The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

This is part III on my travels around the magical Snæfellsnes peninsula and a direct continuation of my travel-blog the Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula Part II. There is just so much to see and do here that I have created 5 travel-blogs on my journey around the peninsula. I love Snæfellsnes and want to show you all it has to offer :)

In my last travel-blog, I showed you the area from Lóndrangar volcanic plugs to Öndverðarnes, the westernmost point of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. We are now driving on road 574 towards Hellissandur village. There are several points of interest on the way.  Let's turn left onto a paved road by these 2 signs: Gufuskálavör and Írskrabrunnur

Írskrabrunnur - the Well of the IrishThe Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

We are going to explore both of these locations, but first, we visit the Írskrabrunnur - the Well of the Irish and turn left by a fork in the road.

Írskrabrunnur - the Well of the Irish is quite an old well on the west side of Snæfellsnes, which dates back to the Settlement of Iceland in the year 874 give or take a few years.  

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

The Well of the Irish was the water supply in this area, Gufuskálar, for centuries until it got buried under sand and lost from sight from 1948-1989.

I refer to my travel-blog on Gufuskálar & Írskrabrunnur well for a lot more information on this area and how it was found again after being hidden for a long time.

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

There is a fence around the well now to protect it and 16 steps leading down into the well. You will notice a huge whale bone in the opening - the story of which you can read in my side-blog.

Let's now have a look at Írskrabyrgi or the Shelter of the Irish, which is just a few meters away from the Irish well. The stacking of the lava rocks is very even with an entrance to it.  

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

From the Shelter of the Irish, there is a good view of the shoreline and the ocean. I spotted "something" running on the rocky beach.

I zoomed in on it and it and it turned out to be a small mink carrying a fish much bigger than itself!

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

Now let's go back to the car and drive to the fork in the road and choose the road to Gufuskálavör. There are 700 meters or ca 10-minute walk from the Well of the Irish to Gufuskálavör.

Here you can see the location of the Well of the Irish on the map.

Gufuskálavör landing

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

At Gufuskálavör you will find an old fishing station dating back to the 14th and 15th century. Here are the ruins of fishermen's huts, fish storage huts and farm ruins. Down by the beach, you will see wakes in the stones as the keels of the rowboats left grooves behind. I have written a lot more information about Gufuskálavör in a side-blog.

A rock by the ocean is a monument for the last woman living at Gufuskálar, Elínborg Þorbjarnardóttir (1860-1947), but she lived here from 1898 until 1946. 

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

Remains of old fishermen's huts were discovered inside a sandy hill at Gufuskálar with human habitation signs in the layers of the debris.  

A turned chessman from the 14th-15th century, made of bone, was discovered in the oldest layer of the debris.

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

These antiquities are very close to the sea so that there is a real danger that the sea might erode them, making us lose these important historical remains :(

Now let's check out the old Fiskbyrgi - the fish drying sheds of Gufuskálar - which are located on the other side of road 574 much further away from the sea. Drive back to road 574 and look for this sign below. There you turn right and drive up a short gravel road where you can leave your car.

Fiskbyrgin á Gufuskálum - the Fish Drying Sheds at Gufuskálar

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

Above Gufuskálar you will see a sign Fiskbyrgi meaning fish drying sheds. These fish drying sheds are old and made of lava rocks, of which there is plenty in this area below Snæfellsjökull glacier. 

There are information signs by the parking lot and a path leading through the lava field up to a fish drying shed. It is so strange walking in this area amongst the myriad of old fish drying sheds thinking about the vibrant fishing community which now belongs to the past. 

I am so glad that the fish drying sheds were left here and not destroyed - they are of great cultural importance to us as they are really old, 500-700 years old, which is old for Iceland - they were protected in 1969. 

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

The path led me up to the fish drying shed in the photo above. These sheds are like little cottages really and blend in perfectly with the landscape. These sheds are protected antiquities so let's be careful here. It is forbidden to enter them as they are not safe and protected, but you can have a peek inside on your hands and knees. 

I only visited this one fish drying shed, but there are some 150-200 others dotted around the lava field (they were counted as being 167 by Skúli Alexandersson). These old fish drying sheds seem to be the most extensive and best-preserved antiquities of this sort in Northern-Europe.

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

It is believed that most of these sheds date back to the 15th or 16th century, but back then stockfish was Iceland's biggest export to both England and the towns of Hanseatic league. You can maybe see holes in the rocks in my photo above, but these holes let the wind blow through the sheds, which kept the fish from rotting and helped with the process of drying the fish.

You may also notice that the walls are leaning towards the top of the shed. This building method is called "borghleðsla" in Icelandic.

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

It is easy to access these sheds and only a 5-10 minute walk up to the one into which I had a peek. Let's keep to the path as this is a lava field with many hidden holes covered by moss. It is easy to break one's leg in such lava fields - we Icelanders are warned of this danger from a very early age and I want to pass this warning on to our foreign visitors. 

I just found this tour by Go Green of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, which includes Fiskibyrgin in their guided tour.

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

I saw a ptarmigan hiding in the lava field with many chicks which blended so well into the landscape. They got startled when I walked by them and the chicks ran all over the place while their mother tried to lure me away from them. 

