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Iceland 2007

Part 4 - Höfn to Sey∂isfjör∂ur and the Faroe Islands.

19.08.07 - Höfn

Guess what the guy with the motor home started running his engine again at 9.00 this morning. I went over to the guy who was by his tent that was just behind the van. He was Danish and spoke good English I commiserated with him for picking the wrong spot to pitch his tent. He said that he had been too tired after his days walking to check what was on the other side of the hedge. He said that the same motor home had been on the campsite that he had been on the night before and if he had realised that it was the same guy he would have pitched in a different spot. I told him that I had gone over at 10.45pm and asked him to turn it of. He was grateful for my intervention as the previous night he had run his engine till much later the previous night.

We realised that it was too far to cycle to Sey∂isfjör∂ur in the few days that we had left. After looking at the weather and considering the fact that we were due a rest day we decided that we would stay put in Höfn. We decided that we could go for a walk and do some bird watching and catch a bus to Egglistadir the next day. I went off to get something for breakfast but found the supermarket didn't open until 12.00.  I went instead to the Tourist information office were I bought a couple of second hand paperbacks for 100kr each which really pleased Frank as she was having to re-read one of the books she had brought with her. It started to rain heavily just after I got back, so we abandoned our plans to go bird watching and read our newly acquired books. Fortunately the campsite had a nice warm area to sit in out of the rain. While we were inside we got talking to Susan another cycletourer who was from New Zealand who was camped in a tent next to ours. She was circumnavigating Iceland anti-clockwise so we were able to give her some pointers and info on where to go in the north. Later in the evening the rain stopped and there was a lovely sunset over the glaciers behind Höfn.

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20.08.07 - Höfn to Eglissta∂ir

We were up early this morning in order to catch the 8.00am bus to Eglissta∂ir. After all the rain yesterday it was a bright clear morning and there was a good view of the glaciers behind Höfn, so I nipped up onto the small hill behind the campsite to get a quick panorama shot. Luckily the bus stop was just over the road at the petrol station opposite the campsite so we didn't have far to go. We were there in good time so we thought we had better get ourselves organised, we removed the panniers, the front wheels and saddles from the bikes. When the bus turned up it was a minibus and trailer. The bikes would have fitted in easier with their wheels on, but never mind!

It was a typical Icelandic bus journey as we kept stopping at all the small towns along the route for a 15min break, enough time for the driver to smoke a cigar and drink a cup of coffee! At the top of Sudurdalur the driver stopped to let us have a look at the wonderful view down the glacial valley. Just off the road was a Icelandic poppy, it was the first one we had seen in Iceland. Frank had a long chat with the driver who was very knowledgeable about the local area. When we got to Egglistadir the bus stop was at the entrance to the campsite so it was easy to get ourselves booked in and pitched. That evening I couldn't find my Palm PDA and last remembered using it on the minibus. Fortunately I had one of the driver's cards and there was an anxious 10mins as I waited to ring him back while he looked in the bus for it. Thankfully it was there and he said that he would give it to his colleague to bring over to Egglistadir on the bus the next day.

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21.08.07 - Eglissta∂ir to Sey∂isfjör∂ur

Unfortunately we could not set off at our usual time this morning, as we had to wait until 12.00 for the bus to arrive from Höfn as the driver had my palm PDA. When the bus arrived who should get off it but Susan the lass from New Zealand, she was going on to Myvatn. I saw the driver who said, "I know what you are after" and produced my Palm PDA. I gave him a packet of cigars to give to the other driver by way of a thank you. 
Wishing Susan good luck and good weather we finally got underway and just as we were leaving the town I remembered that I forgotten to fill the water bottles. We quickly turned around and found a sport shop nearby and asked the lady if she could fill them for us. It was a good thing we did for as we started to climb out of Eglissta∂ir it was actually fairly mild and we started to get quite hot this was a first for Iceland!

