The Western Fjords. Few visitors to Iceland come here – the Ring Highway skips it altogether. Hólmavík at the eastern gate is home to the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft. Látrabjarg is beloved of birders who come to see the puffins , and where I was kicked out of the westernmost pub in Europe at closing time. To the south lies the Baldur Ferry connecting the Western Fjords to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula - picking its way through the 40 or so islets of the Breiðafjörður.
We weren’t sure about coming here either. It felt way out of the way, and our roadmap showed a long stretch of twisty unpaved road through the mountains between Ísafjörður and Breiðavík that we were dreading. To our surprise, it turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.Turn after turn, the landscape unfolded, vista building on vista, as if to say “See – I told you it would be worthwhile”. We are left with a stunned appreciation of the pure, unfinished splendor of this environment.
Occasionally, the landscape opens to reveals roadside quirks - a beached ship, a WWII transport plane lying by the side of the road, and a tribute to lost ships - a Christian cross surrounded by pagan standing stones. Eventually, we arrive at our hotel at Breiðavík. Our goal is Látrabjarg, and its famous bird cliffs. By nightfall on our day of arrival, the gorgeous weather of the previous day has given way to gale force winds and horizontal rain. We decide to forgo the cliffs until the next day.
We wake to faintly improved weather - still very windy and cold, but not yet pouring rain. I walk in the surrounding hills with a pair of sheep herding dogs who evidently feel that I look like fun. One of them brings a rock in his mouth and drops it at my feet. In a landscape where there isn't a stick for miles, I guess that you use a rock to play "fetch". Its feels very poignant, but there is no lack of enthusiasm for the game until their master calls them away.
We head for the bird cliffs, in a wind so strong that you have to approach the cliff edge on hands and knees. Strangely enough, there are no puffins in attendance - what the heck? I am subsequently told by an Icelander that there has been a significant decrease in the bird population there over the last few years. The fish on which the puffins feed are not coming in numbers to Iceland. Nobody knows exactly why, but climate change is the prime suspect. No fish - no birds. In a land with such a fragile environment, the effects of ecological change are immediate and visible.
The next morning sees us heading back to Reykjavik. This massive four wheel drive truck in line at the Baldur Ferry is an excellent example of the modified vehicles built to navigate the rugged interior of Iceland. This one looks like it was a military transport in a previous life. Our rental car is the little red job sniffing the Super 4x4's tail.