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  • KaritasM

Celebrating Sheep-Herding in Iceland!

Updated: Sep 28, 2021

At the end of September, facing rain storms and cold buffeting winds, my brother Rafn and I set out from Reykjavik to attend an event called Réttir, a 300 year old Icelandic tradition dedicated to the herding of thousands of sheep before the winter sets in.

  • Each September, after being free to roam the mountains and fjords and graze on a diet of sedge grass, moss and berries during long sun filled summer days, about 800,000 woolly mammals are rounded up by farmers on horseback and driven down the hillsides and into communal sheepfolds in more than 150 locations across the country.

Here, entire countryside communities gather to sort out their flocks, take them to their farms . . . and to celebrate the event with family, friends, neighbors and visitors.

The mighty Icelandic volcano - Hekla

After about a three hour drive we arrived at Áfangagil, located under the stately gaze of one of Iceland’s well known volcanoes, Hekla.

Lots of sheep roaming around in the fields

We could see sheep trotting and bucking everywhere and the local countryside community already hard at work in bringing the sheep down the mountainside and guiding them into the right enclosures with the help of children and friends.

Some of the first sheep in their enclosures

Wearing all weatherproof gear to face the cold and enjoy the sheep

As we stepped out of the car, we quickly put on our weatherproof clothes and boots as without these, I wouldn’t have lasted more than a few minutes in the cold, humid and windy weather . . . even if the sun came out for short intervals while we were there!

Since I hadn’t been to one of these events for many years, I began by walking around the area, chatting with the locals and asking them endless questions . . . which surprised many as Icelanders are supposed to “know it all”!

My brother chatting with a local farmer & family

Fortunately, my brother Rafn, who knew many of the farmers and their families, explained to them that his inquisitive sister had been living abroad for too many years . . . which brought countless nods of understanding, followed by heaps of answers, storytelling and invitations to join in the fun . . . and hard work!

Working on guiding the sheep into transport cars - to take to farms

Some of the highlights of the day were of course. . . .

Watching hundreds of sheep running down the hills on their way into the sheepfolds was truly spectacular.

The younger generation’s active role was lots of fun to watch; especially the many children who kept climbing onto the backs of the sheep to help guide them into the right enclosure and also - just for fun!

Taking lots of great photos of all the adorable sheep!

Black & white sheep

And, last but not least, enjoying the hospitality of the locals which included warming up on a delicious hot and hearty meat soup that really hit the spot before leaving to go back to Reykjavik!

My version of the Icelandic Lamb Meat & Veggie soup can be found on the website. If interested check it out! Here is a link to the recipe!

In Iceland we usually make the soup with rutabagas, turnips, carrots and potatoes + soup herbs. In other parts of the world I use various vegetables; my favorite being pumpkin, carrots & potatoes . . . and often chickpeas.

It was a memorable day with my brother and I can't wait to return next year for another lovely, fun and unique experience!

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