Today I started my 3-day exploration of the Westfjords. First, I discovered the remote Strandir Coast north of Holmavik. The road runs for about 60km before ending – the rest of the peninsula is accessible by boat only and houses Iceland’s (maybe Europe’s) most remote nature reserve.
I contented myself with a short drive along half the road before stopping at a hotel with a large geothermal pool. I enjoyed the views whilst floating in 38C water, before climbing out and sprinting through the cold air to try a tiny natural “hot tub” located a bit further up the mountain.
Feeling refreshed and clean, I tracked back to Holmavik to visit the Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft. Icelanders have always been very superstitious, and in the middle ages, magic was widely practiced – mostly by men. Spells were used to protect against the extremely harsh conditions of the time, to make money, or to get even with enemies. Sorcerers could also produce magical artifacts, like the “necropants” on display in the museum. These are trousers made from the skin of a dead man, which are supposed to generate an endless supply of coins and make the wearer rich – but only if very detailed instructions are carefully followed. For a full description of this repulsive artifact see here. Magicians could also conjure fantastic creatures, like the tilberi.
This horrible creature could be used to steal milk from the livestock of neighbouring farms. A full description of how to create, nurture, use and finally destroy a tilberi is found here. 22 people accused of practising witchcraft were burnt alive in the 17th century in Iceland. The museum had an interesting collection of these stories. Justice was very arbitrary in those days. One local official had four people burnt over the years for using sorcery to make his wife ill (she had a frail constitution and was often ill). Apart from having an interesting collection and intriguing witchcraft stories, the museum also served good coffee – the previous day had taught me just how rare this is in provincial Iceland, so I indulged myself.
Refreshed and educated, I set off again on the 230km drive to Isafjordur, the main city in the Westfjords. The road headed over a mountain, where I was greeted by wind and rain again. I was beginning to worry that I would see a repeat of yesterday’s weather, when the road dived down into a fjord and the sky cleared. The road then hugged the coast, skirting no fewer than six huge fjords. The scenery was amazing and I stopped often to take photos of the fjords, rainbows… and even some seals.
I arrived in Isafjordur in the early evening. It is a big town by Iceland standards, with a population of 2600 and a well-stocked supermarket. I stocked up with food for a few days and headed to my holiday rental to cook dinner, very happy with my day.