The Westfjords – An unexplored treasure

5. April, 2017

 

The Westfjords stretch out from the rest of Iceland like a gigantic claw of some mythological creature. The westernmost point of Iceland, the impressive cliff Látrabjörg swarming with birds and overlooking the fierce ocean, is there, up to 441m high or around the same height as The Empire State Building in New York. But the view is far more overwhelming and vertiginous. Standing there, looking over the sea, gives you the feeling of being literally at the end of the world.

The whole of Westfjords is in fact a truly magnetic area, rising high against the sea. The landscape is spectacular and in some ways this area is an unexplored treasure. There are some notorious roads there, especially in wintertime when this mountainous peninsula faces the threat of avalanches. The communities, mostly fishing villages located in narrow fjords, know that white and deadly peril the hard way.

These friendly villages have mostly survived on fishing for centuries – the sail to rich fishing grounds is relatively short – and in the 1930s a huge herring factory was built in one of Iceland’s least populous places, Djúpavogur in Árneshreppur; the municipality has only around 50 inhabitants. It was the largest concrete structure in Iceland at that time and it was necessary to move all the building material there by boats since the first roads to reach the place were decades away in the future. Every step of the construction had to be organized in details beforehand ; if the wire nails or screws ran out the whole project could be delayed for couple of days while a boat was sent to fetch more.

The factory was abandoned twenty years after it opened and is now a hulking relic of the fishing industry. When it was active hundreds of men and women moved there for work but for decades no one lived in the tiny village. It was rediscovered when it was used as a set for a TV-film in the 80s called Blood-red Sunset – the first Icelandic horror film. A rusty steel-ship that stands half buried on the beach played a ghoulish role in the film. Filmmakers are still fascinated by the place and last summer Hollywood came for a visit; scenes for the blockbuster Justice League were filmed there. Ben Affleck in the role of Batman searches for and finds Aquaman in the old herring factory and says to him this amusing line: „I hear you can talk to fish.“

The region of Strandir (literally: The Coasts) is somehow further away in the consciousness of Icelanders than most other places in the country, further than it is in reality. In some ways a gargantuan and desolated place of magic but in other ways a fertile and vivid place filled with life. The beauty is exceptional. Foxes sneaking around, seals dozing on stones by the sea and maybe an owl or even an eagle hovering above. Complete silence. When you find yourself in a place like that on a day like that it is easy to imagine that you are alone in a perfect world and everything will always be sublime. It may be an evanescent feeling but it is priceless all the same. A one that is always worth searching for.