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Published: September 27th 2021
Iceland - Days 14 & 15 of 22
The plan for today and Monday was to take our time on the 450km "interesting roads" journey from our perched-above-the-sea guesthouse in Skagaströnd via a midway stop at Hólmavík at the entrance to the Westfjords, an area that most tourists to Iceland pass on by, mostly because it is remote, to our destination Isafjordur.
Our chosen route - sorry, scratch that, Paul's chosen route - was to be our first extensive use of Iceland's unpaved /dirt roads. The expectation is that these will be rough/smooth/uneven. But they are not the "F" roads which are VERY rough/bouldered/river crossings.
Just on the way we detoured back a little for a photo-op which we missed on our way in on Saturday. An enormous sheep separation pen.
We have seen something about these. Somewhat like Dartmoor the sheep in some of the wilder areas are allowed to roam, and then herded up before winter. They mix and so herded sheep from many farmers are all gathered together. They are collected into the central pen and then individually separated out into each farmer's pen, from where they can be
taken back to the farmer's winter quarters.
Paul found the dirt stretches pretty much as expected, Pip found them extremely uncomfortable. And a lot of the "road" was at - very close to the sea - level with big waves crashing over the low boulder barrier onto the dirt. Very unnerving.
All of this was not helped by soon into our dirt-road traverse a tyre warning light glowing up on the dashboard with a "inflate tires and reset TPW" message too. After a short while, and in a safeish position, Paul stopped and took a walk - or rather a blown - around the car. All the tyres seemed to be fine.
Throughout the journey the temperature stubbornly failed to get above 4° all day, but how little did we know.
It is amazing to find farmsteads in the middle of nowhere. You wonder how they earn a living, and as for being snowed in and isolated in winter.... Somewhere today also we saw some web report that confirmed our snow of a few days ago was the first of the season, and it's very early.
Holmavik is nothing much to write about. A small
fishing village on the southern shore of Steingrimsfjordur, pop 390!!
Life here is centred around the natural harbour, home to around a dozen fishing boats and a shrimp processing plant.
It also has a Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft. We were handed an English language guide booklet which was quite detailed. Turns out that 15th to 17th C witchcraft in Iceland was mostly focused around the Westfjords. I'm sure those involved at the time believed in it but some of the "spells" described did seem somewhat away with the fairies.
Many strange exhibits, mainly dating back to the 17C. The Strandir region, always one of Iceland's most remote, seems to have hung onto Viking superstition longer than elsewhere. Even today it is reputed as the home of "cunning" and sorcery.
Unlike the English tales, here it was seen as mostly a male province. During the late 1600s 20 men and 1 woman were burned at the stake in the Westfjords.
One display shows (a replica we think.... or was it? 🤔) of necropants, the skin of a male body from the waist down worn to gain the wearer wealth.
Another exhibit was a stone
But no congregation
bowl, Viking, showing traces of human blood.
As we settled in our guesthouse for the evening a weather and roads check for Monday was looking horrible for a journey north. Heavy snow, blizzards, low temperatures. We weighed up the options and decided..... to cancel all our remaining bookings up here in the NW, and as a result beyond that too, and completely rebook the remaining 6 nights of our holiday , refocusing into the area east of Reykjavík.
We also took the opportunity to call our car hire emergency number about the tyre warning light. We were taken through the reset steps and all has been fine since then
Woke up this morning and guess what? 6 inches of snow on the car and ground, and still snowing. A check of the various weather and road websites showed it worse the further north - Isafjordur direction - you went.
Frankly it didn't look that great for the first 70km going south to get out. We hung around until check out time in the hope that any slight rise in temperatures plus, the albeit very sparse, traffic would help carve a path through the conditions. We
had 3 high ground passes to get through to go south.
As we set off, and when we reached the first pass it wasn't looking good. Road totally snow covered, blowing snow horizontal, but some track through. But the visibility... Jeez.
We drove the first pass, around 30km, mostly by snow poles at the side of the road. And most of the time we could see no further than 1 pole ahead, about 8 to 10 metres. Uphill was better than down. On the odd occasion when Paul decided to stop whilst oncoming traffic passed by, even from less than 20kph the car snaked alarmingly on the ice.
But we got over the pass, tippy toey, and down the other side. Pass 2 was better, though still not great, pass 3 had poor patches. But we got through and mostly now are expecting "better" weather, though that is a relative term. The balmy heights of 4°C of yesterday... it took to mid afternoon to move from 0°C today.
And would you believe it, as we drew up to our newly booked 2-night hotel it was starting to sleet!
We have upgraded ourselves. This two nights
is in a rather delightful chic hotel, with spa. Turns out use of spa, hot tubs etc, is free this month.
We needed the relax after today's stressful drive.
An aside :- we have been meaning to tell you about the Icelandic naming system.
Mostly they do not use family/familial surnames, and are almost unique in the western world about this. Rather the "family" part of the name is usually, but not exclusively, based on the father's given name, with the suffix "son" if a boy child, or "dottir" if a girl child. So
Paul wouldn't have been Paul Wadsworth, but rather Paul Ralphson, after his father's name.
Pip would have been Pip Lesliedottir, and would normally not have changed name on marriage
By choice, sometimes for style, sometimes for eg parents' marriage breakup, the first name prefix could be taken from the mother. Eg, therefore
Paul Edithson - after Paul's mother
Pip Joandottir - after Pip's mother
But this is a choice, not an absolute convention.
And, just before a bright spark speaks up, there are "family" names that don't follow this son of/daughter of convention at all.
And just to make
matters even more interesting there is a prescribed list of allowable Icelandic given names that must be chosen from. Otherwise, to get permission to use a new name can take months.
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