Updated: Apr 27
The Golden Circle is a famous tourist route but there is another circle route that is a “Must See.” It circles the mystic and extinct volcano and glacier Snæfellsjökull. This is the famous place in Jules Verne’s 1864 science fiction classic, “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and the 2008 movie by the same name. In the book “Under the Glacier” by Halldór Laxness and a film with the same name, you can also learn more about this same area.
Leaving Reykjavík, you travel along the #1 Road to the north. Along the way are many interesting and beautiful sites to explore but during this trip we were focused on Snæfellsnes. It is about a two-hour drive from Reykjavík to the beginning of this circle.
We did make a stop at the farm, Borg, which is just north of the city, Borgarnes. Borg was the home of our famous settlement era ancestors, Egill Skallagrímsson and his father.
The grandfather of Egill was named Kveldulf. He was a Viking berserker and a famous landowner in Norway. Kveldulf did not want to swear allegiance to King Harald the Fairhair and so he fled from Norway to Iceland. When they were on their way, Kveldulf became ill and before dying, he told his son to make a coffin and throw it overboard with his dead body in the coffin. Wherever this coffin washed up on shore was where they were supposed to settle. This spot was at the farm they called Borg. There is a church there, a big rock, and a sculpture that commemorates Egil´s poem about the loss of his son, Böðvar, who drowned during a storm.
When our ancestor, Egill, was seven years old, he was mad at one of his playmates. He went home, picked up an axe, and returned to the group where he chopped the boy in the head and killed him. He also killed other people throughout his life ….. but he began his first killing at the age of seven! Egill lived until he was over 80-years-old.
Before Egill died, he hid his treasure near Mosfellsbær, where he was living. He was going blind and deaf and was over 80 years old. These two containers of silver were paid to him by the King of England because Egil’s brother had been killed defending this king. Egill then committed his final murders. The two men that had helped him bring the treasure to the burial location were promised payment but instead, they were killed.
There are many more tales about Egill and his diverse personality between a Viking warrior, murderer, and sensitive poet and father. Egill is my 25th great grandfather and his son, Þorsteinn the White, is my 24th great grandfather. You can read more about our ancestor, Egill Skallagrímsson, HERE.
It has been written that Þorsteinn was a very handsome man. He was tall and strong with blonde hair. He was wise, gentle, and calm. He became in charge of Borg after his mother died and he was married. He had two illegitimate sons and with his wife, he had ten children. I am descended from one of the illegitimate sons, Hrifla and also from one of the daughters from the marriage, Helga the Fair, who it is told that she was the most beautiful woman from the time of the sagas. These 12 children of Þorsteinn had many many descendants – so, if you are Icelandic, chances are that your ancestor is Egill Skallagrímsson, too!
We visited a mineral water stream that pours out of the ground. It is called Ölkelda. This water has been analyzed and it is good for people that suffer from heart and kidney diseases. It is good for your blood and for your teeth. We drank from the spout and it tastes like wonderful mineral water.
Then we visited the site of Ari Fróði Þorgilsson or Ari The Wise (1067–1148). He was a Christian priest in Iceland and the author of the very amazing Íslendingabók that chronicles the stories of the various families that settled Iceland.
You can next stop at a small village called Hellnar and then hike to the next village called Arnarstapi. You will be happy that you did this hike because the lava field and the amazing coastline are worth the time. There are very unique lava formations and beautiful seabirds to see along the way. We did not do this hike this time but you can see photos and learn more about Arnarstapi HERE.
Driving west of Hellnar, you come to the Vatnshellir Lava Cave. We had a guided tour but it was just the three of us on that tour, so it was even more special. The tour took about one hour and it was 2000 Icelandic Kronur or about $16 USD. You put on a helmet and grab a flashlight. Make sure to wear a warm coat and gloves because it is cold down there. This cave was only opened to the public in 2011. The steel silo is locked up and you cannot go down there without a guide (unusual for Iceland). The cave was formed about 8,000 years ago by Lava and the associated gases and water.
Some of the folklore included in the tour is as follows:
It was once inhabited by Bárður Snæfellsás. He named this area when he first arrived as one of the first settlers in Iceland. He was half human and half ogre. There is a huge sculpture near Arnastapi of Bárður.
Bárður built his farm at Laugarbrekka – the same farm where Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir was born. A story and photos about Guðríður, the most widely-traveled woman of these years, (and our famous ancestor), is HERE.
Bárður killed his nephew Rauðfeldur after he pushed Bárður´s daughter, Helga, out to sea on ice that took her to Greenland. Another cliff is named after another brother that Bárður also killed.
But Bárður was actually a good ogre, too. He helped people around the area when he could and is known as a sort of Guardian to the people from this area.
When you go down into this volcanic lava tube, you might see some prehistoric animals, trolls, and other dangers. If you continue to follow the path through the cave, you will eventually come to the surface again in Italy at the Stromboli volcano also written about in the book, “Journey to the Center of the Earth.
We survived! It was fun.
David Gislason, Sunna Olafson Furstenau, Halldór Árnason
From the cave, you can see Lóndrangar. This is two needles of volcanic lava right near the ocean. Our tour guide told us that it is from the center of the lava flow where the material is the strongest. Over time, all the softer lava has been washed and blown away and these central plugs of basalt are what has remained.
There is another cave near the farm, Laugarbrekka, called Sönghellir (Singing Cave).
Djúpalónssandur is a place with a beautiful black lava beach. It is part of the Snæfellsjökull National Park. The path to this beach is through some beautiful lava fields. When you get to the beach, you can see some big rocks that are used in strength competitions ….. so, you can try this out for a challenge if you wish. Before you arrive at Hellissandur, you can go to the Well of the Irishmen (Írskra brunnur) and Irish Church (Írskrakirkja). Nearby Hellissandur, you will find Ingjaldshóll. It is a famous site from the Saga ages and now is the oldest concrete church in the world built in 903. There is a painting in the church that shows Christopher Columbus visiting with Icelanders about their voyages to Vinland (America) over four hundred years earlier. The mountains of Gerðuberg and Kirkjufell along with many others will please you along the route.
The fishing industry is the main employment in Snæfellsnes and there are five harbors scattered around the peninsula. We visited most of these harbors and it was so interesting to see the men getting their boats ready, unloading the catch from the boat to the shore, and just looking out on the vastness of the ocean and the size of their boats in comparison.
There is a tall cliff surrounding the harbor at Stykkishólmur. We climbed to the top of this cliff to see the beautiful surroundings of the Breiðafjörður bay. You can go on adventure tours, see whales, birds, seals and go on nature watching tours. There is fishing, sailing, and various sea tours including a trip to Flatey Island or and take your car on the Ferry Baldur over to Brjánslækur when traveling to the West Fjords.
One of the highlights for me was climbing the mountain, Helgafell. I wrote about that story here.
These are just a few of the highlights along this route — there were so many. The beauty and diversity of the Snæfellsnes area is hard to explain. Many people think there is a special energy field around the glacier.
A huge thank you to Halldór Árnason. He is the President of the Icelandic National League of Iceland. He grew up in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and lived at the town of Stykkishólmur. How wonderful to have him give us this very personal and informative tour. Make sure that you take time to explore this circle route to the north of Reykjavík. It is marvelous!