Just as we were coming up to the start of the major part of the climb Frank stopped in front of me, she had puncture! It was the first we had in 7 years. I was quite surprised as our new Schwalbe Marathon tyres were supposed to be puncture proof! On taking the tube out we found that the puncture was on the rim side of the inner tube. We couldn't see anything that may have caused it, so we mended it and reloaded all the panniers. Just as Frank got on to it there was a loud bang and the ubiquitous hiss, it had burst again! On taking the tube off again we found that the patch was intact but tube had split on the rim side a bit further along. We replaced the tube with a new inner tube and managed to get underway, we were just grateful that it hadn't happened on the steep part of the hill. It was hot and thirsty work and a long grind up the hill, but unlike the climb up from Sey∂isfjör∂ur it didn't seem quite so steep. Certainly we didn't have to get off a push like we had on the way over from Sey∂isfjör∂ur. While I waited at the top for Frank a car stopped and a guy got out with a video camera so yet again Frank was on someone's holiday video. The run down the other side was uneventful apart from having to slow down on the gravel sections where they had been putting in a new water pipe. They had dug across the road at several points and it was quite rutted and loose. We stopped at the supermarket to get something for tea before going to pitch our tent at the campsite.

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22.08.07 Sey∂isfjör∂ur

Fortunately for us the campsite had a washing machine which was included in the price so we took the opportunity to put some washing on first thing in the morning so we could get it out to dry before we went for our walk around Sey∂isfjör∂ur. We originally thought on our first visit to the town that there wasn't that much to Sey∂isfjör∂ur, may be it was the warm sunny day but after having seen several of the Icelandic towns we had been through it actually was one of the nicest we had seen with some very interesting old houses most of which were wooden and were imported from Norway. After looking around the main part of the village we went to the Tækniminjasafn Austurlands (The Technical Museum of East Iceland) it was actually quite interesting as it was housed in an old set of original buildings which they had reconstructed with their original equipment. There was an old foundry and forge, a workshop with belt driven lathes and tools and outside they were renovating several old wooden fishing boats. We were taken around on a guided tour by one of the locals who finally took us around the old Telegraph office. It still housed its original telegraph and morse equipment which had still been in operation until 1962. The guy who showed us around had worked there for 5 years before it closed. He showed us how the equipment worked and he got us to type our names into a typewriter that punched holes in a tape. This was then fed through a machine that converted it from dots and dashes to transmitted morse. The output was then verified on another machine that drew it out on a tape as a blue line of peaks and troughs which he impressed us by reading out our names! By the time we got back our washing had dried nicely in the sun and we realised that this had been probably one of the warmest days we had had in Iceland and it was the day before we were due to leave! That evening the campsite gradually filled up with ferry goers waiting for the sailing the next day, but interesting only one other cycletourer a lad from Germany.

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23.08.07 - Sey∂isfjör∂ur to Torshavn

Fortunately for us it was a bright sunny morning, which meant we could dry the tent, which had developed a lot of condensation on it over night. Whilst we waited in the queue for the ferry we giggled at all the rather over done 4 x 4 vehicles in the queue with their tank tracking, Jerry cans, winches and shovels,  Frank reckoned it was a male macho thing!
We were put up front of the queue with all the bikers and got chatting to Pauline and Chris who ran a farm near Moffart they had been on their motorcycle on a trip around Iceland. They had been bed & breakfasting it and had arranged all their accommodation through the ferry company. They were expecting to have stayed in small B&B's on farms but found that the farms were so geared up to tourists they were more like small hotels.
As we waited in the queue we thought that we might be the only cycle tourers on the boat, as the german lad from the campsite didn't seem to be there, but then the 3 German lads that we had met on the ferry coming in to Seydisfordur arrived. They had cycled over from Eglissta∂ir that morning and although setting off early, they certainly had cut it a bit fine. They told us that they had had an eventful tour as well as the broken seat stem head bracket fiasco where they had had to go to Rekyarvik they also had broken some tent poles in a heavy storm near Akureyri, we obviously had been lucky.
During the passage we watched 'Harry Potter and the order of the Phoenix' which was good fun and I caught up with the German lads and got a chance to ask them about their experiences on the Fareos and to find out where were the best places to go were. They warned us about the tunnels and suggested to take the buses through the tunnels rather than cycle like they had done. There was obviously an accordion festival going on onboard and there were some good players but when the supposed disco came on we decided to call it a night and retired to our couchettes.

