Saturday, 25 August 2012

Shetland Isles

So who knew that there was a small Island right in between Orkney and Shetland?

It wasn't until I was on the ferry going from Orkney to Shetland that I was looking at the map on my GPS, when I discovered there was a small island that sits pretty much right in the middle of the mainland islands of Orkney and Shetland. I had nothing that told me anything about it, just a little dot on my map with the writing "Fair Isle" next to it. I didn't have any other information and had no means of getting any, but I was able to work out that the Ferry would be sailing passed it about 4am.
So I set my alarm.

The sun had not quite risen yet, but you could see a little bit of light coming from the North East horizon. I didn't know if the island would be flat or have cliffs or even if anyone lived there, but when it appeared I was quite impressed with the big sea cliffs. It really set me off in a good mood for the rest of that day.

A few hours later the ferry arrived in Lerwick and I was on my way North to the most Northerly point in the UK, which is close to an area that I sailed passed a short time before while on the way back from Iceland.

I had 2 more ferry crossings before I could get to this most Northerly point. 

My mood for the day was about as laid back as you can get. I arrived at the ferry port at the North end of the mainland of Shetland to take the ferry to and island called Yell. It was about then I discover I had no cash left, so I headed south again in search of a cash point. Back at the ferry port now with some cash, some bacon and some eggs for breakfast. I relaxed in the sun and cooked and replied to a back log of emails with the free WIFI at the ferry port. I probably missed 6 or so ferries in the process.

Waiting For The Ferry To Yell in scotland

It was early afternoon before took the short 15 minute ferry ride over to Yell. I rode to the North end of the island and took another ferry over to another Island, Unst, and rode to the North side of it.

It's times like these that I envy car drivers a bit. When it comes to leaving my bike to go walking, it is never a simple operation. My camera gear always comes with me and the empty space it leaves is taken up by my motorbike clothes. It sounds simple enough to say here, but the whole operation of moving this gear over and getting changed never seems to happen as quickly as I think it should.

I was walking towards the most Northerly Lighthouse in the UK. I had no way to actually get to the lighthouse as it was built on top of a rock which is several hundred metres North of the most Northerly part of Unst. The path I followed took me around the west side of the peninsula. Puffins! Wow, I saw hundreds of Puffins. They also don't seem to be too bothered by human presense as you can get quite close without them getting scared. Of course you should always respect them and give them some room to do their nesting chores.

This place is a haven for sea birds, there are thousands of them! Some large rocks off shore are completely covered in nesting birds. Puffins have got to be the most entertaining of them to watch.

Puffins near Muckle Flugga in scotland

Friday, 24 August 2012

The long way to Shetland

It was only a little over a month ago that I was on my way back from Iceland on the ferry. I had been travelling on my motorbike around Iceland and it was now time to start the slow journey home to Scotland. It takes 2 days for this Ferry to get from Iceland to Denmark! 2 days! Not that the ferry is slow or anything, it is just a long way. I found the most depressing part of the journey, for me was that we sailed right passed Shetland, a group of islands just off the North coast of Scotland. Now... when I say sailed passed, actually the islands are in the way and the ferry has to make a small detour from a direct route to Denmark to avoid crashing into them. I woke up in the morning the day after the ferry left the Faroe Islands only to see that we were sailing right passed Muckle Flugga Lighthouse, at the most Northerly point in the UK. I picked up a mobile phone signal from Shetland and phoned my brother, for free for the first time in months. The whole experience of watching your destination country disappear over the horizon made me a little uneasy, if the ferry could have just let me off I could have been home the next day instead of in 4 days. As the islands finally disappeared and my phone signal dropped out I began to think about Shetland... despite having been born in Scotland and having lived there most of my life... the furthest North I had been was Dunnet Head, which is the most Northerly point of the mainland of the UK.... I've never been to Shetland before!
I really wanted to get to Shetland to see what was there, but also find out if there was some way I could, one day, get on a boat there and get myself to the Faroe Islands so that I could get the ship back to Iceland and see some of the places that I missed.

Finally I arrived home 4 days later having ridden 1000km (600 miles) from the Ferry terminal in Denmark to the Ferry port near Amsterdam in Holland and taking the overnight Ferry to Newcastle in the North of England then riding home (another 250 km (150 miles)).

