Icelandic wildlife photos – #7 Icelandic horse

Can there be any horses nicer than these? They are so calm and friendly. It’s fun to see them everywhere in multi-coloured groups.

It’s hard to pick out a favourite, but I always like the grey or spotted ones.

Icelandic wildlife photos – #10 Icelandic cattle

This is the start of a countdown of the 10 favourite animals and birds that we recently saw in Iceland.

Cows may seem a strange choice, but we first noticed these pretty cows because someone else had already stopped to take a picture of them. Icelandic cattle are a unique breed that come in many interesting colours and patterns. Some of this group were wearing bags on their udders and their harnesses were also quite eye-catching. They live near Skógarfoss and as we turned the car around and drove past two minutes later, they had already gone quite a lot further away from the road to get their food.

Tölting for the terrified

The Icelandic horse is a unique breed and they are beautiful, with long flowing manes and tails, gentle eyes and a short but sturdy body. Driving around Iceland, you see them everywhere and they will happily come over to say hello. They really are a charming horse.

Happy horses in their natural setting

They have a unique gait called the “tölt”, which is something between a trot and a canter. Their legs look so graceful when they do it. Here is a video, in case you haven’t seen this gait before:

Horse riding is a popular activity with tourists all over Iceland and you can see why – imagine being able to ride beautiful horses in stunning scenery without a lot of traffic or people around to get in the way.

I love the whole idea of horse riding and I really wish I had learned to do it as a child. I’ve tried learning as an adult, and gave up because it was just too hard, scary and expensive. It’s one of those things that I would love to be good at, but am just not. I think it’s the unpredictability and speed element that scares me.

I participated in a group ride in Iceland a few years ago. As is normally the case with these activities, they claim that you don’t ever have to have ridden before to do it as the horses are just following each other the whole time. It’s true that most people in my group had little to no experience. At least half also didn’t want to do the tölting for this reason!

We rode off in single file down paths through beautiful fields, with far reaching views. We were lucky with the weather that day too. It was a great way to explore. Then the guides shouted back that we were going to tölt, which was met with a lot of protesting that was ignored and off we went! Lots of screaming and bouncing ensued. Riding looks really easy and smooth but isn’t. Somehow no one fell off but it probably wasn’t much fun for the horses! To give them credit none of them freaked out or broke away despite the screaming and everyone probably doing all the wrong things with their legs and reins. Towards the end of our ride, the most experienced person in the group DID fall off, having been given quite a difficult horse to ride, which was traumatic for everyone in the group except the guides who seemed to find us all hilarious.

Ready?? Hang on!

Spending time with the horses before and after the ride was really fun and I think everyone came away loving the Icelandic horse even more, despite the adrenaline rush!

Every time I go to Iceland I think about doing the horse riding again. I would have really loved the whole experience if we’d just walked, although it is fun to say you’ve tölted. I know you don’t ever get any better at horse riding if you don’t try things but it definitely left some of the older people in the group a bit shaken up. I hope that some of the other riding companies would adjust their ride more to the ability of the group or split the group in two to make sure everyone could get the ride they wanted.

So, what do you think, should I give it a try again when we do the Ring Road trip this year? Or should I just accept the fact that I’m a big chicken who prefers horses from the ground?

Inspired by Iceland/Meeting an Icelandic Sheepdog

Inspired by Iceland started a campaign last year to have ordinary Icelanders get involved with tourists, particularly during the off-peak season.  They do this through a series of invitations which I have watched with interest, ranging from meeting the President to experiencing a small aspect of a local person’s daily life.

I decided I would actually like to do one of these invitations instead of just reading about them. Being an animal lover, I wanted to do the one that offered to go for a walk with Mosi the Icelandic Sheepdog. The Icelandic Sheepdog is a very old breed brought to Iceland by the Vikings over 1000 years ago. As you can imagine, their main “ability” is protecting sheep and having herding instincts.

Mosi means “moss” in Icelandic and is a very suitable dog name for Iceland– where else can dogs walk on moss covered lava fields?

