September 2016 – Réttir in Iceland
It was back in our 2016 trip but it was an unforgettable memory. Our September trip coincided with the Réttir – an annual sheep round up in Iceland. I would’ve preferred the réttir of the horses but that was to happen a month later in October.
It was really hard to predict when the réttir would happen and where it would take place. There were also very vague information online about this. I mainly found places that offered Réttir packages for travellers to participate in helping them do the round up. That wasn’t for us. We were merely keen on witnessing the event and capture pictures of it happening.
I stumbled on a website where a map of the Réttir regions were marked where the round up would happen with estimated dates. I used that as a reference point and just kept an eye out for anything happening while on the road. It was very intense research and unfortunately I lost the link that had the map. Sorry!
Caught in the Middle of a Réttir
On the day we were driving through to Thingvellir, the most unexpected thing happened! We came across herds of sheep coming toward us head-on on the road we were driving. The herd grew bigger and bigger and we were basically stopped for a good half hour waiting for these thousands of sheep to go past us. We were basically right smack in the middle of the Réttir and saw some people on horseback guiding the sheep at the start and mostly at the end.
Needless to say, all cameras were in action – videos, phones, and our SLRs! We captured so many photos that we did not care how much space it took up in our SD card. It was a cloudy and rainy day and so the rain came and we had to stop for a bit. It was an awesome sight and absolutely priceless! I had never ever seen so many sheep in my life. These sheep were very shy; they deviated away from us when we tried to go near for a close-up shot. They never stopped and kept moving forward past our car.
Witnessing the Sheep Sorting in West Iceland
I cannot recall where this happened. We drove and looked for the réttir in every town we found along the way from our accommodation near Kirkjufell in Snæfellsnes. In my excitement of finding the réttir, I forgot to check which town I was in. So I did some “retrospective” research and I believe this was in Ólafsvík – in a remote outerpart of it near a campsite.
I guess this was sort of planned because I knew roughly where the réttir was happening. But the exact location of the réttir was a mystery. It was pretty much a guessing game, like a bit of a scavenger hunt! So when we found where all the action was, we parked the car a distance away. Then we trekked back up to the field where everyone was gathered. I spent the next two hours there – totally engrossed with the sheep and soaking in the Réttir atmosphere.
Apparently, one of the richest farmers (he owned the most sheep in the area) was there in person sorting out his sheep. They took the sheep by the horns and kind of pull them into the next pen. Some of the sheep were quite aggressive and stubborn – refusing to leave the herd. Each sheep had a ear tag that marked them for identification. On top of that, their ears are also clipped uniquely to mark their identities belonging to each farm. See the photo above with the guy (left) trying to scrutinise the sheep’s ear. This ear clipping seems cruel to me (they literally clip the lambs’ ears) but I guess it was important for identifying the sheep. The plastic tags can break easily or fall off so the ear clipping acts as a second identification.
All in a Day’s Work – at least for Ólafsvík!
I took selfies, close-up shots and basically just took in the excitement of the sorting of sheep among the sheep owners and workers. I was not even sure who among us were locals and who were tourists. But it was a sight to behold, and a priceless experience being a part of this annual activity. Looks like a celebration is in order – when the work is all done!
To get a head start on planning for your Iceland trip, check out my other posts on Iceland Budget Travel Tips From A Singaporean Parts 1 & 2