Saga of hrunting and thebruce
An Icelandic Winter Road Trip
Best laid plansContinents and CavesReykjavikian ambianceWaterfalls and sunsetsHuman wrecks and legaciesKristinartindar: The Journey is the RewardThe finding of firsts, and birthday peaceThe endurance of history in SnæfellsnesThe edge of the EarthAn unexpected discoveryCommunity, love, betrayal, and sharksThe adventure comes full circle
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Community, love, betrayal, and sharks

The Snæfellsnes peninsula has a very rich history of legends and sagas, surviving the centuries. It's the home to Snæfellsjökull volcano and glacier which is the setting of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, and numerous small villages scattered around the region. To visit it you'll be detouring off the ring road #1 to follow #54, winding around mountainous areas and flat lava plains. It's a gorgeous drive, with many places to visit; only a few of which are touched on below.

Lava field with the famous Snæfellsjökull volcano (1446m) in the distance.



Sandahraun ('sand lava', or lavafield) is a region of the north western coast of the peninsula home to the town Hellisandur. Heading into town, I spotted some turf buildings, one of the things I'd hoped to see while in Iceland which sadly were dropped from my itinerary with the rescheduling. So I spontaneously pulled over and parked at the Maritime Museum in the Fisherman's Garden (Sjómannagarðurinn).

The turf huts are the last that remain here, called Þorvaldarbúð, and there are other artefacts of the 'fisherman's outdoor park' on the property, including strength testing stones for lifting - from 23kg (50lbs) to 154kg (340lbs)! The sculpture in front is Jöklarar ('glacier people'), constructed by Kjartan Ragnarsson in 1974, as a memorial to lost fishermen.

Also on site are an old stroke engine, numerous tools and equipment, and the oldest preserved fishing boat 'Bliki' from 1826, used until 1965. Out back is a walkway to the trails through Sandahraun with an eye-popping panoramic view. Not far out is a sports field for use by the nearby campgrounds; an odd sight to see in the middle of a jagged field of lava rock.

The rugged lava field of Sandahraun.

The campgrounds offer an overnight destination if you're looking for a place to lay your head, though only open between May and September. If you purchased a camping card for your vacation, then this campsite is included.



Kirkjufell ('church mountain') is a 463m altitude lone stack of a mountain left over from eroded rock, jutting up from the coastline of Snæfellsnes, and is known as the most photographed mountain in Iceland. Clearly visible from land and sea, it's unmistakable in its form, standing majestically above the surrounding landscape.

The most photographed mountain in Iceland.

You cannot miss it as you drive by, so it's worth the stop and opportunity to photograph the beauty.

Just south of road #54 at a pulloff and parking area is Kirkjufellsfoss ('church mountain waterfall') with a few walking trails. These falls are so very picturesque with the mountain in the background, and a prime location for its photography.

Near the top of the mountain, which you can climb, though a guide is recommended due to the terrain (you need to use a rope that's situated for the last segment) and difficulty of following the trails, is another geocache. I didn't aim to make an effort for this one, this trip, but the views from the top of that peak are astounding.

Instead I pulled over just east of Kirjufell and enjoyed the views of the surrounding mountains and glassy lake fed by Kirkjufellsfoss. But, I did touch the top of the mountain!

Kaldnasaborgir (986m 'cold nose rocky hill') and Skerðingsstaðafjall (661m 'Skerðings place mountain') pose as backdrop to Kirkjufellsfoss, and its glassy lake.I made it! I touched the top of another mountain!



Next stop: into dark shadows of love, deception, scheming, and murder...

A 10th century farmer [Stir] had two Berserkers [Halli and Leikner, Norse warriors], laborers from Sweden who were known for their large size and general aggressiveness, who worked for him. One of the men [Halli] fell in love with the farmer’s daughter [Asdis] and asked to marry her and while the farmer wanted to refuse he was a little afraid of doing so. He consulted with the local chieftain [Snorri the Priest] who suggested he allow the marriage IF the Berserker would first complete a certain (he believed impossible) task: forging a road through the lava field so that the farmer wouldn’t have to travel such a long distance around it when he wanted to get to the other side. The Berserker agreed, and he and his compatriot set to work right away, putting all their “berserk” aggressive energy to the task. They finished in no time. Simultaneously pleased about the road and alarmed by his prospective son-in-law, the farmer invited the two Berserkers to relax their tired muscles in a special sauna he had built for them. However this was a trap and the farmer killed and buried them both.
( Atlas Obscura )
Berserkjaraun, the road through the berserkers' lava field, wherein lies the grave of two victims of murder, the very ones who forged this route.

