The town of Egilsstadir is considered the capital of East Iceland. Its first house wasn’t built until 1944, but then a mini-city developed slowly over time. Now Egilsstadir is a small town with all the amenities of a large city–an airport, a Netto discount store, the headquarters for the State Forestry Service, etc. It has many fine restaurants and big city events, like a jazz festival. I know the exact population because Icelanders are precise detail people due to their sometimes life-threatening environment. For example, my 2015 Around Iceland booklet says about Egilsstadir, “On January 1, 2015, the population was 2,319.” As many road signs warn, this area is also home to Icelandic reindeer. We stayed at Egilsstadir’s Icelandair hotel and had dinner in its excellent restaurant. Reindeer was on the menu as the house specialty.
Ruth and I were in Egilsstadir because it’s on Iceland’s 5 Compass+++++ Ring Road. We didn’t arrive there until very late because all day we kept stopping to admire the awesome scenery and didn’t get to 939 until after dark. A man whom we met in Hofn, when it was still light, discouraged us from doing the drive to Egilsstadir since it was already late afternoon. He said the road was very curvy and slow. His wife rolled her eyes and made a snake-lie motion with her arm in agreement. I asked him if he had taken highway 939, which looked like a shortcut, and he said no.
We took it. But what we didn’t know about Iceland was that many of its roads, like 939, are gravel. The difficult track rose steadily as the temperature dropped from the mid-forties to near freezing, and I feared we had made a tragic mistake. There was no place to turn around and we were too far from Hofn to return there. We made it! The next day we acquired a map showing both Iceland’s gravel and paved roads.
Egilsstadir is basically a transport and service center without much for the casual tourist, with one exception. It sits at the head of lovely Lagarfljót, Iceland’s 3rd largest river/lake, which is 23 miles long and 164 feet deep. The forest on Lagarfljót’s eastern bank is said to be Iceland’s largest.
Stories of a creature like Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster living in Lagarfljót have been told since Viking times. The creature is called lagarfljótsormur or, more commonly, the wyrm, and it was reportedly spotted by a farmer as recently as 2012. YouTube videos about it are fun but wildly inconclusive.
The improbable legend began on a farm when a young girl received a gold broach. Hearing that she could increase her gold by placing the broach under a slug, she got a box and put both the slug and the jewelry inside. A week later she remembered it and discovered that the slug had grown monstrously. Panicking, she heaved the box into the lake. Beginning of story….
Ruth & I looked but didn’t see the wyrm when we crossed the bridge over Lafgarfljót as we left Egilsstadir.