I followed her so she wouldn't think that I was going to hurt her chicks and I found it so cute when she looked for me when I stopped. 

She had hidden behind a lava rock and then stretched her neck and I could see her looking for me wondering why I didn't follow her. So cute and as not to scare her I kept following her :)

I both respect and feel sorry for the ptarmigan. This bird stays in Iceland the whole year round and changes colour according to the season - in the summertime, it is dappled, but in winter time it becomes white to blend in with the snow.

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

The reason I feel sorry for the ptarmigan is that it stands out if there is not enough snow for it to hide - also when it is going through the change it is half white and half dappled and doesn't blend in at all. A lovely bird, which is hunted for the traditional Christmas dinner.

Hellissandur Village & the Maritime Museum in the Fishermen's Garden

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

Hellissandur is one of the villages on the north side of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Until now we have not encountered a proper village, as it were, but now we have reached the first of five villages on the peninsula. Hellissandur used to be a big fishing centre and in the year 1700, there were some 60 seasonal fishermen's huts here.  

The population of Hellissandur and the small village next to it, Rif, which we are going to explore next, is now combined around 544.

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

Almost every town and village in Iceland has got a museum of its own. Hellissandur's museum is the Fisherman's Garden and Maritime Museum, which you will see on your right-hand side as you enter the village.  

You can read about this interesting museum in my travel-blog on the Fisherman's Garden in Hellissandur.

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

Here you can see the location of Hellissandur on the map. Now, since leaving Reykjavík, we have driven for around 195 km, not to count the detours we have made.  

Next let's have a look at one historic place, Ingjaldshóll, before visiting the small village of Rif.  Midway between these two villages you turn right from road 574 and drive up Ingjaldshólskirkja road by the sign below ;)


The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

Ingjaldshóll on the Snæfellsnes peninsula is one of the historic sites in Iceland - it is a former settlement manor and an assembly.

Christopher Columbus seems to have stayed at Ingjaldshóll during the winter of 1477-78.  It is believed that he was here to get tips and info from the Vikings, Leif the Lucky and co, who had already discovered America, before going on his journey west.

The current church at Ingjaldshóll is the oldest concrete church in the world!

I have written a side-blog on the historical Ingjaldshóll with a lot more information on this historic site.

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

Here you can see the location of Ingjaldshólskirkja church on the map and if you zoom out you will see that it is located right between Hellissandur and Rif.

The Village Rif and Björnssteinn Stone

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

Rif is one of the small villages in the northern part of the Snæfellsnes peninsula - in between Hellissandur, which is only 2 km away, and Ólafsvík villages. Rif is a very small village, but it was once one of the main trading ports on the peninsula and you will still see many fishing boats here in the harbour. Even though this village is very small now, it is still a historic site.

There is one place in Rif which is declared as protected - the Björnssteinn stone. The story behind this stone is that in 1467, on this spot, Björn the Rich Þorleifsson (around 1408-1467) was beheaded by English merchants. 

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

In 1455 Björn and his wife Ólöf the Rich Loftsdóttir from Skarð, who were the richest couple in Iceland during their time, were on a tour when they were kidnapped by Scottish pirates and brought to Scotland. The Danish King, Christian I, paid their ransom and appointed Björn the governor of Iceland, a seneschal and a knight of the Danish king.  

Björn was given the task of preventing illegal English trade in Iceland, which he and his wife performed diligently. So diligently that the English ended up beheading Björn at Rif. His body is then supposed to have been cut into 7 pieces, which were salted into a barrel like herrings. The barrel was then sent to his wife Ólöf the Rich. 

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

Ólöf the Rich revenged the death of her husband and famous are her words:  "Eigi skal gráta Björn bónda, heldur safna liði..." - meaning "Shed no tears for my husband Björn, but gather men..." I think almost every Icelander off age knows this quote. Björn was not the only one to be beheaded as 7 of his men were killed as well.

You will see the place where Björn was beheaded and a dent in the stone made by the axe - see my photo above. The Björnssteinn stone was unearthed by the locals, which then stacked a stone wall around it. I found this information in a Research Report of the Department of Archaeology of the National Museum of Iceland

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

Ólöf as depicted in the alabaster artwork from the 15th century at Skarðskirkja church on Skarðsströnd in West-Iceland

Ólöf, who by now had become the richest person in Iceland, revenged her husband and waged a war on the English traders in Iceland. She imprisoned 50 Englishmen and kept them in a lodge opposite her mansion at Skarð and used them as slaves.

She forced them to build a fence all around Skarð and a pavement of rock, which can still be seen at Skarð. She then had them killed. In 1473 the Danish king Christian I forbade the English to sail to Iceland or trade with the Icelanders without special permission from the king. 

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

The  triptych at Skarðskirkja church

I have written about Ólöf the Rich in my travel-blog on Fellsströnd and Skarðsströnd. When I was visiting Skarð at Skarðsströnd the farmer showed us the church at Skarð and told us this story. Ólöf was for sure a force to be reckoned with.

