Dyrhólaey in South Iceland

Iceland - Scott #383 (1966)
Iceland – Scott #383 (1966)

The small peninsula, or promontory Dyrhólaey (elevation: 120 meters), formerly known as “Cape Portland” by seamen, is located on the south coast of Iceland, not far from the village of Vík í Mýrdal. It was formerly an island of volcanic origin, which is also known by the Icelandic word eyja meaning island. It is thought to have been created during a submarine volcanic eruption approximately 80 thousand years ago.

The eruption, which formed Dyrhólaey and the pillars around it (originally parts of it), presumably took place in the same way as other submarine and subglacial eruptions. In the beginning, a major tephra eruption took place and later, when the crater reached the surface of the sea, the lava started to flow and thus ensured its existence.

Most likely, fishermen have operated their boats from Dyrhólaey, or the shore near to it, from the time of the first settlement. Unfortunately, sources are very poor on this issue during the early centuries. Kristnisaga (Saga of Christianity), however, has it that when Gissur the White and Hjalti Skeggjason arrived in Iceland in the year 1000 to preach Christianity, people rowed towards them, as they sailed through the Dyrhólar delta. From this it can be seen that boats were then present at Dyrhólaey. Eyjˇlfur Gu­mundsson, a farmer and a writer at Hvoll in Mřrdalur, believes that a fleet of fishing boats was operated from the shore at Kirkjufjara, south of the promontory, during the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries.

Dyrhólaey Arch, Suðurland, Iceland. The ocean has worn the black basalt here into a 120 meters (394 ft) high arch which also serves as a bird sanctuary. Photo taken on December 17, 2014.
Dyrhólaey Arch, Suðurland, Iceland. The ocean has worn the black basalt here into a 120 meters (394 ft) high arch which also serves as a bird sanctuary. Photo taken on December 17, 2014.
Dyrhólaey lighthouse (Dyrhólaeyjarviti). Photo taken on August 15, 2006.
Dyrhólaey lighthouse (Dyrhólaeyjarviti). Photo taken on August 15, 2006.

Dyrhólaey lighthouse (Dyrhólaeyjarviti in Icelandic) sits at the top of the formation facing the sea. The light station at Dyrhólaey was established in 1910. The first lighthouse was a skeletal steel tower prefabricated in Sweden. The present lighthouse was built in 1927, consisting of a square concrete tower, painted white with red trim. Integral keepers quarters are placed on the left and right sides of the tower. A red metal lantern house is placed on top of the tower. The focal plane of the light is 118 m (387 ft). The overall height of the tower is 13 m (43 ft). The site (but not the tower) is open to visitors.

East of Dyrhólaey, you can still see the ruins of fishermen’s cottages and fishwalls, now mostly covered by vegetation. All of this area is named Gar­ar (Walls). The shore at Kirkjufjara mostly vanished and the fishing activity is then believed to have moved to the west of Dyrhólaey. From the 18th century, fishing boats sailed out from the sand shore west of the promontory, which is still called Dyrhˇlah÷fn (Dyrhólar port). Many rowing boats were operated from this place until the middle of the 20th century. There is very rich birdlife in Dyrhólaey and the surrounding stacks. Normally in springtime, people collected eggs in the stacks, and still do. In the early days, this helped with the housekeeping. Both Fulmars and Puffins have been caught now and then in the promontory. Quite a few Eider Ducks nest here, and people have tended to care for the ducks in recent years, after the promontory was protected against sheep and all traffic during the nesting season.

The view from Dyrhólaey is broad: To the north is to be seen the big glacier Mýrdalsjökull. To the east, the black lava columns of the Reynisdrangar come out of the sea, and to the west the whole coastline in the direction of Selfoss is visible – depending on weather conditions. In front of the peninsula, there is a gigantic black arch of lava standing in the sea, which gave the peninsula its name (meaning “door hill island”).

In the summertime, many puffins nest on the cliff faces of Dyrhólaey.

Map of Iceland
Map of Iceland
Vík i Myrdal from above. Photo taken on August 27, 2011.
Vík i Myrdal from above. Photo taken on August 27, 2011.

The village of Vík í Mýrdal is the southernmost village in Iceland, located on the main ring road around the island, around 180 km (110 mi) by road southeast of Reykjavík. Despite its small size (291 inhabitants as of January 2011) it is the largest settlement for some 70 km (43 mi) around and is an important staging post, and thus it is indicated on road signs from a long distance away. It is an important service center for the inhabitants of and visitors to the coastal strip between Skógar and the west edge of the Mýrdalssandur glacial outwash plain.

