To think of museums simply as places to see collections of old items is to miss the point. Museums are much more than that, especially the ones in the Westfjords.
A fine mix of history and folklore, art and heart, craft and culture, and above all, a crucible of human ingenuity in an environmentally extreme and largely cut off backdrop.
Follow in the footsteps of sorcerers, witches, fishermen and everyday people as you make your way around the Westfjords:
The Museum of Sorcery & Witchcraft, Holmavík
The Strandir area is well-known for its history of witchcraft, witch hunting and sorcery, and this museum will take you on a colourful tour of the supernatural. Relive the painful history of witch hunting, a common practice in medieval times, wonder at the examples of magic and superstitious beliefs in days gone by, and don’t forget to look out for the ‘necropants’.
The Sorcerer’s Cottage, Bjarnarfjordur
Closely connected to the museum is the Sorcerer’s Cottage, which consists of three connected turf houses constructed from sod, rocks, driftwood and other natural resources in this area. The items displayed include hides, scythes, lamb skins, old tools, and more. They have been painstakingly collected from locals and give us a flavour of what life must have been like in an era gone by. From making your grass grow better to increasing the milk yield from one’s cow, the magic was driven by a largely innocent wish list for a slightly more comfortable existence.
The Museum of Everyday Life, Isafjordur
“It is not about the moments in your life, but the life in each moment.” To that end, this museum does a fine job of making you look differently at routine, and everyday struggles. Local voices, little stories and assorted memories come together in an appealing blend to help visitors understand life in the Westfjords. The best part: it’s local and yet universal at the same time, resonating with everyone. This is a museum about finding the loveliness in simple, daily “events” like cooking, eating, tending to family and more. Whoever said poetry is an exotic experience has clearly not visited this museum.
Samuel Jonsson’s sculptures, Selardalur
Situated on the southern shore of Arnarfjordur fjord, the Ketildalir valleys are memorable both for their natural and quirky human-made beauty. The remarkable sculptures and buildings in Selardalur valley were created by Samúel Jónsson, the “artist with the child’s heart”, during his retirement. Amongst other scenes, he has replicated the Lions’ Court in Alhambra.
The Sea Monster Museum, Bíldudalur
Considering that this is a nation of seafarers, tales of ‘sea monsters’ have abounded in folklore and folk culture for hundreds of years. Today, these mysterious, rare and little understood creatures have been housed for all to see in the small village of Bíldudalur, on the shores of Arnarfjordur, reputedly one of the most active centres of monster activity in the country. Taking the excitement a few notches higher is the museum’s multimedia presentation, with voiceovers, images and videos to recreate the sea monsters for landlubbers. Narrations form eyewitnesses juxtaposed by academic theories on the nature and behaviour of sea monsters make this a genuine-but-fun learning experience. A range of relics and artefacts recovered from the sea appear throughout the museum as proof that they are no mere figment of the imagination!
Hnjotur Museum, Orlygshofn
A unique collection of heritage items from the southern Westfjords, presented in a way that makes the fishing, farming and everyday life in the area come alive. At the museum, pride of place goes to an exhibition about the rescue of the British Trawler Dhoon that stranded at Latrabjarg in 1947. There is also a cafeteria and information centre to add to its appeal.
Launched in Norway in 1912, the very same year the Titanic sank into the North Atlantic Ocean, Gardar was initially named the Globe IV. With sails and a steam engine, it was specially built for the roughness of the Southern Ocean while hunting whales.
In 1946, it was sold to the Faroe Islands, and at the end of the Second World War to Iceland. Given a new name once again and reinvented with the original steam replaced by a diesel engine, it continued to trade owners and names till 1963, by which time it was known as Gardar.
The oldest steel ship in Iceland was finally deemed unfit for duty in 1981 and saved as an interesting relic from the past instead of being sunk into the sea. You can look forward to a dramatic scene and a perfect photo opportunity at Skapadalur valley where it lies on the beach.