There aren’t too many reasons to be on the morning ferry to Grímsey.
Perhaps you are one of the 80 residents of the island returning home. Perhaps you are acquainted with one of those 80 residents, have been making excuses not to visit them for over a decade and, having recently played your “my-nephew-just-failed-his sheep-shearing-exam” card, can no longer think of even a semi-plausible reason not to go. Or, like 97% of the ferry’s passengers, you have been afflicted by a curious desire to walk to the other side of an invisible line in the only place it crosses Iceland.
If you are the kind of person who has decided to spend some of your summer in a place that requires thermal clothing, traveling another 40 kilometers farther north to cross the Arctic Circle simply becomes a logical extension of your certifiable madness. The words remain unspoken, but the thought process goes something like, “Oh, while we’re cold, wet, and under the constant threat of being blown to Greenland, why not add a bit of seasickness?”
During the summer months (June 1 to August 31), the ferry to Grímsey departs Dalvík at 09:00 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the three-hour crossing; returning from Grímsey at 17:00 each day. There are also 09:00 sailings on Tuesdays and Sundays, with returns at 14:00 and 16:00, respectively.
Arriving on Grímsey, with our minds firmly focused on accomplishing today’s singular quest, it was easy not to notice the basket full of three-foot long white and orange plastic poles near the ferry’s exit. Even if you do notice the poles and the sign above them, you are still more likely to laugh at their purported purpose than to hand over ISK 1,000 (USD 10) to carry one with you for the next five hours. We held onto our money. It was a big mistake.
Shortly after walking off of the ferry which docks about halfway up the west side of the 5½ kilometer long island (and unhindered by a plastic pole), we came to one of the only crossroads on Grímsey. We turned left, towards a line to our north; our walk soon greeted by thousands of birds nestling on the nearby cliffs.
The puffins are numerous and picturesque – and willing to pose patiently for photographs, occasionally jostling their cliff mates out of the way in order to flaunt their plumage. They then take turns diving rapidly towards the sea, pulling out of their descent at the last possible moment – as if engaged in a perpetual teenage YouTube dare.
And then there are the Arctic Terns.
They, too, can be picturesque – if they’re resting and minding their own business. The trouble is that they never do either of those things.
They are vicious creatures. Walk for any distance on Grímsey and you’ll soon be surrounded by squadrons of the scoundrels – squawking and screeching above you. As you advance, they rise from their camouflaged positions as if under the direction of a central fighter command. Some hover ominously; others tumble around the sky, trying to find the perfect angle of attack; all of them contributing to a shrieking cacophony. Occasionally, one will break formation and dive towards your head, screaming like a Stuka as it takes aim for your highest part. In the absence of a plastic pole, only an exposed hand is able to keep your hair, hat, or hood intact.
Pay for a pole. You even get ISK 500 back when you return it.
Leaving the battle behind, we continued our walk in the direction of the line.
Unfortunately, largely because the position of the Arctic Circle is not fixed*, the good people of Grímsey haven’t quite been able to decide where to celebrate its crossing of their island – so, rather than seek a compromise location, they simply installed two monuments.
The first and oldest, at the northern end of the airport’s runway, is a signpost pointing at random cities. A raised platform at its base appears to be a more recent addition to the structure; the apparent purpose of which is to make the obligatory commemorative photo a little easier to compose.
A couple of kilometers farther on, close to the northern tip of the island, the second monument is a six-foot diameter concrete ball. A mostly uphill dirt track (and I emphasize the “uphill” part) between the two monuments leads to the top of a hill from which you can see the ball. As we walked down the last kilometer, it was easy to imagine that, when the people tasked with putting the ball in place in 2017 finally managed to haul it to the top of the hill, they were so exasperated by their struggles that they simply let it roll down the other side – loudly cursing the designer as it sped into the distance. Wherever it came to rest would be the Arctic Circle. You can almost discern the flattened downward path it followed.
We returned to the ferry for our 17:00 departure back to the mainland. We had crossed the Arctic Circle (probably twice), we had shopped in Grímsey’s only gift shop (definitely twice), we had eaten in its only restaurant, we had endured tense encounters with the local sheep gangs, and a local fisherman had insisted that we take a freshly-caught cod home with us.
Yet, as we stood near the bow of the ferry, watching the snow-capped mountains of the Tröllaskagi (Troll Peninsula) creep closer across a millpond ocean, I realized that Grímsey had given us one other experience that few can claim. And it had nothing to do with the Arctic Circle.
We were sailing south to Iceland.
1st August 2018
* Due to the Earth’s shifting axial tilt the Arctic Circle moves relative to the land it crosses. The Arctic Circle marks the farthest southern point that experiences a polar day and a polar night. A polar day is where there is 24 hours of continuous daylight; a polar night (you may have been able to work this out) is where there is 24 hours of continuous darkness. North of the Arctic Circle more than one polar day and night occur each year.
Useful Links and Information
Prices, online booking, and year-round schedule: https://www.samskip.is/innanlandsflutningur/saefari/english/
Return Fare Price (as at July 2018): ISK 7,000 (approx. USD 70) per person
If staying in Akureyri, the bus “Strætó” (nr. 78) leaves Akureyri every weekday at 08.15, arriving Dalvík at 08.50. This is a little tight for catching the 09:00 ferry, particularly when you include the 10 minute walk from the stop at the N1 gas station in Dalvík. Consider asking the driver to stop closer to the harbour.
General Information: https://www.akureyri.is/grimsey-en/