I met Mosi and his “mum” Þórdís at the Öskjuhlíð area near Perlan. This is a popular recreation area with many trails and because it is wooded and hilly it feels quite rural and not just like a park. Mosi is a really well behaved dog who was happy to walk either on the lead or go off exploring on his own and would always come back when called. Despite being a breeding dog, he isn’t aggressive towards other dogs and has a quietly cheerful nature. I come across other people’s dogs misbehaving all the time (which I do appreciate is the fault of the owner and not the dog!) so it was really refreshing to meet a dog who wasn’t any trouble at all and is obviously very happy with his life. He’s always on the move and it was only when we tried to take pictures of him that I realised that he doesn’t keep still!

Some time ago people released pet rabbits around where we were walking and there is quite a large rabbit colony now, with the hot water pipes keeping them warm in winter. We did see a couple of rabbits and it was quite strange as I’m used to only seeing “wild” rabbits outside and these really were pet-looking rabbits. Luckily Mosi was distracted by something else at the time and didn’t see them!

I can see why some people still consider Reykjavík to be unfriendly to dog owners. Although this must be one of the main dog walking areas in the city, there aren’t many bins for dog walkers and you are forbidden from taking dogs in some areas, and in some other areas they need to be on a lead. Having said that, we have the opposite issue sometimes in the UK where we are too accommodating to dogs everywhere.

Although I’m not in the market for a dog right now, I would seriously consider an Icelandic Sheepdog if I was. They are a nice manageable size, not too big and not too small. Mosi’s coat was very soft and he doesn’t really bark – my perfect dog. And just look how handsome he is.

If you are interested in reading more about the breed, you can visit Mosi’s breeder’s page here and see pictures of his latest puppies. Mosi has his own Facebook page too. The breed is also available outside Iceland and make very good ambassadors!

If you are going to Iceland and have some time, I would really encourage you to look at what Inspired by Iceland is offering when you visit. I had a great time doing something very simple. Aside from whatever activity you do, it gives you the chance to get to know someone from Iceland that you wouldn’t have met otherwise. I look forward to seeing how long the campaign continues and what new ideas they come up with.

Do you think this type of initiative could work in other countries? How would you show a tourist something of your world?

The scarf is done!

With aching fingers I am pleased to tell you that my attempt at knitting a scarf with Icelandic wool is done!!!

Last time you saw it, it looked like this:

(read my original post here)

This is probably the best thing I’ve made yet, although it does have some annoying mistakes in it. It also had many, many ends to weave in, and this was good practice for me, I was getting quite good by the end.

Here is the finished product:

Ends left for each stripe - fiddly for a beginner!

Somehow in my knitting I must have twisted the whole thing around at some point as most of the “wrong side” (ie showing colour changes) is on one side, but there is a section in the middle where it’s on the other side, so I’ve ended up with two wrong sides! Also, the pattern is a stockinette stitch which I have always read shouldn’t be done with scarves as you end up with curled up sides. So, as expected I do have curled up sides but they curl both up and down, again because I must have twisted the whole thing around at that point in the middle.

Curly sides that should all be the same on each side but aren't - oops!

Anyway, all that aside, I’m really glad I stuck with it and it’s the longest thing I’ve ever made and all practice is good practice. Unfortunately we are having a typical English MILD winter so I’m not sure when I’m ever going to get to wear it. I’m wearing it now so that at least it gets some use!

My general neatness in stitching has improved a lot lately

I did have just enough to make my little helper her own little scarf but she wasn’t too impressed with it.

Are you done yet?

Oh, you're weaving in the ends, how boring, I'm going back to sleep

HOLD ON - I never said I wanted my own scarf!!

The next thing I am going to make is a merino wool scarf for Mr I’dratherbeiniceland, and that is going to expand my repertoire even more as it will involve knitting with two colours at once AND doing slip stitches for the first time. I know, very exciting stuff here.

Back to the Icelandic wool. I have 50 grams of the same lett lopi in dark brown and need to think of what to do with that.

I also have 100 grams of this:

which looked pretty in the shop but now I’m not sure what to do with it – not another scarf! Suggestions welcome.

