Winter is Coming… ponies, lighthouses and fishermen

Attempting to blend in with the locals... I bought a beanie!
Attempting to blend in with the locals… I bought a beanie!

It’s been an action packed few days- well not really- but I will pretend…

I have been doing my usual walks and had a blissful walk up to the Lighthouse, which on a clear day looks like a very jaunty little orange lady beetle perched on a hill from a distance. The views were amazing, I explored past the light house to the huge dune like shapes at the very tip of the island.. had a small bout of vertigo walking along the steep ridge- not so much vertigo- but lack of faith in my own ability to not trip over and topple off the side…

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Another day I managed to convince a lovely Icelandic horseman to pick me up from the ferry and take me horse riding… he takes a few tourists out from his barn. He is a wiry gent called Simbi and he has 47 horses, a number of competitive horses, some breeding stock and a bunch that are tourist proof. Two nice German girls appeared as we arrived who wanted to go riding- but unlike Michael Jung, were not experienced riders (maybe had ridden once?) So we went out, I had a lovely strong black horse (very small statured horse…) and the others had a pair of elderly ponies, the girls were not very happy much out of walk so Simbi decided I could tootle off in front whenever I fancied and he would take me out for another ride once we had taken these two back to the barn.

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On return, we dropped the girls into the nearest village went and had a cup of tea and a cheese sandwich at his place, and then went back for round two. After a thorough tour of the facilities and a good look at some fancy stables- of which my horse Thomas would be lucky to fit his head through the door of, he decided I could try his fastest horse… I was a little concerned when it took two of us to corner her from the herd, and she had that lovely look of rolling eyes and whites showing… apparently she had had a few weeks off. Simbi sensibly decided he would first let me loose in what looked like a go cart track in an indoor before the great outdoors- and she went just like a go cart… I could not stop her we went round and round and round… full throttle, little legs at maximum velocity… unfortunately the faster she went the more leg I used to try and stay on the swift moving little beast… and the more leg I used the faster she went- I tried bending, 1/2 halts, but the pace just increased, luckily Simbi jumped fair in front of her and we came to an abrupt halt, me still firmly in the saddle. He kindly explained I used too much calf and leg and they stick their legs out a bit and keep them off the horse, and I needed to keep my leg off her… it was at this point we both agreed another horse might be more suitable!!! I tried to explain if we stacked three of their horse together we might get Thomas, and that he was the sort of horse that needed a lot of leg!! The horse below is the second horse- Simbi is demonstrating Tolt and the correct leg position!

So I swapped to a very rotund little mare who didn’t care how much leg I used much to my delight and off we went… and the weather stayed true to its usual random form and decided to rain quite heavily on us, a point which made me realise gloves would have been helpful as my fingers turned to large lumps of ice. I am hoping to join Simbi or his son on the weekend for the annual horse round up…

Back at the Old School, the young English lads were getting ready to head home- I had enjoyed their company and endless games of Shithead. Now I am on my own awaiting the arrival of the next couple of artists, I am staying here until the end of October, and its starting to get cold!! Its quite nice to have the place quiet… and very tidy 🙂

I tagged along with my friend Hrafnhildur and her lovely daughter to head in to Akureyri where I stocked up on green vegetables… and cask wine… desperate measures!!!

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As Jon Snow says… Winter is coming….

There seem to be three key indicators…

  1. Snow
  2. Sun
  3. Birds

Snow – I awoke yesterday morning, to a crisp morning, and the sight of the surrounding mountains all with a fresh dusting of snow, the perfect sprinkling of icing sugar on their strong peaks.

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Sun – The days are getting shorter, we are loosing approximately 7 minutes of daylight a day. A few days ago we had exactly 12 hours and 1 minute, today will be 11 hours and 26 minutes of daylight. On my walk yesterday I experienced typical Arctic weather- I left at 6.30am and the sun was peaking out, not a breeze about to ruffle the ptarmigans feathers… after half an hour and some amazing skies, it poured, sleeted, and the wind howled… and by the time I made it back to the house, the weather was playing coy, and was back to being all calm. On the walk flocks of Greylag geese flew about the skies honking- probably trying to tell me that all hell was about to break loose, and I was too busy looking at the pretty colour of the clouds to take any notice of the birds.