What is said to have occurred here around the 10th century is told within the Eyrbyggia Saga (Saga of the Ere-Dwellers), composed in the early-mid 13th century. The nearby craters in the area are estimated to have erupted around 4000 years ago, leaving this vast lava field as a result, including a couple of isolated lakes to the south, Selvallavatn and Kothraunsvatn.

I pulled Hrunting over turning into the eastern entrance of Berserkjahraun, next to the Kothraunskúla crater ('farm lava circle'). With daylight fading and an icy chill rolling over the area, I left Hrunting and headed into the old lava run. Evidence of others recently coming by to examine the trail were visible, and I carefully followed foot prints, winding up and down, over and around the soft, mossy stones and boulders, often shifting under foot. You definitely need to tread with caution as a loose boulder deceptively covered in tufts of moss could shift, causing you to lose your footing and potentially causing some serious harm. Many small crevices and caverns litter the area, all the way to the crater. You wouldn't want to end up in one, buried much like the ill-fated berserkers.

Standing where Vikings trod, where murderous treachery carried out. Looking back into history? Or imagining a mere tale?
( Saga of the Ere-Dwellers )
Now over the burial of the Bareserks Stir sang this stave:
Methought that the raisers of riot of spear-mote
Would nowise and never be meek and mild-hearted,
Or hearken the bidding of them that are hardening
The onrush of Ali's high wind and hard weather.
No'dread have I now of their dealings against me,
Of the masterful bearing of the lads of the battle;
For now I, the slayer of tarrying, truly,
With my brand have marked out a meet place for the Bareserks.
But when Snorri the Priest knew these things he rode out to [Hrauni], and the twain Snorri and Stir sat again together all day, and this got abroad of their talk, that Stir had betrothed Asdis his daughter to Snorri the Priest, and the wedding was to be held the next autumn; and it was the talk of men that both of these two might be deemed to have waxed from these haps, and this alliance. For Snorri was the better counselled and the wiser man, but Stir the more adventurous and pushing; but either had strong kinship and great following about the countryside.
In search of a berserker grave. Unfortunately not being marked, you need to know what you're looking for. But the lava rock formations are fascinating.

Bjarnarhöfn shark museum


If there's one thing you need to try while in Iceland, it's their infamous traditional delicacy hákarl - rotten, putrid, fermented shark meat. And what better place to experience it and learn all about it than the famous shark museum in Bjarnarhöfn.

Off road #54, you'll spot the iconic shark museum signage, directing you to its location.
Off road #54, you'll spot the iconic shark museum signage, directing you to its location.

Formed from the gigantic Greenland Shark (a near-threatened species), a deep-sea fish that can live as low as 3000ft as long as 200 years, and grow as long as 24ft and up to 2000lbs. Its meat is naturally poisonous to humans being saturated with urea and other toxins. In a process said to have been discovered by accident at the turn of the 17th century, the captured shark has to be left to rot, pressed and hung, to drain all the poisons and impurities - cooking can't accomplish the same cleansing - and the process takes around 6 months. No treatments. No chemicals. Just an all natural, 100% open-air rot. Over time, as the meat decays and drips out all of its poisons, essentially neutralizing the danger, the slabs of shark meat develop a hard crust which is then removed, leaving the very healthy seafood within.

As for its flavour and texture - well that's a different story, and something you'll just need to test for yourself!

Walls of tools and equipment, from fishing to seafaring, and of course a few trophies.

World-reknown for its successful business, the shark museum in Bjarnarhöfn ('bear haven') has under its belt generations upon generations of history in seafaring and shark fishing. It's a family business run by the "Shark man" Hildebrandur and his son, and the museum itself is really just one building packed with old artefacts, tools and equipment collected over the life of the business, including one of their traditional fishing boats, topped with harpoons, weapons, nets, bones, animal skins, you name it. Other buildings like the drying shack are available for perusing, if you can stand the "scent". During the tour you'll be shown a fascinating short 20 minute video documentary about shark fishing industry and the fermentation process.

Many artefacts on display from prior generations of shark fishermen, a family history.

You'll touch authentic coarse greenland shark skin, examine bones of its prey and random other items found in their bellies, look back into seafaring history, see an old gramophone and records, and even take a selfie with your head poking out of a shark's jaw!

Many species of local bird eggs on display.
This is coarse shark skin. Small spikes, even. Who wants to prey on that?
Finally, a puffin!
The things they collect from sharks...

If fishing is a hobby of yours, you need to visit this museum. They still boast as the leading producer of hákarl for and in Iceland. The meat is rare, expensive, and considered a delicacy, and it's not exported. It's often eaten with Brennivín ('black death') schnapps and in classy restaurants, and Icelanders can be so accustomed to it that some may eat it like candy. I can attest to this by the fact that while there, with a bowl of hákarl cubes for tasting on the central table, I watched a local occasionally snatch a cube and toss it into his mouth like a cheese hors d'oeuvre. Either he's accustomed to the effect, or his taste buds and sinuses are dead.

