Europe, Iceland, Waterfalls

Heidi and Kubo Do Iceland – Day 10: Westfjords to Tröllaskagi, and all the churches in between

Iceland Day 10 – September 10, 2018

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Our late bedtime the night before did us no favors when the alarm went off bright and early in the morning.  Day 10 would be our longest driving day of the trip as we would leave the Westfjords and jaunt across northern Iceland, spending over six hours driving and countless more at various sights along the way.

After some breakfast and spreading out any clothes that hadn’t fully dried after yesterday’s laundry adventure on the clothesline we put up in the back of Carl, we set out in the foggy and rainy weather.  Apparently our good luck with rain-free days had run out, shucks!  Our route would have us backtracking on Road 643 back towards Hólmavík and Road 61, before continuing on Road 68 that would eventually lead us back to Road 1, or the Ring Road.

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Leaving Drangsnes on Road 643 in the fog. Quite the difference from the blue skies from the day before!
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Kollafjarðarneskirkja, built in 1909, on the shores of Kollafjörður along Road 68.
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Dainty waterfall near Kollafjörður, seen from Road 68.  Possibly the Svartifoss found in the Westfjords, but unfortunately when it shares a name with a famous sibling elsewhere in Iceland, its hard to find photos to confirm this is indeed Svartifoss.
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Driftwood and picnic table at the end of Kollafjörður
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Road 68 likes to alternate between paved and gravel as it winds around what is left of the Westfjords before joining the Ring Road in northern Iceland.
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Cute little sheep trying to hide between a road marker!

The early morning and lack of sleep was catching up to us (okay, mostly me), so we made a small pit stop at Prestsbakki to get out in the fresh air and stretch our legs.  We grabbed some photos of Prestsbakkakirkja and heckled some sheep that were sleeping nearby.  Though it was only a few minutes, it felt good to get some brisk fresh air in the lungs, and wake me up a bit for the long journey ahead.

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Prestsbakkakirkja, built in 1957, alongside Hrútafjörður
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Cemetery at Prestsbakki

I had to admit popping back onto the Ring Road (Road 1) left me feeling a bit empty.  The Westfjords were just so damn fantastic and magical that I felt really underwhelmed entering northern Iceland.  Not that northern Iceland isn’t amazingly beautiful, because it is, but there was just something lacking that the Westfjords had.  Maybe it was the sheer isolation and loneliness of the untamed wilderness of the Westfjords, or maybe just simply the lack of people.  I haven’t put a finger on it yet.  Nonetheless, it was a hard feeling to shake on this 10th day of our road trip.

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These signs are common along the Ring Road, and list the distances to various destinations
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Víðidalsfjall (?) looms in the distance as we head east on the Ring Road

We weren’t back on the heavily-trafficked Ring Road for long before turning north on Road 711 to drive up the Vatnsnes peninsula to our first item on the itinerary, Hvítserkur.

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Charming house off of Road 711 on the Vatnsnes peninsula. Naturally, there’s a waterfall in the backyard!

Hvítserkur is a 15km tall volcanic plug, or sea-stack.  Folklore says it’s a petrified troll that got caught out in the sun.  I’ll stick to the troll theory!  Many people say it looks like a dragon or elephant drinking water, but I find it to be a donkey.  Depending on the tide, it’s possible to walk right up to it, but Kubo and I were not that lucky.  After driving down the steep gravel road, we parked and walked to the overlook, and then down the steep trail to the shore.

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Hvítserkur rising from Húnafjörður
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Hvítserkur from the black sand beach
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A different take on a photo of Hvítserkur

I must admit, I was incredibly underwhelmed by Hvítserkur.  I’m not saying it’s not cool, because it is, but I am not sure it was worth the detour and time to come see it on what was a very jam-packed day of a lot of driving and other sights to see.  I think we enjoyed playing in the black sand and waves more than we did looking at the sea stack.  If I had to do it over again, I would’ve scratched the sights on Vatnsnes from the itinerary and enjoyed a soak in the natural hot pot Fosslaug instead (which we skipped due to lack of time).  Lessons learned!

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I love dunes of black sand! Sigríðarstaðavatn during low-ish tide.

