A sudden blinding flash lights up the room. I wake from a sleepy reverie, leaping up from the bed to the attic room’s window to determine its cause. Was it some kind of electrical fault outside, or just a car arriving? Or, could it be…
My eyes scan the murky sky as heavy rain drums on the glass, distorting the dark horizon into a watery scribble. A minute later there’s another bright flash. This time, there’s no mistaking it. It’s that rarest of phenomena in Iceland—a bolt of lightning, forking down silently from the clouds and licking the ground somewhere south of Hótel Búðir.
It shouldn’t come as such a surprise. The two hour drive from Reykjavík was beset by violent weather from the off. High gales buffeted the car as we passed Kjalarnes, and grabbed at the car doors when we pulled over for a break in Borgarnes. Throughout the journey, bands of inky, fast-moving clouds sent freezing rain and volleys of hailstones down at regular intervals. Rounding the tip of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, the raging wind was deafening when we pulled over to look at a frozen waterfall. At the wide beach of Skarðsvík, the tide tore up the beach into the boulder-strewn clefts of the shoreline at a frightening speed; at Lóndrangar, the waves crashed in so hard they splashed higher than the rooftop of the closed-up visitors centre.
After a few more blasts of sheet lightning illuminate the churning sky, I pull down the blind, turn up the radiator, and feel grateful to have reached the warm and comfortable confines of the hotel.
There are few better places to hide from such weather than Hótel Búðir. A luxurious getaway spot located in a small nature reserve, this proud building is surrounded by a spectacular 360° vista of raw Icelandic nature. The house stands on an undulated stretch of coastline where huge shards of ice mass on the white sand beach, backed by the rugged Búðahraun lava field. On a clear day, the towering peak of the Snæfellsjökull glacier dominates the area, standing 1,446m tall against the ever-changing cloudscape of the westward horizon.
The hotel is a welcoming beacon in this engaging wilderness. The lobby has an open fire, the bar has floor to ceiling sea-view windows, and the furniture and decor has a classy, old-world feel. The rooms are nicely appointed and quiet, the upscale restaurant serves hearty portions of fresh fish and local produce, and the generous breakfast buffet has everything you could want to start the day.
Salt spray fog
After filling up on coffee, scrambled eggs and fruit, we head out into the grey morning to further explore the peninsula. Snæfellsjökull looks over the nearby hamlet of Hellnar, which is all-but abandoned at this time of year. Past two closed cafés and a Fosshotel undergoing renovations, an icy path leads down to the rocky shore, where a large basalt tidal cave is under assault from the high seas. The frothy torrent smashes into the swirling rock formations so hard that it creates a fog of salty spray.
There are several other stops around the tip of the peninsula. At Lóndrangar, two huge spiked sea stacks stand silhouetted against the dim sky, as if in conversation. At Djúpalónsandur, a gaggle of tourists meander between the rusted shards of a 1948 shipwreck that now form a spectral permanent memorial. Back at Skarðsvík, the aftermath of yesterday’s storm is visible: seemingly immoveable car-sized boulders have shifted around overnight, blocking off rock pools and coves that were open for exploration just a day before.
We drop by the Freezer Hostel and theatre in Rif to find the owner, Kári Víðarsson, working on some improvements to the building’s insulation in the spluttering rain. “The waves were unusually high yesterday,” he says, taking a break in the cosy lounge. “The sea was so high it was splashing the windows of our apartments in Hellissandur, and it pulled down the dunes in Krossavík. The shape of the bay has changed.” He takes a sip of coffee, finishing: “This is a new thing, weather like this.”
It isn’t only the humans who are noticing the weather. At Ytri-Tunga, the seal colony has moved closer to the shore than usual into a tucked away inlet, where twenty or so plump animals bask on the rocks, flopping into the water occasionally to peer curiously at the gathered crowd of observers.
In Grundarfjörður, an innumerable flock of seagulls are massing over the beach. Thousands of birds wheel in the air as one, circling the cliffs, swooping over the white tideline below and drawing an impromptu audience who’ve pulled over to watch the spectacle unfold.
As the sky starts to dim, we set out back towards the hotel via the Snæfellsvegur mountain road. Rain starts to fall as we pass the distinctive wedge of Kirkjufell and before long, the windscreen wipers can’t work fast enough to sweep away the water. We creep over the mountain slowly, peering out into the gloaming. In awe of the wild nature and violent elements of Snæfellsnes, the car is enveloped by darkness and deluge alike, and we’re beyond grateful when the lights of Hótel Búðir appear once more through the downpour.
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