In 1991, the U.S. journal Islands Magazine counted this beach as one of the ten most beautiful beaches on Earth. Its stretch of black basalt sand is one of the wettest places in Iceland. The cliffs west of the beach are home to many seabirds, most notably puffins which burrow into the shallow soils during the nesting season. Offshore lie stacks of basalt rock, remnants of a once more extensive cliffline Reynisfjall, now battered by the sea. There is no landmass between here and Antarctica and the Atlantic rollers can attack with full force. According to folklore, they are former trolls who tried to drag their boats out to sea only to be caught by the rising dawn. The sea around them is rather wild and stormy, so travelers will not be surprised to discover a monument to the memory of drowned seamen on the beach.

Vík í Mýrdal Aerial Panorama from out at sea. Photo taken on June 16, 2017.
Vík í Mýrdal Aerial Panorama from out at sea. Photo taken on June 16, 2017.
Rocky columns in the water off Vik, Iceland. Photo taken on March 2, 2003.
Rocky columns in the water off Vik, Iceland. Photo taken on March 2, 2003.

Reynisdrangar are basalt sea stacks situated under the mountain Reynisfjall near the village. Legend says that the stacks originated when two trolls dragged a three-masted ship to land unsuccessfully and when daylight broke they became needles of rock. Contemporary legends note the story of a husband who found his wife taken by the two trolls, frozen at night. The husband made the two trolls swear to never kill anyone ever again. His wife was the love of his life, whose free spirit he was unable to provide a home for; she found her fate out among the trolls, rocks, and sea at Reynisfjara.

Vík í Myrdal. was affected by volcanic ash during the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull.

Vík lies directly south of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which itself is on top of the Katla volcano. Katla has not erupted since 1918, and this longer than typical dormant period has led to speculation that an eruption may occur soon. An eruption of Katla could melt enough ice to trigger an enormous flash flood, potentially large enough to obliterate the entire town. The town’s church, located high on a hill, is believed to be the only building that would survive such a flood. Thus, the people of Vík practice periodic drills and are trained to rush to the church at the first sign of an eruption. The town has 1,400 hotel rooms for scientists and tourists, who are also briefed about Katla’s dangers.

“Ice Castle” formation on Mýrdalsjökull, Iceland. Photo taken on June 22, 2006.

Mýrdalsjökull (Icelandic for “mire dale glacier” or “mire valley glacier”) is an ice cap in the south of Iceland. It is to the north of Vík í Mýrdal and to the east of the smaller ice cap Eyjafjallajökull. Between these two glaciers is Fimmvörðuháls pass. Its peak reaches 1,493 m (4,898 ft) in height and in 1980 it covered an area of 595 km² (230 sq mi).

The icecap of the glacier covers an active volcano called Katla. The caldera of the volcano has a diameter of 10 km (6 mi) and the volcano erupts usually every 40–80 years. The last eruption took place in 1918. Scientists are actively monitoring the volcano, particularly after the eruption of nearby Eyjafjallajökull began in April 2010. Since the year 930, 16 eruptions have been documented.

The Eldgjá, a volcanic eruption fissure about 30 km (19 mi) long, which erupted in the year 936, is part of the same volcanic system.

The beach of Reynisfjara and Reynisdrangar, basalt sea stacks, as seen from Dyrhólaey, Iceland. Photo taken on July 20, 2014.
The beach of Reynisfjara and Reynisdrangar, basalt sea stacks, as seen from Dyrhólaey, Iceland. Photo taken on July 20, 2014.

Before the Hringvegur (the main ring road round the island) was built, people feared traversing the plains in front of the volcano because of the frequent jökulhlaups (glacial floods) and the deep rivers to be crossed, although the road is still vulnerable to major events. Especially dangerous was the glacial flood after the eruption of 1918 when the coastline was extended by 5 km (3.1 mi) by laharic flood deposits.

Mýrdalsjökull is an exceedingly wet location, with models suggesting it receives more than 10 meters of precipitation annually.

On August 4, 1966, Iceland released a set of four stamps depicting Icelandic landscapes with one stamp for each of the compass points: a pair of rock pinnacles known as Lóndrangar representing West Iceland (2.5okr, Scott #380); the shallow eutrophic lake of Mývatn for North Iceland (4.00kr, Scott #381); Búlandstindur mountain in East Iceland (5.00kr, Scott #382); and South Iceland’s Dyrhólaey on Scott #383, with a denomination of 6.50kr. The stamps were printed using the photogravure process in quantities of 1,500,000 for each value, perforated 11½.

Flag of Iceland
Flag of Iceland
Coat of arms of Iceland
Coat of arms of Iceland

 

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