Once home, I found I didn't really have much to do there... I had a day to be photographer at a friend's wedding, then another few days to finish working on all the photos. I was bored by that time and decided that it is still summer time... I shouldn't waste too much more of it at home. I decided it was time to get back on the bike again and visit that little group of Islands that I had sailed passed just a week or so before.

My home in the South West of Scotland is about as far away from Shetland as you'll get and still be in Scotland. I really didn't want to just ride passed everything in between, so I rode up the West coast of Scotland taking a week before I got on the Ferry to the Orkney Isles.

As always I didn't really have much of a plan. I knew very little about Orkney and Shetland. The whole point of going there was to find out what was there.

About a week after leaving home, I finally reached a little town called Scrabster in the North of the mainland of Scotland. Going by my map there was a ferry link from here to Orkney, then another one from Orkney to Shetland. Visiting the ferry office I found out there was a ferry in a few hours and I managed to get myself and my motorbike booked onto that ferry despite it being one of Orkney's busiest weekends. While on the Ferry I learnt that some of the UK's biggest sea cliffs are here and that the tallest sea stack.. "The old man of Hoy" is here too.... I just had to go and see it!

Old man of hoy from the Ferry to Orkney

I spent that night in Stromness in Orkney and made some plans to get to a smaller Island called Hoy. This is Hoy, home to the "Old man of hoy".

At 11am the next day I was on Hoy with my Motorbike looking up towards the hills. Hoy seems to be the only island out of all of islands that make up Orkney that has any sort of hills. I wanted to climb to the top of Ward Hill, which is the highest hill on Orkney, but it was pointless as the cloud was down at about 100 metres and even the old man of Hoy would have been hidden. Today was just not a good day. I made an attempt to kill some time in order to give the weather a chance to improve.

I set off to explore the island, making it to the far west side, then the far east side. I felt like a fly in a jam jar. The island felt too small and I couldn't get in the right frame of mind to want to explore. Later in the day rode over a causeway onto another smaller island (Longhope) and found myself at a lighthouse. By this time I was not feeling great, I had picked up a cold or some sort of bug while at my friends wedding and it was still haunting me. I felt like I had no energy and to avoid falling asleep while riding my bike I decided to park and rest for a while. I woke up several hours later still on the seat but hunched over the petrol tank using my hands with the gloves still on as a pillow between the handle bars and the petrol tank. I was still feeling tired, but just didn't have the energy to put up my tent. I was also worried that if I fell asleep on the bike again, I'd end up falling over and the bike landing on top of me in my sleep. This time instead of staying on the bike, I lay down on the ground and used the front wheel as a pillow and slept for another few hours.

It was now 8pm, still light. I had been sleeping for 4 hours total. I quickly put up my tent and crawled inside.

I woke the next day at 11am having slept for about 21 hours. I felt better but still not 100%. The good news was that the cloud had lifted in the night and the sun was out. After packing up I made my way over to Rackwick, where the walking path starts for the old man of hoy.

One hour later I was sitting at the top of a 100 meter cliff watching some climbers climbing to the top of the old man. I watched them for a few hours and in the meantime I managed to work out the path they had taken down the cliff to get to the base. Once the climbers made it to the top and were on their way back down I made my way down the cliff to set up my camera on the tripod and get a panoramic photo of the scene. By this time the sun had come around to the west a bit more and lowered in the sky. The sun was lighting up the sea cliffs and the sandstone walls of the old man.

The Old Man Of Hoy in scotland

 The Old Man Of Hoy in Scotland

The following morning I made my way back to the mainland of Orkney and explored some more. I learnt about the Churchill Barriers and how the British naval fleet had used Orkney as a base during World War 2. I visited a small chapel which was built by some Italian prisoners of war.

Italian Chapel in scotland

Evening came and it got to that time of day that I felt like I should find a place to sleep for the night. I glanced at the Ferry timetable that I had picked up while waiting for the Ferry to Orkney and discovered that I could get the ferry to Shetland either tonight or I'd have to wait for 2 more days. Not really knowing what the rest of Orkney had in store for me and looking at the calendar and seeing that time was not really on my side, I decided to try to get myself on the Shetland Ferry which was due to arrive in Kirkwall just before midnight.

