Snæfellsnes, a peninsula sticking out of Iceland’s west coast, is well worth a visit, and indeed a blog post and I’ll write one at some point. It’s an escape from the often-frenetic pace of activities in Iceland, where you rush or are rushed from Blue Lagoon to Golden Circle to horse-riding to glaciers to scurries around Reykjavik and so on. There’s nothing especially touristy on Snæfellsnes, however, nothing “must see” which means you’re free to just enjoy the scenery, the birds, the picture-perfect snow-capped volcano…
But this post isn’t about Snæfellsjökull (also worthy of its own post). It’s about a small diversion I stumbled upon while driving about Snæfellsnes one grey day in the summer of 2014.
The Rauðfeldar canyon is just on the right of the road on Snæfellsnes’s southern coast. I’d love to be more specific because it’s mean to say “this place is great!” and then not tell you where it is but I genuinely don’t know. It’s not on Google Maps, which is my go-to for finding precise locations. It’s somewhere on the 54, between where it turns from the mainland onto the peninsula, and Arnarstapi. If you’re driving along there, you’ll spot a small car park below some cloven cliffs. It’s there.
We have to start with the story of Bárðr Snæfellsás, a kind of god, a mountain spirit, supernatural guardian, of Snæfellsjökull. You’ll see a sculpture of him dominating Arnarstapi, the small village a bit further down the road. Bárðr was half human, a quarter troll and a quarter giant and he had a half-brother called Þorkell (on his mother’s side, I think, the human side). Now, Bárðr had three daughters and Þorkell two sons and the children would play together. Until one day, Þorkell’s sons Rauðfeldr and Sölvi pushed Bárðr’s daughter Helga out to see on an iceberg. She drifted unharmed to Greenland and started a family there (and later returned to Iceland to her father, only to find that she missed her adopted home and family too much) but Bárðr was furious in the way that only a mountain spirit can be angry. He threw Sölvi off the high cliffs east of Arnarstapi and Rauðfeldr into a canyon, hence the respective names of the cliffs and canyons: Sölvahamar and Rauðfeldar.
So that’s where Rauðfeldar comes from. There are signs up in the car park – you’re more than welcome to explore the canyon, as long as you bear in mind that it gets very narrow further in. Well, I like nothing more than dark places in the rock, so in I went.
It’s a little bit like low-risk caving, hopping from stepping stone to stepping stone, making leaps that are a little wider or wetter than is advisable, trying not to slip into the water, scrambling on boulders, trying not to get the camera wet, only with bright sunlight blazing down through the top of the crevice. It’s pretty narrow in there and the cliffs are quite sheer and quite high, so it’s a bit like the sun shining through a letterbox but it’s more than bright enough that you don’t need to worry about torches. I enjoyed my little excursion (and it was little, I spent less than ten minutes scrambling around over wet rock before I decided it was getting too wet, too narrow, too climby and altogether too serious to try to go much further) and I do recommend a peek in if you happen to be passing.