The Svalvogar Circuit in Iceland’s Western Fjords is one of the most popular short bike touring circuits in Iceland, nicknamed ‘The Dream Road’ by some. Most people ride it on mountain bikes, but we didn’t want to miss this classic ride so gave it a go with kids, tandems and a trailer full of camping kit, turning it into a proper family mini-expedition.
Cycling ‘The Dream Road’
Cameron and Hannah are flirting with the sea; squealing and dashing for cover when it gets extra playful. Matthew stays near the tide line and lets the spray wash over him. It’s a mixed blessing because he’s sweating from the effort of biking the rough track, while freezing from the knees down. He opted for haphazardly pedalling through the rivers in his shoes and socks while the rest of us dithered about in bare feet on the slippery stones.
I can’t stop to play; I have to carry the tandem over the rocky beach. I hurry on, slightly nervous that the friendly sea will have a change of mood. At certain tides, the road becomes impassable, and the only option is to sit it out.
You see, this is the ‘Dream Road,’ where anything can happen. Known as The Svalvogar Circuit, it’s thought to be Iceland’s most popular biking route. Lord knows why – it’s one of the toughest roads we’ve ever cycled. The 49 kilometre rough track slowly (very slowly in our case) winds around a peninsular in the Western Fjords. It scoops around mountain ridges, transporting the rider over rocky outcrops, past lighthouse and farm, through puddles and rivers and alongside the ocean and its famous volcanic black sands.
A marathon takes place annually here which in 2010 expanded to include cyclists. The winner made it home by bike in under three hours and the record has since been broken. By the time we hit the beach we have already been cycling the route for one and a half days; with no sign of the finishing line at Pingeyri. It’s lucky we brought the tent.
A dream that can tip into nightmare
As the name suggests, the road carves through the dreamy bay for miles and miles. At one point we are followed by a rainbow. At another, a seal pops up to say hello and there are plenty of sheep to count for those of us who have trouble sleeping. But interspersed with the idyllic landscapes are nightmare blocks of mountainside, where the road deteriorates so there is barely a path, or spits you out onto the side of a cliff with only a steep drop between you and an icy swim. We pitch the tent in fierce winds on the site of an abandoned farm, which is only slightly less spooky than the abandoned house that provides a junction marker further on into the journey.
It’s a lonely and wild route, and we are glad of each others’ company. But we also have the company of some extraordinary natural features. As we move around the tip of the peninsular Arnarfjordur throws up a line of mountains resembling nature’s army. A line of glacially formed tanks, born in an icy rage but now helping keep the peace of this stunning corner of the Western Fjords. I count twelve, thirteen, fourteen, and there are more beyond the limits of my vision.
One more river to cross
Two thirds of the way round, the Svalvogar Circuit veers off into the Kirkjubolsdalur Valley; ending its dalliance with the fjords. The mountain bikers (not that we’ve seen any) follow this route. But there is no road, barely even a track, and we have three tired kids and a dwindling picnic. We decide to move further around the peninsular and pick up the main road. Unfortunately this involves more river crossings.
He ain’t heavy- he’s my brother
Cameron is tired of getting his feet wet and goes on strike. After crossing on the bike, his brother wades back through and gives him a piggy back across the water. Now we know we are definitely on The Dream Road.
That would never, ever, happen in real life.
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