On arriving at the Ferry terminal I discovered that due to the busy weekend of events that were on in Orkney the ferry was fully booked. They said I could go on standby and if there was any space then I could travel.... I agreed to risk it and I waited around, the Ferry arrived about 11pm. It was very dark by this time and I wondered where I could sleep if I didn't get on the ferry. I watched as the ferry was loaded, having no idea if I would be getting on it or not. I had always thought that there was always space for motorbikes, they take up so little room! But these thoughts had been crushed when I was turned away from the "full" ferry to Skye only 1 week before.

I had no idea if I'd be on Shetland the following day and no idea what to do if I had to stay on Orkney...

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Iceland Part 3

The next day the only rain I experienced was walking to the base of the waterfall.
Sometimes it’s hard to make the decision… Do I take off my motorbike gear or keep it on when going for walks… It’s sometimes a simple decision and sometimes impossible to know which is best. If it’s hot weather than it’s quite an easy decision, but when it’s cold then it seems to depend on how long the walk is. I’d take a wild guess that I use 4 times more energy walking with the motorbike gear on, but then I take up a lot of time taking it off and packing it away into the boxes on the bike. I sometimes feel like an old man when I walk with my motorbike gear on. I get tired so quickly, my legs overheat and I have to rest lots to cool down. I don’t feel out of breath, I just feel too hot. I’m glad it’s not a hot climate, but then if it was I’d have taken my gear off…. Probably…
There can’t be anywhere else in the world like it… Well, maybe I’ve just never been anywhere like it. I would ride for what seemed like ages but only make it a few kilometres. In and out, in and out. The Fjords made the travelling slow around here. Sometimes I’d ride 40 kilometres and only make a few kilometres in actual distance,  because I’d just ridding around to the other side other the fjord. But it’s not just once… this was happening all day, and all the next day. It really was slow going. When I travel like this I sometimes feel like it’s pointless. I’m just sitting on the bike all day looking at things passing by. I feel bad sometimes, I should be stopping and exploring, but then what could I see that I couldn’t see from the road? Well, I won’t know unless I stop!, but where should I stop? It’s all so amazing. 

Arnarfjörður in iceland

Dýrafjörður in iceland
Days later I came out of the area of the Western Fjords feeling like I had got the lay of the land. I now knew roughly what it looked like but I failed to feel like I had explored. I sometimes don’t mind that because it allows me to look at a map and then have a mental picture of what an area looks like, but then could I not do that by looking at pictures of the area on the internet? Maybe… but it’s not the same.
When the roads are quiet and the surface is good I always find myself passing the time by thinking about something other than riding the bike. Today I was starting to realise that my time in Iceland was running out. I really wanted to take a panoramic photo that summed the country up in 1 go. I tried to imagine what the photo would look like… Surely it would need to have a glacier in it… Oh and a volcano… I thought that was good as they go hand in hand in Iceland, but it will need something else since they do go hand in hand. I wondered what that thing was… I didn’t want it to be anything man made as the country cries out “Wild wild wild”. I wondered if it should be horses, then after a while decided that was a good idea… So I need to find a place with a glacier, volcano and some horses. I liked the idea… the horses would take up the foreground and the glacier and volcano the background. The problem was that I had already passed the area of Iceland where I could have probably got that photo, there were no glaciers where I was and the closest ones were too remote for there to be any fields with horses in them.
I was now feeling like I was starting to have deadlines again. I followed the main highway 1 east along the North side of the country all the way to an area called Myvatn. Tonight was the night I would finally fit my off road tyres, for tomorrow I’m doing my first real off road in Iceland. I now had mentally planned out each day that was left in my trip and I had set myself a strict face paced schedule to keep until I got on the ferry.

Horses Near Myvatn in iceland
I found a camp next the Myvatn late and set up my tent. Once my tent was up my bike was hauled onto the centre stand again and the back wheel was removed and the tyre was let down. Ever since my days of travelling bike motorbike in Australia I’ve been self-sufficient with tyres. I always fit my own tyres and I always fix my own punctures. I always carry tyre leavers, patches, spare tubes and a pump. I wouldn’t say I’m amazing at fitting them as I always struggle at lining the inner tube valve up with the hole in the rim while trying to give myself room for my fingers with the tyre levers. 1 hour and 15 minutes later my bike was looking extra mean with brand new off road tyres. I was now excited and couldn’t wait for tomorrow to come!

