Category Archives: Vikings

Elves, Elvis and Huldufólk of Iceland

Huldufólk Iceland

“This is a land where the wind can knock you off your feet, where the smell of sulphur from your taps tells you there is invisible fire not far below your feet….Everyone is aware that the land is alive, and one can say that the stories of hidden people and the need to work carefully with them reflects an understanding that the land demands respect”.

Terry Gunnell,  Folklore Professor at the University of Iceland

Elf Houses 1

Sightings of Elves are like sightings of Elvis – frequently reported but never confirmed!

elvis-elf

In a land of fire and ice, a wild and magical place, where the fog-shrouded lava fields offer a spooky landscape it is possible that anything out of the ordinary is possible and stories abound about the “hidden folk”.

Hidden people are special In Iceland and it is said often appear in the dreams of Icelanders but if you ask me that could just be the result of too much home-brew.

They are usually described as wearing nineteenth century Icelandic clothing, and are often portrayed as traditionally wearing green.  One of Iceland’s most famous people, the singer Björk was asked one time in an interview on US TV if people in her country believed in Elves; she explained. “We do….It’s sort of a relationship with nature, like with the rocks. (The elves) all live in the rocks, so you have to. It’s all about respect, you know.”

yule-ladsiceland-elves-warning

We stopped now and then to photograph the real people houses and I reminded everyone to be careful where they walked in case they stepped on one of these tiny alternative inhabitants because Icelanders prefer big people to be careful and even frown upon the throwing of stones in case you inadvertently hit one of these small invisible folk.

These are the thousands of elves who make their homes in Iceland’s wilderness and coexist alongside the 320,000 or so Icelandic humans.  Iceland is not alone in this and Scandinavian folklore in general is full of elves, trolls and other mythological characters. Most people in Norway, Denmark and Sweden haven’t taken them seriously for several years now but elves are no joke to many in Iceland and in a survey conducted by the University of Iceland in 2007 it found that sixty-two percent of the respondents thought it was at least possible that they exist.

icelanders believe in elves

Even previous President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson seemed taken in by this and explained the existence of Huldufólk tales by saying: “Icelanders are few in number, so in the old times we doubled our population with tales of elves and fairies.”

Huldufólk are believed to live close to humans and are often blamed when things go missing rather like the plot of the 1952 book ‘The Borrowers’ by the English author Mary Norton.

“…Borrower’s don’t steal.”
“Except from human beings,” said the boy.
Arrietty burst out laughing; she laughed so much that she had to hide her face …. “Oh dear,” she gasped with tears in her eyes, “you are funny!” She stared upward at his puzzled face. “Human beans are for Borrowers – like bread’s for butter!” 

To illustrate how seriously Icelanders take the issue of elves in 1982 a delegation of Icelanders went to the NATO base in Keflavík to look for “elves who might be endangered by American Phantom jets” and in 2004, Alcoa (the World’s third largest producer of aluminium) had to have a government expert certify that their chosen building site was free of archaeological sites, including ones related to Huldufólk folklore, before they could build an aluminium smelter in Iceland.

Huldufólk House Iceland

More recently Elf protectors have joined forces with environmentalists to urge the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission and local authorities to abandon a highway project because it might disturb them and their homes. The proposed highway would offer a direct route from the Alftanes peninsula where we had been earlier this morning to the capital Reykjavik but the project has been halted until the Supreme Court of Iceland rules on the case.  The activists cite a cultural and environmental impact – including the plight of the elves – as a reason for regularly gathering hundreds of people to block workers from bulldozing the area.

elf-house

And it’s not the first time issues about the Huldufolk have affected planning decisions. They occur so often that the road and coastal administration has come up with a stock media response for elf inquiries, which states that “issues have been settled by delaying the construction project at a certain point while the elves living there have supposedly moved on.”  

Huldufólk Iceland

Apparently there have been quite a few noticeable instances of construction projects being postponed for fear of building on land occupied by hidden people and a medium is often called in to negotiate with the elves to ask their permission to build.

As we drove the final few kilometres I kept a careful eye out for any signs of the elves but of course this was pointless because you can’t see them unless they feel like showing themselves to you so all I could imagine was – where they watching us as we approached the spiritual heartland of Iceland at Þingvellir?

