Today, Brjánslækur is best known for its important role in transportation and communication in the West Fjords. For centuries, the road on the Barðarströnd shoreline on the southern part of the peninsula has been difficult to travel as it leads tediously through fjords, mountain passes, and valleys. One way to avoid a difficult drive is to take a ferry. However, for decades, ferries have not been used a lot in Iceland except for ferrying in the Breiðafjörður bay and to the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar). The Breiðafjörður ferry starts along its scheduled route in the town of Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, stops at the fascinating small island Flatley in the middle of the large bay, and continues to the southern part of the West Fjord peninsula to Brjánslækur. So, it is a ferrying spot for the West Fjords. The ferry is quite convenient for those who want to skip the beautiful Barðaströnd drive and go straight to the western part of the peninsula. However, it is more useful and beneficial for the local people who are in a hurry to go home to Patreksfjörður of Tálknafjörður.
Surtarbrandsgil ravine with “poor man’s coal”
Most of the people who opt for the ferry option, immediately leave the ferry dock for the Kleifaheiði mountain pass to the Patreksfjörður fjord. But exploring Brjánslækur is also a viable option as there as things to see, understand and discover. Apart from being by the beautiful fjord Vatnsfjörður, Brjánslækur has an interesting place which is rare in our complex geological history; Surtarbrandsgil is a place where we mined for wooden coal. Surtarbrandur, wooden coals, is the first stage in the process of forming coals, and thus, has a much lower quality for burning. So, it is a kind of poor man's coal as it is cheaper and has less quality. Here, you will also find the best preserved plant fossils in Iceland which are approximately 12 million years old. These beautiful fossils are geologically a part of the oldest part of the island Iceland. Moreover, a hike to Surtarbrandsgil is short and interesting at times when we speculate a lot about fossil energy. Another fact about Surtarbrandsgil is that it is a nature reserve and was protected as a natural monument in 1975.
The Environment Agency of Iceland’s exhibition on Surtarbrandsgil in the old priest’s lodgings in Brjánslækur is open daily throughout the summer. Entrance is free for everyone. In relation to the exhibitions opening hours, hikes to the canyon led by a land ranger are available during these times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 13:00.
Flókatóftir from the time of initial settlement in Iceland
A short distance away, by the shoreline, you will find the ruins of Flókatóftir. They are believed to be the ruins of Hrafna-Flóki's settlement. In the Book of Settlement (Landnámabók), there are stories of individuals that came to Iceland and stopped for a summer. Flóki Vilgerðarson, alias Hrafna-Flóki (Raven Flóki), and his Viking crew were allegedly the first to stay the entirety of the harsh winter. They discovered the rich fishing grounds and abundant stock outside the shoreline and got kind of lost in their enthusiasm for fishing during the summer. They made the mistake of completely forgetting to prepare for winter, as they forgot to collect hay for the dark and cold months. Needless to say, they ended up almost starving. The ruins of the first houses, built by Hrafna-Flóki and his team around 865 in Iceland, are thought to be close to the ferry dock in Brjánslækur called Flókatóftir. When Hrafna Flóki finally met spring and better weather on this island, which was called Garðarshólmi, he saw ice all over the place. So, he decided to name the island as Iceland. Needless to say, when the ice melted, he went back to Norway and never came back.