Rettir — the big Icelandic sheep round-up


With those glorious shades of autumn in progress, September is a particularly colourful time of year to visit Iceland. It marks the return of the northern lights, the start of the cultural calendar and it's also the time of year when Rettir takes place – the great Icelandic sheep round-up. As one of the oldest traditions in the country, it provides one of the highlights of the season for countryside communities. 

There are three times more sheep than people in Iceland

For most of the year, Iceland’s large population of sheep roam the mountains and valleys grazing on an abundance of wild saplings, thyme and heather.

Given that there are almost three sheep to every person living in Iceland, the process of gathering them can be quite a challenge which is why farmers rely on the whole community to help with the gathering process; needless to say, additional help from visitors is always gladly welcomed.

Round-up events usually take place on weekends in September and involve lots of walking and running in the brisk autumn air, chasing sheep, rounding them up and sorting them into pens.

Dangerous dancing at the Rettaball

Once the hard work is over and the sheep are all rounded up the day is almost always topped off with a big autumn feast, known as Rettaball. Events like this, which are usually hosted in local community centres, involve lots of drinking, singing and because of the large quantities of alcohol usually consumed, some rather dangerous dancing. After three days of chasing sheep all over the mountains, it's a wonder where they get their energy from. 



Lisa Shannen