The “travel blues” set in pretty much as soon as I touched down at Gatwick last Tuesday. Ten days later, they’re still here, egging me on, daring me to look for a cheap flight somewhere, anywhere. Preferably back to Iceland, my favourite place in the world – of the 30+ countries I’ve visited so far, anyway. Although only just back from my second trip there in four months, I’m already considering heading back later in the year, perhaps for another road trip or a second attempt at seeing some whales (because my whale watching excursion a fortnight ago wasn’t very successful, unfortunately).
Driving north up to the Westfjords area of the island was definitely the highlight of my my most recent trip to the Nordic island, and of the three days we explored the remote area, day 2 was by far the best. We covered so many miles and saw so much, though I can’t take credit for any of the planning – it was all down to Björn (AKA one of the best travel buddies I’ve ever had). Unbeknown to me, while I was busy editing pics, writing all about day 1 of Reykjavík road trip and then snoring my head off, Björn was busy jotting down notes for what we’d be doing, the route we’d take and the pit stops we’d make to refuel the car, and ourselves on day 2.
In fact, so oblivious was I to his planning, I didn’t even know he’d made an itinerary at all until we were nearing the end of the day and he confessed that we’d missed one of his planned stops because he’d forgotten to email himself the notes he’d typed up, bless him. Nevertheless, we still managed to cram so much into just one day – read on to find out what we got up to on day 2 of “Becca and Björn’s mini adventure”…
A quick dip at Guðrúnarlaug.
Iceland is a swimmer’s paradise. With volcanically heated water spouting up all over the land, the country is full of “hot pots” and swimming pools. Bathing in one of these natural hot spring pools was something I’d mentioned I wanted to do while on our mini road trip, and I repeatedly tagged Björn in pics on Instagram for inspiration. When he was planning our itinerary he checked out the site HotPotIceland.com, which has an interactive map of all the geothermal swimming pools and “hot pots” in Iceland, as well as handy map of all the petrol stations, too.
Hot pots are what the Icelanders call these natural little hot tubs, which are little pools of hot water sunk into the ground, made out of anything (stones, concrete, even repurposed agricultural containers). The Guðrúnarlaug hot pot is a stone one – it’s open to the public all year round and there’s no entrance fee. But best of all, it was just a 25 minute drive from Hotel Ljósaland where we were staying.
When we arrived, another couple were just leaving, so we luckily had the whole place to ourselves. Once we’d made our way along the slippery, snow-covered path and up to the little hilltop wooden hut to change into our swimwear*, we hasitly jumped straight into the Guðrúnarlaug pool.
The water is about waist deep (well, to about my waist – but as I’m only 5ft1 it’s probably knee deep for you) and lovely and warm, especially compared to the 3c temperatures outside the hot pot. It’s also full of moss-like algae, so if you dont like swimming amid “bits” then this might not be the best place for you – but I loved it. We spent a good 30 minutes chilling out in the tub, taking in the beautiful views, and Björn practiced his Zoolander “blue steel” look… Think he might need a bit more practice though – what do you reckon?
After getting dried and wrapped back into our woolly jumpers, coats and bobble hats, it was back into the car and onto our next stop: Hólmavík. As the biggest town in the Strandir region, it was totally worth a stop, even though everything was pretty much closed as it was out of season AND Easter bank holiday weekend.
The town has a population of around 500 people, though we saw only a few out and about, mostly around the beautiful harbour. There’s a tragic history of witchcraft, witch-hunting and sorcery in the town, but that was one of the main reasons we wanted to go there…
Museum of Sorcery & Witchcraft, Hólmavík.
When I booked the flights for my return trip to Iceland, I messaged Björn straight away to let him know I was coming back, and cheekily asked if I could stay at his Airbnb again. “Of course,” he said. When I told him I wanted to do a road trip to find some of the weird and wonderful things Iceland has to offer, he told me to Google the Museum of Sorcery & Witchcraft in Hólmavík, because he thought it was just the level of weirdness I was after. So, intrigued, I did.
Although we’d only spent a few days together when I was in Iceland in December last year, this guy clearly knows me pretty well, because after a quick bit of research, I just knew I had to pay a visit to this museum. Then when Björn said he’d come on the road trip too, because he’d never been to the area and wanted to check out the museum, our whole mini trip became about the Westfjords and getting to Hólmavík.
The town’s hocus pocus past makes Hólmavík the perfect location for the museum. Visitors are led on a timeline tour of 17th Century Iceland, with tales of witch-hunting, supernatural powers and magica. We were spent our time at the museum either grossed out or in fits of giggles (those “farting runes” had a lot to answer for, apparently). But I won’t go into too much detail now, because a full post about the weird museums of Iceland will be live soon – believe it or not, the Witchcraft museum is actually one of the tamer ones.
To whet your appetite (or possibly put you right off your food), here are a few photos of some of the museum’s better known exhibits, the Necropants and the Tilberí:
There’s also a second part of the museum – a “real” sorcerer’s cottage – 19 miles away, which we visited later in the day.
Driving to Djúpavík.
As we continued north the road became narrow and tortuous, and the scenery changed dramatically. The blue skies and flat, grassy plains we’d coasted through earlier were gone; on Björn’s side was a steep, sharp, rock face, and on my side, a craggy drop down to the icy waters of the fjord below. A sense of foreboding crept over me as we rounded the bottom of a colossal mountain, the road gravely and broken. Björn slowed the car to a crawl in a futile attempt to avoid the potholes that were jolting us around.
