Ike, Helen and Traff took a drive around the Vatnsnes peninsula today. Their first stop on Vatnsnes was at Hvítserkur, a 15m high basalt stack just off the coast. Although many people think it looks like a dragon drinking from the sea, Icelandic legend is that it is a troll who ventured into the sea to throw rocks at a nearby monastery. But he forgot about the time and the sun rose, turning him to stone forever. The name Hvítserkur means ‘white shirt’, because of the droppings from nesting birds.
Ike was hoping to see some seals as there are several colonies here. But unfortunately, the area was closed today so he could only see them from a distance. Instead, he learned about two of the most numerous animals in Iceland – the Icelandic Horse and Icelandic Sheep.
As imports of horses have been banned for more than 1000 years, Icelandic horses are one of the purest breeds in the world. Also, any animal that leaves the country can never return. Although they are small they are still horses (never ponies!) and are said to be friendly, docile and self-assured. Another way in which they are different to other breeds is some can perform 5 gaits – as well as the usual Walk, Trot and Canter/Gallop, they have Tölt (an ambling gait which is fast and comfortable over long distances) and Skeið (flying pace, up to 30mph). There is roughly 1 horse for every 4 people in Iceland so you see them a lot in the countryside and for equestrians, there are many places offering riding tours.
There are about 800,000 Icelandic sheep in the summer and driving around the country it sometimes seems as though most of them are eating grass by the side of the road! Ike and Helen’s job when Traff is driving is to keep an eye out for any that look as though they are going to cross, or ones that are having a rest in the middle of the road!
As the ewes and their lambs roam freely during the summer, an important time for farmers is in September. Here farmers, friends, family (and tourists) spend up to a week rounding up all the sheep they can find from mountains and valleys and herding them to special pens called ‘Réttir’. Here the sheep enter the middle of the ring and are sorted into pens according to their farm, then there is usually a big celebration to thank all the helpers. Ike found one of these réttir today and examined it from above.