#snaefellsnes

 

If you feel the need for dramatics while traveling in Iceland, Dritvík on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is the place to go. A place with beautiful landscape and rich history.  Today it is difficult to imagine that Dritvík was one of the largest fishing station in Iceland for centuries with up to 60 fishing boats, dozens of huts and full of life. From the middle of the 16th century up to 400 inhabitants lived here during the fishing season and this continued until the early 20th century. At that time Iceland was more or less an agricultural society with few hamlets or villages.  So from the middle of February until late May, Dritvík was a particularly active place.  Like many places that developed some kind of community by the shore at that time, there were two reasons; rich fishing grounds and good landing place for small boats. But this is a mind-boggling notion because access to this dramatic cove is by no means obvious or simple. Especially as this part of Iceland was relatively isolated at this time.

Dirtvík is mentioned in the saga, Bárðarsaga Snæfellsás

The first settler in Dritvík was the half-man / half troll Bárður Snæfellsás. On the beach, you will find several spectacular rock formations in addition to the beautiful pebble stones. One of the rocks dividing the cove is Bárðarskip (Bárður's Vessel), and another one is Tröllakirkja (The Troll's Church). Their names come from the saga as Bárður landed his ship when he came from Norway some twelve hundred years ago. One of the first things his family and friends did was to worship pagan gods in a cave that can still be found at the rock Tröllkirkja. A few years after his arrival the family had a terrible ordeal that ended in tragedy.  Another place nearby called Rayðfeldsgjá is linked to this misfortune.  At the end, Báður moved his family to a cave in the glacier Snæfellsjökull and is considered to live there still as the protector of the surrounding farms and villages. You can also see his statue in full size at Arnarstapi village.

Tröllkirkja rock at Dritvík

At Tröllkirkja, the rock in the middle, Bárður Snæfellsás and his people worhiped pagan gods

Today Dritvík is an exciting place to visit

Apart from the black beach, Dritvík holds remnants of its past. A rescue hut is the only building standing amongst ruins from times of prosperity and different methods of living off the ocean. Although only a temporary living place for centuries it was considered a desirable place to go to. A place that was different from the dull and dark live by the farm with much richer social life and exciting diversity when it came to work.  In the days of social media and wide internet connection, it is hard to imagine that singing rhymes and lifting the stones at nearby Djúpalónssandur was something young men and women considered thrilling. 

Hike to Dritvík

The hike to Dritvík cove from Djúpalónssandur cove is quite scenic with lava formation

Access to Dritvík Cove

To reach Dritvík you need to drive Útnesvegur road on Snæfellsnes Peninsula nr. 574.  You take a turn to the south when you reach the intersection nr. 572 Dritvíkkurvegur road.  There is a parking lot by Djúpalónssandur. Approximately one kilometer to the west from Djúpalónssandur is a path you need to hike over a rugged lava to reach Dritvík. The walk by the shore is spectacular with many interesting lava formations. But, once there, you are likely to enjoy inspecting the area and taking advantage of the many photos and selfie opportunities. 

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Below is the location of Dritvík on the map of Iceland

For centuries, Dritvík was the largest fishing station in Iceland with up to 60 fishing boats at any given time and 400 inhabitants

 

Djúpalónssandur or Deeplagoonsand is a fascinating place for many reasons. The name is traced back to some of the first settlers in Iceland some twelve hundred years ago.  It was the landing place of Bárður Snæfellsás and his family and crew.  It is also a place where farmers and people at Snæfellsne Peninsula used as a fishing station for centuries.  And last but not least it is a beautiful place with stunning landforms.

The pebble beach, small lakes, and stunning lava formation

When you visit Djúpalónssandur take care as the path to the beach is short, narrow and harsh. But once at the beach, you pass an interesting lava rock with a hole in the middle. On the beach, you will also see many other interesting lava formations and rocks, some that are connected to local stories and folklore.  On the shore behind the lava on your right side when walking the path is a small pond, a beautiful sight.  Specifically, if you are at Djupalonssandur on a clear day with the glacier in the background.  The beach is also quite unique with its many pebbles of various sizes.  It is a great place to take children and give them time to play with the small stones by the beach.

Djúpalónssandur pond Svörtulón

The pond Svörtulón or Black Lagoon is an adventurous place

Take your time at Djúpalónssandur and Black Lagoon

This strange black sand cove on the south coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is curiously close to the Icelandic heart. It is covered with black pearly pebbles, constantly being brought in by the ocean waves. Still, picking them – or nicking them – is strictly forbidden. It's not that they keep a pebble-police at Djúpalónssandur, the Icelanders just don't want their stones removed. Not a single one of them. In the old day, just like so many coves in this area, Djúpalónssandur used to be a fishing station similar to the nearby Dritvík.  And, being the temple of stones in Iceland, on this beach you will find four larger rocks, significant to the cove's history. Those are the four lifting stones where workers at the fishing stations would test the strength. The smallest one is Amlóði (Bungler) at 23 kilos, followed by Hálfdrættingur (Weak) at 54 kilos, then there is Hálfsterkur (Half-Strength) at 100 kilos a last, but not least, Fullsterkur (Full-Strength) at 154 kilos. Half Strength marked the frontier of wimpy and those who couldn't lift it was deemed unsuitable for life at sea. At the beach, you will also see rusted metal from the English trawler Eding, which was wrecked at the Djúpalón beach in 1948.