I'd rather play with this than wear it

Patience is a virtue – knitting with Létt Lopi

A few months ago, I decided learning to knit would be fun. I couldn’t find any courses locally so I managed to learn all the basics from books. I’m still at the beginner stage and I don’t know how far I’m ever going to get with it on my own, but I’m enjoying it There’s lots of things I would love to be able to make someday which I will bore you with another time.

Iceland is a knitter’s paradise, with everyone being taught to knit at school and knitting products sold not just in specialist shops but alongside food. You can also easily get unspun wool which I have never seen sold in England.

I’ve started knitting with Létt Lopi, which is a lighter but still warm version of  Icelandic wool. My aim is to make a 3 coloured scarf that looks like this:

From Knit Today magazine Christmas 2011

I’ve finished my first colour section:

I’m really glad this wasn’t one of the first things I tried to make as I would have made loads of mistakes. The lopi is thin and means I am using quite small needles, which can feel tight.The lopi also comes apart easily and is full of longer “guard” hairs which again get in the way for a beginner.  In case you aren’t a knitter, I should explain that the thicker the yarn and bigger the needles you use, the easier it is. Yarn that has some man made  element such as viscose in it is also less likely to split and easier for beginners.

Having measured my first section, I think I am going to have do either 15 or 18 sections to get it to the length in the pattern. They don’t take long, but do take concentration to follow the pattern. These are the other colours I’m using:

They all came together in a pack of 4 colours which also included  dark brown which I am going to save for something else.

I don’t know how long this is going to take me, but I’ll post a picture of the finished product when done. I want to be able to wear it this winter so I am aiming to get it done this month.

Luckily, I have a little helper:

I know this wool has got a big fanbase and I’d love to see any of your creations!

Icelandic bucket list

I thought it might be fun to make a list of things I HAVEN’T done in Iceland yet but want to do…

1.       Whale watching – although I am a huge chicken about boats and feel seasick just thinking about them, I’m going to go on my first whale watching trip in Husavik next year. The odds are around 98% to see them at the right time of year and if I’m suffering on a boat for 3 hours I want to see something! So this trip is about as good as it gets for someone like me and I think it will be a memorable experience for my poor fellow passengers if nothing else!

                               Whales really close up!

  Photo from Gentle Giants Husavik

2.       Visit Iceland in the winter. Ok, the lack of daylight is a problem, but I’d love to see how everything looks with snow. And maybe there are Christmas sales…

3.      See Heimaey Island part of the Westmann Islands and site of a volcanic eruption in 1973. All residents were safely evacuated, and there is still a thriving community. You can visit today and see the lava flow still in place and the effects it had on the town. This is another trip that involves a boat or a small plane, but I think it would be really amazing to see.

4.      The West Fjords – worth a whole trip of their own.

5.       Walk an Icelandic sheepdog – my favourite invite from the recent Inspired by Iceland campaign. Does Mosi have his own fan club yet?  What cute dogs.

Icelandic Sheepdog

6.       Knit my own lopapeysa. If you haven’t got one of these wool sweaters that you see everywhere in Iceland, get one, it’s worth the money! They keep you at just the right temperature somehow whether it’s cold or warm outside. Knitting one might unfortunately always be beyond my capabilities/patience level even with the helpful people at Knitting Iceland’s DVD. 

7.       Run the annual Reyjkavik Half Marathon or Marathon.  I keep looking at the website and then not doing it because it’s an expensive time of year to go. I will do it someday as it looks like a really good race. And it has lots of other foreigners that come to do it who also won’t know where they’re going.

8.       Learn a little bit of Icelandic. Can we have an immersion course for tourists please?

9.       Climb Mount Esja, overlooking Reykjavik. This one is quite doable in the right weather. I’ll skip the glaciers.

Photo from Visit Reykjavik

10.    Drive something with huge tires. Is it weird that I get really, really excited by these cars with big tires??  I don’t think I could stand the excitement of a Super Jeep trip.

I can just see me driving one of these:

"The man wouldn't mind if it came with 44 inch tires" - Ólafur Ragnar Hannesson, Fangavaktin

There are some other Icelandic things that I haven’t done for good reasonÞorrablót food anyone?
I’m always looking for new things to do in Iceland so if you have any suggestions let me know! You can also tell me what’s on your bucket list.