Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Return from Hesteyri

It is always so good to come home after a trip away, no matter how spectacular the sites visited. I assume this applies in every case, no matter what shape or form home base takes. This I deduct from my own experience as when we arrived back from Hesteyri we found the roof of our house had been partially removed and the master bedroom turned into a shower of sorts. It is still raining inside but despite this, being home is very relaxing – admittedly once we had completely emptied the bedroom and now that the carpenters are hard at work putting a new roof on.

Hesteyri was wonderful. Following Leighton‘s advice I borrowed my son‘s camera and took a total of 461 photos, not all of which can be posted on this page, luckily for the reader as I am not exactly a promising photographer and many of the photos show either the top half or the bottom half of what could have been a very good picture. Some of the ones that managed to be whole can be found here below with a brief explanation of what they depict.

The one below is from the sea voyage to the abandoned town, we took a boat from Ísafjörður which was supposed to leave at noon but was unable to sail until about four in the afternoon as the sea was so unruly. The trip which was under ordinary conditions supposed to take an hour but ended up lasting just under four hours as the boat could only proceed very slowly. Despite the lack of speed the trip was at times like a rollercoaster and one passenger disembarked somewhat lighter in weight than he boarded. We asked one of the sailors to rate the trip on a scale of 1 to 10 - 1 being easy sailing and 10 horrible. He said he would rate it as a 2.5 - despite the captain saying that he did not recall taking passengers over to Hesteyri under worse circumstances.  One of them must have been pulling our leg and my money is on the underling. The photo is taken when we had left open seas and were nearing the town in the calmer waters of the fjord itself. A couple of the houses still standing can be seen in the background.

One of the things we visited while at Hesteyri was the town cemetary. It was a sombering sight to see how much effort the grieving had originally put into the individual gravesites and how quickly time grinds the fallen into insignificance. The sea took a lot of lives for those living at Hesteyri and the other small towns in the Westfjords. One woman buried in the cemetary is said to have seen her husband and son drown from the shore when their boat capsised, she later remarried and the ocean took that man into its icy embrace as well. It did not help that few Icelanders from this time knew how to swim as there was nowhere to practice, our lakes, seas and rivers are all far too cold, even in the summertime. The clothing the seamen wore would have made chances of survival in the water even less, they were heavy even when dry, but akin to lead when soaked. 

We also visited an abandoned whaling station which was built and operated by a Norwegian company. This station is the reason why a town rose in the area, prior to its operation there was only a single farm at Hesteyri. The owner of the company, M C Bull, was a kind man and appreciated the locals’ hard work and enthusiasm and offered them a considerable amount of money as a token of his appreciation. The people of Hesteyri declined but asked if he could provide them building materials for a church. He did so graciously and a small wooden church was erected at the edge of town. It still stands but no longer at Hesteyri, when the town had been abandoned (1952) a church was needed in another village and the Bishop of Iceland relocated it (1962). This was not much appreciated seeing that the building did not belong to him or the government - it belonged to the people of Hesteyri, some of whom are still living. It is looked upon as a heist. 

Finally, we saw an incredible number of birds and even a couple of curious seals that followed us while we walked along the beach, sticking their human-like heads through the waves and staring us down. We did not see the arctic fox we saw last year but it was there as bones we left outside for it to feed off disappeared while we weren't looking. These were way too heavy for any bird to have carried.

On our walks and excursions we had to pass over a few rivers and streams, some bridged in pretty inventive ways (see below) others not at all.

The carpenters have now left, albeit in a sneaky way without saying goodbye, and there is a suspicious drip-drop sound coming from my bedroom. Maybe I should seek inspiration from the photo of the door-bridge above and rip the one leading into the bedroom off its hinges and use it as a makeshift canopy by sleeping under it. Beats lying in the rain.

Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. I wish I could have joined you folks on the actual trip.
    But the next best thing sharing a bit of the experience through your post and pictures.
    The story of the woman standing on shore and watching her husband and child drown.
    The cemetery.
    The rough water to get there.
    The hijacked church.
    It all sticks in my mind.

  2. Abandoned towns...sigh. I could read about this kind of stuff all day. Thanks Yrsa.

  3. In New England, much later in history, homes located in areas that made their money from fishing have small platforms or balconies on the roof line. They are called "widow's walks". The women would stand there watching the fishing fleets return, knowing, without needing to be told, if their kin had survived.

    Fishing is still a dangerous occupation. George Clooney fans may have seen his movie, THE PERFECT STORM. The movie is based on the Sebastian Junger book of the same name. It refers to the Halloween storm in 1991 that combined warm air from one direction,cool dry air from another direction, and warm,moist air from an offshore hurricane, Grace.

    The Andea Gail was a swordfishing boat that left Gloucester, MA a few days before the storm fully developed. But it was caught by waves that were over 40 feet. The poster for the movie shows a very small boat lying straight up against a massive wall of water. That is what the Andrea Gail was up against, literally.

    The New England coast was ravaged by hurricane force winds which caused tremendous soil erosion. Friends had a beach front home that had been in the family since the 1940's. It had survived hurricanes and blizzards for over 50 years but it was moved off its foundation by the "No Name Storm". It got that name because it was determined that it had all the characteristics of a hurricane but was never named one because it formed too far north. Ironically, the hurricane season ends November 1.

    As to your personal experience on the boat, Yrsa, you are a better woman than I. I wouldn't have gone back onboard.

  4. Wonderful text and pictures, Yrsa. I'm with Dan -- abandoned towns, sigh.

  5. I'm catching up on my Murder is Everywhere posts and am fascinated by the idea of an abandoned town. There is something otherworldly about it, no? The empty buildings that once held stories themselves.

    Southern City Mysteries

  6. Yrsa--

    No more bad-mouthing your own photography. Thank you for the pungent essay and starkly striking photos.


  7. Wonderful presentation, reading "I Remember You" and am so curious about Hesteyri - waiting for the next Thora to be published in US don't stop writing, you have the gift :)

  8. PLEASE tell us that you'll be writing more supernatural thrillers like I Remember You!

  9. PLEASE tell us that you'll be writing more supernatural thrillers like I Remember You!

  10. I recently finished "I remember you" and loved it. Very chilling. Great to see the places behind the novel.