We Went West: 12 Hours In Sagaland

We Went West: 12 Hours In Sagaland

Ciarán Daly
Photos by
Art Bicnick

The Westfjords. Snæfellsnes. A petrol station. All places. What do they have in common? Well, they’re synonymous with western Iceland—and, of course, the west is the best.

What about other parts of the west, though? Where are they? Are there any? How do we get there?

To find out, we went west. To the region of Dalir. “Valleys,” that means.

While not entirely off the beaten track, the environs of Dalasýsla—“Dalir County”—are hardly the first place tourists would think to travel to. Nestled between the Westfjords and the Snæfellsnes peninsula, the Dalir region is the untouched taint of the western Icelandic pelvis—or maybe its armpit. With a predominantly agricultural economy and a not-so-dramatic landscape, it’s been left somewhat behind in the cloud of tourist dust sweeping everywhere else.

Sagaland landscape. Photo by Art Bicnick.

Not necessarily a bad thing, that.

Famous mostly for being the setting of many sagas, Dalir is one of the oldest areas of Iceland, with a lot of history. Whether you’re on a ring road trip or you’re just one of those weird Saga nerds, here’s some of the excellent! exciting! things! you can see and do in Strandir—complete with some notorious local legends. Pull off the Ring Road near Bifröst. Keep driving. You’ll get there sooner than you think.

Pig. Photo by Art Bicnick

1. Erpsstaðir

Alright, you’ve been driving up the sheer rock face of the majesty of nature for like, what? An hour? There was a bunch of inaccessible waterfalls? Cool! You must be exhausted! It’s probably time to recharge those batteries. Pop into Erpsstaðir—ICE CREAM VALLEY—for some kick-ass ice cream.

Obviously, this was our first stop.

Erpsstaðir was an odd experience for us. When we arrived, the weather was pretty terrible. There was a cute dog hopping around on three legs, even though it had four legs (we counted). We almost got some sweet photos of some pumpin’ cows (you can enter the cowshed for a small fee), but they were busy.

The whole place also smelled pretty badly of cow shit. Mixed with the ice cream. In a strange, not-altogether-unpleasant way. Then, a pig decided to attack us, jumping its pig fence in some sort of wild pig rage. We had to call the pig master. It was a real pig mess.

Having said that, Erpsstaðir sells some of the most kickass ice cream in all of Nicecreamland, and the coffee is good. It’s well worth a visit, to be sure.

On quiet nights, those in the valley say they can hear the wind whisper the tiny ghost screams of all the innocent ice cream people thrown in the meat grinder to produce your delicíóús ís. You fucking monster.

Eiríksstaðir. Photo by Art Bicnick

2. Eiríksstaðir

There isn’t much around here, huh? Farms… farms… more farms. A couple of waterfalls, I guess, but even that ice cream place was a farm. Why are there so many farms? No wonder they had so many Sagas happen round here. You need a bit of drama in a place like this. (Danish TV producers employ a similar logic.) Don’t worry, you get to see another farm soon.

Eiríksstaðir is in Haukadalur, a pretty cool and spooky valley populated by some more farmers. It’s so spooky that it is currently the shooting location for the horror film ‘Mara’ (more about that on page 14). There’s also a pretty nice guesthouse right at the end of the road. More on that later.

Anyway, Eiríksstaðir. Eiríksstaðir is said to be the home of Leifur Eiríksson’s dad, and therefore the birthplace of LEIF THE LUCKY HIMSELF! I hear he’s a pretty big deal. He used to have an airport named after him, just like JFK. For the low, low price of 500 ISK, youcan look inside his old-as-balls hobbit house, which is located just metres from the foundations of the actual original old-as-balls hobbit house. If you need the bathroom, there is one here. (IT HAS NO LOCK. I FOUND THIS OUT THE HARD WAY WHEN I OPENED THE DOOR. I AM SO SORRY, MORTIFIED NORWEGIAN WOMAN.)

On a nearby farm, there used to be an annual party. One year, however, this party resulted in no less than nineteen illegitimate children. The local authorities were very unimpressed. Shit must have got really wild. No more parties in the valley.

