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Published: June 21st 2017
Amazing Iceland 2 of 3
3rd June 2017
Are you ready? OK. Here’s what Janice has planned for us over the coming two weeks. The rental car seems to work: it’s diesel, there’s just about room for us, our three suitcases are in the boot and the clock reads 42,197km. The circumnavigation of Iceland is relatively simple. Route 1, a neat and tidy surfaced road for most of the way, winds 1330 km around the coast, beside the odd fjord, through endless lava fields, up and down valleys and up and over snowy mountains. That’s the simple bit.
But the grey-haired nomads are not known for keeping to the simple life. What’s the fun in that? So, expect a bumpy ride. We’ll be travelling in an anticlockwise direction, so follow us on the map.
There are few tourists about. The roads are quiet. That’s not surprising: the wind is fierce, lashing sleet and rain across the flat, desolate expanse of volcanic moonscape on the southwestern tip of the island, a few minutes out of Keflavik Airport. A quick hoods-up dash from the car park at Gardskagi lighthouse gives us our first Icelandic birds:
...at the Bridge between two Continents
gannets, divers, ringed plover, turnstone, tufted duck, purple sandpiper - and yet more excitement on the marshes to the south, where thousands of Arctic terns and eider nest by the road in the lee of dark, forbidding mountains shrouded in cloud.
You don’t come to Iceland to sit on the beach in the sun. You come to Iceland to savour the many natural delights it has to offer. Iceland is relatively young, born of volcanic activity in its entirety. It sleeps uncertainly on the great divide at the junction of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. This is evidenced on this, our first day, at ‘The Bridge between Two Continents’, a 15m wide footbridge spanning a river of black sand where the plates are being pulled apart by the earth’s forces. That’s some geology lesson you’ll remember forever. And there’s yet more to come tomorrow! Just be patient.
With tourism expected to grow by another 30% this year, accommodation is at a premium: it’s overstretched and by that magic rule of supply and demand, extremely expensive. Bite the bullet if the travel urge brings you here. To maximize availability, most hotels and B&Bs
offer rooms with shared bathrooms, so remember to bring your modesty wear. Many, but not all, include breakfast, but when that’s not included the local café or supermarket provides us with all we need to start the day. You might also want to keep your legs crossed too; a sign at a popular spot advises, 'WC 200m - 200Kr.' That's £1.60 in good old English money, to spend a penny! Supply and demand. The next one is probably 50km down the road.
Day two takes us to the Strokkur geysir, a great gushing jet of steaming water rising twenty feet above our heads every few minutes. It’s not quite Old Faithful, Yellowstone proportions, but you’ll have terrible trouble resisting an ooo-ahh or two and an idiotic beaming smile on your face. Geysir is on the Golden Circle tour route out of Reykjavik, the quick 'see the sights of Iceland' job for the three to five day visitor, so we’re there early to avoid the crowds.
There’s no shortage of water on Iceland. It pours down the mountainsides at an alarming rate from the incessant rain, snow and melting glaciers, gushing forth in a heart-thumping
A popular spot to experience Iceland's wealth of water close up. It's mighty wet!
display at the many, many, glorious waterfalls you’ll never tire of. First of many is Gullfoss, the ‘golden waterfall’, thundering down two giant steps into the canyon at 130 cubic metres per second, its great clouds of spray failing to dampen the spirits of the mesmerised onlookers. It’s stopped raining for a while and there are dusky blue breaks in the clouds. Harlequin ducks duck and dive on the fast-flowing river nearby and Bewick swans (many of which spend the winter at Welney in England) and Whimbrel feed on the marshes. Now we’re really happy.
The interior of Iceland is the exclusive domain of 4X4s but our trusty Renault will take us eastwards over the high plains and along the Pjorsardalur valley as far as Gjains on snaking narrow gravel roads. It’s tough going off the main stretch. A number of farms line the shallow agricultural area here, red roofs on a carpet of green beneath the magnificent snow-topped volcano, Hekla; stretches of lush pasture where sheep graze the fields scattered with recently cut hay bound in pink, white and black plastic. Very pretty! Cows remain under cover until mid-June when the sheep will be moved into
the hills for the summer. Horses are everywhere in their hundreds. An Arctic fox dashes across the road in front of us, scurrying through the rocky outcrops and quickly vanishing beyond the ridge: another pretty sight to help make our day.
