Adventurer of the Week: The Tale of Ellen and the Highland Sheep

Þingvellir National Park in the summer
Jan Zelina
Þingvellir National Park.

Ellen, a nurse from Chicago, IL, got her first taste of solo travel in Iceland over 12 days. She joined us for our “Golden Circle and Magical Nights” tour,  and also ended up helping out with the annual highland sheep herding or “rettir” as essential part of life herein Iceland as the hseep are brought down for the winter after a summer spent roaming the highlands. She was lucky enough to get a true Icelandic experience! Here she is to tell us all about it.

What motivated you to visit Iceland?

I have never traveled alone before, so I wanted to travel somewhere safe, beautiful, and easy to explore. Iceland seemed like it had all of those things, and it did not disappoint!

Fontana Wellness Center
Jan Zelina
Fontana Wellness Center

How long was your stay? Did you travel solo or with a group?

I traveled solo in Iceland for twelve days. I was actually only supposed to stay for eleven days, but I loved the country so much that I added an extra day to my trip. I met so many people and everyone was super nice, which I was pleasantly surprised about.

Orange seafood soup with smjör
Arinbjörn Hauksson
Seafood soup.

Which tour did you take and why did you choose it?

I took the “Golden Circle and Magical Nights” Tour. There are so many Golden Circle tours in Iceland, but this was the only one I saw that offered good, unique meals. It had so much more to it than a regular tour.  It was nice to be driven, and not have to worry about any of the driving.

What is one thing you will always remember about your tour?

It’s a toss up for me. I had been to the National Museum of Iceland the day before, so it was really, really cool to go to Þingvellir and actually see the spot I had learned about in the museum. The Fontana Hot Springs were so beautiful and relaxing. They were a great treat after a long day. 

I stayed on a farm for one of the weekends, and accidentally helped with the sheep herding, which was insane. I never expected to be involved with something like that.  You have to run up and down the mountains and bring the sheep down, then you have to climb on top of the sheep and out them in the right pen. Im still black and blue three weeks later. I was scared they would win. I though to myself: I am the human, I have to win! They manage to get the tiniest little spaces in the fence: how do they even fit?

They had five year old kids helping to herd the sheep. I was so scared for them but everyone knew what to do: they were probably more scared for me in the end! I was the only tourist there, I felt pretty special. This was one of my favourite things over the trip. Some of the most beautiful things I saw were just walking along the cliffs, trying to get the sheep to go to back to the farm. 

Tomatoes on the vine, in a greenhouse
Guðný Hilmarsdóttir
Tomatoes on the vine, in a greenhouse

What is something that you learned about Iceland that surprised you?

I found the history of alcohol in Iceland pretty strange. That beer was illegal for so long, and that the government owns all the liquor stores. I didn't expect that when I came.

What tips do you have for people who want to visit Iceland?

I was torn on this, because I waited to get to Iceland before I scheduled all my activities, which was really fun because I got to my hostel and asked people what the liked. 

I would recommend some research before you go, because there is so much to see, and you are not going to see it all. That way, you can focus on what you want to see. 

I feel like you could make your trip into what you want: it could be a physical trip or it could be a a trip where you hang around in the city.

Close up of Gullfoss
Micah Wright

What adventure are you off to next? What is your next dream adventure?

They had five year old kids helping to herd the sheep. I was so scared for them but everyone knew what to do: they were probably more scared for me in the end!

I have a friend moving to London, and she wanted to take a trip through France before she moves, so i thought maybe that would be a good idea. 

Ellen’s day long tour is only one of the many features that make it an unforgettable experience. Book your tour and join us for an excursion that is guaranteed to make memories that last a lifetime.  

Have you been on a tour with us in Iceland and would like to be featured as an “Adventurer of the Week?” Feel free to email us at [email protected].

About the Author

Joseph Mattos-Hall

Joseph Mattos-Hall

Hailing from London and born into a British/Brazilian/Italian household, Joseph came to Iceland originally to complete a master’s degree in Environment and Natural Resources from the University of Iceland: the rest is history.

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