Monday, September 10, 2012

Iceland: Highlands and Réttir

We returned to the farm Brekkulækur by Miðfjörður after our epic northern tour. This fjord reaches the Arctic Ocean several miles north of the farm, as do the many fjords along the north coast of Iceland.

This is the weekend to gather the horses and sheep that have been living all summer in the highlands above the farms in our valley. The summer grazing and fall round up are shared by all the local farm families, and the day to bring the animals back for the winter is a monumental day, possibly the most important day of the year. The horses are mares, and foals who were born on their farms earlier in the spring, and young horses not yet in training. The sheep are in trios, ewes and their twins. They are all in superb condition!

The highlands are fenced. Along the uppermost reaches of the sides of the valley of three big streams feeding one river, is one fence enclosing an area of something like 10 miles across and 10 miles deep, backing up to higher lands that lead to the glacier Eiríksjökull.

In the days leading up to the final day of réttir, shepherds have worked the widely scattered horses and sheep out of the reaches of the highlands, the shepherds spending nights in huts along the way. They are on horseback and, modernly, ATVs. The land is rough. 

We are fortunate to join in the final day of the gathering, and in the following day of sorting so that the animals can all be brought back to their home farms for the winter.

This post will give the reader a look at the highlands, to be followed by the horses, sheep, and the sorting.

This is the track we take to reach the staging area where all the animals are gathered. They will be driven out along this road toward home, a third of the distance today and the rest tomorrow. We drive upstream several miles and then walk another mile and a half to reach the lowest fence, and then walk even further along and up, and can see the vastness of this rich highland. We watch the animals and shepherds emerge on the landscape.

As we hiked higher we could see the massive base of the glacier.

Now we can see shepherds on horseback.
A large group of horses comes into view.

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