Tuesday, September 23, 2014

OLD ROADS, CHURCHES, AND A FARM VISIT IN NORTHERN ICELAND


This photo (L) is Akureyri in Northern Iceland from half-way up the ski area on the mountain behind the town. I took it this morning and it needs no further comment. I have quickly learned to love this region of contrasts and immense natural beauty.

Akureyri lies at the southern end of a 60kms fjord called Eyjafjordur. Ocean-going cruise ships call here on their "Round Iceland" voyages and offer the same shore excursions as I have done. Today, though, a smaller cruise ship was alongside carrying about 100 pax — a far cry from 3000+!!

Today was Nonni Travel's tour called
"Akureyri and Surroundings." This sounds boring but turned out to be four hours of nature, fascination, and animals. Ana, my private guide, started by showing me round the town, which is small. The residential streets are pretty below the mountains and Ana showed me some of the earliest homes and the Nonni House, which is now a museum about the famous Jesuit priest,  Jón Sveisson, who wrote children's stories and sagas. I saw the more recently-built residential area half-way up the mountain behind. Up we went to the ski hill where I shot the first image. The sun was bright and made for a great photo.

Arctic Cotton Brush















Then we crossed the causeway to the eastern slopes of the fjord and onto the "Old road." I was in for a treat. The winding, gravel road took me high into the mountains and over top into a valley I'd not seen yesterday. I saw late wild flowers and low berry bushes, moss and lichen. Again I marvelled at the fall colours this high up at about 1200 feet.

The valley was dressed in lavenders and  purple on the high slopes and the U-shaped valley floor was golden, interspersed with emerald farm fields. This is dairy and sheep farming country and is prosperous, though the photo (L) doesn't show the farms.

The gravel road was well graded and shaggy sheep were down in the fields and potatoes grew here. Eventually we came to the Eyeafjordur again where the alluvial fan of the river spread out widely. Along the east were more farms and here we soon stopped at Polar Hestar Riding Tours. The farmer of Grytubakki II, Stefan, welcomed me
L-R: Annaliese, James, Ana, and Stefan
personally and took me into his home for coffee and delicious homemade cakes. Here I met his employee, Annaliese, from Germany who is the riding tour guide and an accomplished artist. Both spoke excellent English and Stefan had a remarkable dry wit. I learned that he has 130 Icelandic horses, all broken and trained, and 250 sheep. Each ewe produces twins every April/May and he raises them for wool and meat. Their long, shaggy wool is sheared every March and late September. The horses stay out all winter growing long coats, but the sheep are brought inside.

I met their bottle lamb, Lollipop, who had to be bottle-fed after her mother died giving birth. Lollipop thinks she's a sheepdog! The farm also has three dogs, cats, and several rabbits and hens.

Then I walked down to the field where fifty of the horses were grazing. They are pony-size and very strong and sturdy. Also curious and gentle. Icelandic horses are all colours and some have blue eyes; they are descended from the old Nordic horses that arrived with the Vikings, along with the sheep. Both are unique breeds, kept pure by Iceland's strict laws.



I found the horses polite. An odd choice of word for sure, but perfect. They stand quite still and let you pat and stroke them, and never toss their heads, shy, or tread on one's feet. I adored them and want to come back and ride one. My time in the field was all too short and goodbyes were tough to say.


My next stop was at an old and tiny Lutheran church on the shore of the fjord. Inside was a 16th century pulpit —wooden, carved and painted. Ana,
who is a member of five choirs in Akureyri, gave me an impromptu concert here. Her voice was pitch-perfect and entrancing as she sang some Icelandic hymns. Next door were some genuine turf houses, one of which was the pastor's home until the 1950s.


The four hours were nearly over and I couldn't believe it could feel so short. But I had seen and done a lot, thanks to Nonni Travel and Promote Iceland who arranged the tour. My final view was of Eyeafjordur looking out to the North Atlantic.



IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos 2014. All rights reserved