Today I faced a long drive from Myvatn, roughly half way along Iceland’s north coast, to Holmavik at the entrance to the western fjords. My map said I could drive the 500km in six and half hours, but based on past experience I knew that it would take much longer after stops were added on, so I set off early. First stop was another of Iceland’s famous waterfalls, the Godafoss or “waterfall of the gods”. Helpfully it is located right on Route 1.
My next stop was for petrol at the teeming metropolis of Akueyri, which is Iceland’s second biggest city… with a population of only 18,191 (according to Wikipedia). It is supposed to be an interesting place but I didn’t have time to stop. After Akueyri I opted for the long scenic detour of the Trollaskagri peninsula, which follows the coast, rather than the more direct Route 1, which stays inland. Indeed the views were quite pretty, if not exceptional by Iceland standards.
As noon approached, I really fancied a coffee and looked in vain for somewhere to stop. Lonely planet recommended a couple of places but they were both closed (in the peak of the tourist season….). “Surely there will be somewhere in the next town” I kept on telling myself………but each settlement was a tiny windswept village, often without any shops at all. The weather changed, and it became overcast, with rain showers. My mood dropped. Finally at a place Hosfos I found a petrol station with a big shop attached…..and a café! However, their only coffee come not form a machine but a large thermos flask that had been filled with cheap filter coffee, which had been brewed long ago. I paid for a coffee and was given a paper cup to fill myself from the flask. Undrinkable. I searched on google for cafés near my location. The only place indicated within 100km was in an unlikely place – the tiny village of Holar, about 10km off the main road. Remembering that Holar (but not its café) was also mentioned in Lonely Planet, I decided to give it a go.
Despite the rain and clouds, Holar turned out to be a pretty little village nestling at the foot of tall mountains. Although tiny today, Holar was an important religious centre in the past and was a bishopric from 1106 to 1798. The see of Holar was restored in 1909 and there is a Bishop of Holar to this day. Holar had a pretty church (technically a cathedral even) dating from 1760 and some traditional old buildings with turf roofs. Continuing its tradition of being a centre of learning, Holar also has a (admittedly small) university teaching agriculture and tourism.
I could see a café attached the university buildings, but the lights inside were off. I tried the door in desperation…………and it opened! Inside was a small counter…….with a coffee machine. I rang a bell for service and a friendly Icelander served me expresso. He also recommended his asparagus and mushroom soup, made with mushrooms from the mountains around Holar – it was delicious!
The café in Holar was a lucky find because the next stretch of road was very boring and would have been hard to do without refreshment. The road rejoined the main Route 1, and ran, flat, monotonous and grey for mile after mile. Even Lonely Planet could not suggest anything worth stopping for in this dull, remote bit of the country. To make things worse, my car started to struggle against the ferocious headwind, and an array of warning lights appeared on my dashboard. I stopped to check the owner’s manual but found only Icelandic text. A search of the web (internet connection seems to be available almost everywhere around Iceland) suggested that the warnings were not critical and that I could carry on, but I had an uncomfortable feeling – breaking down here would be worse than inconvenient, since there were no garages for miles.
As I left Route 1 for Route 68 going to the Westfjords, the weather improved, and my warning lights suddenly disappeared. I even stopped to take some photos.
I finally made it to Holmavik at around 6pm – I had been on the road for nearly nine hours. It was a tiny place, and was functional rather than pretty – but at least I had arrived. The town had a shop, self-service petrol pump, a small port harbouring fishing boats, a pile of what looked like abandoned freight containers, a couple of guesthouses, a museum, and a cold wind howling along the main street.
Fortunately my accommodation was very good – unlike most of the places I had stayed so far, it had old furniture and looked like it might once have been someone’s home. And best of all it had a cosy living room with a comfortable sofa and view of the sea. I cooked the cod I bought in the local shop and celebrated the end of a long, difficult day with a glass of whisky.