With Hvítserkur checked off the list, we headed south again, opting to take Road 717 so we could check out Borgarvirki.  Luckily this crazy bumpy road pleased Kubo and I with it’s steep hills, including the last one up to the sight reaching 18%!  Shoot, I barely ride my bike up 18% grades ever, so this was a treat for us.  Our great van Carl once proved he was up to the challenge, too, even if he was merely front wheel drive.

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Road 717 hits 18% grade climbing up towards Borgarvirki
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Borgarvirki is a basalt volcanic plug that had been modified by humans as a fortress, and is mentioned in the historic Sagas as a military fortress.

Borgarvirki is more interesting than Hvítserkur in my opinion, even if the history behind the fortress is murky.  We hiked up into it and then walked along the rim.  There is a view dial that explains all the mountains and sights, and the panoramic views are definitely worth it.

According to folklore, the people of this area used Borgarvirki as a defense when the chieftains of Borgarfjörður attacked them in the 13th century. There are ruins of huts inside the walls, and some restoration was performed in 1949-1950 to the walls.

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View from the top of Borgarvirki. Road 717 splits the middle, with Hóp lake (Iceland’s largest saltwater lagoon and 5th largest lake) and Þingeyrasandur in the background
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View from the rim of Borgarvirki

Since it was very sunny and decently warm, and the views were great, we opted to eat lunch after we walked around Borgarvirki at the picnic table in the parking lot.  Our tradition of beautiful lunch spots was therefore continued!

The next thing I had on our itinerary was just a short drive down the road, Kolugljúfur canyon.  This canyon always makes “hidden gem lists,” but clearly from the tour buses pulling up and full parking lots, it’s no longer a hidden gem.

Kolugljúfur canyon is 1km long and sits on the Víðidalsá river.  Keeping with the tradition of trolls, a giantess named Kola lived here on the edges, and loved to just reach in and grab salmon from the river and eat them raw.  There are several waterfalls, and collectively they are known as Kolufossar.

We parked Carl in a dirt lot without driving across the bridge, donned the rain gear (which really should’ve been called our “waterfall gear” by this point in the trip), and took off to explore.

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Kolufossar in Kolugljúfur canyon, which sits in the Víðidalur valley off of Road 715. Víðidalsá is the river that flows through the canyon.
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Up close to the upper portion of Kolufossar falls.
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Still chasing waterfalls and getting all wet at Kolufossar

As we walked on the narrow, slippery trails around the canyon I can see how Kolugljúfur has earned the reputation as one of the most dangerous attractions in Iceland.  Unlike other popular attractions have been roped off and improved to keep people (and the fragile terrain) safe, these sort of improvements have not happened yet at Kolugljúfur.  It really would just take one bad mistake to have a fatal fall into the canyon here!  Kubo is a lot less clumsy than I am, and was brave enough to get up close to the falls (though I eventually and slowly made my way to him).  I get a bit weird about heights and water, what can I say?

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Kolugljúfur viewed downstream of the falls. This photo really doesn’t do the canyon any justice!

Kolugljúfur was definitely not an underwhelming sight, and I’m happy it was on my itinerary, though it is clear it’s really no longer a hidden gem.  By the time we got back to Carl several other camper vans had parked and nearly blocked us in (luckily Kubo is an amazing driver and got us backed out and on our way safely).  We continued back on Road 715, stopping to chat up a horse that really couldn’t be bothered with us.

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Horse hanging out along Road 715 who really couldn’t be bothered by our shenanigans.

We rejoined the Ring Road, and once again it wasn’t long until we made our next pitstop. I guess that’s the good thing about this six hour drive is we stopped a lot, which helped break up the day.  Right after crossing the Blanda river in Blönduós, Kubo decided to pull off and stop so we could walk back to the bridge and grab some photos of the river.  This is when we discovered that the lampposts in Blönduós had knitted sweaters on them!!!  And the school also had an inflatable bounce pad like the one I used in Bíldudalur.

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The lampposts in Blönduós are wrapped in knitted sweaters!
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The river Blanda flows from Hofsjökull in the highlands through the middle of Blönduós, into Húnafjörður.