This is a day of waterfalls. Another, perhaps more famous one is that at Seljalandsfoss, finally back on Route 1, where we arrive late afternoon to join busloads of adventurers in search of a soaking, as they wander behind the falls! It’s the number one activity for the in-and-out tourists before taking the plunge at the Blue Lagoon on their last day here. We’ll give it a miss – we’re wet enough already.
If that’s not enough for you, we’ll stop off at majestic mist-shrouded Skogafoss, a huge 60m super-shower to make your jaw drop. Absolutely amazing (even in the rain)! This one is our favourite.
I know; you don’t like crowds. Nor do we for that matter. Over the next ten days or so, we move on across the south and north where fewer of Icelands’ tourists venture. What are you smiling at? You’re enjoying yourself, eh?
Our B&B host tells us, with some good humour, that tourism has finally replaced the herring industry that collapsed in the 1960s. However, talking to locals it becomes clear there is some underlying resentment to this invasion of their space, and that I can understand. For Iceland there is little choice. With the catastrophic collapse of their banks and the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in recent years, the recovery process was always destined to be painful.
It ‘s taken us two days to discover the car comes with SatNav installed. It’s not very detailed but quite useful. Let’s see where it will take us tomorrow.
Tomorrow inevitably arrives. This one arrives with a vengeance. The Solheimjokull glacier offers a chance to get close to the glacier face, a leisurely 800m stroll from the empty car park, but the wind has picked up again overnight. The wind is so fierce it’s rocking the car and we contemplate whether or not to venture out. We gave it a try, but it proved far too dangerous, sweeping us off our feet with every step. It's also raining of course.
What on earth are we
Truly beautiful. Janice climbed the steps to the top! She'll recover.
doing here, Janice?
Black Sand Beach lies on the coast a little further to the east and we have a picture in mind of a number of pinnacles set in a line on a calm sea flanked by steep cliffs. A few cars are parked by the dunes, their occupants glazed-eyed at the awesome seas thrashing spray high in the air on the wind, the rocks barely visible beyond the beach. What a dramatic scene - and one indeed worthy of at least one photograph. But nobody stirred from the security of their cars – except the rear end of the grey haired nomads, blown down the fierce wind across the black rain-soaked shore to take the picture you’ll see here. It was two steps forward and one step backward to get back to the car.
What are we doing here, Janice?
We have more than 300km to cover today, out across the black and somber outwash plains fringed by snow-topped grey mountains and magnificent sweeping galciers, bright green moss-shrouded rocks and lavender-blue lupin-swathed hillsides glistening in the brief moments of sunshine. Here there are few scattered farmsteads, nestling beneath the mountains, and
Black Beach at Vik
... and a wind to blow you over!
not another car in sight for the past hour. All of this, so serene were it not for the blistering wind.
But the wind has brought us some small fortune. Here at the Jokulsarlon lagoon the calves of mist-shrouded glaciers are crowded together on the wind at the mouth of the river and swept out to sea as icebergs, ghostly sky-blue ships of glass gathering together in their last throes of life, floating out to sea under the bridge and onto the beach as statuesque monuments beyond. Arctic terns are here in their thousands in a screeching, swirling, dance of joy. There are seals here too, great northern divers, snow buntings and harlequin ducks and numerous sharp-winged Arctic and great skuas dashing across the sky at lightning speed. Wild horses would not have dragged us away from this wondrous sight, but we were finally blown away by the wind; exhausted with all the excitement. We shall treasure the moment.
Rain and low cloud greeted us again the following morning, denying us the spectacle of coastal scenery around the eastern fjords beyond Hofn. But by mid afternoon a touch of brightness has returned in time
for a visit to coastal pools at Djupivogur airstrip before the evening drive to our B&B at Eskifjorour. These pools provide us with some spectacular birding and an opportunity to stretch our legs before the challenging last stretch of our long journey on steep and winding gravel roads, looking for reindeer - without success I should add. A lighter brought a number of cruiser passengers ashore here for some reason. It’s miles from nothing in particular, but it has a deep harbour it seems. Their cruise heads out of Halifax, Nova Scotia and visits Iceland (also stopping at Reykjavik), Faroe and Skye amongst other wet and windy places. Fascinating – and worth thinking about when we get old one day.
One or two birds are eluding us for the moment, but there's time left to put that right: Rock ptarmigan, Gyr Falcon and Black guillemot for starters.....and you want to see some more puffins, don't you?
Brighter weather is forecast for the next few days, but don’t take your coat off just yet. It might well snow.
David and Janice
Tot: 2.32s; Tpl: 0.072s; cc: 14; qc: 33; dbt: 0.0559s; 2; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb