Iceland 2009: The West Fjords

Thursday 4th June: ═safj÷r­ur - Heydalur (136 km)

You know you are cycling in Iceland when ... every day is hard.

In 1995 an avalanche struck the village of S˙­avÝk, east of ═safj÷­ur, killing 14 people. Later the same year an avalanche struck the village of Flateyri, west of ═safj÷­ur, killing 20 people. The first recorded avalanche fatality in Iceland was in the year 1118; since then there have been over 680 recorded fatalities.

The history of Iceland can seem like a chronicle of disasters. In and around 1402 between half and two thirds of the population died from the plague. In 1783-1784 the massive Laki eruption created a poisonous cloud of fluorine and sulphur dioxide that killed three-quarters of Iceland's livestock. Approximately one fifth of the human population died as a result of either the eruption or the subsequent famine. Even now the disasters continue, the most recent being the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

We got the feeling sometimes that the Icelanders couldn't quite understand why anybody would want to ride a bicycle around Iceland. Perhaps they had a point; the last thing they need is extra challenges.


═safj÷­ur, population 4100, is the largest town in the West Fjords


Houses in downtown ═safj÷­ur


Looking across at ═safj÷­ur from the airfield


A still morning near ═safj÷­ur


Setting up the tent at Heydalur

Karen's diary:

I woke up at 6.45am feeling a bit pulverised but we had a long day ahead of us and could not sleep in. The streets outside were lively with schoolchildren as we set off. Squadrons of little boys on bikes charged past us; Brian wanted to chase after them but I wouldn't let him. As we rode around the little fjord we admired the setting and attractive look of the town. A plane came in to land at the tiny airstrip. It was exciting to watch because the planes have to bank sharply to get down between the mountains.

We spent the rest of the day riding in and out a series of fjords, all very quiet, peaceful and beautifully sheltered. The mirror-smooth water was disturbed only by birds. Dozens of little streams and waterfalls ran down the sides of the valleys, their images perfectly reflected in the water below. The running water and the cries of the birds were the only sounds. I was delighted to see a seal swimming in the water nearby. It watched us calmly for a moment, then sank under the water and disappeared. Despite the criticisms in our guidebook we found this road to be rather wonderful. Its remoteness and unspoiled nature delighted us and we enjoyed the day.

To the north we could see the Hornstrandir Peninsula. It looked very snowy and a bit forbidding. I was secretly glad that there weren't any roads there that we could have cycled - it looked so cold!

Almost all of today's ride was on sealed roads. When we finally hit the dirt we knew that we were getting closer to our destination. Before long we were overtaken by a little red Citr÷en 2CV and we recognised it instantly. We had seen it yesterday, high up on Hrafnseyrarhei­i. It pulled over and we met the occupants, a very friendly couple from Dusseldorf. We chatted for a while; they gave us directions to Heydalur and warned us that the road wasn't very good. They drove off and we kept pedalling.

At last we reached the turnoff. I rode around in a circle to change down to the lower gears and then headed gingerly up the driveway. The dirt was soft and the stones were large and sometimes two kilometres can seem like a long way. At last we arrived at the Heydalur country hotel. We pitched our tent on the level grass below the hotel, enjoyed a luxurious hot shower and went up to the restaurant for a wonderful dinner. We shared a big tureen of traditional Icelandic meat soup, thick with vegetables and chunks of lamb, and polished off a delicious rhubarb crumble.

As we paid the bill our waitress asked us whether we knew about the pool (we didn't). It was in a barn below the farmhouse - a geothermal hot-water swimming pool surrounded by potted fruit trees (apple and cherry) and a vegetable garden that supplied the kitchen with fresh salad and herbs. It was fantastic. Despite the late hour we had a lovely swim and a soak in the hot-tub before bed. Friendly horses gathered around and watched over us as we retired for the night. What a great place.