Iceland Reykjavik Huldufolk

Elf Houses

Twenty Good Reasons to Visit Yorkshire

Fountains Abbey Ripon YorkshireAysgarth Falls YorkshireTour de France YorkshireSt Mary's Church BeverleyBeverley MinsterBeverley Minster MusiciansBenedictine Monk Fountains Abbey YorkshireRichmond Town CryerRichard III Middleham castleHarrogateThe Mallard National Railway Museum YorkIMG_4207Richard IIIMiddleham CastleHawdraw FallsHull Humberside YorkshireHull - The DeepJorvik Centre York VikingsNorth Yorkshire SheepFountains Abbey Yorkshire

Travelling – Car Hire Advice – Insurance and Punctures

Iceland Car Hire Sixt Volcano Damage Insurance

Unfortunately hiring a car on line is as big a financial minefield as booking a low cost flight because there is an inevitable range of confusing add-on charges and exclusions all designed to generate additional revenue.

Sixt in Iceland have come up with a brilliant wheeze.  I thought that I had purchased fully comprehensive insurance but the desk clerk told me that the cars suffered so many stone chips because of the gravel roads in Iceland that this had now been excluded and could be purchased at an additional cost of €9 a day under the description ‘gravel damage’ and just to be safe I agreed to buy it.

This is like excluding burglary from a house insurance policy or heart attacks from medical insurance.  Brilliant business for them.  The customer buys insurance but they exclude the things that you might need to claim for!

Then it became almost surreal when he explained that further cover was available at €10 a day for volcano damage.  Volcano damage – WTF? I wondered if I was on ‘Caught on Camera’ or something!

Iceland Volcano

On enquiry he told me that if a volcano explodes it can generate enough heat to strip the paint off the car and that this was not covered either.  Sixt provide this explanation and justification for this additional level of insurance cover:

“Due to volcanic eruptions in Iceland in recent years there is still a great amount of ash in the highlands that tends to cause damage to vehicles in windy weather.  Any damage caused by volcanic ash is not covered by any insurance or terms and conditions in Iceland.  We do what we can so that our customers can travel our beautiful country without a care and this is why we now offer all customers to purchase sand and ash protection and Gravel protection, specially made to deal with our unique Icelandic conditions.”

Well, I considered this for a moment and came to the conclusion that if I was close enough to an exploding volcano for it to strip the paint off the car then it was almost certain that I was likely to be in a lot of trouble and great personal danger and the last thing that I was going to be worried about as my flesh melted into a puddle of grease and my bones were surely burnt to a blackened cinder was the condition of the paintwork on the hire car (gravel chipped or not) so I declined the offer to purchase the additional cover and quickly paid up just in case he next tried to sell me snow or rain insurance in case the car got wet!

Sixt rent a car logo

Sixt are good at this sort of thing.  Last year in Ireland I returned a car and a member of staff carried out an examination and satisfied himself that there were no bumps or scrapes, no chips in the windscreen and that the tyres weren’t flat and punctured, nothing  that is that he could charge me for, and we turned to walk away but were staggered when he called us back and said that there was some sand in the carpets and that there could be a potential £60 cleaning charge.

“£60” I protested and almost choked and he defended this bit of daylight robbery with an explanation that this sort of sand was especially difficult to deal with.  I covered my nose because I noticed that there was funny smell and I reminded him that I am Sixt Platinum customer and he backed down and said not to worry because  the quantity was on the margins of acceptability and he would not charge us this time.

Just as well because if he had I would have asked for the keys back and taken it to a vacuum machine in the next door garage and sucked it up myself for £2 no matter how difficult it might have been (not).  In case he changed his mind I actually thanked him for not mugging me but quickly returned to the car and wiped the steering wheel with a wet-wipe just in case there was a charge for removing fingerprints!

These thieves will try anything to generate additional revenue.

Iceland Car Hire Volcano Damage Insurance

So, what is the solution?  There is an alternative.  Buy some cheap car hire insurance in the UK and when under pressure at the sales desk think of Captain Kirk and raise a force field around yourself to resist the hard sell.  It usually means leaving a deposit on the credit card to pay for damages but this can then be claimed back from the cheaper insurer.

It works.  This year I went to Ireland and one day had the misfortune to get a puncture.  I was really annoyed about that because I hadn’t bought tyre damage insurance from the car rental company; I always buy tyre damage insurance and I have never had a puncture so I cursed my misfortune on that day.  I needn’t have worried.  When I got home I made a claim on the cheaper ‘buy before you go’ option and they promptly paid up!

The puncture story reminds me of another.  In 1986 I went to Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands and mid-way through the holiday hired a car, a little blue Seat with an open top and on the first day set off into the mountains in the interior.  This turned out to be rather hard work as the road looped in extravagant sweeping motions around deep valleys and gorges and followed a precarious route to the top.