The following day was pretty fast paced. I was at the top of a volcano, or more accurately a cinder cone looking over the lake, Myvatn. Then a bit later I was looking mud pools and volcanic vents forcing stream up out into the atmosphere while trying not to gag at the awful sulphur smell, before I knew it I was standing at mightiest waterfall that I’ve ever seen. (I later learned it was likely Europe’s most powerful). By late evening I was behind in my schedule. I worked out that I needed to double back to Myvatn to get fuel as I had wasted enough to put me in danger of running out before the next time I could get fuel. This set me back a fair bit. I had planned to be as close as I could get to a place called Askja.

Hverfjall in iceland
My bike was now fully fuelled up, probably quite dangerously I even had filled up the part of the tank that is meant to allow the fuel to expand on a hot day… But I didn’t expect any of those so I put fuel there instead and headed East. I pulled off the highway into the turn off for road F88. The “F” means it’s for four wheel drives only. I stopped the bike and started reading the array of signs that had been put up with information about the road. No hire cars allowed, I got that… But I wanted information about any river crossings on the road, I then found a sign for that, it showed me where they all were, but I had no idea how deep they would be.
It had been a while since I had been on rough roads with a motorbike. I felt out of my depth riding this heavy bike up this badly corrugated track. I was introduced to these “Corrugations” when I was 20 years old when I was riding my motorbike Cape York in the very North of Australia. Ok, so you might ask…. What are they?  Well, think of walking along a sandy beach at low tide and seeing the ripples in the sand that the sea left as it went out, or think of an old fashioned washboard that was used to scrub clothes clean. Basically on gravel roads, sandy roads, or clay roads it’s possible for a similar thing to form. The corrugations are always run left to right along the width of the road, so riding down the road means riding over the corrugations. The size of them varies wildly where sometimes they’re small enough not to notice, and sometimes riding over them is almost impossible. The corrugations I found on F88 I found were more towards the impossible end of the scale. Normally I keep my map neatly tucked in between the seat and petrol tank the corrugations soon made that disappear. I had to stop and drop me tyre pressures down to try to flatten the tyre enough to not go as deep into them and soften the blow when I hit the peaks of the next one. Speed is an issue, going slowly enough to not get the vibration means you’ll be going slower than walking speed and if you go faster than 50 mph (80km/h) you can start to skip over them. The problem with that is that the tyres are not 100% on the ground all the time and steering gets to be a problem sometimes.
An hour or so down the track the corrugations were starting to feel more normal. It made me remember about how my own standards of a track would change wildly depending on what I had been riding over before I got to the track, and since I had just come from a nice highway onto this track then it’s no wonder I thought it was rough. If I had come off a track with deep rutted soft sand then I’d probably have thought this was easy!
The first of the river crossings didn’t slow me down too much. I parked the bike a few metres from the edge and jumped off. I had bought some black bin bags when I filled up with fuel. I had seen a man on a motorbike about a week before who had the remains of some bin bags around his legs… The idea clicked at the time, I thought it would be a great way of making temporary waders to walk into deep water with without getting my legs wet. I unrolled 2 bags from the roll, one for each leg and walked into the water holding onto one with each hand so they didn’t fall down to my ankles. My feet were soaked within seconds as the small stones pierced their way into the bags. The water was not too deep and the bottom was not too rough. I walked back to the bike and carefully rode it into the river. The water came over the foot rests but it didn’t bother me as my feet were already wet. The water was nowhere near as cold as I’d have imagined it would have been either!
It was getting late by this time. I didn’t see any other traffic on the road. It made the whole thing feel like a bit more of an adventure. I always find it disappointing when I’m travelling somewhere that I think is remote then when I arrive I find there is 100’s of people already there… I remembering when I had travelled with my motorbike in Australia, I had made it to a waterfall called Mitchell Falls which is in a remote area in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, I parked the bike up next to 2 4 wheel drives, which were the only 2 in site and walked the 3 kilometres to the falls only to find over 100 people sitting in a pool at the top of the falls… It didn’t add up… 2 4 wheel drives with 100 people?? It turned out a cruise ship was off the coast and all these people were brought in via helicopter.
I soon came to another river crossing. It was now passed 10pm and I thought there was probably no chance that I’d meet other traffic on this track. I once again stopped the bike before the edge of the river, this time I didn’t bother with the black bags, I just walked right in. In the middle the water was almost at the level where men think twice to go any deeper, especially in Iceland. This time the water was cold, I was uncontrollably making screeching noises at the cold! I thought that it must be fresh glacial melt water as it felt like it was bearly above freezing. I found that if I walked down river a little that the water was a bit more shallow. It would have been crazy to try and cross in the middle as the water would have come over the motorbike’s seat and dropping it in that depth would have given me massive problems, especially since it was likely nobody would come to my aid at that time of night. Downriver the water was just over knee deep, which I remembered to be just over 60cm from my days in Australia. I knew that was about my limit for my old Yamaha Tenere, but I’d never taken my Africa Twin into water anywhere near this deep before. I thought maybe I should camp and see if the water was any lower in the morning, It’s quite common for rivers with glacial melt water to be high at the end of the day as the glaciers melt much more in the day than at night. A sign quite clearly stated I was not allowed to camp. But not through wanting to obey the sign I decided to continue and see what happens… After all if anything was to go wrong, then it would “all just be part of the adventure”.
I jumped on the bike, started the engine and slowly let go of the clutch lever. The front wheel was about completely under the water, as the back made it to the same depth I could feel my panniers dragging in the water. I kept the revs steady but kept my hand on the clutch just a little so if I hit anything under the water I wouldn’t stall the engine, doing this also let me ride a bit slower. The back wheel started to spin in the soft gravel riverbed and the bike, though it didn’t stop moving dug its way in a little deeper under the water. Just as I was at the stage of panic that I was going to be stuck in the middle, the bike started to rise out of the other side….. front wheel out... back wheel out… cough! And the engine just died.
I was now freezing! That water was much colder than the first river I crossed. I was at the stage of not being able to think clearly, taking badly thought out risks, the whole idea of crossing at this time of night was a badly thought out idea. I could have camped and waited for the first 4 wheel drive in the morning to watch me cross and help tow the bike out if I dropped it or drowned the engine. But instead now I was sitting with the back wheel barely out the water with a bike that just stopped running. All this went through my head in about a millisecond as that one millisecond later I had pressed the start button and the bike burst into life again, I gave it a rev and let go the clutch and wheel span all the way up the far side back onto the level ground again. Phew!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Iceland Part 2

