We had a rest day today so we didn’t have any long driving distances to cover. We took our time getting started and then drove about 50 kms around to the headland on the other side of the fjord to where we have been staying in Patreksfjörður. On the headland are the Látrabjarg bird-cliffs – the largest sea-bird cliffs in Europe. If you don’t count the Azores, this is the most western part of Europe. The cliffs are up to 441 meters high and 14 km long. They are considered to be one of the most spectacular sea-bird cliffs in the world and the bird life there is amazing.
The first thing we are across, near the head of the fjord was the beached boat called the Garda. It sits there on dry land and is the oldest steel ship in Iceland.
The Garda was built in Norway as a whaling vessel. She was launched in 1912, the year Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Ocean. It was named Globe IV and was equipped with both sails and a steam engine to use when the weather was calm. It was specially reinforced to endure the harsh conditions of the Southern Ocean where it was used to hunt whales. In December 1981 Garðar BA 64 was deemed unfit for duty. Instead of sinking it at sea, as was the custom in these days when ships went out of service, it was rammed ashore at Skápadalur valley in Patreksfjörður. Today it provides a spectacular photo opportunity.
The road to the cliffs was a gravel road, one lane in many places, potholed and rutted. It followed the fjord for some of the way and then climbed up a steep valley to get to the ridge trip. Apart from a few farms and an old hotel, there was northing on the peninsula except a lighthouse. Lighthouses here are functional buildings that contain an automated light. They look like square boxes – none of the romantic or classic lighthouse shapes as in other parts of the world.
The cliffs were indeed impressive. A noticeboard tells you that is is very dangerous near the cliff edge because the soil is soft and unstable with puffin holes. The approved way to watch these birds is to lie down on your stomach and look over the cliff edge. I’m not at all keen on heights so I just walked along the cliff top – only along the part near the car park that had a safety rope.
There were a lot of sea birds nesting on the parts of the cliff face that I could see. I’m not sure of all of them but I could identify Kithywakes and Guillemots my previous trip to the Arctic from. Most of the birds had young chicks and I assume that one parent was out hunting food while other minded the nest.
The birds that I really wanted to see were the puffins and there were several of these birds nesting on the clifftop.
Heading back along the peninsula, we come across a flat area where there were many arctic terns. We found one sitting on a rock and when we stoped nearby, the tern flew across towards us quite aggressively. On closer inspection, we found that it was guarding a young chick. Terns just lay their eggs on the ground. Their method of self defence is to dive bomb you. They make magpies look extremely gentle.
On the other side of the peninsula was Rauðasandur Beach or Red Sands Beach. The road to the beach was about 10 km long and very rough. It descended from the ridge of the peninsula down a series of four hairpin bends with very little room to pass oncoming traffic.
The sand didn’t look red to me – more of a golden yellow. There is 10 km of it. Apparently, the colours of the sand differ with daylight and weather, and the beach is one part of a string of coves with sand ranging in colours from white through yellow through red to black, and in coarseness from very fine grit to large chips of seashells.
Along the beach is a black church. The Rauðisandur church is one of three black churches in Iceland. They are black because the exterior wood is painted with pitch, just like the hull of a boat. This is to protect it from the harsh Icelandic elements. This works fairly well and buildings treated in this way have survived over 100 years.
We were very grateful for the little ‘French Cafe’ near the church where we could get a late lunch and eat somewhere out of the wind.. We had a wonderful warm day today. At 9.00 am the temperature was 21C and it reached a maximum of 23C. The locals were melting! However, the wind was exceptionally strong. At one point it was difficult to stand up. Summer has finally arrived in Iceland. Consistent with Iceland’s variable weather. it is now 9.30 pm and it is raining.