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Birds – So the island is known for its bird life- and not much else. I never have been an avid bird watcher; but its unavoidable, there are birds everywhere. Including the lovely fat Ptarmigans… these birds sit out the from of the Old School, and like to lounge about on the kids play equipment. The are all fairly obese at the moment after gorging on the berries…evidence deposited all over the stairs to the front door! The Ptarmigan, is a medium sized game bird, part of the grouse family, and these ones change colour from fleckily brown in summer to snow white in winter…. – they are all turning whiter… little brown feathers can be found dancing in the wind. There Ptarmigans have one very special characteristic, they have feathery feet- that look like rabbits paws, these act like snow shoes for them on the cold snow and tundra!!

Ptarmigan snow feet. 🙂 (Image from the web, I haven’t been chasing the poor birds about to look at their feet!!)
The Jon Snow of the Bird World.. Winter is coming….
ptarmigan hunter
Icelanders enjoy hunting… its common to see family snaps of mum, dad and kids smiling around the fat fur seal with it’s throat cut… You can legally hunt a large variety of the birds, a couple of seals, reindeer, minx, arctic foxes, geese & even puffins !! With a population of only 330,000 –  most only hunt what they can then eat, and they are not about to change their ways.

This morning after making the house sparkling, I popped down to the harbour to try and track down some fresh fish. I met a couple of young and friendly fisherman, who were bored as the sea was rough and they were not going out until very late that night… so I was given a full and thorough tour of their boat- so thorough I am a little concerned I may in-fact have been getting groomed for a fill in position if needed… I should admit that at this point after about 45 minutes on the boat in the harbour I was already feeling sea sick!!! So the boat uses long lines, and can hold a maximum of about 16 tonnes. The fish mainly for cod, catish & haddock.


So after my tour I pottered home, to start work on some images- only to hear the clumping of feet down the empty hall way- the fisher lads were bored and wanted to come see the Old School House…. we played cards, I cooked them lunch and made them promise to save me some fish! Eventually I had to ask them to go as I had work to do before I went to the local pool to hang out in the hot tub! This time the hot tub was teaming with locals, they are being much less elusive these days and really quite entertaining. I am going to go teach art at the little school next Thursday. This morning I am getting a tour of the dry fish factory… aggghhh. This is considered an Icelandic delicacy!

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I have been told to study up on my fish species….
card playing with the fishermen :)
card playing with the fishermen 🙂

The Icelandic people have been so friendly- and everyone wants to give me highly detailed and thorough tours and explanations of life in Iceland, I am fascinated by the folklore and stories of Elves and Trolls- 50% believe in them! Belief in huldufĂłlk – hidden people or elves – is so common, that roadwork projects that run into trouble are sometimes said to be angering local elves and a medium must be consulted before work can continue- or they must change the layout of the road to not anger the Elves and then the bad luck and broken machinery will end. My local friend Hrafnhildur told me the story of the Ptarmigan, its rather sad, but she did say most of the old stories are….

Once upon a time the Virgin Mary asked all the birds to meet her. When they arrived she ordered them to all walk through a bonfire. The birds knew she was the Queen of Heaven and very powerful. They dared not say no to her, so they obeyed her wish and they all jumped through the fire except for the ptarmigan. When they came through the fire all of their legs had lost their feathers and were scorched to the skin, and so they have been to this day. Mary was angry with the Ptarmigan, as she was the only species that would not go through the fire, Mary declared that she should be the most vulnerable of all birds and the most defenceless bird. She would be persecuted and never have a safe day, she would always have to live in fear except on the day of the pentecost. The falcon which in the beginning was her brother, would always pursue her and kill her, and survive on her flesh. The Virgin Mary granted the Ptarmigan a small concession, and she was allowed to change colours depending on the seasons and become all white in winter and brown like moss in summer. This has been the way and the falcon has persecuted her, killed and eaten her, and he does not know until he comes to her heart that she is his sister, upsetting him and giving him so much grief whenever he has killed a ptarmigan and eaten her heart that he sits around whining about what he has done long after.

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