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West Fjords rising

One of the most pleasant surprises I had during our hiking excursion was the level of vibrancy and energy among the people of the West Fjords. Literally every place we came to there were people doing innovative, creative things that are bringing life to the area — it was incredibly inspiring!

Not too many years ago, the West Fjords was a depressed area of Iceland. Traditionally a region made prosperous by fishing, once the fishing quotas were implemented and made transferable, large companies bought up the quotas and moved them out of the area, virtually killing the fishing industry in many locations.

The region went through a series of traumas in the last couple of decades, including two devastating avalanches, in the towns of Flateyri and Súðavík. I remember both very well — they were events that united the Icelandic nation in grief and compassion, and as I had recently moved back to Iceland at that time, it felt very poignant to me to experience that kind of unity. I’d never been to either of those towns before last week [we stayed about a ten minute drive out of Flateyri] and going there and seeing the memorials to the people who died was very powerful.

But I digress. What particularly impressed me now were all the places that had opened up, and their high standard. I ate three meals in restaurants while I was there, all of which were outstanding, and visited three incredible cafés. More on that later.

Also, in several places, museums of various sorts have been set up, either by the locals or by people who moved to Reykjavík and have now come back to help revive their home towns. These include the Museum of Witchcraft in Hólmavík, the Skrímslasafn [Monster Museum] in Bíldudalur and the old Machine Shop in Þingeyri. From what I’ve been told, they’ve been a real injection of energy and have attracted tourists to places that people previously just drove through en route to somewhere else.

To say nothing of all the different tourism services, hostels etc. that have been set up.

The West Fjords are so incredibly beautiful, with their magnificent mountains, deep fjords and unspoiled wilderness … and it is such a joy to see the area rising and the residents taking pride in their home regions.

Driving towards Þingeyri

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  • Rajan Parrikar August 2, 2010, 3:05 am

    Ah, so the time is now ripe to pave the roads and have the tourist hordes overrun the place. Only half kidding.

  • Miriam August 2, 2010, 8:53 am

    Hi, I’m from Italy and I visited the West Fjords a few weeks ago, during my second trip to Iceland. What an amazing region!
    My boyfriend and I visited Flateyri, and we could see the mountain where that terrible avalanche took place years ago. In late june there was a flowering of purple flowers (nootka?) across the mountain, and someone drew a gigantic “smile” in that sprawl of plants.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/strawberrymaya/4813205038/
    I think people of Flateyri is very creative, and so proud of their town. There are several boards across the village, showing the story of every building and place of interest; and there’s an amazing rehearsal and recording studio, “Tankurinn”, made from an old herring oil warehouse.
    Flateyri is such a remote and tiny place, but so rich in energy and creativity!
    Miriam

  • Joerg August 2, 2010, 12:51 pm

    I think, the West Fjords have also become very popular among Icelandic tourists, to some extent certainly due to the crisis.

    And since the road to Ísafjörður has been paved and shortened, it is now much easier to get there. 

  • hildigunnur August 3, 2010, 1:02 am

    Must say I’m pretty far from being a libertarian (maybe real libertarian ideals have been corrupted, I wouldn’t know) but sometimes it’s actually better to give people space to do their own thing in their own way. Maybe with a little help. I’ve never believed in the: Let’s save all the rural towns with force (aka aluminium smelters and oil purification stations). Doesn’t do any good!

    Rajan, there’s actually plenty of space for tourists there yet. Without too much spoiling of space.

    This last photo must be taken from Gemlufallsheiði coming down to Dýrafjörður, right?

  • Col Matheson August 4, 2010, 3:26 am

    How amazing to see views I have not seen for over 40 years ! and recognised instantly. It is the ones taken on the boat. I first saw the Fjords as a teenager on a trawler in the early sixties, and worked mostly there for the next five years .It was Plaice we were after at the Fjords, the best Cod fishing was further north or to the south of Iceland. In these days the limit was 12 miles but we did work closer at times. The cliffs were very familiar as they were nearly always in sight. We would shelter in the Fjords in bad weather,and only went ashore for repairs or medical reasons. Isafjorour was the main place for services.
    The prices in the store amazed us although we probably just went in to look at girls, but sadly there was no communication, in fact in the years I worked at Iceland I only spoke to one Icelander and that was on my first trip when we went in to Reykjavik and the man who ran the Mission offered to post a card for me as it was a Sunday. It was to my mother,and I came across it recently. I enjoyed my time working at Iceland,it was similar in some ways to my home in the western isles of Scotland, but often wondered what was beyond the coast and the lives of the people who lived there, until 40 years later having retired and learned to use a computer, I came across a site with an unusual name… and just like magic…all was revealed!!

  • Gunnar D August 4, 2010, 12:45 pm

    Nice post Alda. I actually come from Þingeyri, the place on your photo. The photo is presumably taken near the spot where Vésteinn uttered “Nú renna öll vötn til Dýrafjarðar” leading up to the drama of Gísla saga killings and later the death of Gísi himself. The machine shop is run by my cousin and is absolutly worth a visit – one of their main tasks during the British cod fishing times in Iceland was to repair whatever broke on the trawlers (maybe Col remembers visits to this place with an engine problem?). One of my childhood memories in the late 60ties and early 70ties was the thrill of going down to the harbour to look at the trawlers and try to trade sweets for cigarettelighers with the fishermen. Aparantly the petrol fueled lighters were in great demand at sea (it was virtually impossible to blow the flame out), and the fishermen always had som sweets to give away to us kids. “Sjokklís plís”. Col, you woudnt be from Hull or Grimsby?

  • Col Matheson August 4, 2010, 4:14 pm

    Gunnar D… Yes indeed I do remember being there several times and amazingly yes I have traded chocolate for the storm lighters with the young kids, maybe you were one of them.The reason we always had chocolate was because it was part of the bond stores along with the spirits and tobacco, I had actually remembered the kids and the lighters as I wrote the comment but to have someone else bring it up is amazing!
    No I was not from Hull or Grimsby, but from the Western Isles of Scotland ,but worked on the Fleetwood trawlers. The reason I came to work on them was this. For many boys in the Western Isles the main aim in life was get on a boat when old enough and travel the World like their fathers, but I used to watch the trawlers heading through the sounds for Iceland and decided that was where I was going, and as soon as I was old enough I hitchhiked south, got a “pleasure trip” on a trawler, which was a quick way of getting started, you worked for nothing, but if you were any good you were signed on and the crew would give you some money.
    On that first trip we went into Reykjavik with radar trouble, but before we were allowed in a doctor was sent out to inoculate the crew , I think it was for smallpox, some UK scare, but caused amusement to the Doctor when the skipper explained why I was not signed on, “pleasure trip” he said with laughter. Anyway two hours later I was walking in the streets of Reykjavik marveling at the coloured roofs, it looked so modern, it was a cold bright Sunday morning in April and I had achieved my goal, I felt great. Hence the reason for the card home and thanks to the kind man in the seaman’s mission who made me coffee and actually paid for the stamp on my card as I had no money left. I have good memories of Iceland ,working there was never boring , just like Alda’s marvellous blog!!

  • Gunnar D August 4, 2010, 7:16 pm

    Im thrilled to read your comments Col. If you like we can communicate off the forum, just send me a note on gunnidabb (at) gmail.com.