Reykjavik is a pleasant city to wander around, with an abundance of street art to keep me amused and some great coffee to warm me up. Now it’s time to stretch my legs, though, to stride out and feel the wind in my hair. A brisk walk along the waterfront will be perfect.
So join me down at the Laugarnes headland, a spot known for its birdlife, relics of old buildings and a selection of sculptures.
Don your woolly hat (so much for the wind in the hair), grab multiple layers of clothing, head down to the waterfront from the city centre and turn right. We’ll meet on the Laugarnes peninsular, just where the shore path forks, with the left option signposted to a guesthouse. There’s a good view back to the centre of town from here, and it’s an ideal spot to survey the incoming weather.
Following this lefthand path takes to a spot I hadn’t expected, a quirky, recycled house, and there was someone waiting for me.
At this point the heavens opened, and the rain and hail deposited by the host of heavy clouds gave this place an extra hint of the strange and creepy. There was a real chill to the air.
The three-floor abode that you can spot behind the welcoming character at the gate, is home to the renowned Icelandic filmmaker, Hrafn Gunnlaugsson. Its eccentric outward appearance bears some resemblance to the “Vikings meet the modern day” theme of his well-known film, When the Raven Flies. Both interior and exterior benefit from his raven-like enjoyment of collecting things, with plenty of stones laid outside for the elves, and a collection of raven paintings inside, copies and reproductions of the works of Monet, Van Gogh and Gauguin. The place is a private residence, so I didn’t linger too long or too nosily.
Wandering past a selection of outdoor sculptures, I walked further along the coastline. The sun even popped out to keep me company for a while.
Standing in this quiet natural haven, protected under the Icelandic Nature Conservation Register, it can be hard to imagine its long and varied history. It was a stretch of farmland with a variety of farmhouses from 950AD to 1987; a home to a series of churches from 1200 to 1794; a cemetery who’s last burials are thought to have taken place in 1871; location of the bishop’s residence, Laugarnes House, from 1825 to 1856, with the building demolished in 1898; a hospital, including a leprosy unit, from 1898 until it burned down in 1943; and, a military camp from 1940 to 1960 during British and US occupation. As you explore, there a few informative signs; mainly in Icelandic, but with helpful images of the buildings that used to occupy the area.
The views from here are inspiring too, and if the weather is obliging settle down for a while to enjoy the birds and wildlife. That activity didn’t work for me – the wind and hail returned and seemed to result in me being the only living being daft enough to be outside!
When you have relaxed sufficiently, turn around and enjoy the walk back along the coastline towards the city centre. A 30-40 minute stroll will get you to a coffee shop in town or to the Harpa Concert Hall. Don’t walk too fast though – be sure to enjoy the sea views as you go.
Copyright Debbie Smyth, 17 December 2018
Posted as part of Jo’s Monday Walks