Actually, we didn’t get to the top because after an hour or so we got a puncture and I had to change the wheel at the roadside.  We were high up and close to the edge and part way through the process the car started to slide off the jack and I wondered how I was going to explain to the hire company just how the car had fallen off the road and disappeared into a ravine.

To my eternal shame I didn’t own up to the puncture but just put it in the boot without even pumping it up and left it.  I have always felt guilty about that!

Car Hire Gran Canaria 1986

European Capital of Culture 2000 – Reykjavik

Reykjavikk Skyline from Hallgrímskirkja,

Today I continue my series of posts about places that I have visited that at some time have been designated either before or after as the  ‘European Capital of Culture’

With a clear sky we were hopeful that after returning from the restaurant that we might be able to see the Northern Lights but even if they were there then the lights from the city were way to bright for them to be visible so we went to bed disappointed,

In complete contrast to the weather on the previous two days there was a magnificent blue sky in the morning – as I woke I sensed sunlight leaking into the room around the edges of the curtains and from the hotel bedroom window Reyjkavik looked much more cheerful in the sunshine without its heavy overcoat of grey cloud and gloom with which we had become familiar.

And so before leaving we agreed to have one last walking tour of the city which is the World’s most northerly capital ( the most southerly capital is Wellington, New Zealand) and is the twin city of Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Helsinki in Scandinavia as well as Moscow  in Russia and (surprisingly) close to me in the United Kingdom, Kingston-upon-Hull.

Lief Ericson Reyjkavik Iceland

After breakfast we checked out and stored our luggage and then walked into the city to see the parts we had missed on the first day and Mike was particularly keen to show his railway engine discovery to Kim and Margaret.  We had liked the Sólfar Suncraft so much the first time that we made for the seafront again and made a second visit there before we walked further along the promenade towards the docks until finding our progress barred by road works where underground heating pipes were being installed we abandoned this route and turned instead towards the city centre.

Iceland Reyjkavik

There were some bright new recently constructed buildings that reflected the new wealth of Iceland standing close to the older buildings and houses that were utilitarian grey but enlivened by gay coloured aluminium cladding, not gentle pastel shades like those in eastern Europe but strong vibrant primaries, reds, yellows and blues that were presumably chosen deliberately to cheer up long cold winter days.

Hallgrímskirkja, Reyjkavik Iceland

Maintaining property must be a nightmare here and the timber must require constant attention as in many places the bony fingers of winter frost had mischievously picked away at peeling paintwork allowing the damp to penetrate the wood underneath with no doubt dire and irreversible consequences.  I like to repaint my house every twenty years or so whether it needs it or not but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they have to do this painful operation twice a year in Reykjavik at least!

Iceland Reyjkavik

As the sky was so clear and we could guarantee excellent views we returned now to Hallgrímskirkja, the Lutheran Cathedral and the tallest building in the city which took nearly forty years to build and was consecrated in 1986.  The design is said to be based on a geyser plume or a lava flow but if you ask me it looks more like a space shuttle about to blast off  but it is nice enough inside and the signature piece is a twenty-five tonne organ with 5,275 pipes and someone was in there this morning practising on it.

Our main purpose for visiting the cathedral however was not to visit the interior but to take the lift to the observation tower at the top of the seventy-three metre tall tower.  It cost 700 krona (about £3) and it was worth every one because from the top there were glorious uninterrupted views in all directions, to the sea in the west, the glaciers in the north, the islands in the south and the ragged coastline to the east and we stayed at the top for several minutes enjoying the views.

Lief Ericson Statue Reykjavik Iceland

Back at the bottom we walked to what I suppose you might call the old town, the site of the original Viking settlement and the administrative centre of Reykjavik with the Parliament building, the President’s official residence and the Government buildings and as we walked Mike carefully nudged us towards the port area for a second inspection of the railway engine.

The docks were busy this morning with cargo ships unloading, the tugs making their way in and out of port and some brave (crazy) men on a training vessel practising some rescue procedures and taking it in turn to one by one jump into the icy cold waters.  Our route took us past the conference centre where exhibitors were packing away their Arctic Energy Conference displays and it looked quite empty now.

Our time in Reyjkavik was coming to an end so we enjoyed one last walk along the waterfront as far as Sólfar Suncraft and then walked back in the direction of the hotel stopping on the way at the little café that we liked for coffee and cake and then to be reunited with the little Chevrolet Spark that we collected from the hotel car park and then left the city in the direction of Keflavik, the airport, the Blue Lagoon and our final hotel.

