20 Sep 2017

Iceland #13 - Day 3: Dynjandi (plus more!)

I've seen pictures of Dynjandi for many years, but as I only ever used to come to Iceland in the winter, it was always out-of-bounds, so I never expected that I'd see it any time soon. Now I come in late summer/early autumn I finally got my opportunity. The day ahead was a busy one, with a considerable amount of driving (although so close as the crow flies!), and not actually much time for sightseeing or photography. The itinerary was to drive from Patreksfjörður to Selárdalur (to see the museum of Samúel Jónsson), then onto Dynjandi, before driving to Ísafjörður for dinner and then on to Súðavík for the night. If I had time, I hoped to fit in a waffle in Þingeyri (apparently there's a place with the best-ever waffles), but time was going to be tight. I also had a hot pool stop planned along the way.

The weather was still dreadful when I woke up (but at least, again, I'd had a good night's sleep and hadn't had to get up for sunrise). I looked out and could spot which visitors had already been to Látrabjarg and which had just arrived off the ferry (why they have white rental cars in Iceland will never cease to baffle me).

* iPhoneSE shot from my bedroom window
I had another delicious breakfast, and more brief chats with the Austrian couple and the Finnish girl. The Austrians told me that they'd washed their car for free at the N1 station down the road, so once I'd packed up I did the same, removing the majority of the dirt from the Mokka. The dirt was sticky, like clay, and took ages to try to remove - hard work with the brush and hose combination! Eventually it was done and I was able to see out of the back window again, and the number plate looked shiny and new! It was just after 10 by the time I left, remembering to take my packed lunch bag out of the fridge.

My first destination was the Samúel Jónsson outdoor sculpture museum in Sélardalur, through the tiny town of Bíldudalur, and then almost at the end of the long and quite stunning Arnarfjörður. The pass out of Patreksfjörður was - not surprisingly - incredible, winding and foggy (as usual)! Even though the passes looked similar in these conditions I still loved them and pulled over when I found a safe spot at the side of the road to pull off. These roads were sealed, so I managed to get myself down to the town in good time.

Bíldudalur houses the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum, which had I had more time I might have visited; I had so much to fit in that I had to give it a miss. The sculptures beckoned. I'd seen from Google Maps that I would pass another sweeping white sandy bay on the journey, and there it was after I turned a corner, with a beautiful backdrop of moody mountains behind and on the other side of the fjord.

The road hugged the coastline, passing endless stretches of sand and turquoise waters. I can only imagine how the colours must look with the help of a little sunshine. The weather had become a little drier, with big clouds visible off into the distance and the odd patch of sun appearing occasionally. The views around every bend were just spectacular, thankfully visibility was good. It was possibly my favourite drive on the whole of the trip. Not a soul around either :)

I passed a couple of houses, one was stark and alone, another was hidden behind trees - a perfect retreat with incredible views. I could imagine living there (in spite of the lack of actual sun for many months of the winter).At just after midday I finally reached my first actual destination (rather than just beautiful stops along the road) - the museum at Sélardalur that was created by Samúel Jónsson to show off his work. It was a strange little place, with an austere little church, a couple of houses (one recently rebuilt, all recently re-painted) and some rather odd sculptures. The grey skies and pointy dark brown mountain behind were certainly a fitting setting. I'd read that Sigur Rós had performed there - what magic that would have been! The place was amazing, and I wandered through the figures, unsure as to what it was all about; a glimpse through the window to his workshop giving me just a little hint...  

It began to rain slightly, so that seemed like a good time to go back to the car (getting my purse from the car to pay the ISK 500 entrance fee (well worth it)), and then I was off, driving back down along the beautiful fjord (so green in places!), my next destination the hot pools. I would love to have explored the valley more, but time didn't allow it.

Obviously I had to stop on numerous occasions as I drove back past the sandbanks, which were now far more visible as the tide was lower. I climbed up a little hill for a better vantage point at one stage - great view of the potholes in the road too!

I'd hoped to pass a petrol station grill bar in Bíldudalur, so I could get a burger for lunch (it was after 1.30pm by the time I got back there so was feeling a bit peckish). There isn't much there and I didn't turn off the "main" road, but instead continued on, leaving my lunch options to chance. After leaving the town I began a long meander around the edge of endless small fjords. At the end of the first, Fossfjörður, was a small waterfall by a bridge. I stopped for a short while and was graced with sunshine - the first glimpse since just before Flatey on my ferry ride two days earlier. The marshy land between me and the fjord's edge glowed almost yellow for a couple of minutes, with the mountains providing a blue backdrop, before a cloud snatched the sunshine away from me again. The waterfall, I found on my map later, is imaginatively named Foss.