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24.08.07 - Torshavn & the Faroes Islands

We were woken at 4.30am by the tanoy announcing that our arrival in Torshavn would be in one and a half hours time. We dressed quickly and skipped up to breakfast to try and beat the queue but this time there wasn't one! It was dull, overcast and fairly windy as we pulled in to Torshavn just before 6.00am. We asked on the boat at the information point at what time the Tourist Information office opened in Torshavn, they informed us it was at 7.00am. After disembarking from the ferry we looked around the harbour for a bit and then the town for a bank with an ATM as we waited for the tourist information office to open. We picked up a booklet on campsites and cycling in the Faeroes at the tourist information office. It did say that the road going north out of Torshavn was as they put it 'very trafficated'. They weren't joking and perhaps it didn't help that as we headed north it was the morning rush hour. Obviously most people start work at 8.00am in Torshavn. Oh what bad impatient drivers the Faeroese are, within the first hour up to the tunnel we had been run off the road 3 times, twice by impatient lorry drivers overtaking us with on coming traffic and the other by a woman overtaking a line of six cars. She pulled out just when we were level with the first car, she must have seen us as she pulled out as we were both wearing our bright yellow fluorescent pertex tops but she just kept on coming we had no alternative but to ride off the road to avoid being hit by her. Perhaps the German lads had been right in taking the old mountain road it certainly might have been more effort but obviously much safer! Our initial plan was to cycle up to Ei∂i and then take the road over to Gjøgv and camp there. We had been doing quite well speed wise despite the traffic and after going through the tunnel the traffic seem to ease. We hadn't really realised just how much of a tail wind we had until we turned to the right at Kollafjordur and came out of the shelter of the mountains. We were glad as the road turned to the north again and we got the full force of the gusts pushing us rather than hitting us side on. When we got to the bridge at Nordskali which links the islands of Strumoy and Eysturoy the wind had increased and was that strong and gusty we decided that it would be safer to walk the bikes across the bridge. Even pushing them it was difficult to keep our footing in the gusts. We took shelter in the petrol station across the road and surprised the garage owner by actually ordering ice-creams, we just both fancied them even though it was cold outside.
Fortunately our route was again north following the Sudini fjord which meant that we were OK as long as we headed north with the gusting strong winds at our tail, however when we got to Ei∂i and started to head east over the 662 to Gjøgv we just couldn't make any progress in the strong gusting winds, the gusts were just blowing us all over the place. We abandoned any thoughts of getting over to Gjøgv and headed back to Ei∂i were there was a camp site. We found a small supermarket in the village and bought some food before heading off to the campsite which as normal was up hill. When we got to the site it couldn't have been any more exposed being on the side of the hill being buffeted from the full force of the storm. It was raining heavily now and we took shelter in the container which seemed to be the facilities for the site. At least it was warm and there was a lot of clothing hanging up to dry. Just as we were deciding our next plan a lady came in she was the owner of the clothes and her and her husband had been on the site the night before and they had got drenched and were trying to dry out before moving on. Fortunately for them they had a car, there was no way that we could even contemplate putting up our tent in this wind! We decided we couldn't go on to Gjøgv or stay here in Ei∂i. We had read in the guide book that the campsite at Torshavn was exposed and prone to flooding, we therefore decided that the only thing we could do was find some B&B accommodation and our best bet would be back in Torshavn, but in this wind there was no way we would get back there by bike. We went back to the supermarket and asked about the buses back to Torshavn, fortunately for us we were told that there was one at 2.30pm from the church. There was indeed a bus parked there and we had an hour or so to wait. Fortunately there was also a bus shelter so we could wait in out of the wind and the rain and it also gave us a chance to have something to eat while we waited. I think the guy in the supermarket must have got his times wrong as it wasn't until 3.00pm that the bus driver finally turned up. He took us as far as the petrol station at Nordskali were we transferred to another bus that had come in from Klaksvik. When we got to Torshavn we headed for the tourist information office were they managed to find us a B&B. It had taken several calls and judging by the fact that it was right out of town and up hill it may have been the last one in town! The owner was a bit surprised to see us on bikes, the room was quite large with a large seating area with comfy sofas and it was lovely and warm we were that shattered after being up so early we didn't bother to go out for a meal but went to bed early it was sleep we need most.

