Explore Eastern and southeast Iceland
BORGARFJÖRÐUR EYSTRI, also known as Bakkagerði, is a slowly dwindling community of just 110 farmers and fishermen at the end of the mostly gravel Route 94, some 70km from Egilsstaðir. The journey here can be a little hair-raising; about 7km short of town, Route 94 winds along the side of dangerously loose cliffs, a hazard attributed to the malevolent local spirit Naddi, who – despite being pushed into the sea by a fourteenth-century farmer – remains active, judging by the state of the road. Keep an eye out for a protective cross by the roadside with the Latin inscription Effigiem Christi qui transis pronus honora (“You who hurry past, honour Christ’s image”). But once arrived, Borgarfjörður is a charming location, steeped in local lore, with a wide fjord to the front and a backdrop of steep, colourful mountainsides. The core of the village surrounds its old harbour; while a new harbour, 5km up the coast, is home to a large puffin colony.
Isolated in a field on the edge of town, Borgarfjörður’s church is a standard nineteenth-century wood and corrugated iron affair, though the unusual altarpiece is a sunset-hued affair painted in 1914 by Jóhannes Kjarval. Typically incorporating a local landscape into the work, Kjarval depicted the Sermon on the Mount delivered atop of Álfaborg, the rocky hillock behind the church; Álfaborg means “elf-town” and, according to folklore, is home to Iceland’s fairy queen.
Hikes from Borgarfjörður Eystri
Hikes from Borgarfjörður Eystri
Borgarfjörður Eystri has become quite a hiking haven in recent years, with a good number of marked trails heading up the valley from town. However, the possibility of dense fogs and atrocious weather with heavy snow on higher ground make it essential to ensure you’re properly equipped, and to seek local advice before setting out.
Prominent behind Borgarfjörður Eystri, Dyrfjöll, the “Door Mountain”, gets its name from the gap in its sharp-peaked, 1136m-high basalt crest. This is another abode of local spirits, mischievous imps that emerge around Christmas to tie cows’ tails together. A round-trip from town would be a major hike, though you could arrange a lift up to the top of the pass at Geldingafjall on the Egilsstaðir road, from where there’s a marked track around the upper reaches of the mountain, and then down to the end of the valley south of town – a full day’s walk.
A good introduction to the area is to hike 4km or so west to the next bay of Brúnavík, whose steeply sloping valley was farmed until being abandoned in the 1940s. This is a story typical of the northern East Fjords; as the herring industry fizzled out after World War II, and roads and services began to bypass the region, farms founded in Viking times were given up as people moved on. There’s a small shelter shed here today, and a further rough trail over loose-sided fells to Breiðavík, where there’s a hiking hut and campground with water and toilets (bookings t868 5813, e[email protected]; 2600kr) and a 7km jeep track northwest back to town – the round-trip via Brúnavík and Breiðavík takes about fourteen hours.
It’s also possible to spend a few days hiking to Seyðisfjörður, initially following another jeep track south down the valley from Borgarfjörður Eystri. One of the highlights is about 10km along where you cross a saddle below Hvítserkur, a pink rhyolite mountain, wonderfully streaked with darker bands and stripes. There’s another hut (same phone and facilities as Breiðavík’s) at the head of the next valley over, whose lush meadows once supported four farms, and, on Húsavík bay here, the remains of a church. You then cross over a steep hillside to the next fjord, Lóðmundarfjörður, most of whose population clung on into the 1970s. A partly restored church remains, built in 1891, though there is little else. Lóðmundarfjörður marks the end of the jeep track, but hikers can follow a rough trail through a pass over Hjálmárdalsheiði and then down to Seyðisfjörður.