A little way up the hill on the way to the next fjord I suddenly slammed on the brakes as I saw the most picturesque hut, with a triangular section with a rectangle attached, covered with a bright orange corrugated iron roof - it shone in another brief patch of sun.

When I looked back at the pictures of this little farm hut I decided that I wanted to buy it and fix it up as a holiday home. I looked at the sunlight in the winter and soon decided that wouldn't be a terribly bright idea...

Around in the next fjord, was Reykjarfjörður (one of the many), with it own little hot pool at the side of the road. There was a small hut with two changing rooms, a large green-painted rectangular pool with strange green water, and a few steps away were some hot pools in the grass. I changed into my bikini and settled down to a quick soak in the more authentic grassy pools. A couple showed up, took a few photos, but didn't join me, and then I wandered across the muddy grass and did a few lengths in the bigger pool, which was also a lovely temperature. I dried myself, got changed, and headed on, Dynjandi beckoning.

* iPhoneSE shot


In the next fjord, Trostansfjörður, the road began to climb again - another mountain pass up into the fog! At the top it cleared a bit and I had a fantastic view down to the river valley below.

I didn't stop again until I reached Dynjandi, meeting some rain and keen to get to the big falls. The road surface was unbelievably red - I wish now I'd stopped, even in that rain. As the road passed above the hill that Dynjandi flows down my excitement grew. I passed a couple of very impressive waterfalls, but with that one just around the next corner I guess they got very few visitors. I turned into the road that led to the carpark and as the falls came fully into view in their entirety they actually took my breath away and I noticed a few tears falling. It is very rare that anywhere has that effect on me, but this place sure did!

I was keen to get up to the top of the falls, where the main waterfall cascades down the rock-face, so I rushed up the path, only taking a few handheld shots on my way. Before I set off my empty tummy reminded me that I hadn't had any lunch, so a Nature Valley was wolfed down. It's uphill all the way to the main platform, but not too far. It is an extremely challenging waterfall to capture, however; something I hadn't expected. At the base of the main falls I set up my tripod, wiping spray off the lens between each shot.

I wasn't feeling inspired with the composition, so moved around a little, including up a bit further to the right hand base of the falls. It was extremely wet there, but if I went a little further I managed to avoid most of the spray. The lens was just constantly covered in mist. At one point I changed lenses (away from the water) to get the wide-angle on.

I found an area that I thought might work for self-portraits and took a couple, doing the usual darting around to get in position before the ten seconds was up and then holding very still, as the exposure was pretty slow. It was amazing that the lens wasn't completely covered in water droplets and spray, that the water was smooth and that I was in focus and not moving at all (not all the photos worked quite that well!).

I gave up on that idea and tried to photograph a few visitors to get a sense of scale, but again the spray was difficult and I couldn't get the right view with people in. I chatted to the woman in the orange jacket as she said she'd taken a shot of me and would email it to - I never got it :(

People came and went and then the rain returned, which on top of the spray didn't make the whole experience much fun. I set the camera on the tripod for a bit to try to get some long exposure smooth detail shots. Unfortunately when you're travelling alone you don't have anyone to pose for you and stay still while taking the long exposure shots, so any shots with people in (apart from the ones of me) had to be quick, in order to avoid people motion blur.

It was getting late, and I had to leave by about 5.30pm in order to make my dinner reservation (more on that below!).

I wandered back down the path towards the car, stopping along the way to capture the view from below with people silhouetted against the falls, now too exhausted to get the tripod set up, so just shooting hand-held with a high ISO and fast shutter speed.

When I got back to the car I realised that I hadn't taken any photos of the whole set of falls, so took a quick shot with another filthy car in the foreground.

I stopped again a little further on, when I'd drive to the other side of the nearby Borgarfjörður - the falls can be seen from very far away if you're driving south. I'm glad I approached it from the other direction and got the first breathtaking view so close.

The last part of the journey to Ísafjörður would take me across two more mountain passes and through a long tunnel. Before I reached the first ascent I stopped to capture the most serene view. This photo is straight off the camera - so moody! I loved the little mountain sitting out on its own. You can just make out Dynjandi in the distance, showing where I'd come from.

