turf & tack

1_GaumberStone Pathway Leading Through Glaumbaer

We follow the charming hand-drawn map on the back of an advertisement card tucked into the front entry of The Mikligarður Guesthouse. I’m captivated by the stylized sheep and horse inviting us to explore the agrarian regions. Our goal is horseback riding, but marked thoughtfully on the map is Glaumbaer, the Skagafjordur Heritage Museum, a radiant green expanse in the summer sun.


We are under its spell for several hours exploring the yawning, narrow hallways and specialty rooms of the homesteads built from herringbone pieced turf dug from the ground and framed by earth all around. Rows of turf houses have been built on this site for the last 900 years. We buy tickets at Gilsstofa, the yellow 19th C. timber house and meander the stone path through the series of houses, rooms comprising a wide array of activities from forge, storage, barn, to communal spaces.


One turf house is the tack and sheltering rooms for the Icelandic horses that made it possible for people to settle this cold, barren landscape. Guides dressed in historic garb greet us at various points of interest and souvenirs opportunities. The community of houses was in disrepair when benefactor Sir Mark Watson first saw them in 1947. He was so fascinated by their originality, he funded the restoration and the site was designated a national landmark to preserve the heritage of turf-making and the lifestyle that it framed.


Across the road is the actual working farm that operates today. I am drawn to the church adjacent to the village to photograph the iconic paintings of saints that frame the surrounding countryside within its tidy wooden window frames.


The gray clapboard house, Áshús, houses exhibitions and a lovely Tea Room called Áskaffi which serves traditional Icelandic fare. After our tour we order tea and sandwiches so delicious that we quickly order a second serving. The rooms are decorated with vintage family photographs, antique utensils, and historic documents. Each gives a sweet slice of perspective on the lives and times of Icelandic country life. We savor these sweet slices of Icelandic life along with the pastries and pates served on antique porcelain.

port city tannery

Margo_mountainsCar.JPGMountains along Boreal Forest south of Sauðárkrókur

We head north to the fjords again after a site-intensive day around Myvatn. Each day I ask how could there be more? And always the answer simply is so much more. It’s midnight and we fumble around the town of Sauðárkrókur to find Mikligarður Guesthouse. GPS can be a challenge and names of streets and guesthouses are not always evident as we wander around town and eventually are pointed in the right direction. A sturdy white 3-story clapboard guesthouse is located a block from the main road that is lined with restaurants and a bakery.

MilkaGset2Church and businesses lining Aðalgata

We enjoy a lovely dinner of fish soup, followed by deep sleep at the guesthouse. Morning takes us directly to the local bakery to sample the best of Icelandic pastries as we refuel on many levels. The guesthouse has a brochure of farms to the south and we decide to go south for my first opportunity to ride Icelandic horses. Another handy guesthouse brochure informs us a traditional turf house village along the road to the farms.

MilkaGset3bakerySauðárkróks Bakari – the best in town

On the way out of Sauðárkrókur we look for a pharmacy to pick up throat lozenges and happen upon Sútarinn, the last remaining Icelandic tannery and now econo-museum. We walk through the main room of Icelandic crafts and into the display rooms of skins: goat, sheep, horse, Arctic fox, and fox. The most interesting skins are fish dyed in a rainbow of colors. Exquisite shades and tints highlighting the pattern of scales. This experimentation with fish skins and the development of Atlantic leather in 1989 allowed Sútarinn to stay in business as other tanneries closed their doors. They created a fish leather with the softness of high quality cowhide. They are readily supplied with fish skins processed at a factory nearby in Dalvik. One of my regrets will be that I did not buy a few of those visually delicious fish skins, especially the ones in the subtle and luscious hues of turquoise, mauve, and butterscotch. We wave goodbye to the northern fjords.

MilkaGset1Sauðárkrókur Harbor and the surrounding mountains that carve out the fjord