An American's Guide to Iceland: Hvítserkur Sea Stack
Driving the periphery of the Vatnsnes Peninsula a mandatory stop is Hvítserkur Sea Stack (The Troll of the North). The sea stack is located in Húnaflói Bay and is not visible from Route 711. That is to say it takes some effort to get close enough to see the monolith.
Iceland legend is that Hvítserkur is a petrified troll. The troll lived in Strandir in the Westfjords and wanted to tear down the bells at Þingeyraklaustur convent. Icelandic trolls are pagans and don't like the sound or sight of churches or church bells. Unfortunately for the troll, he got caught in daylight and turned to stone. Some also refer to the sea stack as "Rhino Rock"
Coming south on 711 there is no traffic and you cannot see Hvítserkur from the road, but there will be a sign for Ósar Youth Hostel. Near Ósar we saw the little sign below.
From here it is a steep drive down to the parking area above Hvítserkur
I stood here for a while wondering if there was really anything down there. The land is barren except for a grazing field of sheep to the south.
The parking area was nothing special. More mud, no trash bins. . .primitive.
From the parking area there are two trails, one leads north past grazing sheep to the shore (below), the other leads south (above) to an overlook just above Hvítserkur.
Of course there is a waterfall and plenty of mud along the way.
When the tide is out it is easier to get to the sea stack to investigate.
The white on the rock is from bird poop. A local told me that explains the name "Hvítserkur" = "hvít" (white) and "sekur" (long shirt). That still doesn't translate in English but whatever. There is plenty of white bird poop on the monolith.
This feature is likely a Volcanic Plug. The rest of the volcano eroded over eons and this is all that remains. It appears on close inspection that the base has been fortified with concrete, and the rock appears very perilously balanced on its middle strut.
The 15 m-high (49 feet) basalt crag is not accessible for long. The weather is constantly changing and the tide comes in fast. On this September day it was very cold and windy.
To get to the beach take the trail south and know that it is steep and in summer populated by angry Arctic Terns. If you're lucky, your effort will be rewarded with Icelandic Harbor Seals, which have a colony here.
There is a little grass-roofed Cafe and restroom on the road just south of Hvítserkur. It is part of the Ósar Hostel. This was one of the cleanest of the few-and-far-between public restrooms we found in Iceland and they did not demand payment to use the facilities. In most places in Iceland $2 (ISK 200) is not uncommon to use the restroom.
It will cost you $4 for a coffee or $9.50 for a sandwich. . .
or not so hungry? How about $4 for a cookie. . .
One of the many interesting signs seen in restrooms across Iceland.
Most signs demand payment. Some are instructional on what to do and NOT to do on a toilet.
This one just begged for the toilet paper to be left for other guests.
A different view of the Ósar Cafe and restrooms.
Loving that grass roof.
A second version of the Hvítserkur legend goes like this. . .
A long time ago when the settlers were arriving in Iceland a troll named Hvítserkur was living in Bæjarfell mountain in the Westfjords. He had one son called Bárður and had for long lived in the mountain along with his family and ate high on the hog. One day he woke up to a terrible sound and right away he knew that the sound came from the settlers that had started to take over his land. These unwelcome settlers didn’t believe in his Pagan gods Óðinn, Freyr, Þór and so on.
He hoped that the sounds would stop but his wish did not come true, quite the opposite as the sound only got louder and especially around mid-winter time which was the trolls main festival time so he knew something had to be done. He was confident that the horrid sound was all coming from the same clock that dangled from a grand building by Húnaflói Bay.
He decided to set on a journey to take down the boisterous clock, wreck it and eradicate the sounds for once and for all. Hvítserkur waited until the day started getting shorter and daylight was more limited. He speculated that the during the mid-winter he would have enough time in the dark night to go, do the deed and return before it was light out since he wasn’t able to survive in sun.
That night was unusually dark but had the moon shining bright and stars dazzling so he decided to set off on his quest, but just as he was about to go, his son Bárður demanded to go with him. Bárður concluded that it was time for him to see the world and that he would “most certainly” be of help. Hvítserkur thought otherwise and was resistant and afraid that the valleys they had to cross would be too deep for his young son.
But Bárður was persistent and in the end, his father agreed to let him come along although still reluctant. Unfortunately, the argument had taken a fair amount of time and now it was well into the night. They set off, but early on faced difficulties as the father’s predictions had been accurate and the valleys were too deep and the trip was taking longer than expected. Hvítserkur realized the night was soon coming to an end so he started rushing, leaving his son behind and running over the fjords but as soon as he stepped over mount Vatnsnesfjall and onto the beach he looked East and saw the fjord light up as the sun rose and he was caught by daylight which turned him into the famous Hvítserkur rock we know today. Bárður faced the same fate in a different fjord.