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Where in the World?

Posted on 12/14/2021 12:00:00 AM in Travel Trivia

Do you believe the legend of Arch Rock, or did Mother Nature simply carve this remarkable opening over time?

Question: Where did a giant, angry troll create a natural wonder that’s literally for the birds?

Answer: Iceland’s Snaefellsnes Peninsula, home to Arch Rock

Birds or trolls? What you see when you come to the rocky Snaefellsnes Peninsula of Western Iceland depends on the season.

One of the most striking sights here is Gatklettur (Arch Rock), a massive rock formation that rises up from the Grundarfjörður sea looking for all the world like a giant’s bridge. A perfectly symmetrical archway has been blasted into its base, yielding views of the waves beneath a rock-and-sod pathway strong enough to walk across. Swirling patterns at the base of the rocks show the pounding toll of the sea, but that doesn’t explain the gaping hole at the center.

Want to Learn More About This Destination?

Overseas with David Conover: Iceland
Join filmmaker David Conover as he explores Iceland’s landscapes, chats with locals about Icelandic culture, and glimpses into the center of the Earth.

Some say the arch could be the handiwork of Bárður Snæfellsás, hero of the Icelandic saga for whom the region is named. The titan-troll half breed was said to stomp around wreaking havoc on the landscape with his mighty club after one of his own nephews sent his daughter floating out to sea on an iceberg. Bárður eventually retreated to a glacier cave, but nearby Arnastapi has a memorial to the legend that bears a striking resemblance to Gatklettur: a big rock edifice punctuated by an arch.

Gatklettur’s possibly legendary origins are of no consequence to the sea birds that nest on the rocks each summer by the tens of thousands. It might seem an inhospitable place to shelter one’s young, but the arctic terns and black-legged kittiwakes see the tall basalt columns as protection from creatures of both land and sea. The high perch makes the adult birds’ lives harder. Diving from such a great height into the waters below in search of fish, the birds risk being battered by waves strong enough to reduce boulders to pebbles.

Nonetheless, the birds return year after year, and soon the black rocks are obscured beneath a flurry of pale feathers. By the time nesting season is at its peak in June, the cliffs are coated white with guano, and the smell more than overpowers the salty aroma of the sea air. But that doesn’t dissuade visitors: more people come to the Arnastapi and nearby Hellnar at this time of year than any other, eager to witness a stunning spectacle older than the legend of Bárður.

As one local guide jokes about nesting season, “Beauty is in the eye—not the nose—of the beholder.”

8 Fast Facts About Snaefellsnes Peninsula

  • Hellnahraun, the biggest lava field on the peninsula, was formed 4,000 years ago by a single eruption from Snæfellsjökull volcano.

  • At 4,700 feet, the Snæfellsjökull volcano can be seen more than 100 miles away on a clear day.

  • Jules Verne set Journey to the Centre of the Earth inside a crater at Snæfellsjökull, with adventurers following lava tubes from Iceland all the way to Italy.

  • The crater Verne described has since disappeared, hidden entirely by the glacier that crept over the land and now shares the name of the mountain.

  • Snæfellsjökull glacier is said to have unusual magnetic properties, with some arguing that it causes insomnia and others claiming it is a natural chakra center that boosts their energy levels.

  • A more easily explained special effect can be found inside Sönghellir, the Cave of Song. Known for resoundingly live acoustics, its cave walls are now covered with signatures left by the most famous figures of Icelandic history from the 18th century onward.

  • The 20th century saw the building of Western Europe’s tallest structure, the Hellissandur longwave radio mast. It rises 1,350 feet over the peninsula, held in place by five steel guy wires, and is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.

  • The peninsula’s most recent claim to fame is that in 2008, it became the first EarthCheck certified area in Europe, recognizing proven commitment to sustainable tourism practices.

Marvel at the legendary beauty of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula on our Untamed Iceland adventure.

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