When you visit the museum, which has a cheap and reasonable entry fee of about 1000 krona, the taste test is something you cannot say no to. It's so rare that you don't want to pass up the opportunity - even if you absolutely hate it! It is provided with a bowl of rye cubes for beginners, which reduces much of the flavour's effect. When I eventually took the leap of faith, however, I found that the rye cube almost completely neutralized the taste, and I didn't think I got the real effect. So I took a 2nd taste - just the shark...
...Now THAT was more like it. Spongy, and full of flavour. The ammonia in the meat provides a very different experience than its mere flavour, which I thought actually wasn't all that bad (but still not the most pleasurable). It's the before- and after-effect, that's what will get you.


First taste test: hákarl with rye!
Rotten, fermented, putrid shark meat. A delicacy!
Museum puppy is quite friendly, and has been around a long time.

The cured shark meat is also known to have many health benefits, being rich with vitamins, protein and nutrients, and can be used for curing illness, and boosting white cell count for immunity. Other shark meat in general is not recommended to be eaten due to high mercury content. And so Iceland is quite proud of its healthy shark delicacy. You can watch more about rotten shark and this family business in this National Geographic video coverage. But be warned: It's not for the weak of stomach!

Before you're done your tour of the shark museum, don't forget to greet their pet puppy! I don't remember his name, but he's quite friendly with the regular visits from random strangers, and has probably also had his fair share of hákarl tasting!

Akranes Lighthouse (Gamli vitinn)


The first, smaller, and more southern of the two lighthouses in Akranes, called Gamli Vitinn ('old lighthouse') was built in 1918, with the larger of the two built in 1944. Considered one of the most photogenic lighthouses, you can spend some time enjoying the harbour and the view, and take a little tour of the newer lighthouse as well. It boasts a beautiful 360 degree view from the top level, looking out over the bay and over the town. A great photographic opportunity.

Akranes itself isn't very glamorous a town, home to numerous industries, but this little gem of a location is worth the visit. Inside you'll find art and photography exhibits, and it's also used on occasion for special events.

The old lighthouse keeper is Hilmar Sigvaldason, and he's even had a brief role in ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ which filmed in a few places in Iceland. Before Hilmar took charge of them, the lighthouses were rundown, used as hangouts; Hilmar found value in the buildings and cleaned them up, now put to excellent use.

I arrived with Hrunting in the dark of night, hoping to locate a cache placed in the barrier stones by the water, however after some intensive searching, boulder dodging, arm stretching, and garbage discovering, I decided to move along. I wasn't the only one, however, as it's reportedly not that easy to find. But the visit was, as usual, enjoyable!

After many attempts, finally a decent showcase of lighthouse in action.
"Smile, you are here!"
That's some bright headlights on the trackable bug!

Heading out, I quickly pulled Hrunting over to another nearby geocache, a relatively new one recently published. This one was concerningly simple to find - not very impressive. A simple tupperware container, and sitting out in the open, although anchored in place. Its contents were wet, and it's uncertain how long this particular one will last. However, it was placed on an old fishing beach, covered in shells and seaweed and little stones and pebbles washed in from waves; the area was walled off to protect it from the water, save for a little passageway that takes you to the water's edge.

I stopped to seek out some sea treasures. I thought I was here for geocaching!

The smell was exquisitely fishy at this beach, but I spent some time examining various remnants of sea life, and searching out the most whole, intact shells I could find. With wheel tread marks over much of the beach, it was clear it's often used to temporarily store trailers and equipment, so finding uncracked, undamaged seashells was quite difficult. But I did manage to walk away with a couple of clam shells in ziplocks for souvenirs - and I learned quickly how to clean them up properly once I arrived back home (Wow, what a smell!) and also bring out their natural colours.

Sea urchin shell, cracked and... not very enticing.
Clam and seaweed! One of the most intact shells on the beach.
Hello lone little shell on the cement platform. How'd you get here?
This sundial, for which I can find no information, will point you to numerous locations around Iceland to visit!

Finishing up here, it was back to the road with Hrunting - our last day together was at hand, and our final stretch of adventure: Return to the Golden Circle.

An unexpected discovery

The adventure comes full circle

Comments or questions? I'd love to hear from you!

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Best laid plansContinents and CavesReykjavikian ambianceWaterfalls and sunsetsHuman wrecks and legaciesKristinartindar: The Journey is the RewardThe finding of firsts, and birthday peaceThe endurance of history in SnæfellsnesThe edge of the EarthAn unexpected discoveryCommunity, love, betrayal, and sharksThe adventure comes full circle