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Enchanted Iceland - The land of elves and trolls

The land of elves and trolls – In Iceland, the faith in elves and trolls is still alive. Among the wild nature of the craggy volcanic island a mysterious folk is hiding. Sometimes elves and fairies play a trick on humans.

The Magical Land of Extremes

The Land of Fire and Ice

Iceland – the island of fire and ice, a land of magic!  It enchants everyone who dares to encounter this impressive piece of earth over which a mystery seems to hover. When you admire the wide horizons, it is as if time stood still for a moment.

The Enchantd Iceland is a country of extremes. The island lies almost at the northern polar circle and, at the same time, on a bubbling lava stove. Natural and full of mysterious creatures, the twilight of winter immerses the country in a mystical atmosphere. In fact, during the winter months, the sun does not stay much longer than five hours in the sky of the second largest island in Europe. (about the size of Colorado)

But it is the darkness that makes Iceland’s mysterious atmosphere in winter. The immense nature of the island fascinates and inspired the inhabitants to numerous legends. According to these legends, numerous mysterious creatures make their mischief on the sparsely populated island: trolls, elves, and magicians.

J. R. R. Tolkien was fascinated by mythical creatures and by seething rugged landscapes – marked by volcanic eruptions. In his novels, he brought many of these trolls, gnome orcs and elves to life in the battle for Middle-Earth. Hardly any other country aroused so much fear in the hearts of humans as the name of the land of Sauron. The biting vapors in the plains of Gorgoroth.

In Iceland, these landscape is the result of the whims of volcanic nature: Frost and erosion create bizarre formations in the wilderness of lava, lichens, and ashes. Mystical creatures from the underworld arise. Just like in Krýsuvik - a volcanic system on the Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland - with its breathtaking sulfur and cinder fields.

Enchanted Iceland - The true setting of "Lord of the Rings"

Lava rock dominates the landscape as well as rough mountain landscapes around the northern fjords and rugged coasts. With over 8000 square kilometers, Europe’s largest glacier is enthroned on the island. (Vatnajökull National Park)

The about 1000 meter thick glacier Vatnajökull is sitting on a ticking lava bomb. Some 20 million years ago, eruptions caused the world’s largest volcanic island to rise out of the water.

Iceland is situated directly on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the border between the Eurasian and American plates. The two plates drift apart. That is why hot rock rises from the earth there, which makes the island grow steadily even today.

Aerial ICELAND: Flight of the Drone- by: exposurescape.com

Climate & Vegetation

The climate on Iceland is – as the location of the island suggests – oceanically cool, but influenced by the warm Gulf Stream. Therefore the winter is relatively mild. However, even in summer, it never gets really warm.

With an average temperature of 13 °C, July and August are the warmest months on the island. In summer, there is daylight for two to three months without interruption. But in December you have the shortest day with only 4 hours of daylight. 

In winter there are often storms. There are also storms in the heart of the island – but sandstorms. Snowfall can only rarely be expected. Rainfall can reach 2000 mm per year.  The steadily rising average temperature due to climate change is also noticeable in Iceland: Glacier tongues are melting, and smaller glaciers are thawing out completely.

Iceland is of volcanic origin, so the soil is also volcanic and stony. Furthermore, flora and fauna are influenced by extreme weather conditions on the island. A large part of the island is under a thick layer of ice and snow all year round.

At the time of the settlement, Iceland was probably quite densely forested. However, the settlers destroyed this tree population, and so the ground was exposed to the weather without protection. The vegetation on Iceland is divided into two parts: Once, there are the barren, stony gravel and lava deserts in the highlands, on the other side, there are the green, lush coastal regions.

Lush vegetation can only be found at the edge of warm springs and streams if the ground allows it. Thanks to geothermal energy and water heated to natural temperatures, even bananas, vines, and various cut flowers grow – but only in greenhouses.

Amazingly, Iceland operates the northernmost banana plantation in the world – the largest banana farm in Europe after the Canary Islands!

The "Hidden People" of Iceland

The belief in the “hidden people,” in the  land of elves and trolls, has survived in Iceland since pagan times. The life of the Icelanders is still influenced by it today.
According to a survey, 60% of Icelanders still believe in supernatural beings today or consider their existence possible.

The belief in “Huldufólk” – the “Hidden People” – is so widespread that companies sometimes need spiritual help in road construction projects where something has gone wrong. The road angers the local elves or trolls through their territory. A medium is needed to appease the mysterious creatures so workers can finish the construction project without getting further problems.

Also, already planned road courses were changed to spare the habitat of the hidden people. As a reward for this, they guard the road and guarantee that no serious accidents will happen. Even if nobody can really see the secret inhabitants of the island, dealing with them has to be mastered.

