Grey Stone And The Red Peninsula: Hiking In Northeast Iceland

Grey Stone And The Red Peninsula: Hiking In Northeast Iceland

Photo by
Timothée Lambrecq

Route 85 turns suddenly from tarmac to gravel somewhere around Þórshöfn. We trundle over the dusty track that connects the northeastern corner of Iceland with the Ring Road, which we left some 140 kilometres ago. To the east, the Langsnes peninsula rolls far out into the glittering sea; to the west, snow-streaked mountains line the horizon. It’s a beautiful area of wild countryside, with a small rural population, and even fewer tourists.

Farm life

The reason for the trip is to visit the Grásteinn, a working farm that also runs a guesthouse. Up a dirt track from the main road, we coast into a long, green valley, finally pull up at the farmhouse where we’re greeted by two friendly dogs, and then by Hildur Stefánsdóttir, who runs the place with her husband Siggi.

“Welcome,” she says warmly, with a broad smile. “I was just going down to the barn—we have someone coming to ultrasound the sheep. Let me get you settled in, and then you’re welcome to come and take a look….”

Hildur shows us to the cabins, on a large lawn set back from the farmhouse. They’re beautifully appointed, with comfortable furniture and stylish fittings, whilst maintaining a cosy cabin feel. After unpacking and relaxing with a coffee, we pull on our hiking boots and head down to the barn to see what’s happening.

Baby on board

The work happened fast. As we arrive, Hildur is already shepherding the last of the farm’s 400 sheep through some lanes, where they’re given an ultrasound one by one. It takes only a few seconds per animal. Most are marked afterwards—a green spray on the back for one lamb, no mark for two, and a red spray for three. A mark on the head means the sheep isn’t carrying any lambs, but those marks are few. “It looks like we’re expecting about 700 lambs come May,” says Hildur, showing us around the barn, which also houses chickens, ducks, seven young horses, and a pet rabbit.

With the work done, and the sky blue, Hildur offers to take us out for a hike, and we happily agree. We’re soon bouncing back along the trail and up the coastal road towards Rauðanes.

The farmer’s walk

We park up at Rauðanes Point, where trail markers vanish off towards the steely sea. The red ground is still soft and boggy from the recently melted snow, so we pick our way over the naturally occurring cobblestones, walking over mounds of rough grass where the trail is too wet—a style of hiking that’s called “the farmer’s walk,” says Hildur.

“We pause, breathless, to take in the towering Gatastakkur archway, and the huge Stakkatorfar sea stack.”

The red mud of the peninsula is actually brightly coloured, up close. As we sink into the rhythm of the hike, I notice bright scarlet ground plants, orange moss, delicate yellow creepers and fluorescent green sprigs all over the ground. The route leads past several beautiful spots, with dramatic, crumbling basalt cliffs leaning into the ocean as seabirds shriek overhead as they ride the wind. We pause, breathless, to take in the towering Gatastakkur archway and the huge Stakkatorfar sea stack before cutting back inland to complete the three-hour loop, heading back to Grásteinn for some well-earned rest.

Fresh eggs

In the morning, Hildur brings us a breakfast basket with fresh eggs and milk, pastries, and other assorted goodies. She shows us around a barn that’s being converted into a guesthouse to accommodate more people, leading us through to the greenhouse, where various vegetable growing experiments are taking place.

“I don’t run the guesthouse just for the money, really,” says Hildur. “It’s also a lot of fun.” As she waves us off back towards Reykjavík feeling fresh, rested and happy, we wholeheartedly agree.

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