With a population of about 280 residents, Þingeyri is a small village located on the southern shore of Dyrafjðrður, beneath the mountain Sandafell from the top of which one can get a fine view of the town and the surrounding country. Þingeyri is the last town one reaches before the paved road heading south from ísafjðrður turns to dirt and begins the climb to Hrafnseyrihæði. From here south to Bíldular the road is not maintained during winter.
As with the other towns in Westfjords, the fishing industry in Þingeyri (around which the town was founded) has suffered in recent years, and several of the townspeople are working on the development of economic opportunities, particularly in bringing tourists to the town. In one vein this has revolved around capitalizing on the viking history in the area (just as, for instance, Bildudalur has drawn on its history of tales of sea monsters and Homavik its history of magicians).
As the setting for many of the events in the ‘Gísli Saga', Dyrafjörður and the surrounding terrain has a siginficant viking history. A few kilometers beyond the town on the road along the fjord, for instance, one comes to Heykadalur where Gisli and his family settled around the year 980. Today one finds the remains of an old farmstead in the area.
Drawing on this heritage, a viking ship and viking center where events are hosted during the summer each year, have been constructed on the west edge of town in the vicinity of the town swimming pool and campground. The ship is a scaled down version of an actual viking boat, and close inspection of it reveals some of the craftsmanship that went into the design of the boats making them quite seaworthy.
When I visited the town, I stayed with Thorhallur Arason, a kind and generous host who introduced me to some of the people who live in the village and showed me some of the places around town. Thor works in the fishing industry, developing processes for more efficient processing and distribution of fish products harvested and prepared in the area. Early one morning, he showed me a house that he owns in town that he is preparing for use as a guesthouse in the summer. He imagines marketing the house in a way that provides a sort of traditional icelandic experience to foreign travelers-stay in a house in a small town, have some traditional food, go fishing on one of the two boats he owns, and so forth.
Just across the street and down the block from this guesthouse is the Simbahöllin Café which is scheduled to open in the spring of 2010. I met with the two owners of the café, Janne and Wouter, who moved to Þingeyri recently from Denmark and Belgium respectively. The bulding which the café is housed in is the old kaupfelagið in town, the icelandic version of the general store which provided supplies of all sorts to the townspeople. The building was originally constructed in Norway, and brought to Iceland in the early 20th century (which, given that Iceland has very little forest land for the supply of wood, was not uncommon). While the building still has many of the old fixtures, the owners bought most of the furniture in Belgium and had it shipped over.
I spent a good part of a day just walking around town, and looking at what was about. There is a beautiful old cemetery on the west end of town, and below and a couple of blocks away a modern church across the road from the large swimming pool. Public pools are quite common in the Westfjords (indeed throughout the country). Most towns have one, and most of these are quite modern facilities and often have gym facilities as well. They are well used, and I made good use of the pool at Þingeyri one evening with my friends Martin and Nadia after hiking on Sandafell, spending three hours in the hot tub.
In the afternoon, I happened upon a group of people standing on the street having a smoke, and I figured they were taking a break from work. Actually it turns out that it was half time of the European handball tournament in which Iceland was competing, and they were standing outside of the town pub (the existence of which I was unaware). Not being one to pass up the opportunity to sit in a pub, have a beer, and watch a game, I put an end to my walkabout and went in for the second half of the game, which might be best characterized as a cross between basketball and football (American soccer). Iceland won, and advanced to the semi-finals and ultimately, two days later, took third place in the tournament.
One of the very interesting and unique features of the town is the local blacksmith shop, which I visited with Águst one evening. The shop is kind of a museum in that people visiting the town can visit the shop, but it is also not a museum, meaning that it doesn´t have museum status (and consequently is not eligible for funding from the state). My understanding is that the owners of the shop want to keep it operational, rather than something just to go and look at.
We met up with Danní, who works at the shop as well as at the auto repair shop which he owns with his father down the road. The metal shop was originally opened around 1913 and was in operation until 1995. In addition to the old blacksmith forge, it has a remarkable collection of lathes (one of which as originally foot powered), drills and tools, as well as molds for casting iron and copper for such things are boat propellors, stoves, window frames, etc. The building consists of four rooms-the old shop where customers would enter and purchase their goods; a machine shop, with a small office which still some of the old office supplies; a blacksmith´s room and forge; and room which houses a couple of smeltig furnaces.
Although the shop is still operational, it tends to focus mostly on the production of ornamental hardware these days. When we visited, for instance, Danní showed us some replicas of viking swords and paraphenalia he had made, as well the the castings for a replacement window frame, and set of hinges he was working on for an old building.