Highs and Lows in the Westfjords


False advertising!!

The road to Isafjordur was neither particularly steep nor dirt. Nor did it take ten hours to get there, as I had been led to believe it would by two guidebooks and three information center workers.

The only tension-inducing part was the first hundred kilometers or so off the ring road (the main road around Iceland), where the surface would suddenly go from pavement to dirt. There were sections throughout the journey where there wasn’t really enough room for two cars at once, and almost all the bridges are one-lane, but this is rarely a problem because there’s almost no traffic. On the busiest travel weekend of the year in Iceland, I could almost count all the cars I passed on my fingers and toes!

I did get up to the high areas where snow clearly lingers in the hollows all year round, and many of the passes require chains in winter. But thankfully I did not need any special equipment.


One other road peculiarity. Guard rails are scarce, but all roads have yellow stakes every few feet on both sides. Markers on the right hand side have one reflective strip, while left-side ones have two strips.


These are called priests and they’re there to let drivers know where the boundaries of the road are in heavy fog or snowstorms. A very useful invention that I think we should adopt in Vermont.

Anyway, because the drive was shorter than I had anticipated, I was able to stop off here and there to takes picture or visit an oddball museum like the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Holmavik.


This quirky little museum detailed the 20 some-odd people who were burned for using magic in the 1600s. Unlike in the US, witchcraft seems to have been a man’s game: only one of the accused was a woman.

Most of the displays, like this model of something called necropants, were replicas (thank god).


Wearing necropants granted you a never ending source of wealth. But to get a pair you had to make a pact with a living man that you could dig him up and skin him after he died. Once you put the necropants on, they would basically become part of your body. But you had to get them off before you died or you’d become a ghost.


There was also this stone bowl unearthed on a nearby farm from the Viking area. It’s been surmised that it was used in blood sacrifices.


It’s clearly seen as something special because it gets its own darkened room and velvet-covered pedestal.

From Holmavik I continued northwest, weaving in and out of fjords.


In Sudavik, I stopped at the Arctic Fox Center, where a cute little orphaned kit is being raised, they say to release into the wild when it’s old enough.


I hope to see some of these guys in the wild while I’m in this part of the country. In the meantime I had to make do with the little guy in the cage and this stuffed version.


In most places in the arctic fox’s range, it has a white color in winter and a dusky sort of color in summer. This is called the white morph. But in Iceland, most of the foxes are of the blue morph variety, which is actually brown. In the winter, the center said their fur gets bleached by the sun.

Finally, just before dinner I made it to Isafjordur. I had high hopes for this place. It’s considered the capital of the Westfjords with a population of about four thousand. But this weekend is a holiday weekend in Iceland and several Icelanders I talked to expressed jealousy that I was headed up here because of the annual swamp soccer tournament, where teams from around the world compete in the mud for guts and glory, which falls on this weekend.

I expected the town to be crawling with people, and a cafe owner told me the tournament is expected to draw three thousand people to the area. But it was dead when I arrived. I was determined to have a night out tonight. So I put on the one nice shirt that I brought and headed out for the much-acclaimed fish restaurant at the business end of the harbor. The place was hopping, and kind of a charming spot, with long picnic benches for seating and the only menu items fish soup and fish buffet. But the harried waitress sat me at a table with an Icelandic family who looked less than pleased to see me. I said a cheerful hello and received wan smiles in return. They weren’t interested in talking so I ate quickly and left, hoping to find a friendlier crowd at a local cafe. But the only cafe I could find was dead, and the kitschy record player kept skipping.

You can’t manufacture a connection, and that’s okay, but it was a down note to end the evening on.

But no mind; tomorrow in off to do some hiking and see if I can’t find a boat to the wild Hornstrandir nature reserve. And I’ve got to catch at least some of the swamp soccer tournament. As for connection, I’ll try my luck again tomorrow night or find it when I move on on Sunday.

For now, I’ve got an Icelandic murder mystery I’m reading that’s just getting interesting.

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8 Responses to Highs and Lows in the Westfjords

  1. Shivery photos! Are you reading Arnaldur Indridason?

  2. Castle Freeman, Jr., Newfane says:

    Jane, too bad about the missed fun in Isafjordur or whatever. Next time, leave the nice shirt at home and wear your necropants. Very much enjoying your dispatches…….Castle

  3. Steve Mease says:

    Jane, are you on this sojourn alone or with a traveling companion – either way it is fun to travel along vicariously from Williston.

    • On my own, Steve. I wanted to get back to my solo adventuring days for a bit and also wanted to go somewhere where I could take all the pictures I want without annoying a travel companion!

      • Steve Mease says:

        Clearly I revealed I had not been on this trip with you from the start from my question. Just finished catching up on my reading. Sounds just like the kind of trip I would like. I always find myself moving through museums or the landscapes at a far different pace than my spouse – She’s more into the details and naming plants, and I prefer the bigger picture and next shiny object. So i admire your frictionless travels and freedom of choosing your own path. Safe travels.

  4. Greg says:

    Not so very unusual that, as helpful as the tourist info. folks want to be, they don’t necessarily have good knowledge of road conditions in remote areas. Have encountered this several if not many times. Glad it worked out. Sometimes ya gotta take a chance and just be prepared to turn around if it really gets bad. Lack of guardrails keeps you alert, doesn’t it? ;-)

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