The remarkable age-old settlement at Grenjaðarstaður, with its church and turf farmhouses, gives visitors a fabulous opportunity to step back into Iceland’s yesteryear way of life.
Fortified against the elements with the most natural of earth, moss and grass barriers, these dwellings transport you back in time to when surviving and thriving during Icelandic winters took every ounce of energy and will.
Hobbit-like in their design and fabulously practical, the turf houses were built to last. Withstanding everything the elements could throw at them, they have become legendary in status, their existence stretching back over a thousand years of pastoral Icelandic history. Their proximity to the smart, austere, pew-filled church gives the impression of a truly important hamlet, set in the wilds of northern Iceland.
Delve deeper and you find that these traditional turf houses exhibit an extraordinary array of interiors, equipment and furnishings, fit for their community leaders and chieftains. When visiting these homes, you soon realise how efficient the relatively well-off were in eking out a living and running their domain.
Impressive working tools, furnishing and family decorations are positioned and stored as if their owners had just stepped out of the building, rather than having left over a hundred years ago.
Without doubt, life at Grenjaðarstaður would have been the envy of many Icelanders who only just scraped an existence in the further flung rural areas. Indeed, the adjacent church, dating back to 1865, is so well preserved that the combined buildings of Grenjaðarstaður are one of the national Museum of Iceland’s proudest exhibits.
As in so many other parts of the world, it soon becomes apparent that wealth in the 18th and 19th centuries was held by the house of god, even in this remote part of the world.
Indeed, during the summer months the crop of traditional buildings does look angelic – with wild flowers growing from the turf-duvet roofs, well-manicured paddocks, bright white rowing boats and a phenomenally impressive display of effective household implements matching their tradesman’s tools and sturdy impenetrable walls.
I loved it, and recommend it as a hugely rewarding side trip for anyone exploring the less visited northern landscapes of Iceland.