Written around the 12th and 13th centuries, the Icelandic sagas recount stories about the settlement and medieval times in Iceland. These stories are about the people who came from Norway, Ireland, and England around 900 CE and how they settled around the island’s coastline. The Sagas were written by those who lived in various places or some in monasteries as Iceland remained a catholic country until 1550 CE. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is one of the most Saga-invested parts of Iceland. Every part and every place has a reference to one of the major Sagas, the most prominent being Eyrbyggja or the Saga of the People of Eyri and Laxdæla. In fact, one could argue that Eyrbyggja is the most fascinating of them all as the stories in it have an otherworldly tone and thus have strong references to modern sci-fi literature.
The Berserkjahraun lava field
On the Snæfellsnes Peninsula lies the magnificent Berserkjahraun, or the Berserk Lava Field, located in the county of Helgafell (“Holy Hill”), near the Stykkishólmur town. The source of the lava field comes from four prominent but differently sized scoria craters forming an east-west row from the Ogress Pass (Kerlingarskarð). They erupted in bouts approximately 3600–4000 years ago. The lava flow also created two lakes on south side of the region, adding to the serenity and beauty of the landscape. Like many lava fields in Iceland, Berserkjahraun is a joy to view but tough to navigate. The best way to visit this place is to drive from the main road when you are on your way between the villages of Grundarfjörður and Stykkishólmur nr. 54 on the northern part of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and turn to the gravel road nr. 558. While driving along this road through the lava field, you will find many places where you can stop and walk around to enjoy the spectacular landscapes.
Berserkjahraun is an ideal place for having a peaceful camping experience
This beautiful area is ideal for doing recreational activities such as hiking, angling, and mountaineering. When driving along the gravel road shown on the map below, the one that leads into and around the lava field, you'll find small meadows ideal for camping. If lucky, you might even be able to spot a white-tailed eagle’s nest in the rugged lava field. Moreover, a hike up the nearby mountains will give you a spectacular view of the Breiðafjörður Bay and thousands of islands.
What is the story behind the name Berserkjahraun?
The name of the lava field, Berserkjahraun, comes from the Eyrbyggja Saga. It tells the story of Vermundur the Slim, a farmer at Bjarnarhöfn, close to where the shark museum is now located. As was common among Vikings at that time, he sailed to Norway and brought back two Swedish berserks in 982 CE but with unforeseen consequences. The Berserks’ names were Halli and Leiknir. Vermundur meant to use them as a threat so he could stand up to his powerful brother Styr the Slayer.
The Berserks´ temper
However, Vermundur was a wimp and didn't have what it took to handle the Berserks’ fierce temper. Soon after arriving in Iceland, he was forced to ask his brother to take them off his hands. Styr the Slayer reluctantly obliged but soon began to face problems and regrets. The berserk's killing sprees and uncontrollable temper was the least of them. Besides all the misfortune that the berserks brought, Halli fell in love with Styr's precious daughter and asked for her hand in marriage. After seeking advice from some of his wise friends, mainly Snorri Goði, Styr informed the berserk, he would give Halli his blessings only if they accomplished a few tasks. They were required to clear a bridle path through a rugged lava field between the farms Bjarnarhöfn and Hraun that fell within his land, to build a fence with lava rocks around it, and build a sheep pen.
The last sauna of the Berserks´
While they were slaving away, Styr prepared an underground sauna for them. The sauna was covered with sturdy rafts and had a hole in the middle – for pouring in water to create hot steam. The berserks completed their tasks in a short time and returned. Styr invited them to relax in the sauna, and they accepted. Right after the berserks had entered the sauna, Styr stacked big boulders on top of the sturdy rafts. And then, through the hole, he poured boiling water. The sauna soon became unbearably hot, and the berserks wanted out! It took all their power to break the rafts and move away the boulders. By then, they were exhausted. Yet, they were set on revenge. However, Styr had spread wet and slippery bull hides on the ground around the sauna. The berserks were totally incapacitated, and Styr managed to kill them both.
The lava field was named after the brothers
Styr had the berserks' bodies removed to a basin in the lava field where they were cairned close to the bridle path. Since then, the lava field has been called Berserkjahraun, or the Berserks Lava Field, and the cairn is still visible today. It is a great story to understand and experience how literary heritage and our natural wonders are interwoven.