Sheep Round Up in Iceland - Réttir

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Sheep Round Up in Iceland – Réttir

“Réttir” It was introduced to me as “sheep party”

Sheep gathering in OlafsvikI arrived to Iceland in September 2014 as an aupair. My Icelandic host family and I were very excited about this adventure. A few days before my arrival they sent me an email explaining that I will spend my first weekend out of town with them in Ólafsvík to join a sheep round up, a “sheep party”. Ólafsvík is a small fishing town, the main town of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. It is a great starting point to discover the national park and its beauty: lava fields, beautiful beaches, waterfalls, volcanoes, lava caves, amazing rock formations… I am very happy that Snæfellsnes was the first part of Iceland I discovered.

So what is the sheep round up?

Sheep gathering in OlafsvikMost Icelandic sheep are kept indoors from November until May. Once spring has arrived, the sheep are free during the summer in the highlands and lowlands. Then, when the autumn comes, Icelanders gather all over Iceland usually in the first weeks of September until early October to collect sheep from the mountains and bring them back to the farms for the winter. This is called Réttir: the annual sheep round up.

This activity is one of the country’s oldest cultural traditions where Icelandic sheep farmers invite family, friends and anyone who’s interested. It usually goes along with eating traditional food, drinking, singing and dancing, hence the “party”. A large majority of the population in Iceland looks forward to it.

Sheep gathering in Olafsvik

On the Saturday we left early in the morning to drive to Ólafsvík. We prepared ourselves for this whole morning running after sheep in the mountains with… a storm!

Réttir is very well organized. You have different teams that cover the area. We drove up with a jeep and then we were walking towards sheep calmly not to scare them, some would run on the other directions, some would run to the cliffs so you would run after them: this is quite a sport! I ran several hours with a very strong wind and an astonishing landscape. I did not care about this storm anymore, I felt so good and I could have run forever.

Sheep gathering in OlafsvikWhen we were done with our part we came back to the farm for a very lovely lunch with a lot of Icelandic specialities and good drinks! The atmosphere was very cozy.

Then came the time to count the sheep. Each sheep is marked to make sure it goes back to the right farmer: a mark on her horn for her province, a plastic label in her ear for her district and an earmark for the farmer.

Amazing Snaefellsnes peninsula

In the afternoon we had a nice rest driving around the peninsula and around Snæfellsjökull visiting many beautiful places. Snæfellsnes peninsula is called Iceland in Miniature because a large part of the country sights are there.

Feel free to participate to this adventure, the dates are not set yet for 2017 but you can already check for information about the sheep gathering.

Agnès Lefranc
Posted in April 2017