We had arranged to spend a long day with local photographer, Snorri Gunnarsson, photographing on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula but we had the morning to do a little more exploring before he picked us up at noon. Susan and I walked up to the Pearl for a good view of the city while George spent some time getting his camera gear ready. Check out some of Snorri’s photos here.
Snorri arrived right on time and after introductions we headed out for the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The peninsula is referred to as “Iceland in Miniature” and contains representations of the highlights of the island in a small area including craters, waterfalls, glaciers, fumaroles, basalt cliffs, lava fields and the Snæfellsjökull volcano; the area surrounding Snæfellsjökull has been designated one of four National Parks in Iceland.
Our first stop was a couple of hours drive from Reykjavik, Búðakirkja, a small black chapel perched on a cliff above the sea. It was originally built in 1703, demolished, rebuilt, then the parish was abolished and finally a new church was built in 1848 but a quote on the door ring says, “This church was built in 1848 without the support of the spiritual fathers” I guess because the parish had been abolished. Once again it was reconstructed and consecrated in 1987. Inside are treasures from the past, a bell from 1672, an altarpiece from 1750, two 1767 candlesticks and the door ring from the original church.
Sadly today the little chapel is locked allowing us only glimpses through the windows. Until a couple of years ago all churches in Iceland were left unlocked but problems with vandalism began to increase and people were found living in the little chapels that dot the rural landscape. Interiors were damaged, old baptismal fonts were used for cooking and it was felt time to secure the doors to preserve the integrity and sanctity of these little chapels.
There was a period of time where church attendance was mandatory in Iceland and a 1700’s law was mandated a church had to be within 1 days walk for all residents as a result you find these little chapels all over the countryside, today many are on private property.
There is a huge stone structure of Bárður Snæfellsás at Arnarstapi, a small fishing village at the foot of Mt. Stapafell. Bárður is a semi-mythological figure, half man and half troll who features in an ancient saga about this area. There is a good description of the legend at a geocaching website.
The cliffs around this small village and fishing harbor are a nesting area for terns, gulls and puffins, we looked and looked and looked alas the puffins have yet to return.
Not far from the memorial we drive into a parking area from which a trail leads between impressive cliffs and rock formations to Nautastigur black sand beach. It is a beautiful area of volcanic upheaval with massive rocks tilted and fused in interesting shapes, beautiful patterns in the stone created from some ancient blast. It is a popular place for followers of Game of Thrones as parts of the show were filmed here. On the north side of the path is Gatkelettur (arch rock).
Just before reaching the Djúpalónssandur beach you will see 4 stones. They are of varying sizes and known as lifting-stones (Icelandic word “aflraunasteinar”). They were used to measure the strength of fishermen.
The biggest one is called “Fullsterkur” Full-Strength weighing 154 kg and only the very strong can lift that one. The second one is called “Hálfsterkur” Half-Strength and weighs 100 kg. The third one is called “Hálfdrættingur” Weakling and weighs 54 kg and the forth one is called “Amlóði” Useless and weighs 23 kg. All these Icelandic names refer to how strong/weak the person is lifting them up on a plinth.
If the fishermen could not lift “Hálfdrættingur” (54 kg) they were not accepted on the fishing boats.
Steel pieces of a 1948 shipwreck are strewn about the beach from the FV Epine which was wrecked in a severe gale and blizzard here on March 13, 1948. An Icelandic rescue party got a line to the vessel and took four of her crew off . One other crew member managed to swim ashore but fourteen of her crew were lost as heavy seas swept the wreck. Clinging to the bridge, skipper Alfred Loftis was heard to shout:“I do not mind what happens to me so long as the boys are all right.
To the south of Nautastigur the hill and below it is the rock Söngklettur which according to folk tradition was a church of the elves.
Patterns in Stone
One of our stops was Svörtuloft, one of two lighthouses that mark the western end of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. After leaving the main road, a small rough road wound tightly through lava fields to the bright orange tower of Svörtuloft sitting atop breathtaking cliffs. We wandered across the moss and lichen covered cliffs looking for nesting puffins, again no luck . . . where are they?
The weather had not been good today, cold, windy some sprinkles but now finally, the sun began to “peak” out revealing the tops of the nearby mountains, stunning!
We stopped for dinner in the little town of Hraun across from the harbor. The Hraun Veitingahús (restaurant) served a nice meal with a view on one side to the harbor and out the other side to a beautiful little waterfall. The weather was improving and we had one more major stop before returning to Reykjavik.
Back on the road, the clouds lifting exposed all of the mountain tops, the light was beautiful and we had to stop at a field where we saw horses grazing, with Susan getting up close and personal.
Our last stop, with perfect lighting was the beautiful Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall near a 463-meter high mountain resembling a church steeple or a Witches Hat. While it is not a very large waterfall at only 5 meters high, it channels the glacier melt water of the Snæfellsjökull into three separate spouts that offer plenty of challenges and opportunities for the photographer and at sunset a stunner! Grundarfjörður sits across the bay.
It had been a long day, returning around 11 p.m. but a worth every minute in the car, I wish the weather would have cleared a little earlier but we were lucky to have the sun come out when it did. Snorri was a good guide and we enjoyed our time with him. Thanks Snorri!
Our route around the peninsula