Day 3 – Flipping birds!

Thursday 1st July 2021. Another Long Read Alert – lots of pictures again!

For a holiday such as this, where sightseeing and photography are basically the whole point of the exercise, the weather is anything from important to critical.  This makes Iceland a place of great uncertainty, since it’s basically impossible to have any confidence in what the weather gods will bring.  So, the morning ritual of opening the blinds to peep out at the weather is a time of heightened tension.  This morning?

Not too bad, it would seem.  Not that this is a guarantee, or anything, but at least we know it’s not hurling it down for the moment.

After breakfast we set off for various destinations around the area, the southernmost bit of the West Fjords.

Off we went, and it soon became clear that the promise of a sunny day was an empty one.

I mean, it’s a nice view and all, but suddenly the horizon’s gone.  Near this spot is a bizarre statue.

It is of Julius Oskar Þorðarson, who was apparently the boss in charge of the gang who built the road it stands on, back in 1947.

A few kilometres on the scene cleared a bit, so we got a good view of the road to Patreksfjörður. Slightly to the side of that was an appealing optical illusion.

The trees look like a pine forest until you realise that the blue patches are the ubiquitous lupins, at which point it becomes clear that the trees are less than 2 metres tall. (There are very few tall trees in Iceland because of the paucity of much of the soil and the relentless strength of the wind; the only ones you’ll see  are imported and sufficiently short that wind doesn’t tear them to shreds. Hence the local joke: what do you do if you are lost in a forest in Iceland? Stand up…)

Patreksfjörður is an appealing town, which, like so many in this area, is located on crammed into a thin strip of land between the sea and a thundering great mountain.

The locals are building a wall to keep out the avalanches which are a constant possible threat. You might be able to make out the earthworks in the centre of the picture, above the buildings.

The town centre has some handsome buildings

and it’s generally an agreeable place.

We then moved on towards the hotel where we were to stay the night, the Hotel Latrabjarg. En route we passed a rather bizarre sight.

This is the not-so-good ship Garðar, billed as the oldest steel ship in Iceland, built in 1912 and now abandoned here to rot. No, me neither.

However, just by the wreck was the rare occurrence of a stretch of water unruffled by wind, which gave me the opportunity to indulge my favourite sort of landscape photo, a reflection.

There was uncertainty about whether our overnight hotel would be able to offer us dinner*. In the end, we decided to eat somewhat down the road and so planned lunch in Breidavik, with a further plan to return there for a sufficiently early dinner to allow for an activity which was best planned for the evening.

Before lunch, we went to the beach.  Of course we did.

On the southern extremes of this peninsula is an area called Rauðisandur, “Red Sands”.  It’s not really red, but actually, well, sand-coloured.  But nonetheless it felt extremely out of keeping with a holiday among glaciers and mountains, to go to a vast expanse of sand.

So, the mountains stop and the sand starts.

and the “beach” is actually a sand spit with water inland of it.  But it still feels like you’re on the beach.

Dagur, in chasing a particular photographic angle, did his Cnut act

and was just as successful, ending up with boots full of seawater.  I don’t know if he got his shot or not, actually.

The water inland of the sand gives an opportunity for some interesting shots

and in places you can see that the sand is not all sand-coloured.

One has to walk a short distance to get from the car park to the sand, and the walk, and an episode on the way to lunch, gave me slight pause.  As you head towards the sand, you pass a really lovely view.


I couldn’t walk past that without stopping to admire it, and of course take a photo. Dagur walked past it without a glance.  Shortly after we left the sands, we asked him to stop so we could take photos of no fewer than three waterfalls visible from the same spot.

Dagur, again, hadn’t really thought about stopping for it.  He’s so used to the fantastic sights that you can see in Iceland that he doesn’t see small fry like these scenes, whereas to us Brits, they’re fascinating and lovely.

After lunch we drove to the other end of the sand spit for a walk around.  It turned out that the walk took us past the nesting grounds of some Arctic Terns, who were not best pleased to see us, and so started dive bombing us.  They’re very agile flyers, and so it’s disconcerting to have them head straight for you, only to veer away at the last instant (or even peck at your head en passant, apparently).  From several dozen attempts, I managed to get a couple of halfway decent pictures of a tern in flight.

There was a lot of bird activity.  In a little stream nearby was a little chap we think is a Dipper (though not a big one).

and the skies were filled with the sights and sounds of dozens of different types of birds coming and going.

Near where we parked for this walk was a cute little black church

with Oyster Catchers on the surrounding wall.

They got rather agitated as we approached and we think they probably had a nest in the wall.  So we left them to it and headed to our hotel. We had a chance for a refreshing cuppa before heading out to an early dinner.

The reason for eating betimes was that we wanted to get to the Latrabjarg cliffs to see

the puffins, which are nesting at this time of year and which come out in the evening after a day in their burrows.

It’s a popular spot with photographers

and, to be fair, it’s a rewarding time to be out chasing photos.  The puffins are very cute and don’t seem at all fazed by having people thrusting long lenses at them.  It’s quite easy to get good photos, and I even managed some video.

We actually made two visits to the Latrabjarg cliffs, with the later one being fractionally more satisfying.  In between times, Dagur whisked us off to an area called Keflavik (same name as the airport, rather different scenery).

It’s actually past the end of of the sands where we birdwalked, and down a very rough road (as you can see above).  You get a nice view, though, and it’s so difficult to get to that very few people will have seen it from this viewpoint.

It’s a Wild And Lonely Place (WALP Factor 8).

and Dagur also took us to see a monument to an extraordinary rescue attempt by Icelandic farmers of English sailors who were shipwrecked nearby, back in 1947. The farmers had to carry loads of gear out to this WALP and haul sailors up the cliff in very difficult circumstances – a major effort to save a dozen lives.

(I think the weather’s always foggy here, which is probably why the ship was wrecked.)

The day today had featured a lot of avian activity with some very satisfying results.  I think that tomorrow will involve longer periods in the car spent travelling around, so maybe tomorrow’s enthralling episode will be shorter.  There’s only one way to find out, so see you then, I hope.


* In this part of Iceland, towns are small and far apart, and often only accessible by unsurfaced roads. Generally speaking, it’s a Wild And Lonely Place, so you can’t make any assumptions about whether anything is still open or offering what one might think of as a normal service. On entering the Latrabjarg peninsula, for example, there’s a sign informing you that there are no fuel stations in that part of the island.  As it happened, the Latrabjarg hotel could provide food, but not early enough for our purposes.

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