I was now travelling by myself for the first time in almost 2 months. I had no travel buddy, no deadlines to meet but I only had 9 days left in Iceland before I had to be back at the ferry to head home again.

After I dropped Kiya off at the airport I went back to pick up my off road tyres from the camp ground where I had left them 1 week before. The road tyres on the bike now had done almost 10,000 miles (16,000 km) and were looking quite slick.

I was not dealing with being alone very well, my motivation was low. Normally I’d be excited at the thought of another chapter starting. Thinking back to how excited I was the day I arrived in Iceland my mood today just did not make sense. I thought back to when Mila and I rode up the pass after leaving the ferry and how amazing I thought everything looked through my fresh eyes. Why can’t I feel that way again? Is Iceland getting old this quickly?

Looking at the map and I picked a direction to travel in. I wanted to ride up the west coast from Reykjavik and try to get myself as far west in Iceland as I could.

The following day I rode through Reykjavik. As I rode I wondered if I should stop in and see a little bit of the city. I felt a bit torn between two things and wondered to myself which I would regret more, leave the capital without seeing what is has to offer, or would I regret wasting the time doing that when I could be out in more remote areas while I had the means to do so. After all if I really want to see Reykjavik sometime then I could fly there and walk around the city, but then I’ve never been a big fan of cities.

By this time the city was slowly disappearing in my rear view mirrors. I was riding up main coastal road to the North. The weather was dry but the sky was full of grey clouds which hugged the mountains just to the east. The rock of the mountains was quite black looking but there were bright green moss or grass patches which really give the scene an amazing contrast. The road is quite busy with cars, though they don’t look like tourist cars, more local traffic. I soon get fed up of being in a queue of traffic and I find a place to stop. I was a bit sore as it had been a few hours since I got on the bike… 2 hours seems to be the norm for this, though I often do more when I feel the need, but today there is no need. My sudden lack of deadlines and lack of destination was causing my pace and enthusiasm to slow down. It didn’t seem to matter how long I stopped for or how fast I rode, as nothing or nobody was waiting for me at the other end.

