Tuesday, 6 June 2017


Karen and I have just returned from a 12 day holiday in Iceland, a country we had always fancied visiting. We avoided the busy summer season and decided that the end of May into June would be a nice time to go. Iceland lies just south of the Arctic Circle so it was never going to be a hot destination. We left Aviemore in a 27 degrees heatwave. It's just a two and a half hour flight to Reykjavic from Aberdeen. Reykjavic is the most northerly capital city in the world. There are plenty of day tours from the city to see some of the famous tourist attractions that the country is renown for. Waterfalls, Geysirs, Volcanoes, 'The Blue Lagoon' amongst many others.
After a couple of days sampling these delights it was time to leave the hoards and tour buses behind. We headed into the mountains. Apparently we had just missed a decent spell of fine weather and the weather forecasts for most of the country was looking a bit damp and chilly. Nevertheless we didn't let this spoil the amazing scenery and walking we were about to discover. Our first thoughts were to head south and to the vast Vatnajokull National Park where the country's highest mountain is situated. Walking up a big mountain into low cloud, rain and high winds didn't particularly appeal to us so we decided on some lower mountains in the far north west of the country, the Westfjords region.
The tiny and picturesque airport at Isafjorour
The main access town in this area of Iceland is Isafjorour which is only a very short internal flight from Reykjavic to this small fishing town that lies on the Skutulsfjordur. Wonderful views of the mountains and fjords straight out of the terminal building. Iceland is a great place for birdwatching too and we saw plenty on the walk to our campsite on the outskirts of town.
Male Eider Duck
Red-necked Phalarope in breeding plumage
Definitely in breeding mode!
The evening we arrived it was calm and the clouds cleared for some wonderful evening light. The sun shone on the hills and it was just lovely. Our first nights camp was dry, little did we know that was to be the last rays of sun and blue skies for some time! We based ourselves in this northern area of the Westernfjords for a few days. Hoping for some decent weather. This time of year Iceland enjoys daylight for 24 hours, it takes a few days to realise this, we kept thinking it was early evening at midnight!
10pm and it's still bright skies
Our plan for our first days walk over a mountain pass looked like being a bit of a wet one. We had hoped to get up high but it didn't look too appealing with very low cloud so we had a walk along the coast. Highlight was a beautiful female Red-throated Diver who was sitting on her nest. This was just a couple of metres from a cycle track beside the road!
Red-throated Diver

It dried up in the evening, after the pub!

 We decided to head further inland the following day to an even smaller fishing town at Pingeyri which sits on the shores of Dyrafjordur. From here you can walk to the summit of the regions highest peak, Kaldbakur (998m). Despite all the mountains in this area being quite small they are very dramatic, dropping in steep slopes down to the fjords. The corries of these fells are still holding snow has low as 500m in places, especially on their north and east facing corries. It's a 10 hour round trip to this summit, much of it up a long, easy angled valley with lovely views of the surrounding peaks. We didn't see a single person out walking all day. Early season or bad weather? Well it ended up to be a mostly  dry day and the cloud was off the summits for some fine views. A strong, cold wind blew above 600m.
Snow at 500m on our way up Kaldbakur
High, cold winds up on the summit
We got back into town and the winds increased that evening, the fjord was whipping up white water as we sat in the towns only hotel, glad not to be camping out this night. The next day was much calmer and the morning was dry. Before we left we headed up the wee hill at the back of Pingeryi, Sandfell. It takes less than 2 hours to walk up to the 367m top. Despite it's lack of height it has wonderful views of mountains and fjords.
Sandfell (367m)
Most of the hills here are around 700-800m
Back at Isafjorour and back to rain again. Our plan for the remainder of our trip was to visit and trek in the remote, road-less region right at the extreme NW tip of Iceland, the Hornstrandair peninsular. The only way to get to this wonderful place is by ferry. We booked to go out on the Thursday, it was heavy rain and winds high enough to stop the ferry from operating. So we had to sit out a day and hope for better weather in the morning. Next day was still raining but lighter winds. Lighter winds in this region still means a rough sea crossing. We bounced our way for one and a half hours across the stormy Isafjaroardjup and Jokulfiroir fjords and into Hesteyrafjoudour.
The boat leaves us, we're on our own!

Plenty of these next few days
Snow, rain, wind over the Hioouvikursard (550m)
Plenty of snow and cloud the other side
Typical Scottish weather and terrain!
Our first two days at Hornstrandair were of typical Scottish west coast kind of conditions with plenty of  big river crossings thrown in! We wanted to head to the fabulous cliffs of Hornvik where there are 5-6 Million sea birds breeding. One of the most important seabird colony sites on the planet. We were short on days and the weather wasn't the best. We changed plans and route sadly. This area demands respect. There are some marked trails, even with these it is hard going. Big rivers to ford and lots of snow even at low altitudes of 300m or less. Wild camping in these conditions is a challenge to stay dry. Goretex clothing and 'waterproof' boots don't mean anything here. We had constant wet feet for the best part of 3 days with at least two big river crossings every day. We crossed two cols and the compass came out on the second of these where we had white out conditions for a time. We only saw two other groups, four people in total since leaving the ferry. There are no phone signals here. You are on your own! A fabulous wild place!
Our final day, blue skies and sun!
Arctic Fox right outside our tent
A 'Tern' in the weather
Final walk around the coastline, in sun!

Snow to sea level
Veioileysufjorour & Svinfell

My kind of clouds
Our final day of trekking in Iceland and at last a whole day of sunshine and views! I think we deserved a break from the rain, snow, cloud. It was a short, easy walk along the coastline to our pick up point for the ferry out. Of course we still had wet feet with some more water to wade through but  we dried off! This area is famous not only for the bird life but also one of the few places in Iceland where you will see the Arctic Fox. We had one not far from our tent! A lovely way to begin the morning.
Our pick up point

Will the ferry come?
Snow buntings at sea level here

Ringed Plover
 The evening ferry back was just a tad smoother and in glorious sunshine! A great last day and a memorable trip. Iceland has many beautiful areas and we had only touched on one really. It's a shame that most folk try and 'do Iceland' in one go. That's fine though as we had many days seeing no one whilst many visitors seemed to be just driving around the one main road around the country, either clockwise or anticlockwise. I would highly reccommend you explore two of three areas and do it mostly on foot!. Remember it is a country and not just a big island!
A calm ferry back!

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