Opposite Dad’s house is a large salmon fishing lake. There might be a fisherman in there. If you fish, go fish! If not, carry on.

Local legend has it that every winter, a mythical lake troll named Davíð camps in the salmon lake, stealing the fish treats of badly-behaved local children in the nights leading up to Christmas. Apart from hating Christians, Davíð is a pretty nice guy. He just doesn’t like to fish for himself in winter. It’s cold. As the old saying goes: “Teach a troll to fish, and he’ll still steal all of the Christian children’s snacks.”

Haukadalsskarð. Photo by Art Bicnick.

3. Haukadalsskarð

Once you get lost at the end of the valley like we did, you’ll see a sign pointing to a dirt track that says “Haukadalskarð.” FOLLOW THIS SIGN!

The road is seriously rough (rougher than that of the rest of Haukadalur), and I would not recommend you do this in a Mini Cooper, as we did. Thankfully, Art, our photographer, is a way better driver than you.

The track will take you over a very rickety bridge and some very pointy rocks. At what is sort of the end of the road (who knows?) you will see a super old horse playground or something. It’s eerie. You would not be surprised to see a creaking swingset there, if horses used swingsets. Take some photos.

Then, a pig decided to attack us, jumping its pig fence in some sort of wild pig rage. We had to call the pig master. It was a real pig mess.

To your right is Haukadalskarð, a COOL waterfall. Park the car. Tie your laces. Walk down to it (if you’re daring enough, you can get right up close). On the way, there should be plentiful blackberries and blueberries. Whatever those berry things are called. Pick them! They are DELICIOUS! Now, meditate/swim/Instagram to your heart’s content. It might be cold. Who knows? I don’t swim!

If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, head back to the roadsign for Haukadalskarð and take the other route. At the end of the road there is the aforementioned Cool Guesthouse. Go say hi!

The Haukadalskarð horse playground is said to be the site of a brutal battle between horses and men in the early Settlement era, known in horse circles as theEquine Chernobyl.” There were no survivors on either side. It was only with the Sugarcube Pact of 1131 that the bloodshed stopped. The tragedy later inspired the formation of a hit band and a blockbuster movie, now in cinemas!

Buðardalur. Photo by Art Bicnick

4. Búðardalur: Delicious cake! Exhibit!

Okay, enough of that nature shit. Let’s eat again.

Drive on to Búðardalur. Búðardalur is pretty much the only town in Dalir, which means it has a shop and a tourist information thing. First, go to the shop. They do good hot dogs there. You need a coffee.

Head on down to the information station. Look across the water and think about the mistakes you’ve made. Okay, now go inside and get some more coffee and a slice of DALIR’S MOST DELICIOUS CHOCOLATE CAKE! The guides in there will give you all sorts of interesting advice and stories about the area.

If Dad’s House in Eiríksstaðir didn’t sate your settlement history appetite, go check out the settlement exhibit next to the café. It gives a good interactive history of Vinland and other early brutal colonisation efforts by Icelanders. Take a selfie with some tapestry. Move on. We’re only on number four and there’s still loads of shit to do today.

In Búðardalur, a cow farted once. The locals thought it was a rave. The policeman from Snæfellsnes was called. No arrests were made.

The Cross. Photo by Art Bicnick.

5. Cross on a hill

This looks interesting! There are hills now! Wait, what is that? A cross? On a hill?! LET’S STOP HERE!

Climb up some rocky rocks. Wow, look at that. A real-life cross. Oh, and the views. I can see Búðardalur from here!

This is actually a very interesting cross, all jokes aside. It is to commemorate a lady from long ago with vast tracts of land, which made her very popular with all of her strapping young Norwegian gentlemen slaves. She claimed this part of Iceland for her own, and gave some of it up to her slaves. Some of the farms on the peninsula today are these same slave farms, probably!

Across? From where?

Sagaland landscape. Photo by Art Bicnick.

6. Here be seals, apparently

Put your goddamn smartphone down. Look out the goddamn window. Have a real, authentic experience for once in your miserable life. Things on this rock are about to get interesting.

To your right, there will be some more farms. Some are old and creepy. Whatever. But to your LEFT, you will see more bird life than you can shake a hot dog wrapper at. If it’s low tide, there’s a pretty big chance you’re going to see seals being lazy fuckers on the beach. Gosh. Would you look at that?

