The Empire of the Fox

In the fog I could see dark shapes moving in parallel to us, watching us. I immediately realized that these were artic foxes, the only original Icelandic wild animal!

Iceland Travel
Fox in the fog
Fox in the fog

I broke off from my group, digging around in my jacket for my camera. I felt like Richard Attenborough, I could get great pictures and show them off to family and friends. I felt elated and literally ran towards the foxes.

The foxes were moving right next to us, watching and in a way they were stalking us.
The foxes were moving right next to us, watching and in a way they were stalking us.

I really got close to them but the pictures were perhaps not that great (what do you think?).

A fox on guard.
A fox on guard.

Then I realized that I was alone in the fog with the foxes and it was really quiet. I have to admit that I was a bit unnerved. I am, to be honest, not that great at finding my way. My wife frequently has to correct me when I am driving around in Reykjavik but here I was truly lost.

Two foxes, a vixen and a cub, look at the humans with a mix of wariness and curiosity.
Two foxes, a vixen and a cub, look at the humans with a mix of wariness and curiosity.

I had, after all, just arrived at the Hornstrandir Natual Reserve in the extreme North West in the West Fjords of Iceland far away from civilisation.  To my embarrassment I had to shout to my fellow travellers several times before they heard me and replied so I could find them. They didn´t comment as they know me and my tendency to bolt off and my utter lack of sense of direction. Oh, the joys of travelling with family.

Massive cliffs and rough seas off the coast of the North West of Iceland.
Massive cliffs and rough seas off the coast of the North West of Iceland.

We had just landed at Hornvík cove and we had some walking to to do in the fog until we would arrive at our destination which was Hornbjargsviti light house.

The Hornbjarg Light House (Hornbjargsviti) seen from the sea.
The Hornbjarg Light House (Hornbjargsviti) seen from the sea.

You can only get there by boat but this time we weren´t able to land at the usual drop off point close to the light house as the seas were rough. The captain took one look at the kids we were traveling with and did not want to take any changes at the landing at Hornbjargsviti in the cove called Látravík. So he took us around for an easier landing at Hornvík. The walk was easy and in spite of the fog you couldn´t really get lost if you stuck to the track which I didn´t.

The Hornbjarg light house (Hornbjargsviti) on a perfect day.
The Hornbjarg light house (Hornbjargsviti) on a perfect day.

Just to clarify, you don´t really stay at the lighthouse itself but in a large house adjacent to it. This is the old resident of the light-house keeper which is rented out by the Icelandic Touring Association these days. So if you are interested in staying there or finding out more you can contact them I suppose.

Girls on swings at Hornbjargsviti light house.
Girls on swings at Hornbjargsviti light house.

A lot of people explore this wonderful area on foot, just bringing their back pack tents and sense of adventure. If  you want more comfort (shower, roof over your head, water toilets and a bed) I recommend the Hornbjargsviti light house.

The cliffs at Hornstrandir are simply massive.
The cliffs at Hornstrandir are simply massive. Please be careful.

We had a great time exploring the beautiful surrondings which are incredibly varied. Just remember to be careful around the cliffs and respect the sensitive environment. Take nothing but pictures and leave nothing behind.

The edge of Hornbjarg cliff. It´s a long way down.
The edge of Hornbjarg cliff. It´s a long way down.

But I was going to talk about the foxes. When the first settlers arrived in Iceland in the ninth century (or perhaps earlier) they were settling an island that had no indigenous mammal. Except of course for the artic fox. Traditionally, farmers have considered the fox a nuisance since it would snatch away lambs or hunt seabirds that were an important source of food back in the day. So foxes are hunted to keep their numbers down.

A perfect drinking fountain for a fox.
A perfect drinking fountain for a fox.

Here in naturual reservefoxes are protected along with everything else and the whole area is really a paradise for foxes. There are few humans around to bother them, there is plenty of seabirds to hunt and there is a lot of fresh water. In fact I would wager that this area contains one of the best drinking water on the whole planet. How sweet it is!

Lair of the fox - an Icelandic saying states that a fox always has many ways out.
Lair of the fox – an Icelandic saying states that a fox always has many ways out.

To cut a long story short we did see a lot of foxes. In fact you didn´t have go anywhere to get all close and personal with a fox. In fact we got a visit from a fox every night, a vixen would show up to get food.

Clever and brave vixen gives her cubs a head start by getting food from gluttonous humans.
Clever and brave vixen gives her cubs a head start by getting food from gluttonous humans.

Our hosts, a married couple that ran a hotel at the light house, told us that the vixen had a few cubs which were probably two or three weeks ahead of other cubs at the same age since their mother was clever enough to get abundance food from humans. And she truly did well out of it, all left-over meat and fat was carried eagerly away by this resourceful animal. She would probably bury a lot of it for winter and be all set for it. Clever girl!

You can imagine how much fun it was for the kids to feed the vixen.
You can imagine how much fun it was for the kids to feed the vixen.

We also went out walking one day when the weather was nothing short of perfect. We came across two fox lairs on our approximately 13KM trek which took us from the light house to the edge of the massive Hornbjarg cliffs and back.

I risked my life taking that picture of sea birds perched on a ledge two hundred meters above the rocky beach below. Just so you know.
I risked my life taking that picture of sea birds perched on a ledge two hundred meters above the rocky beach below. Just so you know.

I hadn´t realized that I was walking on a fox lair until I felt the very ground vibrate below me. I had wandered to a top of the lair and startled the inhabitants. I took a look around and realized how fantastically well placed this lair was. Just a few meters from the edge of the cliffs which was teeming with sea birds and a well of the best fresh water I had ever tasted in my life. I must spent an half an hour laying with me head buried in that well!

Fox cub sticks his head out its mother´s lair.
Fox cub sticks his head out its mother´s lair.

We had more luck when we approached a another lair. We saw remains of birds outside as the fox typically is a messy eater. Also, foxes typically don´t eat their food right away, they like it to mature a bit.

One of the entries to the lair of the fox
One of the entries to the lair of the fox.

Then we saw two cubs sticking their heads out, their curiosity getting the better of them. We watched them for a long time playing outside in the sun. They hardly noticed us during their play but I suppose their mother was not far away.

Cute fox cub!
Some might say that this fox cub is cute.

Even if you don´t care for foxes the whole area of Hornstrandir is a treasure trove. The massive cliffs are awesome, the seals floating around in the sea or perched on rocks are a joy and the massive log of driftwood coming all the way from Siberia are pretty cool too.

Seal taking a swim.
Seal taking a swim.

 

Massive driftwood logs from Siberia on the beach.
Massive driftwood logs from Siberia on the beach.

I can´t wait to go back one fine day.

How to get there
The only way to get to Hornstrandir in the North West of Iceland is by boat. You can try to contact The Icelandic Touring Association that now run the guesthouse at the Hornbjargsviti Light House or check out the web site of West Tours that specilize in trips to the area. We here at Stuck in Iceland do not have any affiliation with those companies.

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The Empire of the Fox

time to read: 6 min