All this is no wonder in a landscape that seems to have originated from a mystical fantasy novel. In a country where you can observe the mysterious northern lights in the sky. Where thick fog suddenly appears in broad daylight and takes away your complete orientation. Suddenly a stone seems to have human contours.

Certainly, the remoteness and isolated location of Iceland is one reason why this myth has survived for so long, but …

...don't mystical stories of elves, trolls, and dwarves also add to the charm of a country whose nature is still elemental and overpowering today. And which shows us our human insignificance through massive glaciers, tumbling waterfalls, rolling valleys, black beaches, and volcanic eruptions.

The colorful Icelandic sheep

Iceland is not only the land of elves and trolls; besides the Arctic fox and reindeer, you can also meet the colorful Icelandic sheep. The Arctic fox is the only land mammal native to Iceland, all other mammals have been introduced to Iceland.

Icelandic sheep descend from a breed that was brought to Iceland by the Vikings 1100-1200 years ago. Because they were able to adapt to the harsh climate for over a thousand years, they are considered a robust breed of sheep and made a significant contribution to the diet of the local population. Due to the unfavorable climatic and geographical situation – sheep farming was the only way to get fresh food in winter.

Icelandic sheep are medium-sized, usually have short legs, and are solidly built. The sheep’s face and legs are entirely free of wool, which can take on 17 different shades of color from white to brown to black.

But regardless of the color, Icelandic sheep are special – or rather their wool. The fleece consists of two different layers. The outer hairs are long, coarse and slightly curly. They work like a raincoat, and the water can run off at the sides.

The undercoat is much softer and finer and protects the animal from wind and cold. That’s why Iceland sheep’s wool is a very coveted fiber.

Since the early Middle Ages, the race was bred in pure form. The breeding aims were robustness, good meat quality, and good wool.  They were not selected by color or appearance, so Icelandic sheep offer the full range of possible sheep colors, and from 6 horns to hornless, everything can be seen.

Sheeps in ICELAND
Icelandic lamb

The purity of the species has been perfectly preserved through centuries of isolation. To this day, no other sheep may be imported into Iceland. For this reason, the wool of Icelandic sheep is unique in its softness and quality and, therefore, something extraordinary.

During the idyllic summer months the sheep live free and without a shepherd in the highlands. Every year in early autumn, the whole country gets into motion – the animals are driven from the mountains down to the valley.

The Icelanders celebrate their traditionally most important festival, the “Réttir“!

Also, a lot of tourists are present at this event or even help. No farmer could do this task alone. In this sparsely populated area, entire communities’ cooperation is needed to bring all the sheep down to the valley in time for winter and sort them according to their ear tags.

Participants repeat the same ritual over and over again. Sheep are herded into the central pen – then, it’s essential to check the ear tags, pack the sheep, open the door and walk back and forth to the owner’s correct flock.

Wonderful images ot the "RETTIR" | Annual Sheep Roundup - by: Icelandic Lamb

The coveted wool from the land of elves and trolls

The Icelanders have always taken advantage of the special structure of their wool. Even the Vikings, who were the first to colonize the island, knew about its isolating properties. As already mentioned, a unique feature of Icelandic sheep is their natural coloring. Besides the predominantly white, there are three other primary wool colors: black, grey, and brown.These beautiful, rich earth tones give the wool its characteristic appearance. Besides the natural colors, dyed Icelandic wool is also available today.

The wool of Icelandic sheep has two types of fibre: the outer hair, called Tog, and the undercoat Thel. The Tog is made up of medium-thick hair and is used for weaving durable outerwear; the more delicate fibres – Thel (diameter max 20 microns) – is used for garments that are to be worn directly on the skin.

Icelandic wool combines these two types of hair. So Tog and Thel are brought together in the spinning machine and spun into Icelandic Lopi yarn. Lopi is available in different forms: If you want a solid and warm winter sweater, you should make sure that it is knitted from thick Icelandic wool: Alafosslopi. Thinner garments are usually made of Léttlopi!

A typical Icelandic garment that immediately comes to mind is the Iceland sweater, which has several useful features and can be worn on many occasions. Icelandic sweaters usually have traditional patterns that are based on Icelandic nature. The colours are mostly in the range of natural colours such as white, grey, beige, black, and brown.

The typical pattern can be seen, especially in the round yoke on the chest, shoulders, and neck. Apart from the wool, the embroidery of the Icelandic sweaters is a characteristic feature – this distinguishes them from Norwegian sweaters – with which they are often mixed up.

Lopapeysa, as they are called in Iceland, are knitted in one piece from bottom to top and therefore have no seams.

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Marco Heitner

Marco is the author and creator of the World’s-Finest-Wool.com and holds the "Wool Fibre Science" certification. He founded this website because of his love for nature, tradition and exquisite all-natural fibers like merino wool, cashmere, and alpaca. The way local communities interact with their environment and produce valuable, irreplaceable natural resources such as wool is inspiring.


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