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Published: August 19th 2018
This entry will take us into the North across the top part of the country to places including Siglufjordur, Akureyri and Husavik. We will talk about farms, the Herring Industry Museum and a Turf House Museum, among other things.
We set off anti-clockwise around the Ring Road for no better reason than that the weather looked like rubbish in the south and pretty good to the west and north. In fact, in Iceland, there seems to be no better reason to go in a particular direction than the weather. Wind, when it comes up, can be a nuisance or even dangerous. We have followed the weather and enjoyed good weather most of the way, so far.
After travelling through the west and north west, the north of Iceland is a bit like a return to something more familiar. The roads track through farmland that looks profitable. Sheep still roam reasonably freely but there are more fences. Roads are either good gravel or bitumen. Some service stations have staff and aren't just lonely pumps with credit card facilities attached. And there is a lot more traffic and a lot more people.
When we turned on to the Ring Road
at Stadarskali and spotted immediately a large service station full of tour buses and people, it was clear that the days of quiet and relative solitude were over for a while. We probably had an expectation that the north would be a little more like the north west, a little wild and woolly perhaps. Not so. Towns such as Hvammstangi, Blonduos, Saudarkrokur and Varmahlid are not particularly large but all offer tourists places to stay and things to do.
We were headed for Sigulfjordur, a town on the tip of the Trollaskagi peninsula. It received pretty good reviews for its camping arrangements and has a Herring Industry Museum and a craft beer brewery. The drive up there took us off the Ring Road, through a lot of farmland and up one side of Skagafjordur.
Farms in Iceland deserve a mention. Typically, they have their own official sign on the road. Not sure why but everyone seems to get one. They all have the normal house or houses and they all have at least one large barn for housing of animals during winter. Many barns are built into a hill - there are always plenty of hills - probably
for insulation and possibly wind protection.
Every farm has meadows or paddocks allocated to the growing of hay which is baled into large rolls wrapped in plastic. Some have the pretty standard black or green. Others apparently believe that white ones don't get so hot and cook the hay. Still others use pink, apparently to support breast cancer campaigns or blue to support campaigns on bladder cancer. Many farmers mix it up a bit and throw in yellow ones as well. Apparently, some people have complained about visual pollution but we have enjoyed them. Not too sure how you would go finding your hay bales when the snow falls. Perhaps you would go to where you stacked them.
The Siglufjordur campground is what in other places might have been the town square, smack in the middle of town. A good arrangement for us: walking distance to the Bakery that provided the best cup of coffee I have had in this country so far; right next to the port that used to be very busy during herring season but is now very relaxed and quiet, although still used by local fishing boats and tourist boats; and just down the
road from the VinBudin. And we didn't even make it to the craft beer brewery. We should have stayed longer.
The Herring Museum provided very good information and displays on the ups and downs of the herring industry in Iceland. The Museum is established in an old processing plant and the locals have gathered a lot of equipment from the time. The whole thing was developed by local volunteers intent on keeping the town afloat. They have done a wonderful job and show what a community can do when it has a go.
The story on herring is a relatively simple one. The herring is a fish that shoals, every fish touching another. This provides great protection of the group until people come along with nets. To put it simply, the nations involved - which included Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Great Britain - basically caught every fish they could for about 150 years. Millions of tonnes. There were warnings from scientists that it would all end in tears but these were largely ignored. And then, in the late 1960s it stopped. No more herring. Along the way fortunes were made, towns were built, a war of sorts was
fought, Icelanders took control of their country and the world changed dramatically.
We highly recommend this Museum. As a bonus, your ticket to this museum includes entry to the Folk Music Museum just the other side of the camping area. For anyone with even a small interest in folk music, this museum is also worth your time.
We had intended to spend a bit of time at the largest town in the North, Akureyri. The attraction that interested us was its botanic gardens. Unfortunately for us, the gardens were more about showing what could be grown in Iceland than about show casing Iceland's plants and vegetation. It was all very well presented and would be very useful for someone wanting to set up a garden in the region but that wasn't us. It also has an interesting water bubbler. We moved on.
After a camp at a farm called Heidajbaer we travelled on up the Skjalfandi to Husavik. Again, good coffee at a Bakery. A pattern could be emerging here. Husavik also has an excellent Museum and we had been here long enough to have developed questions about the way people might have lived and why. This
museum was one of the better ones. We came out with a much better understanding of how Icelanders had coped with the weather, isolation and the need to cope with limited resources. This is another museum we recommend. We would say that much of what we saw in the Maritime section was similar to that we had seen in the Herring Museum at Siglufjordur.
One more museum in a day of museums. This was Grenjadarstadur. This was a turf house that had been a parsonage for a rural church. It was very well presented and we found it interesting. This was a well set up example of the house of a well to do family. There are others about but this is a good one. As we found out later, the major camera collapse began here so the only photos we have are the few that were taken on my phone.
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