It’s halfway along the dirt road between Hólmavík and Djúpavík that the car starts to make a strange sound. We grind to a halt and look at the wheels in the midst of a soaking rainstorm, and in the middle of nowhere. The car has not one flat tyre, but two. After a call ahead to Hotel Djúpavík, we’re reassured that help is on the way, and an hour later, Maggi and Héðinn, the son and son-in-law of the hotel’s owners Ási and Eva, come trundling down the track. Within minutes, the car is jacked up, and both wheels are replaced, one with a spare they brought with them. “We’re used to doing this kind of thing,” smiles Maggi, covered head to toe in mud from crawling under the car. “Sometimes it’s in the snow, so this wasn’t so bad.”
Maggi and Héðinn speed off into the distance, and we trundle onwards. At times, the track runs so close to the violent, crashing waves that we can almost taste the sea spray; at others, it winds up through high outcrops, with a sheer cliff down to the ocean. When we finally turn the final corner and catch sight of Djúpavík, it’s breathtaking—a handful of houses and a rusting shipwreck nestled in the fjord next to a huge, crumbling factory building that seems like a surreal vision in the far-flung reaches of the Westfjords.
The factory closed down in 1955, when herring stocks dwindled. What remains is the evocative skeleton of a building—an atmospheric labyrinth of spacious halls, rickety stairways, peeling paint, and rusting machinery. In recent years, it’s been put to use as a car workshop, a local history museum, and a gallery space, but large sections of it remain untouched.
The abandoned village got a second life in 1985, when the old workers’ quarters were converted into Hotel Djúpavík by Ási and Eva, who became the sole inhabitants of the once bustling village. Over the years, they converted the building into a homely guesthouse with a vast accumulation of books, photographs, curiosities and bric-a-brac.
Thirty years on, the business is going strong. As Eva and Ási approach retirement age, Maggi has gradually taken over the day-to-day running of the hotel, with help from the rest of family in carefully renovating the house. We sip coffee and chat as the hotel’s two dogs, Sóley and Freyja, snuffle around our feet. “At first I came here to try out a different lifestyle for one summer,” says Maggi. “But this place has a strange pull. I’d never have imagined myself doing this when I was living in Reykjavík. But now, I love being here. It’s demanding at times, but it’s the most fun job I’ve ever had.”
Djúpavík had an unlikely brush with fame in 2006 when Sigur rós filmed a concert in the factory that became one of the most memorable sequences of ‘Heima’. Last year, a larger crew descended on the area to film a key sequence of the forthcoming film ‘Justice League’. Back at the hotel, Maggi proudly shows us the trailer, which features a dramatic shot looking down over the factory.
“There were 350 people here on the week of the shoot,” says Arnor, another of the brothers who help run the business. “I worked with True North when it was happening—I felt like it was something I had to be a part of. It’s exciting—it’ll be nice to see it on the big screen.” He pauses, smiling. “We’re just not sure what’ll happen next.”
Each year, the factory hosts a photography exhibition in a large hall and a bright, heavily weathered corridor. This year the curator is Emilie Dalum, a Reykjavík-based photographer who works at the hotel each summer. “They asked me to organise the show in December,” says Emilie. “I’ve been finding the artists, and working out the logistics. You have to explain the conditions of the factory to people who haven’t been here before. It’s a very specific kind of environment.”
Much of the photography is mounted on aluminium to keep the prints from warping in the damp and cold. Most of Djúpavík’s summer visitors will see the exhibition as part of a factory tour that Emilie sometimes conducts. “I love getting back here each summer,” she says. “For the first few days, people often feel very tired here—it’s like all the tension leaves your body. Djúpavík has this affect on people.”
Behind the hotel and the factory a trail runs off into the distance. I set out into the drizzle, followed by Freyja, who’s decided to join the walk. As we follow the route markers out of the village, the landscape becomes gradually wilder, crisscrossed by streams and dotted with boulders. Before long, the huge factory is just a dot between the ocean and the vast mountains. I sit down to absorb the scene, and start to feel the sense of calm that Emilie described.