The lifting stones where workers at the fishing stations would test the strength

Access to Djúpalónssandur Cove

To reach Djúpalónssandur, you need to drive Útnesvegur road on Snæfellsnes Peninsula nr. 574.  You take a turn to the south when you reach the intersection nr. 572 Dritvíkkurvegur road.  There is a parking lot by Djúpalónssandur cove.

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Below is the location of Djúpalónssandur on the map of Iceland

This strange black sand cove on the south coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is curiously close to the Icelandic heart. It is covered with black pearly pebbles, constantly being brought in by the ocean waves.

The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is one of the most Saga invested parts of Iceland. Every part and every place have a reference to one of the major Sagas; the most prominent being Eyrbyggja or the Saga of the People of Eyri and Laxdæla. Sagas and stories that were written six to nine hundred years ago about the settlement and medieval times in Iceland.

The lava field Berserkjahraun

On this Peninsula, you will find the impressive and beautiful Berserkjahraun, or the Berserk Lava Field. The lava is located in the county of Helgafell, near to the Stykkishólmur town. Its sources are four prominent but differently sized scoria craters forming an east-west row from the Ogress Pass (Kerlingarskard).  They erupted at short intervals approximately 3600-4000 years ago. The lava flows created two lakes on their southern side and added to the serenity and beauty of the landscape.  Like many lava fields in Iceland, the lava is a joy to view but always tough to walk. 

Berserkjahraun is an ideal place for peaceful camping

This beautiful area is ideal for recreation, hiking, angling and mountain climbing.  When driving along a dirt road that you can see on the map below, the one that leads into, and around the lava field you'll find small areas of grass ideal for camping. You might even be able to spot a White Tailed Eagle nest in the rugged lava field.  A hike up to the nearby mountains will give you a spectacular view over the Breiðafjörður bay and all the thousands of islands. 

What does the name Berserkjahraun tell us?

And the name Berserkjahraun? It comes from the Eyrbyggja Saga where Vermundur, the farmer at Bjarnarhöfn brought two berserks from Norway in 982 - with unforeseen consequences.  You can read about their misfortune in our article about the Berserks at Berserkjahrun.  Two dudes that became victims of love.

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Below is the location of Berserkjahraun on the map of Iceland

The Berserk Lava Field

 

Eyrbyggja Saga tells us about two Swedish Berserks, Halli and Leiknir, who Vermundur the Slim, a farmer at Bjarnarhofn, brought to Iceland from Norway in 982. Vermundur meant to use them to stand up to his powerful brother Styr the Slayer. Of course, this wimp didn't have what it took to deal with the enormity of the Berserks' temper. Soon after arriving in Iceland he had to ask his brother to take them off his hands. Styr the Slayer reluctantly obliged but soon faced some problems. The Berserk's killing sprees and uncontrollable temper were the least of them. What happened was that Halli dared to fall in love with Styr's precious daughter and asked for her hand in marriage.

The contract

After seeking advice from some wise friends, Styr told the Berserks he would give Halli his blessings after they had finished a few tasks. They had to clear a bridle path through his rugged lava field, building a boundary fence across it, and a sheep pen. The Berserks completed their tasks in no time at all, but while they were slaving away, Styr prepared an underground sauna for them. The sauna was covered with sturdy rafts with a hole in the middle, for pouring water into the sauna to create hot steam. When the Berserks returned, Styr invited them to relax in the sauna. They accepted. No sooner had the Berserks entered the sauna than Styr had big boulders stacked on top of the sturdy rafts. Through the hole, he poured excessive quantities of boiling water. The sauna soon became unbearably hot, and the Berserks wanted out!

The killing of the Berserks

It took all their power to break the rafts and make away with the boulders. At that point, their strength was considerably diminished. Still, they were set on revenge. But, Styr had spread wet and slippery Bull hides on the ground around the sauna. The Berserks were totally incapacitated, and Styr managed to kill both of them.  Styr had the Berserks' bodies w removed to a basin in the lava field where they were cairned close to the bridle path. The cairn is still visible today.

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Below is the location of Berserkjahraun on the map of Iceland

Eyrbyggja Saga tells us about two Swedish Berserks, Halli and Leiknir,

The huge statue of Bárður Snæfellsás that is so noticeable when you drive into the small village or hamlet Arnarstapi was made by Ragnar Kjartansson one of Iceland most renowned sculptures.  The statue is his interpretation of the giant character that dominates the area around Snæfellsjökull glacier.

