In Vík, the little white-and-red church stands alone, overlooking the sleepy village. Birds nest in the vertical Reynisfjall cliffs and waves crash against sea carved stone columns by the black beach. Vík (Icelandic for ‘bay’) or Vík í Mýrdal (in full: ‘bay in the marshlands’) is the southernmost village in Iceland, the wettest place in the country and, with an impressive 300 inhabitants, one of the largest settlements in the area. I have several reasons to believe that Vík is also the epitome of all things creepy.
1# Grumpy Gods
I recently watched the film “Wrath of Gods”, which documents the making of the potentially epic adventure film “Beowulf & Grendel,” shot in the Vík area in 2004. Things went so badly wrong that the crew, desperate for some explanation for their troubles, came to the conclusion that the Norse Gods were sabotaging the film. On our trip, the car windshield cracked, the coffee was consistently bad, I lost a contact lens and the iPod shuffle played only 90s hard rock. What had we ever done to them?
2# Sleeping lady
One of the most notorious volcanoes in Iceland, Katla, is located just above Vík, slumbering under the thick icy blanket of Mýrdalsjökull. Katla’s crater is 10 km in diameter, and it is connected with Eldgjá (‘fire canyon’) – the world’s largest volcanic canyon – and Laki crater in Skaftafell National Park. Together they make for one of the most powerful volcanic systems in the world. Katla is still active. Since the Settlement, it has erupted 17 times, every 70 years or so. The last eruption was in 1918, so the next one is long overdue. In 2002, the seismic activity in the area rose dramatically, but the volcano appears to have calmed down again and the University of Iceland monitoring station has found no further alarming activity – beyond the everyday earth-quaking. You can see for yourself; the web cam at www.ruv.is/katla may not be action packed, but I am sure Pierce Brosnan would understand my concerns. I’m surprised he’s not running around calling town meetings at this very moment. Whilst a 750-metre thick ice cube on top cooling off the lava cocktail seems like the perfect solution to me, the residents of Vík, scholars of these matters, hardly agree. Katla’s eruption will cause jökulhlaup: glacial outburst floods. The amount of water coming from the melted ice could reach 200,000 cubic metres per second – four times the combined average discharge of the Mississippi, Nile and Yangtze rivers. The village of Vík would be wiped out completely. Plans are ready in case of disaster and the inhabitants of the village regularly practice running up to the church, the only building high enough to offer hope of salvation. They gotta love that place.
3# Troops of Trolls
While my fearful gaze is drawn toward the slumbering horror under the glacier, Vík has become a famous post card model on account of the geological sights in the other direction – the strange basalt formations of Dyrhólaey and Reynisdrangar by the sea. Then again, according to local folklore, these twisted shapes are in fact trolls turned to stone by the sunrise while dragging their boats to shore. So maybe I should keep an eye out to sea as well. Great. As a little Vík style bonus: the Reynisfjara cliffs are known for waves powerful enough to drag foolhardy tourists to their death. What is it with this town?
4# Silence of the Lambs
Vík was originally founded in the 9th century by Hjörleifur Hróðmarsson, but it stayed – for good reason, it seems to me – uninhabited until roughly a century ago, when the local fishing co-operative was established in 1906. Today, the harbour is no longer in use due to silting and on a normal weekday afternoon Vík is eerily quiet. “Is it some kind of a public holiday today?” my travelling mate asks, and indeed, there is not a living soul to be seen. Empty parking lots. No pedestrians on the main street. Have they all gone up to the church? Is Katla erupting? Are the Vikings attacking? Did I mention spooky?
What to do in Vík:
Watch rocks and sail on a car (yes, sail on a car!)
Dyrhólaey and Reynisdrangar rock formations offer beautiful views. For the best ones, go to the beaches around Vík, to Reynisfjall or Reynisfjara hills or take the marked road to Dyrhólaey, which turns right from road number one before Vík (coming from Reykjavik). Dyrhólaeyjarferðir takes tourists on its car-boat-combo to see the rock formations. Tel. 8936800.
Reynisfjall hill above Vík has several walking paths, lots of birds including the cute and clumsy puffins. The area is a preserve during nesting season.
Buy wool Vík wool’s woollen products are a bit cheaper here than in the fancy-pant tourist shops of the capital, and the selection is good. As a bonus, you get to see how the goods are produced. Austurvegur 20, www.icewear.is.
Like any self-respecting town in Iceland, Vík has an open-air thermal pool.
Walk on the beach
Black sand, massive waves – what is there not to love? Just – please – watch out for the waves!
Walk on the lava
After Vík, the lava fields of Mýrdalssandur take over the landscape. Hjörleifshöfði (231m) is a good walking destination from Vík with nice views over to the Westman Islands.
Where to eat:
Puffin Hotel’s restaurant is the place to see and be seen in Vík. Halldórskaffi attached to tourist information office in Brydebuð serves the best burgers in town. Grill at Esso Petrol Station is your saviour when everything else is closed – on road number 1.
Where to sleep:
Hótel Puffin The family-owned Puffin Hostel is the main hotel in town. Also sleeping bag accommodation. Vikurbraut 26, www.vikhotel.is.
Hótel Höfðabrekka A large, reportedly haunted, country hotel 5 km east of Vík with 60 rooms and a big restaurant. hotelkatla.is.
Vík camp site is located beyond Edda Hotel on the eastern side of the village.
Norður-Vík Youth Hostel On the hill behind the village, the massive international hostelling logo on the wall makes this impossible to miss. www.hostel.is.