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Published: August 25th 2018
The Golden Circle is very popular. Not too many who tour the country would miss it and, while we gave that option consideration, we have found that there is a reason that large squads of tourists go to places. They are nearly always worth visiting. So we did.
We had intended to spend a day or two in Vik and factor in a lay day. We have been on the road now, moving constantly since 29 July and in the past we have found that it can be handy to have a day or two to switch off. It was raining but the wind had dropped so we had an excuse, but there were no puffins at Vik either.
Apparently, puffins like the rain, wind and cold about as much as we do. Who would think that? These are birds that live in foul conditions by choice. You would almost wonder why they wouldn't have an aversion to sun rather than rain and wind. Anyway we had a late start but we moved on from Vik.
We found a museum at Skogar. This is a cultural heritage collection that holds over 15,000 folk craft artifacts. Typically, it is
well set up and well thought out. There are exhibitions on 3 floors of the main building, outside exhibits such as a house built in the area 100 years ago using timber gathered from a wrecked ship and a school house with a resident weaver. The Transport and Communications Museum element had a good collection and was well worth a look.
Our camp was just along the coast under Myrdals-Jokull at a farm close to Hvolsvollur. We travelled only 100kms but it put us in a better position to hit the key sites in the Golden Circle, perhaps a little earlier than the tour bus schedules.
Haukadalur probably means something like bubbling valley. This is where the geysers are. Geysir is the place that gave its name to all of the geysers in the world. These days it doesn't do a lot except bubble a bit with the occasional blurt, very occasional. Next door though, that is about 20m away, is Stokkur which is very reliable and blurts every 30 minutes or so. It is very handy that this is reliable because, otherwise, it would impact adversely on the schedules of the tour buses and there would be
hell to pay. The spout generally goes up about 20 m and, on a good day - or a bad one if you happen to be standing too close - 40m.
There were a lot of people here. Cars, tour buses of all shapes and sizes, cyclists and we even spotted walkers on the side of the road. You didn't quite have to form a queue to see anything but then we weren't there at the peak time.
We have seen this phenomenon in other places, notably Yellowstone National Park in the USA where we waited for a fair while so see something happen. The one we enjoyed the most was at a farm in New Zealand where we wandered around a paddock with basic tracks, having a look at boiling mud and spurting water that had ruined a farmers sheep paddock. Not as spectacular as some but we enjoyed how natural and normal it all was. I wouldn't want to be a killjoy but the fact that water is expelled under pressure from the earth is interesting and it is good to see but it probably isn't enough to hold my attention for too long.
has the reputation of being the most impressive waterfall in Iceland and, from what we have seen, that is a reasonable conclusion. We did see a report that it was better than Niagara but that doesn't stack up in our view. The waterfall is impressive in the amount of water coming over, the size of the fall is shorter than Dettifoss and the width is less. But the most impressive part of it is the battle by the family who owned it to maintain it as a waterfall. I wont try to retell the whole story but first the farmer told the hydro electric people that he 'wouldn't sell his friend' and then his daughter battled for years to stop development and have the place turned into a national park so that everyone could enjoy it. At one stage, as negotiations stalled, she threatened to throw herself in the Falls. She won the day. Good on you Sigrudur Tomasdottir!
For us there were just too many people about so we headed for the coast and a bit of peace and quiet at Stokkseyri. This was a nice camp. Smaller village and not so many people down this way.
The third key element in the Golden Circle is Thingvellir. This is a place that had been on our list since we started to think about travel to Iceland. The idea that people had come together from across the country over 1000 years ago in 930AD to create the Althing to make decisions, democratically, was special. They made laws, sorted out disputes, made decisions about penalties for those who transgressed and carried out those penalties there and then. There was even an execution rock (head removal) for the men and a drowning pool for the women.
It was fortuitous indeed that the spot picked was one of the more significant parts of the country geologically. It is a place where you can see where the North American and Eurasian plates meet, and where they are moving apart at 2cm per year. The old and the new of Iceland meet here and on a line that proceeds up through the island.
In fact, the reasons that this place was selected were more prosaic. The land was available. Its owner had been found guilty of murder and his land became public. The forest was used for fuel and grazing of
horses during the major meetings of the Althing, there was plenty of water as well as hot water and it was accessible to the most populous regions. Wikipedia reports that the longest journey a regional chieftan had to travel was 17 days.
The site became a UNESCO world heritage site for its cultural, historical and geographical value in 2004.
It stands to reason that this would be one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. Being under 50km from Reykjavik also doesn't hurt.
On the day we arrived the closure of one of the main roads into Thingvellir meant that all traffic had to use one, mainly one-lane, road. It was congested and difficult for our entry from the south-west. A number of businesses operate cycling tours where they hire bikes for visitors to ride into the Park. Unfortunately, this meant that there were often relatively inexperienced pedallers wobbling about on a relatively narrow road with plenty of cars and a good number of buses and trucks . On a number of occasions I slowed down or pulled up behind a group of riders to avoid passing them too closely only to have the driver behind
pull out and try to overtake.
We walked along a number of the marked trails in the afternoon and found that, as long as we stayed clear of those places that could be easily accessed by tour bus passengers, there were not too many people.
The next morning we went up to the Visitors Centre and joined the very large population of visitors who were all intent, as were we of course, in having a look at the key sites up on the Almannagja. This is the boundary of Mid Atlantic Rift that runs through Iceland. The rift is the space between the North American and Eurasion tectonic plates.
We didn't spend too much time at Thingvellir on the second day. We had a look at what we wanted and took our photos and moved on. It would be a lovely place to stay longer provided you were able to find places that the crowds aren't interested in or haven't the time to visit. The lake, Thingvellivatn, is beautiful and serene, the scenery is special and away from the madding crowds it is peaceful.
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