After another quick pitstop at the N1 station for some coffee and a bathroom break, it was time to hit the Ring Road again for our trip through the pretty Langidalur valley.

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Holtastaðakirkja, built in 1893.  There are several other churches in this short stretch of valley, but sadly my photos of them did not turn out well.
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Hlíðarrétt in Bólstaðhlíð in Svartárdalur valley. This is a pen designed for sorting sheep during the annual autumn roundup called the réttir.

Near the eastern end of Vatnsskarð pass we stopped to look at an interesting monument on Arnarstapi hill.  I barely had a chance to read a sign that had been erected protesting overhead power lines before a tourist rather angrily approached me asking if I knew how to read a map.  Now, I am a proud Millennial that does actually know how to read a map (though I never had issues with Google Maps in Iceland), so I must admit I was quite happy to help this man decades my senior figure out where he was.  I mean, I only spent days upon days of my childhood with an atlas on my lap, navigating my mom and I across the U.S.!  I cannot recall where he was trying to get to, but I easily found it on the map and told him how to turn around and get there.  Well, this man remained livid that he somehow got lost in Iceland, and turned around, muttering and huffing and puffing about being lost.  I shrugged, and went to look at the monument.

The monument is for Stephan Stephansson,  “The Poet of the Rocky Mountains,” or Kletta­fjallaskáldið in Icelandic.  Yes, MY Rocky Mountains, 3500 miles away!  Stephan was born in Skagafjörður and then emigrated to Wisconsin and then Alberta when he was 19, where he became an renowned Icelandic poet.  Pretty neat stuff!

Yes, the angry lost tourist was still huffing and puffing about not finding his accommodations by the time Kubo and I drove away.  For all we know, it’s still there, being mad about getting lost.

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Stephan Stephansson Monument on Vatnsskarð pass near Varmahlið
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Island in Skagafjörður seen from the Ring Road while descending Vatnsskarð

I feel like day 10 involved a lot of churches, so it is fitting our next check on the list was for Víðimýrarkirkja, one of Iceland’s few preserved turf churches. Víðimýrarkirkja was originally built in 1834, and has been restored several times since.  The timber is original, but the turf has to be renewed.  The national museum owns the church.

Unfortunately, there was a truck pumping the sewer right down the road, so Víðimýrarkirkja was a stinky experience… luckily visually it was amazing!

 

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Historic Víðimýrarkirkja, built in 1834
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Víðimýrarkirkja

We walked around the church but otherwise didn’t spend a ton of time thanks to the strong sewage smell.  We turned north on Road 75 for short jaunt to our next turf-filled experience!

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Seat belt campaign sign along Road 75 north of Varmahlið
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Even the garbage trucks in Iceland are scenic!

Our next stop was Glaumbær turf house.  The present farmhouse consists of thirteen buildings, with original parts built in the 18th century.  The farm itself dates itself back several more centuries, so it’s quite the historic place.  There is an admission fee to enter the turf house, which we did not partake in.

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Glaumbær turf house
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Glaumbær turf house
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I love the windows in the turf house at Glaumbær!

Next door to Glaumbær is Glaumbæjarkirkja.  This is the first church we had come across that was unlocked and that we could go inside.  You can light a candle for a small donation, which Kubo did.  Overall, it was very interesting to see the inside of one of these tiny Icelandic churches, and note all the history about them.

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Glaumbæjarkirkja, built in 1926.
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Inside of Glaumbaejarkirkja
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Gilsstofa and Áshús are also part of the Glaumbær exhibit, showing how houses evolved from their original turf days

We spent a decent amount of time walking around all the turf structures and checking out Glaumbaejarkirkja.  Kubo found a gigantic mushroom which amused us for more than it should, and we finally made our way back to Carl to continue on.  It had begun to spit rain off and on at this point, and I know I was weary from all the driving of the day and was eager to push on to our stop for the night, Hofsós.

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Reynistaðarkirkja, built in 1870.  I like the yellow trim, something a bit different than the traditional white and red found on so many Icelandic churches.

