The Westfjords: Iceland’s Final Frontier
The Westfjords of Iceland offer some of the most magnificent scenery in the country, ample activities and fascinating, wonderfully weird folklore – yet very few people venture so far into the north-west. Here’s what you can expect to find in this little-known area of Iceland.
It’s a place where green-fringed cliffs jut majestically out into the frigid ocean, where mountain peaks are capped with snow, and dramatic waterfalls cascade powerfully down weather-beaten rock faces. It’s also a place where fearsome monsters are said to lurk deep beneath the waves, and where never-ending wealth could be yours should you step into the skin of a departed friend (really).
The remote Westfjords are connected to the Icelandic mainland by a narrow strip of land, standing proudly in the freezing waters of the Denmark Strait. Not only are the views and surrounds extreme, but so is the weather, and yet small resilient communities call this region on the edge of the Arctic Circle home.
Tales of sea monsters and magic
Meet the locals as you explore the traditional fishing villages, and perhaps some of them will share tales of Icelandic ghosts and mythical creatures. There is plenty to feed a supernaturally inclined imagination in the Westfjords. A visit to The Sea Monster Museum in Bíldudalur will leave you scanning the fjords for signs of the four monsters that have reportedly been sighted in the waters of Arnarfjördur. The multimedia installations at the museum include eyewitness accounts and relics. Although a couple of these monsters have proved elusive in recent years, perhaps you’ll be sharp enough to catch a glimpse of Fjörulalli (shore laddie), Hafmaður (sea man), Skeljaskrímsli (shell monster) or Faxaskrímsli (combed monster).
Continue your exploration of the unusual at the Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft Museum in Hólmavík. Not only do displays delve into the history of magic in Iceland, but the museum also bills itself as ‘the home of the necropants’. A macabre witchcraft artefact, nábrók (death underpants) are a pair of trousers made from the flayed skin of a corpse. The necropants are said to be able to produce a never-ending supply of wealth for the wearer, provided a very strict set of criteria is followed, including getting permission from a living person to use their skin once they’ve died, and stealing a coin from a poor widow.
The museum has also installed a Sorcerer’s Cottage in Klúka, Bjarnafjörður. Folklore includes tales of elves and trolls, and many of the fascinating rock formations in Iceland have stories behind them. The Breiðafjörður islands, for example, are believed by some to have been formed by a duo of trolls.
Exploring the Westfjords’ natural beauty
If unusual fashion statements and monster hunting aren’t your cup of tea, the Westfjords offer so much in the way of natural beauty. Board a boat and get up close to icebergs and glaciers; wrap up warm and gaze in wonder as the Northern Lights dance overhead; and trek to expansive waterfalls. Breathtaking doesn’t even begin to describe this kind of experience.
A trip to this region is ideal for both adventure-seekers and travellers who find themselves drawn to the most tranquil and pristine places on earth. Explore some of the western-most clifftops at Látrabjarg, and spot puffins nesting in the crags. Go hiking, biking, sea kayaking, or try your hand at fishing off Patreksfjörður.
Head north towards Hornstrandir Nature Reserve to visit the only glacier in the region, Drangajökull. Or travel south towards Árneshreppur to marvel at Drangaskörð – a group of seven jagged peaks that protrude into the sea. Unsurprisingly, these formations and the shadows they cast also have a supernatural link, in that they have each been named after ghosts.
With a rich heritage of myth and magic, overwhelming natural beauty, art, music and traditional food – it really is worth venturing just a little further into the remoter parts of Iceland on your next trip.