Iceland’s Borgarfjordur by John A. Barrett

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Essays, travels

We head north towards the Borgarfjordur region. With little spring traffic, we soon enter the 6-kilometer Hvalfjordur undersea tunnel towards Akrafjall and the north western areas, shortening the hour-long journey from Reykjavik to seven minutes.

Sue, the GPS navigator, as the Icelandic countryside unfolds like an open book. Approaching Borgarnas we via east, windows down, the gentle peppering of sea air soon replaced by aromatic farming communities that share the lush carpeted greenery with the hillsides’ sparse grass and moss-coated lava fields.

Hraunfossar_-_Lava_Falls

Sheep dot the rolling hills like pinpricks upon a crumpled green apron, and lower down the valley Icelandic horses feast on sliced white plastic bundles of hay, separated from the substantial winter stacks alongside fenced fields like giant marshmallows.

Tree plantings surround isolated houses as wind-breakers, a reminder that for much of the year residents must hunker down. Some abodes ingeniously protected against hillside rises under moss-covered rooves, much as the ancient Viking settlements practiced in severe far north exposures.

To the south, the majesty of Skessuhorn mountain rises above her flat-top sisters with snow running down crevices like frilly-laced white tablecloths. Ahead, an army of roadwork vehicles making the most of the dry weather, acknowledge our cautious passage with a short beep. Then the car’s erratic GPS signal suggests a detour that dramatically stops in a farmyard. The second time today we got lost and had to backtrack.

Skessuhorn_Mountain_and_Sisters

Back on the highway, we flash by Reykholt, realizing we need to eat and desperately need a washroom before Husafell. We perform a 5-point turn on the lonely narrow road and backtrack to the small village with a church, museum – and washrooms! The lady in the museum gift shop offers refuge to customers who buy something – a distinctive lopapeysa (Icelandic woolen sweater with elaborate Nordic patterns), a book, fridge magnets? We settle for a small donation for such welcome relief, which allows a synopsis of the museum’s vehement dedication to a bygone age.

Besides the discovery of geothermal activity in the area, we learn that Reykholt was one of the island’s early intellectual centers, where the Old Norse language and Saga mythology of medieval Iceland was passionately studied, recorded and taught by poet and politician Snorri Sturluson. His works so revered by scholars, a statute of Sturluson graces the museum entrance.

We mosey up the hill, along the backside of the church to the village of 60 people. An official-looking two-story building with an enticing ‘Refreshment Heimskringlan’ sign. We climb the steps to an empty café, spread out with red-herringbone tablecloths, the aroma of fresh coffee lingering, as a spritely middle-aged lady welcomes us. She offers a collection of sandwiches, soup and drinks, and to Sue’s liking, gluten-free desserts. We settle for apple pie with ice-cream and cappuccinos. A cheap lunch for happy wanderers.

Fed and watered, we reach Husafell with crowds swarming from tourist buses like hungry flies. A hotel with multiple crowded restaurants and a visitor center to arrange a tour under the glacier – closed? A note says, ‘Sorry, full bookings today.’ As if to rub it in, a gang of thrill-seekers, clad in bright-red Arctic snowsuits and protective helmets, climb into a mammoth truck for the last tour of the day. Ah well, next time! But in this country of iconic surprises at almost every turn, we will let our whims guide direction, without planning too far ahead.

Backtracking west, we find the hidden tight-squeeze parking lot entrance of a well-trodden path to the Barnafoss waterfalls. The rapids squeezing through the narrow canyon in gushes of frothy pastel-blue waters, resonating with the channeled swoosh of a hydrant, amidst the effervescent shimmers of misty rainbows. Barnafoss (Children’s Falls), is dedicated to two young boys from the nearby Hraunsas farm, believed to have fallen in the river and swept away many years ago.

Barnafoss_-_Childrens_Falls_Flow_into_Hvita_River

Downstream, the breathtaking series of Hraunfoss (Lava falls) waterfalls from a collection of creeks cascades bluish-white tinges over less-porous lava rock ledges, appearing like thin tentacles into the impressive turquoise waters of the Hvita River. The multiple flowing streams originating from a volcanic lava field under the Langjkull glacier.

Towards Borgarnes we come across the Fossatun Hotel, obscured earlier by the roadworks. The slope high enough to show a small series of waterfalls and cabins where the entrance dips down.

Here, Steinar Berg and his partner Ingibjorg Palsdottir operate a variety of accommodations, including a communal campsite, with mini-cabins, cooking and washing facilities. Further towards the falls, sits the main guest house with an inviting restaurant, overlooked by modern cabin accommodations. Our well-appointed cabin has the best-uninterrupted view of the stunning waterfalls, streaming into the Grimsa River and Trolls theme park.

When the host of Fossatún, Steinar Berg, first came to this area, he discovered a rock he thought resembled a troll’s face, he later named Troll Waterfalls. This fed the spark of inspiration that led him to write folk stories about Trolls, Elves and People. His books, predominantly about folklore in the West Regions are widely embraced by Icelanders and foreigners alike.

The Folktale walks and not-so-mythical characters described in Berg’s books, guide receptive minds along the natural landscape designed to enlighten the spirits of this magical Neverland. These walks also present spectacular panoramic views of the Borgarfjordur countryside and the mountain circle expanse.

Apart from his writing, Steinar Berg is also an accomplished musician and belongs to the Rock’N’ Troll band – Grasasnar (The Jerks) that perform occasionally at Fossatun. Besides the dining room offering an excellent mix of international and local cuisine, guests can listen to vinyl recordings from Berg’s collection of over 3,000 records.

Dining_Patio_Floor

Having spent 30 years in the Icelandic music scene, he owned Steinar Records, and his talents and musical endeavors are lauded all over this land. The décor’s interior is an exhibition of vinyl musical records, stashed on cupboard shelves in the main guest areas, and elaborately laid under a protective clear coating on the dining room patio floor. The superb dining room patio, complete with a sturdy encapsulated glass shelter, can be opened or closed on a whim, to cater weather extremes.

Fossatun_Dining_Patio

 

For dinner, Sue decides on the slowly cooked Fossatun Lamb stew, with a leg of lamb, rosemary, paprika and mustard, mixed in potatoes, mushroom, carrots and celery, served with a fried egg on top. She confesses it is the best lamb stew she ever tasted. I settle for a generous helping of thick, deep-fried battered cod with fries and all the trimmings. Wow! Another place with the best fish and chips in the world?

And in line with the whole Troll theme, there is a host of other dishes to tempt the palette. Special burgers, named Troll, Ogress, Funky and Elf with just enough variation for mouth-watering fulfilment. There’s Plokkfiskur (fish stew gratin), or a Duo meal with an emphasis on local food and world spices.

What more could travelers wish for within this symphony of troll-inspired folklore ballet, that brings a youthful, if not childish slant to everything? Where the pulse to reach out with excitement invariably touches us all, even those of us, without a plan.

Steep_Volcanic_Climb

BIO: John’s work and other adventures have taken him to many different parts of the world, where human volatility and disregard for the planet’s environmental health are at risk. His travel stories have appeared in Wanderlust, Our Canada Magazine and The Vancouver Sun. Instagram: john.a.barrett


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Sarah Leamy, MFA, is an award-winning author of both travel books and novels as well as a photographer, presenter, and a bit of a wanderer. She has lived in England, Germany, Spain, Guatemala and the Southwest of the US. She is the founder and editor of Wanderlust, a travel journal publishing international travel writing, photos and trip reports. Find out more at www.sarahleamy.com

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