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Langanes – The Edge of the Arctic

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

I toured the most northeastern part of Iceland called Langanes on Thursday, 23 ágúst 2012. This is my eighth day in Iceland. Four presentations for the IVP tour are complete and all have gone really well.

The day was overcast and windy with intermittent drizzle but Cathy Josephson, from Vopnafjörður, and I were off on an adventure to find the farms and areas of my ancestors at the true 66° North.

Langanes is a long-necked peninsula in the far northeast. I think that the shape of the area looks like a duck. The name means “long peak”.

On the photo below it is the far top-right peninsula under the Þistilfjörður Bay. No land mass is directly north of the Langanesi.

Ytri-Lón is the farm where my Gestsson/Scheving ancestors last lived before coming to America. This is just 8.7 miles (14 km) northeast of the only town in the area called Þörshófn, which has less than 400 people. The entire Langanes peninsula is very sparsely populated.

At the farm of our ancestors, there is now a hostel. Part of the brochure for Ytra-Lón Hostel says, ”The biggest appeal is it‘s remoteness and tranquillity. On Langanes, you‘ll find Ytra Lón, a friendly farm hostel. Situated on the northeastern corner of Iceland, the peninsula is virtually void of inhabitants, except for a large bird population. Here you can forget about people. It is the best place for bird lovers and bird-watching aficionados, a very isolated place. Few steps away to the Arctic circle and one heartbeat away to amazing nature.”

Two brothers of my Great Great Grandfather, Guðni Gestsson, left Langanesi in 1883 with their foster parents. Their father had died when they were young boys. LangLang Afi Guðni, his mother, and his soon to be wife left Langanesi four years later in 1887 and immigrated to the same area in northeast North Dakota.

There is a very famous man in northeast Iceland and his name is Drauma-Jói or Dreamer Jóhann.

He is my great-great-grand uncle. This means that he is the brother of my great-great-grandmother that came from the Langanesi. Her name is Guðlaug. I will write more on him later after I read this book!

Just north of the city of Þórshöfn is the Sauðanes farm and former church. This was known as one of the best churches in Iceland. The old vicar’s house at Sauðanes is one of the oldest stone buildings in Iceland. It is now a museum and is taken care of by the National Museum.

Many of our ancestors in the Langanesi were from a clergy background and some of them lived at this farm. The priests cottage, Saudaneshús was built in 1879 and has an exhibition and a café. It is also part of the National Museum and is pictured below.

The Ytra-Lón farm is about one mile from the ocean where the driftwood and clams are plentiful. The river Lónsá runs just along the farm where they catch trout and the farmers at Ytra-Lón raise horses and sheep. The land is boggy and sandy here in this area of the Langanesi. Other places in Langanes are very rocky.

The years that our ancestors left Iceland had been extremely harsh winters. The grass never grew and the land stayed frozen all summer. The sea ice stayed even into the summer and many animals died of starvation.

I walked on the same beach where our ancestors had walked over a century ago. The wind was so cold. The north winds also blow in North Dakota but it is a different kind of wind that comes off the Arctic Sea and blows its way across the Langanesi. It was awesome to breathe in that fresh air and hear nothing but the waves and the wind. There are many birds that live in the area and occasionally, you would hear them calling out to one another.

As I walked on the beach, along the river, and all around the farm of our ancestors, I could not help but wonder how they could leave their homeland. Guðni must have been surprised when he arrived at his homestead in North Dakota. There is not an ocean or even a river nearby. He could not fish, get clams, or find driftwood along the beautiful black sand beach.

I hope to find out more stories about these ancestors. Before going to Langanes, I thought it would be my one and only trip to this area of Iceland. However, I cannot wait to return to northeast Iceland and learn more about the homeland of my Gestsson and Sheving family.

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