Búdir, the most beautiful place in Iceland: 1929

“I had intended to leave Stapi for Búdir where there was, I learned , a good farm, not later than 4 or 5 p.m.; but, although a message arrived from Búdir to say that horses and a guide would call for me by the hour, it was nearly 9 p.m. before they finally turned up.”

”It was nearly ten o’clock by the time we got started, for the guide Jónsson, a handsome youth with curly red hair and bright blue eyes, had to have a meal and the ponies a rest before we could get away.”

“At midnight…stopping after a while to rest them (the horses) at a tiny farm out of which ran a couple of men. After looking at me with great interest and curiosity, and inquiring of Jónsson who I was, one of them disappeared, returning in a few minutes with a welcome glass of fresh milk which he offered me, refusing to take any payment. When at last we rode away, the men stood outside their door watching us and waving their hands, till we were out of sight.“

“About one o’clock my guide pointed out the Búdir promontory far ahead along the coastline, and soon after we passed one or two solitary riders, farmers I imagine. They stopped in each case to shake hands with us both, and to exchange snuff with Jónsson from out of the quaint bone horns which they all carried.“

“In the more remote parts of Iceland one seldom sees a man smoking; tobacco is too expensive, and the people—both men and women alike—take snuff instead, throwing their heads back and sniffing large quantities up their nostrils.

“I gathered that the riders all inquired of Jónsson, with great curiosity and a certain amount of chaff, who I was! In other words no doubt using the Icelandic equivalent for: ”Who is your lady friend?” His answer seemed to satisfy and surprise them and, after warmly shaking hands again, they would ride on, crying out: “Verid thér saelar!” “Be ye happy!” the customary greeting invariably exchanged between passing travellers. When a stranger accosts another in Iceland, it is considered polite to fire out a battery of questions: “What is your name?” “Whither are you bound?” “Whose son are you?”

“It was nearly 2 a.m. when, very weary and sleepy, I reached Búdir farm. It was a two-storied wooden house, and I was shown upstairs to a bare boarded room with the welcome sight of a real bed in one corner. A good sized table in the centre of the room, a locked cupboard and one or two chairs completed the furniture. A smiling, good-natured woman bustled about putting clean sheets over the usual eiderdown bedding, and then hurried off to prepare eggs and bread and butter as if it was the most usual thing in the world for a stranger to turn up at two in the morning!’

“I spent the afternoon sketching and exploring the beauties of Búdir and its estuary. It was certainly the most beautiful place I had yet seen in Iceland. The outline of mountains round the coast was magnificent, while behind, away to the west, rose up the mighty snow-capped peaks of Snæfells-Jökull. Among the sheltered hollows in the dunes were grassy patches where I counted a variety of wild flowers, among them quantities of forget-me-nots and wild pansies of a lovely violet shade, patches of golden saxifrage and the delicate sea pink. Búdir is, indeed, famous for its flowers, of which there are said to be 150 different kinds, more than in any part of Iceland.”

Olive stays at Búdir for three days. She sketches but with difficulty because the weather has turned bitterly cold with a wind from the north and frequent cloud bursts.

So, imagine 1929, an English woman, an artist, rural Iceland, still so few tourists that when one turns up, especially a woman, she is a great curiosity. We´re inclined to think of women in earlier times as delicate but nothing could be further from the truth. They rode horses, they managed house holds without any conveniences, no automatic washing machines, dishwashers, electric stoves. They had children with the help of a mid-wife, if they were fortunate. If not, they managed on their own. If they were well to do, they had servants and had to hire, manage, fire them.

There is nothing shy about Olive. She exudes self-confidence. She goes to Iceland with nothing but a phrase book and the absolute certainty that she can handle whatever turns up. She finds accommodation; she hires guides, rents horses, eats whatever is put in front of her, rides through the night over trackless wilderness.

She has read about Iceland and Icelanders and what she has read has given her complete confidence in the honesty and decency of the Icelandic people. She travels from place to place with Icelandic guides and trusts them completely. Her trust is well placed. She is treated with courtesy and kindness. Her book, beneath the surface events, is a testimony to the Icelandic people. It shows them as generous and considerate, as honest and trustworthy.

Who could read Olive’s account of her Iceland travels and not think well of Iceland and Icelanders?

On to Gullfoss


Olive stays for a few days at Kárastadir. She sees no other visitors and wonders if maybe hardly any visitors come. However, she is told that she is early in the season and, soon, the Germans, Danes and Americans would start arriving. They´d do the usual round of Geyser, Gullfoss and Thingvella, then go home. Hearing that, she decides that she should visit Gullfoss and Geyser before the tourist hoards arrive.

The distance is 70 miles. She´ll have to make the trip by horse. Her guide, to her dismay at first, is the farmer´s thirteen year old son. It´s been arranged for them to stop overnight at a farm thirty miles away.

The day starts out fine but soon turns to drenching rain. (Sound familiar?) It’s obvious Olive isn’t all that impressed by Geyser. She’s more concerned that it is five o’clock and she hasn’t had anything to eat since breakfast at 8:30. She and Sigurdur stop at a farm and the farmer’s young wife provides them with “delicious home-made biscuits and little cakes”.

Off they go in a blinding rain. Sigurdur loses his way but they come across a local man and he points the way. Eventually, they reach the farm where they are to spend the night. “The farmer’s wife spoke a few words of English; she had big blue eyes and wonderful long plaits of corn-coloured hair.”

“My hostess helped me off with my dripping oil-skins and led me to my room. It was outside in a wooden outhouse. The farmer’s wife brought me four boiled eggs, quantities of black rye bread and butter and hot milk, after which I felt better and slept soundly in spite of the howling tempest outside and the torrents of rain beating against the window and on the corrugated iron roof of the shed.”

“The ride to Gullfoss and back would be about fifteen miles, but having come so far I could not turn back now, so I put on my oilskins over my riding clothes, donned my sou’wester and, after a good meal of coffee, stewed lamb, gravy and potatoes—green vegetables and fruit are unobtainable in Iceland—I felt ready for anything.”

They reach Gullfoss. Both she and Sigurdur are overawed by the falls. They stay at a different farm house on the way back. Olive has a bit of an adventure because the farmer’s wife goes with them. She is herding six horses. Olive gets to ride one and they all race together over some moorland. The farm wife’s destination is a spot where some labourers are working. Olive has lunch with them, tries out some Icelandic words and one of the labourers tries some English.

They reach Kárastadir around 7. P.m. A few days later she leaves Kárastadir with fond memories. She gets a ride on a freight lorry for the sum of 3 Krónur. “I had a seat by the driver in his little enclosed wooden box, and my luggage went on behind with several sacks, some scrap iron and three men; the latter were very jovial, they sang songs and handed round peppermints to all, including myself. There was also an attractive little puppy which I nursed on my lap.“

The kindness of Icelandic hosts is mentioned time and again in travel accounts that span more than a hundred years. That kindness is well captured b Olive‘s last words about her stay at Kárastadir.

“The farmer’s wife and some of her children came to the road to see me off. She gave me her photograph and some rosebuds off a little plant she had been trying to grow indoors; and, with a sweet smile, begged me by realistic signs to write to her from England. I was quite sad to say good-bye to her, for the whole family had been so kind and hospitable. They could not do enough for me, and nothing was too much trouble.”