I man handle my bike onto the centre stand to do some checks... Engine oil… ok. The chain is starting to get tight spots, but it’s not getting too noisy yet, so it should be ok for getting home. I fill up my chain oiler with fresh oil and remove the nozzle that drips the oil onto the chain. Sometimes after rain it seems to gunge up when the oil mixes with water causing the oiler to stop working. Its maintenance and I DO need to do it, but it just feels like I’m wasting time, I have no drive and once I complete one thing, I start looking for something else that might need attention. It feels like I’m just making excuses, I feel like I should be somewhere else, but I just don’t know where that place is. Why can’t I make the most of this?

I continue North thinking some distance might help my mood. After looking at the map I discovered that the highest waterfall in Iceland was only a 30 minutes ride away. I turned off the main highway and head east up what would once have been the main highway before they built the road tunnel under the Fjord.

I really feel like I’m off of the tourist route now. All along the south coast of Iceland there were tour busses, big 4x4s, motorhomes, motorbikes, hire cars, but now there was very little traffic. I park in the car park where the walking path starts for the waterfall. It is now lunch time so I eat a few boiled eggs that I had boiled earlier in the day, then a few cookies… The cookies were the same brand as Mila and I had bought when we travelled together, eating them made me think of her and wonder how she was getting on with her new job. It was now raining quite heavily and there is no place to shelter so I made do with the luxury of wearing my motorbike jacket and helmet to keep dry and I sit on the bike. I wish I had an umbrella, I then thought about somehow rigging my tent over the bike to keep dry while I waited for the rain to stop. I noticed that some children were watching me from a car that was parked a few metres away, they must have been left by their parents while they walked to the waterfall. I was jealous they had somewhere dry and comfortable to sit.

The rain would just not give up! I waited for as long as my patience would allow before I decided that I needed to find a place to stay for the night. I didn’t want to ride in this rain as it was heavy enough to soak me if I rode too far. I finally decided to put on a brave face and 40 kilometres later I was in Akranes. I had seen clear skies off to the west so I kept going in that direction hoping the distance would cause the rain to stop. By the time I made it to Akranes it was sunny and late enough to not feel too bad about stopping for the day. I found a camp ground, but didn’t find anyone to pay for the privilege of staying there. The camp ground was beside the sea and was full of caravan and motorhomes, it looked more like a grassy place you might have a picnic on a warm summer’s day rather than a place to sleep in a tent for the night. There were toilets and showers but they were in a portacabin. Everything looked quite temporary.

Glymur in iceland

I now had my tent up and I was sitting in it feeling glad that I didn’t have to put it up in that heavy rain. I was still feeling quite blue and isolated. I remembered that I often feel more isolated when I camp by myself in a busy camping area than if I camp alone in the mountains. I never seem to feel lonely when I camp in remote places by myself, but often when I come out of remote areas and camp again near others I end up feeling really lonely and disconnected. It seems so strange to feel alone when there are other people just metres away and not when people are 100’s of kilometres away.

I had not managed to find any sort of attendant or manager for the camp ground, not even a sign to say how I should pay for the privilege of sleeping on their grass. Maybe someone will come around later looking for some money at a more normal stopping time for the night. My mood made me feel something was missing… was it really just the fact that I had gotten unused to travelling by myself? I really didn’t know… but I hated feeling this way because I knew when I thought about it later I wouldn’t understand why I did feel that way and I’d just feel like I’d wasted time for no reason. I phoned home to see if there was any news that would change my mood. I phoned my brother first, then a few friends, one told me a funny story about something that had happened at which cheered me up a bit.

In the morning I rode back to the waterfall car park and started walking up the path towards it. The path was quite flat for a few kilometres but then dropped away and disappeared into a lava tunnel. I crossed the river by walking over a steel cable that someone had kindly put there for that purpose. It was a bit like a tight rope walk, but there was also a normal rope at hand height to help balance with. I trusted myself enough to not fall in but didn’t completely rule it out. Over the past few years I seem to care less and less about things going wrong while travelling and I’ve managed come up with something to say when it does… “It’s all part of the adventure”, today I didn’t need to use the phrase as I managed to get myself and my bag of camera equipment over the river without getting it or myself wet.

