North of Laugarhóll, Route 643 cuts into one of the most remote corners of Europe, where towering rock buttresses plunge precipitously into the icy sea and the coastline is strewn with vast expanses of driftwood that originated on the other side of the Arctic Ocean, in Russian Siberia. Tourist facilities here are virtually nonexistent, but the region is stunningly beautiful and somewhere to really experience Iceland’s rawness close up. The road is in shocking condition (particularly around Veiðileysa, the fjord south of Djúpavík), however, with huge potholes and some alarming narrow stretches, while the wind on this exposed coast is ferocious at best, hurling rocks and scree down from the mountain slopes onto the road below and blowing cars from one side of the road to the other.
Life in these remote parts has never been easy, and the village of DJÚPAVÍK, 70km from Hólmavík (count on a journey time of 1hr 30min) close to the head of shadowy Reykjarfjörður, is testimony to this hardship, dominated by the huge carcass of its old herring factory and the rusting hull of the 100-year-old former passenger and cargo ship Suðurland, another victim of the West Fjords weather. Despite the evident failure of the herring adventure, there’s an endearing air to diminutive Djúpavík, consisting of just seven houses and one of Iceland’s most charming hotels, the Djúpavík, located beneath a braided waterfall.
When the herring industry was at its height in the mid-1940s, several hundred people lived in Djúpavík, women salting the fish, men turning the remains into animal meal and oil. The herring factory became unprofitable in 1955 following a disastrous collapse in fish catches, but the enormous costs involved in demolishing the building – once the largest concrete structure in Europe – mean that its hulking hollow shell remains, reminiscent of a Hollywood film set; Icelandic band Sigur Rós saw its potential in 2006 and even played a concert in it, attracting over three hundred people, a veritable throng in these parts.
The Djúpavík hotel now owns the herring plant and runs tours inside, which take in the Sögusýning Djúpavíkur (Historical Exhibition of Djúpavík), a collection of evocative black-and-white photographs from the herring years. Check out, too, the international photography exhibition, Steypa, which is held every summer in the old factory. The one key link between all the photographs on display is that they have all been taken in Iceland.