We rounded around Sauðárkrókur, and continued along the shores of Skagafjörður.  At times it seems like the road was below sea level, which led me to wondering out loud how often Road 75 floods.  Oh the things we pondered during our trip!  We made a quick stop at an overlook with the Ferjumaðurinn, or “Ferry Man” statute.  It started raining pretty hard, so we didn’t stick around too long.

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Ferjumaðurinn statute overlooking Skagafjörður, honoring Jón Ósmann (1862–1914), who ran the ferry across Héraðs­vötn for many years.
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Driving through black sand dunes on Road 75
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Bridge over Austari-Héraðs­vötn, one of Iceland’s largest rivers, which originates in Hofsjökull

After traveling across the end of Skagafjörður, we turned north on Road 76.  Our last stop for the day, aside from Hofsós itself, was Grafarkirkja, the oldest turf church in Iceland.

Upon arriving, there is a closed gate on the road, which might make it appear that Grafarkirkja is off limits.  But all you have to do is open the gate, drive through, and make sure you close it behind you.  Then follow the road to a parking area and walk out a short ways to the church.

Grafarkirkja was built sometime in the 17th century, and is preserved by the national museum.  It’s quite a stunning place, sitting lonely with a circular turf wall around it and a single tree.

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Grafarkirkja on the Tröllaskagi peninsula
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Grafarkirkja. Visitors are no longer able to go inside in order to preserve the church, but it is still wonderful to see from the outside.

Finally it was time to settle in our final destination for the night, Hofsós.  Hofsós is one of Iceland’s oldest trading ports, and sits on the Höfðaströnd coast of Skagafjörður.  The small town sits on the Tröllaskagi, a peninsula between Eyjafjörður and Skagafjörður.  Tröllaskagi has the highest average elevation outside of the central highlands, and obviously is very mountainous.

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Hofsóskirkja, built in 1960.  Last church of the day!
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Hofsós is probably best known in the tourist circle for its town swimming pool, which is situated almost like an infinity pool over the fjord.

We weren’t quite ready to settle into the campground for the night, so we parked Carl at the church and peeked over to the swimming pool, which we would visit in the morning for a quick swim and shower since the campground charged for showers.  We discovered a path that led down to Staðarbjörg, fantastic basalt column cliffs that make up the shoreline of Staðarbjargarvík cove. Now, I am quite fascinated with basalt, and had no idea that Hofsós had a shoreline of these beautiful geological features, so I was so excited!

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Staðarbjörg – basalt column cliffs on the shore of Skagafjörður in Hofsós
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Posing for some photos on the Staðarbjörg basalt in Hofsós
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Kubo admiring Staðarbjörg and awesome fjord views
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Ennishnjúkur rises above the clouds, behind the Staðarbjörg cliffs in Hofsós

Legend has it that Staðarbjörg is a trading post for the elves.  Hell yes!

Our appetite for basalt filled, we settled into the campground for the night.  Once again, we made more German single serving friends, who we shared a picnic table and can opener with as we prepared dinner.  No grocery store mistake this time, Kubo cooked up some BEEF steaks (from actual moo-cows, not horses) and baby potatoes.  While he cooked, I walked through town down to the pool to check what time they would open in the morning, watched the sun set over the fjord, and found another inflatable trampoline bounce pad.

With a few 2% Viking beers downed later, our 400km day was laid to rest in our sleeping bag.

 

Follow along on our entire 19 day Iceland road trip adventure!  Click here for a comprehensive itinerary, with links to each day’s adventure.

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4 thoughts on “Heidi and Kubo Do Iceland – Day 10: Westfjords to Tröllaskagi, and all the churches in between”

  1. Wow, your pictures are absolutely stunning. What camera do you use? I think my favorite picture is the sheep hiding behind the road marker, haha. You certainly did a lot in one day. I was able to visit a few of the places you mentioned during my time on the western part of Iceland.

    Like

    1. Thank you so much, Lauren! I used a Nikon D500 with a 18-200mm lens for this trip (17-55mm lens for aurora photos). A good majority of photos I took where as we were driving down the road.

      Our Day 10 was really jam packed and it was exhausting!! I’ll have to go check out your blog!

      Liked by 1 person

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