1767 - 31. ágúst 1805. Var á Efri-Vaðli, Hagasókn, V-Barð. 1788. Húsfreyja í Hrísnesi, sömu sókn, 1794. Húsfreyja í Skapadal, Sauðlauksdalssókn, Barð. 1801. Húsfreyja á Sjöundá og í Skápadal, Rauðasandshr., Barð. Dæmd „fyrir skammarlegt hórlíferni með Bjarna fyrir morðtilraun við Guðrúnu konu hans með eitri“, segir í Lyrd".
The grave of Steinunn
The last time I visited the grave of Steinunn a lot of angels had been put on the grave and a candle was lit on it. It warms my heart to see that people are attending to her grave.
In 2022 a kangaroo court (sýndarréttarhöld) took place in the case of Steinunn and Bjarni. As it is not certain if Steinunn and Bjarni got a fair trial.
A group (approx. 100 people) of lawyers from Lögmannafélag Íslands - the Icelandic Bar Association visited Sjöundá and a debate took place at Rauðasandur.
A symposium was held at Patreksfjörður village in the Westfjords. The conclusion was that Steinunn and Bjarni had most likely murdered Guðrún and Jón.
You can reach Sjöundá from the camping place on the east side of the beach. Let's tread lightly here and respect the memory of these unfortunate people.
This is also a historical place for Icelanders and all of us had to learn by heart a poem in school that is directly related to this area.
It is a poem by our beloved poet, Matthías Jochumsson, about Eggert Ólafsson, who drowned in 1768 off the shore by Skor on the eastern part of Rauðasandur.
Grey seals are often spotted at Rauðasandur in the summertime and I have been told that as many as 100 seals can be spotted sunbathing together on the red beach.
2-day guided Winter break to the Westfjords with a flight to Bíldudalur
You can also rent a car in Reykjavík and drive to Rauðasandur yourself, but the gravel road down to the beach is steep with some pretty steep turns as well, so it is not for everybody.
Especially when you meet a large car!
Here you can see the exact location of Rauðasandur on Google Maps.
I have written several other travel-blogs on the beautiful Westfjords of Iceland and will be adding many more:
Have a lovely time in the beautiful Westfjords of Iceland :)
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The Dynamic Plant Lupine
Sænautasel Turf House in the Highland of Iceland
Secret waterfall on the South Coast
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