As I stood looking over the highest waterfall in the country I tried hard to be impressed. I thought about the first waterfall that I had seen in Iceland when Mila and I were riding up the pass away from the ferry. I didn’t stop for a photo, but I was impressed, everything was impressive that day! Why is nothing impressive today? Its times like these that reminds me why I always take people’s travel advice with a pinch of salt. If someone didn’t recommend I went to a certain place then they’re likely basing that advice on the experience that they had when they went to that place, but what if they were in the same mood I was in when they went there. This scene should have impressed me, I knew it! But it didn’t, was it the weather?

It was a few days later that I started coming out the mood and started seeing things in a different light. I was riding up a pass over a mountain and once I got to the top I saw a red survival shelter. These seem to be quite common in Iceland, though I’ve not seen one like this before, it looks like some sort of life boat perched on top of a mountain, or some sort of survival pod that might see in some science fiction film. I went inside to have a look and found a set of bunk beds and a few tins of food laying around, there was also a log book that a few people had written in.

I was now riding the bike West towards the most Westerly point of Iceland, which really is not very far from Greenland. I passed fairly big boat that was washed up on the beach which had a sign next to it saying it was the oldest steel built ship in all of Iceland. The road turned gravel after this and started following the coast. The track was cut into the side of a hill and as I rode along the right side of it I could look down 50 metres or so down to the sea. I was glad I trusted my abilities on the bike on the gravel but I couldn’t ignore how bald my back tyre had become now and thought that there would always be a chance I could underestimate the grip and drop the 50 metres down to the sea.

Bjargtangar; well I didn’t know the name of it before I got there, but I saw it written on a sign when I arrived. It said something about being the most westerly point of, not only Iceland, but Europe too. I didn’t really think that it might be the most westerly point of Europe when I planned to go. I walked along the cliff for a while and soon spotted some Puffins. I’d never seen a Puffin before. They’re such weird looking birds. This place really was a haven for them, there were hundred’s! I guess there must be a lot of fish in the sea here. I set up my camera to see if I could take a panoramic photo that included some puffins. With the lens I use for a panorama I really do need to get close to them to see any detail, but I just couldn’t get close enough and I didn’t want to disturb them too much in their territory. I changed the lens back to the longest one I had and took a few photos. I was amazed how laid back they were, yet how worried they looked at the same time. Their beaks were like rainbows! I finally saw some in flight, it really does not look all that natural, their wings look far too small to keep them up in the air. I’m far from an expert on them, but I thought the wings must be small so they can dive into the water more easily. What an amazing bird that can walk, fly and swim!

Puffins at Bjargtangar in iceland

I followed the track back to the main road then began to follow the coast around the North-West corner of the country. Progress is slow, the roads are gravel. I overtake cars as most of them are going too slowly for me to follow them. I try to be careful so I don’t create too much dust or throw any stones up, but become impatient when some drivers don’t let me pass safely. I wonder if they want stones in their windscreen? Eventually the road is strait enough and I can creep passed without too much excess speed. I resist the temptation to open the throttle wide as I pass after the driver had not slowed to allow me to pass for over 20 minutes and it was only out of sheer respect that I didn’t just pass before anyway.

I didn’t really have a plan now, I didn’t have anywhere in particular that I wanted to be, but I was now quite happy and satisfied with everything that appeared over the horizon. The bike eats up the distance of these Western Fjords so quickly. Tonight I decided to just keep riding passed my normal stopping time. There was not much danger of it getting too dark to ride on, for it does not get dark at this time of year this far North. Normally I think 10pm is too late to pull into a paid camping ground as other people might be sleeping by that time, I’d normally want to be stopped somewhere between 8 and 9pm. This was a pretty remote area and I didn’t see any towns for a long time and I didn’t see anywhere I could put my tent up but I didn’t really mind. I stopped to eat about 10pm and continued on until much later before stopping at a big waterfall that pours down the side of a mountain then cascades through a series of other falls down into the fjord. There was a yacht anchored out in the bay and there were some other people camping near the beach. It was late now, but I didn’t worry too much about my bike making too much noise as I rode in as the waterfall would have drowned out the bike easily.

It was not raining, but the sky was grey and the cloud didn’t seem to be too far above the mountains. It was quite cold too, but then I wasn’t surprised as it was after midnight and I was just a dozen miles south of the Arctic Circle.