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25.08.07 - Torshavn & the Faroes Islands

It was a little obvious that the B&B owner's husband was keener on doing the B&B bit as he made us our breakfast. He apparently had just retired and his partner worked as a nurse at the hospital in Torshavn. We had a good continental breakfast with boiled eggs and set off for a better look around the capital of the Faros. The wind hadn't abated much and it was difficult to ride with the strong gusty wind. We decided that it would be a shame not to see something of the islands and if we couldn't cycle we would go to the tourist information office to find out information on car hire.  At the tourist information office we got the number for the Avis car hire and after a phone call managed to book a car and arranged to pick it up at 5.00pm and we could have all day Sunday. We then had the rest of the day to explore Torshavn. Our first port of call was the harbour to have a look at the boats before going on to visit the Natural History museum which unfortunately was closed and didn't open till 3.00pm. We then headed over to the Outdoor museum and found that it too was also closed but opened at 1.00pm. It was just coming up to 12.00 so we headed back in to town. However the wind gusts were so strong that we were struggling to keep ourselves from being blown off our bikes. We sought refuge from the wind in a bus shelter and decided that it was pointless to cycle on and that we would be better to spend an hour in the bus shelter sheltering from the strong wind than be blown off our bikes. Even with us sitting in it the wooden shelter was being rocked in the strong gusts. I then noticed that it was only being held down by 2 raw bolts the other 4 were missing! Was this bored mischievous Faeroese kids or that the workmen had forgot to put them on! As it was lunchtime we had a bit of lunch while we waited, yes another salubrious bus shelter lunch. Yes I know how to treat a girl!

The museum was indeed very interesting with some good exhibits on the history of the Faros and some lovely old carved pew ends which were their 'piest de resistance'. The museum is on a split site and has an open-air part down the hill and across the road. As we walked down we met the motorcycle couple Pauline and Chris from Moffart that we had met on the ferry, they we just going in to the museum. We explained about our problems with the weather and how we had ended up in a B&B. They agreed that we had made the best choice as they too hadn't fancied riding their motor bike in this weather. The open air part was most interesting as they had reconstructed a typical set of Faeroese buildings from the mid 1800's. The interiors were nicely done with period artefacts and decor. After a good look around we just had enough time to cycle back to the B & B to leave the bikes and walk down to the Avis rental place to pick up the hire car.  Although we have both driven many times on the continent this was the first time we had driven in a left hand drive car! It felt a bit weird changing gear with your right hand!
We set off up the mountain road above Torshavn as it was quiet road and it gave us a time to get use to the car. After taking the road to have a look at Vestmanna we turned around and then drove through the underwater tunnel to Vagar island. This was a toll tunnel one of many in the Faeros, they have a camera at one end to record your registration number and we were told that this will automatically be added to our car hire bill. We stopped at Sandavágur to have a look at the church and then drove to the western most end of Vagar island through a new tunnel that had been built to connect the village of Gásadalur. Up until a year ago the village was completely cut off and the only way in was to walk in over the mountain, which the postman did once a week. Apparently the community was established in that remote spot as the Faeroes constantly suffered from pirate attack and the lack of a harbour and the mountain gave them security from attack. As it was now getting late we headed back to Torshavn to find a restaurant for our evening meal.

