June 23, 2009
We had to be up early today, as we needed to be at the Seatours ferry office by 8:30 am. We figured the drive to Stykkishólmur would take about 45 minutes. So Neil set his alarm for 6 am and we were up bright and early. Well, early, anyway, since it was grey and pouring rain outside.
We had our tea and cereal, then packed up and headed off down the road towards Stykkishólmur. The scenery looked quite nice along our route but it probably would have been even better if it hadn’t been raining. Arriving in the town, we found the Seatours office and went in to pick up our tickets.
Having some spare time before sailing, we went up the hill to see the church. It was a very modern design but was actually very lovely, very sleek and symmetrical inside. The painting behind the altar was not what you would expect to see; it was a beautifully-done painting in blues of Mary and baby Jesus.
Neil drove the car onto the ferry and the other three of us had to walk up the gangplank. We found a place to sit and eventually Neil came out from the car deck, telling us that the crew were squeezing cars in like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Shortly after 9 am the ship pulled away from the dock and out into the fjord.
The ferry was actually quite small. We found out that it could take up to 45 cars and 1,100 passengers, but fortunately there were not nearly that many people on board! We bought tea and coffee and pastries, then went outside. Despite the rain, we spent most of the trip outside in relatively sheltered locations. Before long we spotted a puffin flying by, which was exciting, but then it turned out that almost all the birds visible from the ship were puffins. After an hour and a half the ship snaked through a maze of skerries and arrived at the island of Flatey, where some of the people got off.
It was a very quick turn-around and before we knew it we were off to the ferry’s destination, Brjánslækur. This part of the trip took an hour, but it went by quite quickly. Neil went to the car deck and the rest of us went ashore to watch the crew unpack the cars. One of the drivers could barely open the door enough to be able to squeeze into her car. After the two big Volvo semi-trailers came our car, and we all got in.
Away we went along the coast road, but soon we turned inland. We spiralled up over the height of land, then down the other side, then along the sides of two more fjords, to Bíldudalur. The scenery in the Westfjords is very stark and quite barren; we crossed areas which still had patches of snow. And the road was not paved, so by the time we got to Bíldudalur the car was very muddy.
Bíldudalur was a very small town, so we easily found the youth hostel. We checked in and then had our lunch. It was now 2:30 pm and luckily the rain had stopped, so we decided to make the trip to the Látrabjarg bird cliffs, which would take about an hour and a half to get to. But before leaving, Christine walked down to the docks and luckily for us, a fishing boat was in so she talked the owner into giving her two fish for free. We didn’t know what kind of fish they were but the price was right. She cleaned them and packed them away carefully into the fridge, then off we went.
The weather was improving, so we hoped that we would get clear skies at Látrabjarg. From Bíldudalur the road was paved again, and it went up to the fell and down to the fjord, then up to another fell and down to another fjord. Here was Patreksfjörður, where we stopped for shopping. The battery charger for Neil’s camera had stopped working, so he needed a replacement. One of our guidebooks had mentioned a “computer and electronics” store there. This seemed unlikely in such a small place, and indeed it turned out to be just a section of the convenience store, with things like earphones and laser printer cartridges. Unfortunately, no luck in the camera battery department, so it appears Neil won’t be able to take any photos for a while. But we did pick up some food, including two fresh guillemot eggs.
After we left Patreksfjörður the road went about 12 kilometres down to the end of the fjord and back up the other side, before turning off on Highway 612 which would take us to Látrabjarg. By now the road was gravel again, pot-holey in places and narrow in others. At the village of Hnjótur we stopped at the Folk Museum for a while. Neil and Christine looked around inside while the two of us wandered around outside, looking at the collection of decaying World War Two aircraft and related paraphernalia.
From there it wasn’t far to Bjargtangar, the westernmost point in Iceland (and the westernmost point in Europe unless you count the Azores as part of Europe). Anyway here was the Látrabjarg, a monstrous cliff on which a million seabirds were reputed to breed. We gathered our coats, cameras, and binoculars and set off to have a look. Up the slope a bit was our first bird – a puffin! There were just a few of them, at the top of a cliff which was full of nesting razorbills, murres, fulmars, and kittiwakes. It was amazing to see them so close up. Lying down near the edge of the cliff you could get within three feet of the birds and they just looked at you inquisitively.
The weather was perfect for viewing the cliffs; no rain, hardly any wind, and sun with only a few clouds. The cliffs are about a thousand feet high and amazing to see. Birds were coming and going, trying to land on tiny ledges which were already full. The razorbills sat in pairs on outcrops near the top, then below them were kittiwakes on closely-packed individual nests, and below them were murres, jammed in wing-to-wing on little ledges. The sea below was full of birds swimming about and the smell was amazing too.
There were so many things to see that we stayed there for a couple of hours. Needless to say Rosemary took a lot of pictures. The two of us walked quite a long way up and along the cliffs, finally turning back to meet up with Neil and Christine who were also enjoying the bird life. More puffins were arriving as time went on, all of them very photogenic. Christine got the chocolate cake and tea out of the car and this ended up being our dinner! But we all agreed that seeing all the puffins made up for the lack of a real meal.
Since it was after 9 pm, we decided (reluctantly) that it was time to leave. We walked back down past the old lighthouse, which is now closed and only serves pizza four nights a week. It took us an hour and a half to drive back to Bíldudalur, by which time it was 11 pm and time for bed.