top of page
  • Writer's pictureyatri gulaak

Western Fjords: Rauðasandur Beach

Updated: Feb 7, 2021

The road from Latrabjarg to Rauðasandur beach is unmarked, uneven and winding. Throughout its 10 Km length, a vast stretch of amorphous swamp lay on one side. It was an area of singular loneliness. Neither the sea breeze whistled through the valley nor a gull quacked over us.

A vast stretch of amorphous swamp lay on one side

There was no evidence of civilization till we reached an isolated black church. The unpronounceable “Saurbaejarkirkja”. Steep cliffs cradled few scattered houses and overlooked a verdant meadow. Here, cows grazed on grass fed by saline waters of a sandy swamp. Beyond the swamp lay the interminable vastness of water which extends to a point where sea and sky become undistinguishable. This swamp, which lies in utter desolation and is frequented only by people pushed to the very edge of the world, becomes the Rauðasandur beach or golden beach when the tide is low. It is a place of extraordinary beauty. Kind of restful beauty that can sometimes unhinge people with restless and unsatisfied minds. As it did with two people named Bjarni Bjarnason and Steinunn Sveinsdóttir who lived here in farmhouses circa 1800.

Saurbaejarkirkja Church
Steep cliffs cradled a few scattered houses and overlooked a verdant meadow.
Cows grazed on grass fed by saline waters

Sjöundá murders

Bjarni and Steinunn, were neighbours and were happily married in different families until they began an illicit affair. They ended up murdering their respective spouses. The fact that both of them had 5 children each did not deter them. Husband of Steinunn, Jon, disappeared first and after two months wife of Bjarni i.e. Guðrún, died. When body of Jon was washed ashore on Rauðasandur beach, both were arrested. They were found guilty and sentenced to death. Since death penalty was illegal in Iceland, they were to be moved to Norway. But before they could be moved, Steinunn died in prison in Reykjavik. That was in 1805. She was buried outside a cemetery in Reykjavik, since she was considered unholy for a proper burial. Instead of a grave, she was buried under a pile of rocks. Exactly 110 years later, in 1915, a harbor was being built and rocks were dislodged from the pile for construction. It was then her body was discovered with a baby skeleton. Apparently she was pregnant with Bjarni’s child when she died in prison! This real story was basis of Gunnar Gunnarrson’s novel Svartfugl. But don’t let the chequered history of this place deter you from visiting it. It is absolutely ravishing.

The moist sands of the beach were illuminated by the gentle light of evening. A trace of mist too rose from waters at farther end of the shore. Reddish brown sand here was in a welcome contrast to black colour we had been accustomed to. Gusts of air uncovered spectacularly colored shingles. After spending some time there, we followed cleverly placed signboards depicting a playful elf, which took us back to the meadow. We took off our shoes to feel its softness and eventually sat down. But the giant green mattress was too inviting. We laid on it awhile and gazed at the blue sky. Two girls were sitting beside the beach which reminded me of some lines from the novel Grapes of wrath. The blue sky was rapidly turning into black. The sands of time were running against us! We had to reach Patreksfjordur before it became completely dark. And that is all about our little visit to Rauðasandur.

We followed cleverly placed signboards depicting a playful Elf
" The world had drawn close around them, and they were in the center of it, or rather Rose of Sharon was in the center of it with Connie making a small orbit around her. Everything they said was kind of a secret."- John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath



For other blogs on Iceland please see

81 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page