Southeast Iceland: Nupsstadur Farm

Jamie with the (Jamie-dubbed)

When we left Vik, it was still cold and drizzly. On the outskirts of town, we saw the French boys from the hot tub hitching a ride, so we stopped to pick them up. They’d been traveling for months, taking a gap year before heading to uni to study environmental engineering, and they were recording their travels on an 8mm movie camera and a still film camera.

The drive to Skaftafell could be made in an hour and a half, but we were so enchanted by the long stretches of dark, bulbous lava field covered in green moss (these fields were created by the 10-month long Laki eruption in 1783-84), the unexpected waterfalls and the sudden, mist-shrouded boulders looming from purple landscape, that we stopped frequently to explore.

We wanted to see Nupsstadur, which has over a dozen small turf buildings dug into the hill, including one of Iceland’s six remaining turf churches. (This one was built in the 1600s, and later I read that the farm is a UNESCO World Heritage site.)

Now the farm belongs to the National Museum of Iceland, but it isn’t open for tourism. There’s a gate at the end of the curling drive and a private property sign. It’s easy to miss, since there’s nothing identifying the turf buildings tucked in a rocky hamlet, in the shadow of Lomagnupur cliff.

But we knew what we were looking for, we were pretty sure we’d found it, and we also knew (generally, at least) that private property doesn’t mean much in Iceland, except that you’re not supposed to damage anything. So we parked on the side of the road and walked to the farm. (I’ve also seen several posts online that say there’s a tiny sign somewhere that says the church is open to the public…)

In addition to the turf buildings, there’s a more modern house that appears sometimes occupied. The last permanent occupants were two brothers, Eyjolfur and Filippus Hannesson, who died about a decade ago, at ages 101 and 97, and left the farm to the government. The farm had been in their family since 1730, according to UNESCO.

The church is adorable, with a small altar and whimsical woodwork. The other buildings are locked, but one of the turf barns is open, although it’s empty but for hay. 

Much later (after midnight), post-Skaftafell adventures, Jamie and I returned to the church to sleep for a few hours. (We spread our sleeping bags on the floor, were careful to leave no trace, and were gone by 6 a.m.)

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