Blocks of rock and ice the size of footballs were spread out across the road in front of us, causing us both to instinctively look up at the mountain towering over us. “Imagine if something fell from the top right now,” whispered Björn. “I was just going to say that,” I whispered back, as if saying it aloud might cause a landslide. I might have mentioned a few times that I didn’t think my mum would be best pleased about the route we were on. But this was the “main road”, and the only way to get to our next stop: Djúpavík.
Once carefully around the mountain and across the fjord, we were onto the home straight that led us to Djúpavík. The historical village of Djúpavík dates back to 1917, when a herring factory was established in this small creek by the fjord Reykjarfjörður. The first attempt was short lived but in 1934 a new factory was erected, the largest concrete building in Iceland at the time.
The factory operated until 1954, but today it serves as an exhibition building (as well as a film location and a venue for music concerts). My guidebook said that the seven houses in Djúpavík are “only used as summer dwellings nowadays, although the hotel, Hótel Djúpavík, is open all year.” Except it wasn’t open when we arrived, perhaps because it was Easter?
Located at the head of Reykjarfjörður on the Strandir coast, Djúpavík is a part of Árneshreppur, the least inhabited municipality in Iceland. Despite covering over 300 square miles, the population of Árneshreppur is just 53 people. This means the population density is only 0.18 individuals per square mile.
As there’s no public transport in the area, most visitors arrive in Djúpavík by car like us. Though I can’t imagine there are that many visitors. And for those few that do make it, I hope for their sakes they don’t run out of petrol – because the petrol pump in the town looked like it had seen better days (and the next nearest one was a 20 minute drive away).
If you’re wondering what the town (sort of) looks like from above, then check out this picture. Nope, that’s not Björn or I on top of the mountain looking down, that’s Batman (or Ben Affleck’s stunt man). Because, unknown to many, the town of Djúpavík was used as a location in the 2017 DC Comics film, Justice League. If you’ve seen the film, then it’s the part at the beginning where Batman goes looking for Aquaman; and if you’ve not seen the film, watch it, it’s pretty cool.
It does look like a few more houses, boats and rocks in at sea have been added into this scene of the film, but you can clearly see the huge vats for the herring factory, and the rusty old trawler moored by the pier:
Car trouble on Strandavegur.
It wouldn’t be a road trip without a little car trouble, right? On the way back from Djúpavík, we had to pull over because there was some commotion under Björn’s car. It turned out the engine splash shield had been partially pulled off (presumably when we’d been driven over all those big, sharp rocks earlier), and was now scraping on the floor.
Where it was still attached, the shield was tightly bolted on with screws – Björn and I tried to pull it off, but it wouldn’t budge. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, without a tool box and having not seen another car on the roads for about 95% of the time we’d been driving, I did start to panic, I won’t lie. But then Björn remembered that ages ago he’d impulsively purchased a Swiss Army knife, because he thought it “looked cool”. Unwrapping it from its celophane, Björn began pulling out all of the implements on the knife, before laughing. “Look,” he said, showing me the screwdriver attachment.
Would it work? It meant Björn scrabbling around in the gravel under the car unscrewing the shield, and me on look out, just in case another car came by (there wasn’t any). But after about 20 minutes we were back in the warmth of the car and back on our way.
The Gvendarlaug hot spring…
Our next stop was the Gvendarlaug hot spring in Bjarnafjörður. Unfortunately we were both getting tired and hungry by this point though, so decided to skip going for a swim, and just checked out the pool and hot tub from afar.
…and the Sorcerer’s Cottage.
Ever wondered where a sorcerer might live? Well head to Bjarnafjörður and you can actually step inside one. As an extra exhibit for the Museum of Icelandic Witchcraft and Sorcery, the cottage is open for tourists during the summer, and is supposed to represent both the dwelling and living conditions of a sorcerer, but also the normal living conditions of tenant farmers in 17th Century Iceland. For a bit more info, check out this detailed post on guidetoiceland.is.
Dinner at Cafe Riis, Hólmavík.
We’d talked about going for dinner in Búðardalur, but by the time we’d got back in the car it was already getting late and the light was starting to go, so rather than drive all the way back passed the hotel on to the next town, we decided to stop en route in Hólmavík and try the only place that was open, Cafe Riis.
The menu had a variety of options, but the owner said that only pizzas were available that night. So we ordered two pints of lager, a 16in pizza (with olives only on one half), and waited patiently for it to arrive, the smells wafting from the kitchen making us even hungrier. When it arrived, we sat there chomping away and reminiscing about our day.
A sunset drive back to Hotel Ljósaland.
With full tummies, we paid the bill (which wasn’t too bad for Iceland), and got back in the car. As we drove south out of Hólmavík, the sun was just at the point of setting where it casts orangey pink streaks of light across the sky. I found it mesmirisng, so snapped as many photos as I could as we sped along the road towards the hotel.
Björn was less impressed with the breathtaking scenery around us, and said he thought sunsets are overrated. But looking back on these pictures, I beg to differ:
A few games of pool (and a few beers) before bed.
As it was our final night in the Westfjjords, before retiring to our room we went into the main building of Hotel Ljosaland, to settle up our bill with the owner and play a few games of pool. After being beaten by Björn twice I’d had enough, so we grabbed a couple of beers and went back to our cabin to shower up, put our pyjamas on and get into bed.
Djúpavík was definitely the highlight for me on the second day of our road trip, as I love exploring creepy, abandoned old places. So, as neither of us had seen Justice League before, we decided to download and watch the latest Batman film in bed. It was the perfect way to end the perfect day.
The next day we checked out of Hotel Ljosaland and headed back to Reykjavík. Though Björn decided to take a more scenic route back, with a few stops along the way…
* Swimming costume gifted by Hunkemoller