The West Fiords 2003

From Brjánslækur to Ísafjörður

On Tuesday morning (27th May) we (only just) caught the 9am ferry, Baldur, in Stykkishólmur harbour. This is the ferry which crosses Breiðafjörður from Snæfelsnes to the west fiord peninsula, arriving at Brjánslækur about 11:45am, after a brief stop at the small island of Flatey. We couldn't have hoped for better weather. As the rain started in Stykkishólmur, we sailed into glorious sunshine which gradually spread over the whole sky. I spent some of the time conversing in my very limited Danish with a guy from Funen (Fyn) in Denmark about previous cycle and hiking trips - both his and mine.

In the bustling town of Brjánslækur (there is the ferry office and nothing else!) we changed into our cycling gear for the start of the tour proper. The ferry left and we were on our own.

6km up the road was the restaurant at Flókalundur, where, we were to learn over lunch, that one of the early settlers, in (I think) the 9th century, nick-named "Hrafnaflóki" first landed after one of his ravens (hrafnar) brought back a sprig of vegetation. Flóki looked upon the snow-covered land around and called the land "Iceland". But he chose to settle there - hence "Flókalundur" and on a sunny day like today it wasn't hard to see why.

Lunch, and specifically the chocolate bar we shared for desert, was to fuel us for the long ascent up our first pass on our way to Ísafjörður. The road climbs to 500 metres, then slowly descends whilst contouring round the head of Trostansfjörður and Gerþófsfjörður before climbing again to the emergency hut in the middle of Dyjandisheiði at around 550m above sea level. From there, there is a great descent to what must be one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, and is indeed the highest in the west fiords - Dynjandifoss.

Approaching Dynjandifoss I nick-named this place "Rivendell" as, if I remember rightly, there is a similarly improbable-looking waterfall in that place in the first "Lord of the Rings" film. Dynjandifoss is a remarkable cascade flowing almost vertically down several hundred metres of rock face just behind the camp-site we stayed in that night. After our evening meal, we climbed up to the base of the falls, past several other waterfalls, which, if they had been on their own, would have been worthy of note, but which were dwarfed by the presence of Dynjandifoss. After this we walked alongside the lake, where somewhere or other I lost my digital camera, and all the wonderful photographs in it! Two long searches the following morning led to nothing and I reluctantly had to accept my loss.

The following morning (Wednesday) Peter, still not feeling too strong these last couple of days, had gone ahead and left me to make my second search of the lakeside for my camera. We arranged to meet at Hrafnaseyri, where Peter's guide book told us we could get a welcome lunch in the museum café. On the way, the rain came down, lightly at first, then more heavily. A jeep stopped, and the couple from New York we'd met on the Baldur said hello and told me about the route ahead. I told them I was meeting Peter at the museum for lunch.

The museum was closed (café included)! It opens in June. I was covered, head-to-foot in a grey slime, made entirely of part of the road surface of the last few miles and the rain of the last hour. We consoled ourselves with some muesli bars. At least it had stopped raining now.

The pass over to Þingeyri from Hrafnaseyri is long. Very long indeed. In fact, there was more than one occasion when I thought it would go on forever and eventually we would reach Valhalla. Cars (not many, mind) would pass us, and you'd see them cross what looked like a sheer cliff hillside ahead, again, and again, and again, getting higher and higher all the time. And the surface was bad - very bad. On the lower half of the road a lorry kept passing us with a snow-plough-like attachment, rearranging the stones on the surface, but not making it any smoother. Much of the time I was concentrating on following single car tyre tracks, knowing that if I drifted off the effort needed to continue on the rougher surface would increase. But this was mentally draining too. More than once I collapsed on to the handlebars, unable to pedal another stroke.

Finally we reached the top, and the emergency hut. This one had a guestbook in it. The last entry was early April. A few hundred yards beyond the hut we were greeted by the most wonderful view of the tour so far. The road descended, probably more rapidly than it had ascended, flanked by magnificent green mountains, down into a flat plain with the deep blue fiord off to the left. Another short ascent and were over the last hill of the day and freewheeling down into Þingeyri.

In Þingeyri we were directed to the camp site - right by the swimming pool - and told that there was a great restaurant there - it opened on Friday! We found something to eat in the petrol station. It was nearly 4pm - a little late for lunch but we were hungry. It seemed that everyone came here to buy groceries - or just to meet. Later, we went off in search of the camp site. We were the only people there. The swimming pool was open every day except Wednesday. It was Wednesday! We returned later to the petrol station for our evening meal.

In the morning we discovered we had been joined in the camp site by Wolfgang and Viola from Austria. It transpired that they were eclipse-chasers too. We discussed our plans, then soon we were on our way.

After a twelve mile ride around the fiord, we were about one mile away from Þingeyri - across the water. Then it was up and over the small pass which drops down to Holt and the mouth of the tunnel to Ísafjörður. We had thought about the tunnel - 6km long with three tunnel mouths - there is a junction in the middle. The road is single track with passing places. On a bike? You must be joking! Suddenly the 550 metre pass alternative seemed quite attractive.

Climbing the old pass to ÍsafjörðurI had been over this pass in 1986 on my first visit to Iceland - when I was travelling by bus. I remembered that the view from the top down to Ísafjörður was spectacular and so we decided to attempt it. The problem was that the road hadn't been used for seven years - since the tunnel was opened - and the surface had deteriorated somewhat. We made matters worse by deciding to cycle up the tarmacked road to the tunnel mouth to have a look and then try the zigzag path up to the old road. That was very steep indeed and involved us demounting our panniers at least once to cross streams. We had to push and drag the bikes the whole way. The old road was cyclable - mainly - but the surface was very loose and we had to walk in places.

Near the top, the snow half covered the road, then further up the road narrowed to only a foot or two. A small avalanche crossed the road in front of us. We watched until the snow stopped and then decided to cross. At one point the snowed completely covered the road and again we had to take off our panniers and carry the bikes across. But it was only a small stretch. Soon we were on the flat plateau and nearing the top.

The great view of Ísafjörður from the top of the old pass The view down to Ísafjörður was indeed breathtaking, with the deep blue water around the town and beyond in the Ísafjarðardjúp looking beautiful. The road down the other side had a much better surface and once we had put on some warmer clothes, we were able to cycle down the whole way. What a wonderful decent back down to sea level, then it was a short ride along the fiord into town.

Whilst eating in Pizza 67, I told Peter that on my first trip here in 1986 I had thought that if I ever wanted to get away from everything I would come here. I still feel that now. OK, I've only been there in summer, but Ísafjörður is a special place.

It was then that we discovered something rather important. Our plan had been to get to Ísafjörður, then catch the bus next morning down to near Hólmavík where we could take a road to the north-east cost of the west-fiords to Brimnes. There we were assured a clear north-eastern horizon - vital for seeing the eclipse at four in the morning with the Sun only three degrees above the horizon. But the first bus of the year didn't go until Sunday - the day after the eclipse!!! We were stranded! What were we to do?