Bárður the half man half troll

Bárður is an extraordinary being from the time of settlement in Iceland.  His story was written in Medieval times in the fifteenth century and is part of the Icelandic Sagas.  His mother was one of the tallest and most beautiful women in her days, but his father Dumbur was a half-giant or a half-troll. Bárður was also considered extremely handsome with a large presence.  In his youth, he was fostered by Dofri, the mountain-dweller, of Dovrefjell in Norway and received an excellent education and training. Bárður married Dorfi's daughter Flaumgerður and had three tall and beautiful daughters by her. Like he, she also had a human mother. After she had passed away he married Herþrúður his second wife who was human; he had six more daughters by her.

Settled in Iceland after fleeing tyranny of Harald king in Norway

Along with his wife and daughters and some friends, Bárður emigrated to Iceland and settled at Djúpalón on the south coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Bárður's half brother Þorkell also emigrated with his family and settled at Arnarstapi. They were fleeing the tyranny of Harald, the king of Norway. His brother Þorkell had two sons, Sölvi, and Rauðfeldur. 

Driven to madness because of a prank

Following an altercation after a rather dangerous prank played on Bárður's daughters by the half-brother's sons, Bárður was provoked to a point of uncontrollable anger. An event that made him extremely depressed and totally loose his mind in the end.  Finally, he gave away all his land and all his earthly belongings and vanished into the Snæfellsnes Glacier. In the glacier, rumor has it, that he built an ice cave more in line with his troll or giant side.  There, he became known as the Guardian Spirit of Snæfell as the locals worshiped him and looked at him as their savior. For centuries, they would call upon him in times of hardship and trouble. Bárður wandered the region wrapped in a gray cowl held together by a walrus-hide rope. In his hand was a cleft staff with a long and thick gaff for mounting the glacier.

A very true story although sounds like a fantasy

Bárður's cave is still in situ, and his story is a timeless, fantastic read. It is, of course, a true story written about events that occurred in Iceland more than eleven hundred years ago, written about six hundred yers ago. Many names of many places in the area around Snæfellsjökull glacier are related to Bárður Snæfellsás and his story. 

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Below is the location of Bárðarlaug on the map of Iceland

Bárður is an extraordinary being from the Icelandic Medieval Sagas.

Arnarstapi on the south coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is one of Iceland's favorite destinations. It is a mesa surrounded by exquisite nature, great history and has the best access to the Snæfellsjökull glacier. This tiny village wasn't always this small. During the fifteen and sixteen centuries, it was an important trading post and an important fishing village. Today, the Arnarstapi dock is and important harbor for small boats and also a popular destination for pleasure crafts and yachts.

A tiny village with an impressive history

The village is at the foot of Stapafell, a rather small but distinct mountain that already played a role in Iceland's history when the island was being settled. It was home to Bárður Snæfellsáss half brother Þorkell who emigrated to Iceland with his brother.  And, Bárður was a large man as can be seen by the life-size sculpture the artist Ragnar Kjartansson erected by the village shoreline befitting the local guardian spirit.

In the midst of a beautiful landscape

Part of Arnarstapi's beauty is the columnar basalt ravines and grottoes surrounding the harbor, as well as the lava formations along the coastline. Following quite accessible and easy hiking trails, you will find magnificent cliffs and caves, with fantastic birdlife. You can comfortably inspect the kittiwake, the Arctic tern, razorbills and the fulmar up close.

Here you can see and feel the force of the Atlantic ocean

During your hike, you will also experience the full force of the ocean as it clashes with the cliffs at three ravines along the way. It is a powerful and energizing experience, but, mind you, do not stand too close to the edge if you want to survive the impact.

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Below is the location of Arnarstapi hamlet on the map of Iceland

Arnarstapi on the south coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is one of Iceland's favorite destinations.

It might surprise many people that visit Iceland and travel around the country, how many towns and villages have a kind of short history.  Although the settlement in Iceland started around 870, most of the towns and villages began to develop around the middle of the 19th century, and some even at the beginning of the 20th century.

Stykkishólmur is a town in the Snæfellsnes peninsula in the Western Region in Iceland

The mountain Kirkjufell is probably more famous than the town itself. This famous mountain stands on the west side of the town, and it is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful mountains in Iceland, second only to Herðurbreið, the queen of Icelandic mountains.

Grundarfjörður is a town in the Snæfellsnes peninsula the Western Region in Iceland

Ólafsvík is first mentioned in the Book of Settlement, in the Icelandic Sagas, when Ólafur Belgur, or Belly, as he was apparently nicknamed, settled there around 900.  Early on, the area became compact with fishing huts, as the fishing grounds right out from the shore were plentiful.

Ólafsvík is a town in the Snæfellsnes peninsula the Western Region in Iceland

Rif and Hellissandur are two small villages that are only three kilometers apart.  By any definition, they are the same village and the same municipality although they have to kinds of different identities, at least in the minds of the residents.

The Church at Ingjaldshóll stands between the two villages.

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