Explore The West Fjords
Beyond Breiðavík, Route 612 climbs up and over a plateau (there’s an extremely rough 12km gravel road off here to Keflavík) and then steeply down to the coast again before expiring a few kilometres on below the lighthouse at Bjargtangar, the westernmost point in Europe. The Ísafjörður–Brjánslækur–Patreksfjörður bus spends about two-and-a-half hours here before heading back – don’t miss it unless you can afford to wait two days for the next one.
The lighthouse also marks the start of Látrabjarg cliffs, which rise up to 441m above the churning sea as they run 14km east from here to the small inlet of Keflavík. A footpath leads along the clifftops, with excellent views of the thousands of seabirds that come here to nest on the countless ledges below. For centuries, locals would abseil down the cliffs to collect their eggs and trap the birds for food – it’s estimated that around 35,000 birds were caught here every year until the late 1950s – and, occasionally, they still do.
Although the guillemot is the most common bird at Látrabjarg, it’s the thousands of puffins that most people come here to see. The high ground of the cliff-tops is riddled with their burrows, often up to 2m in length, since they nest in locations well away from the pounding surf, ideally surrounded by lush grass and thick soil. They return to the same burrows they occupied the year before, almost always during the third week of April, where they remain until August or September. The cliffs are also home to the largest colony of razorbills in the world, as well as to thousands of other screeching breeds of sea bird including cormorants, fulmars and kittiwakes; the din here can be quite overpowering, as can the stench from the piles of guano on the cliff face.
The Látrabjarg rescue
The Látrabjarg rescue
One of Iceland’s most daring sea-rescue operations occurred at Látrabjarg in December 1947, when farmers from Hvallátur set out to rescue the crew of a British trawler, the Dhoon, which had been wrecked off the rocky shoreline during a severe snowstorm. After sliding down the ice-covered cliffs by rope, the Icelanders pulled the sailors to safety using a rescue line they fired across to the stricken vessel – although it took two separate attempts to hoist all the men up the treacherous cliff face, from where they were taken by horseback to nearby farms to recover. A year later, a film crew arrived in Hvallátur to make a documentary about the accident, in which several locals were to re-enact the rescue – however, while they were filming, another British trawler, Sargon, became stranded in nearby Patreksfjörður, giving the film makers a chance to catch a drama on film for real.