Sólfar suncraft Reykjavik Iceland

North Yorkshire – Postcards

Yorkshire PostcardMiddleham PostcardYorkshire AbbeysLeyburn postcardAysgarth YorkshireFountains Abbey Monks

Grimsby – The Cod Wars and the National Fishing Heritage Centre

Ross Tiger Grimsby Fishing Heritage Museum

Ross Tiger” by Grimsby Artist Carl Paul – www.carlpaulfinearts.co.uk

“Grimsby is a town that shuns the notion of heritage” – Daily Telegraph

I think this statement by the Daily Telegraph is a little unfair.  No, it is a lot unfair.  Grimsby is a lot like Hull and bear in mind here that the city of Hull on the opposite side of the Humber Estuary has been named UK Capital of Culture for 2017 and no one in England, except for the awarding judges, can really understand why.

Today, my plan was to visit the National Fishing Heritage Centre which is where I take all visitors when they come to see us in Grimsby.  It is a very fine museum run by the local council.  It recreates life in 1960s Grimsby in and around the dock area and then takes visitors on board a trawler to experience life at sea in pursuit of the cod.  It provides an insight to life in Grimsby when it was the biggest and most important fishing port in the World but as I mentioned before this has all gone now.

In 1958 Britain went to war – this time with Iceland.  The First Cod War lasted from 1st September until 12th November 1958 and began in response to a new Icelandic law that tripled the Icelandic fishery zone from four nautical miles to twelve to protect its own fishing industry.

The British Government declared that their trawlers would fish under protection from Royal Navy warships in three areas, out of the Westfjords, north of Horn and to the southeast of Iceland.  All in all, twenty British trawlers, four warships and a supply vessel operated inside the newly declared zones.  This was a bad tempered little spat that involved trawler net cutting, mid ocean ramming incidents and collisions.  It was also a bit of an uneven contest because in all fifty-three British warships took part in the operations against seven Icelandic patrol vessels and a single Catalina flying boat.

Eventually Britain and Iceland came to a settlement, which stipulated that any future disagreement between the two countries in the matter of fishery zones would be sent to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the Icelandic Minister Bjarni Benediktsson hailed the agreement as “Iceland’s biggest ever political victory.

But it wasn’t the end of Cod Wars because there was a second in 1972 and a third in 1975 when on both occasions Iceland further extended their territorial fishing waters without consultation and continuing to protect these is what keeps Iceland from joining the European Union even today.

Today Grimsby is dominated by the fish processing sector rather than the catching industry. Processors are mainly supplied by over-landed fish from other UK ports and by a harsh twist of fate containerised white fish from Iceland.

Fishing Heritage Centre

The visit started well enough and after I purchased the tickets we took a look around the first rooms with their displays of ships and fishing and then we carried on to the trawler reconstruction and this is where things started to go wrong.  As we walked through the ship, the wheelhouse, the crew quarters, the galley and the engine room we met a succession of life sized models which, and I hadn’t really noticed this before, are all rather intimidating.  My eldest granddaughter declared them to be monsters and started to hurry us through at a pace that we couldn’t really appreciate the experience.

To be fair to her they are a bit ugly and scary but then I suppose life at sea was like that and what about this picture of the Duchess of Cambridge when she visited the museum, I don’t know if it is just me but that crewman seems to me to be inappropriately leering at her and that’s not right, because she is after all the future Queen of England.

Duchess of Cambridge

We were racing through the museum now until we came to the end, a recreation of a Grimsby street complete with authentic sounds and smells.  My youngest granddaughter rushed through and out into the reception area where some more visitors were buying tickets and she dashed across to them with some advice – “Don’t go in there…” she said, “…it stinks!” and although they found this amusing they carried on regardless.

So, the visit to the National Fishing Heritage Centre was not a huge success and the children were so keen to get away that they didn’t even pester me to look around the shop (there isn’t much in it anyway) and we left with unnecessary haste and went to find a fish and chip shop for lunch.  At the table we ordered Haddock because since the war with Iceland Grimbarians won’t eat Cod and will tell you that Haddock is a superior fish.

Grimsby Fish & Chips

Weekly Photo Challenge: (Golden) Circle

Iceland Sunrise

Golden Circle – Iceland

Iceland LandscapeIceland Car Hire Volcano Damage InsuranceGeyser Iceland

On the subject of Iceland and Circles, a few days ago I posted a circle challenge:

The answer was the interior clock faces at the top of the tower of the Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral in Reykjavik, Iceland.

They are more impressive from the inside than from the outside…

Lief Ericson Reyjkavik Iceland