There aren’t really any local legends about the seals. They’re generally pretty chill. Although there was that one guy. Half-man, half-seal, full mutant. His is a true rags-to-riches tale, and it all started out on this beach. After attending the X-Men Academy, he is now the real Prime Minister of the whole of Iceland! Wow!

Dagverðarnes. Photo by Art Bicnick.

7. Dagverðarnes

By the time you reach the sign to Dagverðarnes, you will have no doubt noticed the geography has started getting interesting again. You pass through an Icelandic forest that’s actually pretty big, with trees way too close together, as is the Traditional Icelandic Way. There’s also a cool grave/memorial thing near Vogur.

Mountains! They’re back! Okay, turn down the dirt track to Dagverðarnes. Our Mini seriously struggled with this road, with massive jagged rocks ready to tear the bottom of your car right off. We are irresponsible, so we carried on. Boy, was it worth it.

The long dirt track will take you down to a pretty spectacular archipelago of little islands and lakes. It’s worth taking slow, as it’s actually a very unique area geographically. Stop and have a sandwich and look at the distant mountains and the birds or something. Neither me nor Art, the photographer, are particularly superstitious, but we felt a very strange change in energy in this area, No joke. It’s pretty magical.

At the end of the road, there’s an old church and a house. I don’t know if anyone lives at the house. There wasn’t anyone there when we were there. Be respectful and leave stuff alone anyway. You can’t enter the church alone as there is a massive circular boulder blocking the door (why are people always locking Jesus in with big circular boulders? who left the boulder there?), but the area is worth wandering around. There’s sheep shit, small beaches, a graveyard, and some mysterious tracks.

There are strange things afoot in Dagverðarnes. Don’t disturb the magical peace, really. Forces much bigger than you are at work here.

Road through the rock. Photo by Art Bicnick

8. Rock hole—picnic!

Once you’re back on the main road, head west to a passage through the rocks. It’s a bit like that lame Pod Race valley in Star Wars Episode I, but smaller. There’s a picnic table here. Have a picnic and look out at the place you just left. Walk through the rock hole and feel the wind on your skin.

We turned around here for time purposes, but you can also carry on through the rock hole and travel around the rest of the peninsula.

Who put the road through the rocks? How did it get here before we had an app to do it? Some say an ice giant snorted a line of rocks, which in ice giant land is sort of like crack. Is the crack the one you snort? I wouldn’t know. Either way, there’s been a road through the rocks ever since.

Laugar. Photo by Art Bicnick.

9. Laugar, Sælingsdalur valley—swim!

Laugar is said to be the home of the lady of the tracts of land, and up on the hill is her ORIGINAL POOL! It’s a really good pool—it’s free to use, relatively natural, and looks cool as well. There are a number of great hiking routes into the mountains from this spot. If you have time, go for a hike, then have a swim. There’s also a campsite here if you want to camp.

The valley here is the setting of many Sagas, in particular ‘Laxdæla saga’, one of the only Sagas to feature a woman as the main character—Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir.

If you look out from the hill by Laugar, you can just about envision all that medieval high school drama taking place here. Well, it’s true. It did.

Erpstaðir. Photo by Art Bicnick

10. Stop for ice cream again. Why not?

At this point, we started heading back to Reykjavík. But that doesn’t mean you have to! You can carry on north from here up to the Westfjords, or you can head down to Snæfellsnes. You can go your own way!

On the way back, stop for ice cream again at Erpsstaðir. They might look at you weird. “Why are you back here again so soon?” they will ask. “Trust me, I know what I’m doing,” you will say.

If you still have some time left once you get back to the area around Bifröst, go and check out Háafell goat centre and Deildartunguhver (a geothermal river). Play with some goats. Buy some goat soap. Eat some fresh local tomatoes at the river and look at some mist. It’s all here! What a fun day!

How to get there: Take route 1 north, and turn onto route 60 to Búðardalur, from where you can continue on route 60 to Sælingsdalur, or 586 to Haukadalsskarð. To get to Dagverðarnes, retrace your steps onto route 1 and then turn onto route 508.

 

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