The farmer at Skarð told us that Björn is apparently buried on the south side of the church beneath a rock. It is well worth visiting the off-the-beaten-path Skarðsströnd and Fellsströnd, which is referred to as the Golden Saga Circle of Iceland.

The beached whales at Rif

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

On the 7th of September, 2013 something out of the ordinary happened at Rif. There was a storm and really bad weather and 50-70 pilot whales swam into the harbour. Many of them got stuck on the beaches in the neighbourhood and died there.

We tried to rescue them, but they were too many and the weather was too bad. So why does this happen? I guess nobody knows, it is just nature at work. So the most sensible thing to do was to make the best of this sad situation and use the whale meat for human consumption. The word spread that people were allowed to cut meat from the dead whales for personal use to prevent the whales from rotting on the beach.

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

A lot of people in the neighbouring villages and from Reykjavík went to Rif to save the meat. In the olden days when whales stranded, it was considered a godsend and I am sure it made living on this cold island a whole lot easier when a whale stranded in remote inhabited regions. The Icelandic term for a stranded whale is hvalreki which also means a godsend.

My husband and I drove to Rif, which is 2.5 hours away from Reykjavík, where we live. Most of us Icelanders have no idea how to cut the meat from dead pilot whales and at Rif we got a lesson from the Faroese Consul General to Iceland, who had driven from Reykjavík with his wife to get some meat.  Pilot whales are common by the Faroe Islands.

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

Not all of the pilot whales got stranded on the beach, a lot of them ended their lives on the bottom of the ocean in the harbour, which of cause created a big problem.

We don't know really why whales swim ashore like this. There are several theories, one of which is that the whales rely on the earth's magnetic field to find their way in the ocean. So if there is a disturbance in the magnetic field they might get disoriented and swim ashore. And it is difficult to rescue them as they tend to swim ashore again.  

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

The pilot whales also swam ashore on the beach by Fróðá, which is the birthplace of my grandfather and the location of a ghost and zombie story from the Viking Age!

I have written a special travel-blog on my trip up to Rif, but as there is so much controversy over whale consumption it never got published on Facebook. I myself haven't eaten red meat for over 30 years, but to each his own and this meat had to be saved and used.  We do have lots of whale watching tours in Iceland though, and it is a great experience, in my opinion, to be close to these big and majestic kings of the ocean.

I have written a travel-blog on my experience of a whale watching tour in Akureyri with loads of pictures, which are much more cheerful and lively than the sad ones I have shown you above. 

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

If you are travelling here in the summertime be warned that there is a large Arctic tern colony in this area, my least favourite Icelandic migrating bird, - and the Arctic terns sit on the road and only fly up when the car is about to hit them. One has to be careful as to not hit the chicks as they cannot fly away and only run.

As you can see in my photo above then the part of road number 574 leading to Rif has been painted bright green and bright red to deter the Arctic tern from resting on the road - and thus lower the risk of the bird being run over by passing cars.

I have seen many a chick being run over. They are grey, fluffy and very cute, but then they turn into a lean bird, which thinks it is a fighter plane and fearlessly attacks you.

I shot this video of the Arctic tern attacking us in the Westfjords of Iceland

Here you can see the location of Rif on the map. Now let's drive further along road 574 towards another bigger village close by, Ólafsvík town, which is located 10 km away from Hellissandur and thus some 8 km away from Rif.

Ólafsvík town

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

The next place we are going to visit on the north side of the Snæfellsnes peninsula is called Ólafsvík. Ólafsvík is a lovely little fishing town with a population of around 1,000.  

An old storehouse, dating back to 1844, in the centre of the town, is now a museum and an Information Centre. Do pay it a visit.

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

The landmark of Ólafsvík is to me the white modern-looking church - it looks like a ship, but if you look at it from above it looks like outspread salted cod!

As in other fishing villages in Iceland, there is a monument in remembrance of fishermen and the ones lost at sea. I call these monuments the heart of each village and always pay them a visit.

I have written a side-blog on Ólafsvík village & the beautiful bridal veil Bæjarfoss falls with a lot more information on this area.

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

I would recommend a short hike up to Bæjarfoss waterfall which has a drop of 50 meters. Above Ólafsvík town you will also find a view-dial by which there is a fantastic view of Ólafsvík and the surrounding area.

Bæjarfoss is quite a beautiful waterfall, which looks like a thin bridal veil.

Here you can see the location of Ólafsvík on the map.

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

By now Útnesvegur road 574 joins the main road on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, the Snæfellsnes road number 54 - so now we have finished our "detour"  around the westernmost parts of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Remember that we left road 54 on the southern part of our tour of Snæfellsnes and turned to Búðir? Our next stop will be at the historical Fróðá.

To reach Snæfellsnes it is best to rent a car in Reykjavík and drive up here in a couple of hours.

You can continue travelling with me if you like and read my next travel-blog about the Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part IV, which is a continuation of my travels on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in chronological order. I hope you are enjoying reading my series on the Snæfellsnes peninsula :)

Here are links to all of the Snæfellsnes travel-blogs in this series:

Also, check out the many interesting guided tours to the Snæfellsnes peninsula!

The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Part III

Have a lovely visit to the beautiful næfellsnes peninsula :)

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