The first pass - Hrafseyrarheidði - was most definitely one of the most spectacular roads I'd driven on, both on the ascent up from the fjord and the descent on the other side leading down to Þingeyri. I stopped at the top and met the woman in the orange jacket and her companion - they were taking silly selfies at the top. I took one too on the iPhone - grinning madly at the wonderful view (with the hair whipping across my face in the wind). The pictures don't capture the depth of the descent and the sheer splendour of this view.

* iPhoneSE shot

After that stop the road continued to wind up and up, around and around, before finally reaching a plateau and then opening up to another spectacular winding road down into the valley and fjord below. I was blown away, again!

I reached Þingeyri at around 6.20pm, but still had quite a long way to go - around the fjord, across a pass, and the tunnel, so there was absolutely no way I had time to fit a waffle in (it was just as well, as my stomach was empty enough to enjoy the feast that awaited me in Ísafjörður). The rest of the drive was picturesque, although the next pass wasn't as high or windy. The tunnel was an interesting one, and as soon as I was inside I remembered having read about it on a blog while researching the trip - it had a single-lane section for 4km (as well as a junction)! There were passing points every 200m or so, so passing wasn't going to be a problem. Fortunately - and possibly unusually - I didn't pass another car at all until the last section, after the junction heads off to Suðureyri, which has a lane on each side. Soon I was out of the tunnel, back in the light, at the outskirts of Ísafjörður. It was seven on the dot - the time of my reservation at Tjöruhusið, a well-renowned fish restaurant. I had no idea where it was, and I wasn't getting any network on my phone, so I drove around a bit aimlessly for a while. I guessed that it must be down near the harbour so drove down there, but failed to see it. I drove back along the little jutting-out peninsula on which a good part of the town is built, and stopped to ask in a petrol station. It was back where I'd just driven - I just hadn't noticed the red building. I took my camera bag inside with me, not wanting to leave it unattended in the car (now I was in a big, scary town). It was pissing down with rain when I arrived, so it was nice to get into somewhere so cosy and dry. The place was already bustling with atmosphere and people queuing up for their first course of fish soup. I squeezed through and went up to the bar counter, hoping that they'd got my email about the reservation (it had been agreed a month or so earlier, but they'd said to email to reconfirm). The reservation did exist and I was led to a 6-seater picnic-style table, between two couples - one Dutch, one Italian - my camera bag on the opposite bench as my companion! I didn't get the camera out but took a couple of shots on the iPhone.

There is no menu - you get the fish soup to start, then queue up again and pick a selection of salads and vegetables and then there's about 6 or 7 massive frying pans filled with different, imaginative fish dishes. I ordered an Einstök beer and then waited for the queue to subside. I looked around - it was an interesting mix of English-speaking tourists and some locals - obviously the place to be on a Sunday night at the end of the summer in Ísafjörður. As I was the last to arrive I got my soup last, just before the fish dishes came out and everyone began queueing again. The soup was delicious, and I stupidly ate two pieces of bread (I was ravenous), not leaving enough room to do the main course complete justice. I chatted a bit to the couples on either side, before finally getting my own food.

I don't remember how all of the dishes were cooked, or what they were, but I do remember the plaice being one of the most delicious things I'd ever eaten, and the Atlantic catfish in blueberries and bacon and the bacalao were great too. I went back for more plaice, forcing a little more down as it was so divine.

Once I could force no more down I paid up and left (it was about £55, including the pint of beer). Not cheap, but not the most expensive place in Iceland, I'm sure. I didn't have far to drive, but by now it was almost dark; at least the rain had stopped. I'd decided to stay in nearby Suðavik, to shorten the following day's drive a little. I found the address to my little guesthouse (the Fjord) and the friendly staff checked me in. It was a tiny little place, but comfortable. As I set up my laptop I realised that I'd left my reading glasses in the restaurant. I called them up, then called again later and there was a second setting so they didn't want to go through people's tables looking for them. They said that I could go and collect them the following day between 11am and 12pm (if they showed up!), when the chefs arrived. That really messed up my plans for the next day, so I was very relieved when - as I lay in bed feeling annoyed with myself - I suddenly remembered that I had picked them up and put them in the front pocket of my camera bag. I switched on the light, and found them in the pocket. This meant that my plans for the following day wouldn't be ruined. It had been a long day, full of stunning roads, beaches, waterfalls and food. And it had rained for a good part of the day, but up here in the Westfjords you can't let something trivial like the rain dampen your spirits.

Click here for the blog from Day 2 - Exploring the Látrabjarg Peninsula