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26.08.07 - Around the Faroe Islands

We were up for breakfast fairly early to make the most of the time we had with the hire car. Our first port of call was to drive over to Kirkjubøur to have a look at St Magnus cathedral and Roykstovan a 900 year old farmhouse. The Cathedral was never finished and they now have put a cover over the walls to allow the cement to dry out so that they can preserve what remains. From there we drove up the road to Eiði to see if we could get a better view than the day before. It was a little better and we did this time manage to see sea stacks of Risin & Kellingin, the Giant and the Witch. From there it was over to the village of Gjøgv the place we had hoped to have reached by bike. It is a pretty village with its colourful houses and natural harbour. We had hoped to get something for lunch there but the café so we headed on towards Bordoy the next island east this involved another undersea tunnel at  the lowest point under the sea they changed the lights from green to blue lights which was kind of cool! We stopped for a while in Klaksvik the second largest town in the Faeroe Islands to try and find somewhere for some lunch but being Sunday everything seemed be closed. We gave up looking and had a look around the harbour at the boats before heading over to Vidoy the most easterly island accessible by car. This involved two very narrow single file dark tunnels with passing places, it was obvious from the signs that any cars passing west to east had to give way to cars going the other way. Eventually we got to the most northerly point accessible by road to a place called Viðareiði. We were told by the Pauline and Chris that this had a great view with the headlands of Bordoy. Kunoy and Kalsoy allin a row. Unfortunately for us it wasn't going to happen there was far too much mist and we couldn't even see the nearest island Bordoy! It had a nice little church which we had a look around before setting off back south and to the far end of Eysturoy at Runavik where from there we headed back towards Torshavn as it was getting late and we were getting quite hungry and at least we knew the restaurant we had been in the night before would be open. Our last little visit was off the mountain road at Noröradalur where we got a good view of the two small islands Hestur and Koltur, which translated means the Horse and the colt. The Faroes are certainly quite an interesting set of islands but not really suited for cycle touring as there are not many circular touring routes you would find yourself retracing your steps most of the time. They could however be great for walking in, assuming some good weather as there most be some good ridge and mountain walks. Although one thing struck us that due to its geology with a few exceptions the scenery was very similar from one island to another as each one shared the similar wedding cake strata.

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27.08.07 - Torshavn to Scrabster

We were up for breakfast at 6.00am, as we had to be down at the ferry terminal by 7.00am. We couldn't believe it, as it was an absolutely stunning day with not a cloud in the sky and hardly a breath of wind, quite a contrast to the storm of the past couple of days. After a little delay we were boarded and gazing over the side at the pretty colours of Torshavn harbour when were there was an announcement over the tanoy that if we looked to the port side we will see some Pilot whales being herded in by a flotilla of small boats. Unfortunately they were being beached for slaughter something that the Faeroese have been doing for years. I certainly have mixed feelings about it and chattered to a local Faeroese woman about it. She said she had a lot of Danish friends who said it was wrong, but it was no different from slaughtering pigs just more public and her Danish friends had no hesitation in serving up roast pork.

The boat was fairly full, not of travellers going back to Scotland but mostly Faeroese who were on a mini cruise via Scotland and Norway. They were obviously intent on a party as some of them were already on a liquid breakfast! After lunch we watched a film for most of the afternoon and by the time we came on deck it was early evening The Faeroese were having a great sing song, they were well organised with song sheets and ably led by a guy with a guitar who looked like a younger Billy Connolly and a guy on an accordion. As we got closer to blighty we got good views of the Orkneys pink in the evening light, It was well late by the time we got to Scrabster and we ended up putting the tent up in the dark using the cars headlights. This darkness was such a strange thing! But what a great tour it had wetted our appetite we just had to go back next year to do the bits we didn't have time to fit in!

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The End