Published June 25, 2012
Upon arriving in Egilsstaðir, I am greeted by Magnfríður Ólöf Pétursdóttir, better known as Magga, who promises to take me on a tour to discover elves, puffins and perhaps even some reindeer that are hiding in the area. We head east on a scenic road across a vast plain flanked by snow-covered mountain ranges on both sides. Our destination is Bakkagerði—the so-called ‘Elf And Puffin Capital’—about 70 km east from Egilsstaðir, in the fjord of Borgarfjörður eystri.
The paved road soon turns into a gravel one as we approach Njarðvík, a small cove with a collection of farms just before Borgarfjörður. This is the only road to Bakkagerði, population 146. The rather narrow gravel road winds its way along the mountain high above the sea. Magga and I agree that we wouldn’t drive this road when it is covered in snow, as there are no guardrails.
Elves and nature spirits
Halfway along the road, a wooden cross can be found next to it, on the ocean side. “Once upon a time, there was a monster called Naddi, which looked human on top but like an animal below the waist. It lived in a cave beneath the trail, attacking and killing travellers that came along the way,” Magga tells me. “This was in 1306. Eventually, a farmer from Borgarfjörður eystri pushed him into the sea and erected a cross at that point.” Many landmarks in the area bear Naddi’s name as a reminder.
To this day, locals keep stories about elves alive in the area and rumour has it that elf communities are spread all over the vicinity of Borgarfjörður eystri. When arriving in Bakkagerði it becomes apparent that the village is all about elves. We pass the new ‘Álfakaffi’ (“Elf café”) and have lunch and delicious homemade Bailey’s ice cream at the restaurant ‘Álfheimar’ (“Elf worlds”) before we explore the village.
Right next to the village is the legally protected 30 metre high hill of Álfaborg (“Elf city”). An easy trail leads up to the top of the hill, offering an ideal observation point over the fjord. Eyrún, a local girl, leads the way for us. At the top she tells us that Álfaborg is the place of the elves’ court in Iceland and home to the queen of elves.
We look down over the blue church built in 1901. “It is facing the fjord, rather than east-west, like every other Icelandic church,” Eyrún says. “It was originally planned to be built on Álfaborg, but one of the town elders had a dream about the elf queen who told him not to do it, so they decided to build the church next to it.”
Jóhannes S. Kjarval, one of Iceland’s most beloved painters, created the church’s altarpiece painting in 1914. It shows Christ giving the Sermon on the Mount, standing on top of Álfaborg with Dyrfjöll Mountains in the background, and the faces of villagers amongst the crowd. Kjarval grew up in Borgarfjörður and often included elves in his artworks.
A village comes to life
As peaceful as the village now seems with all its magical elf stories, Eyrún says that this changes when it is time for Bræðslan, the annual local music festival that takes place at the old fish factory at the end of July. During that time, the village’s population exceeds more than 2000 people. While 800 tickets are sold each summer for the concert, more people come to visit, camping in and around the village, as the music from the old fish factory can be heard from near and far. Acts like Belle & Sebastian, Emiliana Torrini and Damien Rice have entertained the crowd in previous years, and this year it is Mugison’s turn to fill the vicinity with his rhythm.
Then we leave Eyrún behind, driving the short way to the harbour called, Hafnarhólmi. It is the perfect location for bird watching as it has two small observation platforms. At first, all we can see are seagulls, but eventually we see the puffins flying about in safe distance on the water.
Time flies and it is time to head back to Egilsstaðir to catch the evening flight to Reykjavík. On the way to Egilsstaðir I must have been asleep when passing the reindeer. There are supposed to be many of them roaming the area, but they are also quite shy and hard to find. But this leaves a lot more to discover during my next trip to the east of Iceland.
The ‘Elf and Puffin Capital’ day tour was provided Air Iceland. More info can be found at www.airiceland.is or by calling +354-570-3000