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Breiðafjörður - A view from our expert author
In summer, seabirds still dominate the sea and sky – expect cormorants, shags, lone puffins and eider ducks galore, perhaps even the rare and endangered sea eagle.
‘Broad fjord’ is what separates the West Fjords from the rest of Iceland – a 50km-wide watery gap that looks like a giant bay but is still very much a fjord by definition and formation. The Old Norse explanation goes back to the three trolls who dug frantically to separate the region from Iceland – the rocks flung between their legs became the scattered islands that characterise the fjord. Seeing as some rocks are semi-submerged and less than 1m wide, there’s no telling how many islands exist, but the last person who counted came up with more than 3,000. As compelling as the trolls sound, geologists attribute this great bay of islands to active eruptions of ancient times.
There are no trolls visible today, only the beautiful namesake broad fjord of Breiðafjörður © Doin Oakenhelm, Shutterstock
The rims of sub-glacial volcanoes were ground down by the retreating ice cap, forming the telltale roches moutonnée of glacial landscapes – or rather, a glacial seascape. The islands follow the grain of this prehistoric ice flow, and you can still see the scratches and cracks where the rocks were smoothed down into paisley-shaped islands. Much of the fjord is remarkably shallow and the islands low, like silver drops on a sheet of steely blue. Thus, tides are felt very strongly, so much so that three or four ‘islands’ may become a single island at low tide, and certain broad channels suddenly become impassable. A few of the islands are still ‘hot’, namely Hrauneyjar (‘lava islands’) and Drápsker (‘killer skerry’).
The very first settlers rushed to Breiðafjörður because it was filled with so much quick and accessible food (seals, fish, birds, eggs, and whales). In summer, seabirds still dominate the sea and sky – expect cormorants, shags, lone puffins and eider ducks galore, perhaps even the rare and endangered sea eagle (this is where most of them live). Harbour seals also love these islands, but normally keep to the rock skerries farther out. The waters are still the home of many spawning fish and the entire eastern half of the fjord is a protected nature reserve.