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Published: October 2nd 2021
Iceland - Days 16 to 19 of 22
After the shenanigans of weather avoidance of recent days our pace has slowed somewhat for the remainder of the holiday.
We had never intended to spend time in the middling-West and certainly not in the "Golden Circle" especially as we had spent time in the latter before, but needs must after our escape from the clutches of blizzards in the NW.
We woke up to a bright, clear morning and thought all the weather troubles were behind us. We planned for 3 or 4 things that day, but nothing too far away from our hotel.
Firstly we set off for "Iceland's Largest Cave", an enormous lava tube which had guided tours and was only around 35 km from our hotel, mostly on tarmaced road though the last 3 to 4 km was shown as rough.
From about half way the weather turned steadily worse, rapidly becoming standing snow on the road. By the time we reached the gravel area the snow was quite thick, the rough was really rough and the track was heading uphill steeply. Going forward was tough and slippery even in the 4x4 so
at a suitable spot we backed out and headed back hotel-wards.
A couple of interesting, linked waterfalls - Hraunfossar and Barnafoss - took some time on the way back. Hraunfossar was particularly fascinating as the "falls" was not water falling over an edge. Rather the river-scar had cut 30 / 40 feet firstly through a lava field and then the bedrock below. Water cascades were then gushing from beneath the lava layer and escaping from the interface between lava layer and bedrock. Quite unlike anything we have seen before.
Barnafoss, or "children's falls" was supposedly named after the death of 2 children in around 900AD who fell off a stone arch over the river.
In the face of blizzarding snow we called that it for the morning and retreated to the comforts of our hotel.
It didn't really abate much but we didn't feel like vegetating for the whole of the day so took ourselves off to the neighbouring museum celebrating one of Iceland's premier saga writers, Snorri Sturluson. Living 1179 to 1241 he is acclaimed as one of the best known Icelanders of all time. The earliest known original copy of one of his sagas
dates from 1250. There was a facsimile in this museum but it didn't say where the original is kept.
Based on some of the displays, robes, library and other items it appears that Snorri is highly revered, venerated even. Felt a bit like a druid cult.
Nice meal in the hotel that evening, but first time ever we have had a waiter point at and poke his watch whilst telling us off for being 7 minutes early for our reservation, and sending us away to wait elsewhere!!!
It has clearly rained overnight and combined with a rise in temperatures yesterday's snow had gone. The official Iceland road conditions site, however, shows that if we had gone north as planned on Sunday/Monday we would still not have been able to get out again as each exit direction from Isafjordur was still showing closed roads.
As a first stop we wanted to visit the hot sprngs near by which claim to be the greatest volume emitter of any hot springs on earth. But they were closed.
By the time we reached Borgarnes on the western coast we were at 6°. Not much of a place as
such - a centre for surrounding dairy farmers and a slaughterhouse - but an interesting "Settlement Museum" looked worth a visit. And pretty alright it was too. 2 halves, the first the more interesting telling the origins of Iceland as a settled island.
That said the other half was a with-wooden-models telling of the saga of Skallagrimur Kveldulfsson, father of the pirate, thug and poet Egill Skallagrimsson as written by Snorri Sturluson (see Tuesday above). Some lovely detail on the 30 minute audio guide including Egill's own description in his old age of his "third leg being drippy and droopy". And no, that's not possible names for a remake of the 7 dwarves.
Just up the road was a right hippy-dippy, away with the fairies coffee shop. All soft sofas and armchairs, art everywhere including the ceiling and delightful service. Straight out of Totnes.
A brief in and out to Akranes, the west coast's biggest town, pop 6700, for a couple of caches. Fishing & fish processing fill both the harbour and the air!
Along this way, according to our guidebook, we were travelling Iceland's most dangerous road, defined as such because of the extremely windy
conditions being known to frequently blow cars off the road.
Our target after reaching the outskirts of Reykjavík was to turn east to head into the "Golden Circle", Iceland's most famous tourist trap. We are booked for 3 nights at an hostel situated midway along the "circle".
"The Golden Circle" is Iceland's premier do-in-a-day tour. There are three main stops en route. Thingvillir National Park, Geysir and Gullfoss Falls, with the latter extremity being around 2 hours from Reykjavík and the other two being on the same road. When we had a pre-Xmas break some years ago we did an all-aboard-1 hour-here-half-an-hour-there Golden Circle tour, that included a couple of extras eg a church we recall.
Today it was great to spend the better part of our full day out wandering the Thingvillir National Park at leisure.
At this park one of Earth's great natural boundaries, between the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates, is made visibly manifest by a massive, cliff edged fault line that cuts North /South through the park. At this point the plates are physically tearing apart at the rate of 1.5 cm per year. Some time in the future
Iceland will become split in two with the Atlantic flooding in between the two parts, but don't expect that any time soon.
The rift, 4km wide and 40m deep extends for 16km from Iceland's largest lake to a volcano cone.
But the area is not only a geological wonder but it is the birthplace of Iceland's history. In this spot Iceland's clan Chiefs would meet every year, starting from 930AD, to formalise their laws and forge a national identity for themselves. The Law Rock, a high point within the fault plain, was where the elected Lawspeaker would verbally recite the laws from memory. They were not written down until the late 1200s. And returning back to Tuesday, Snorri was twice ejected as Lawspeaker for this Althing as the annual assembly was known.
Given its 930AD start date the Icelandic Althing is regarded as the world's oldest continously existing Parliament.
Even in more modern times this site holds great significance eg the ceremony to declare independence from Denmark in 1944 was held here.
Our several hours here meant we were able to have a slow ramble to several of the spots that most bussed-in tourists don't
get to such as:
The Oxarrafoss, a delightful waterfall by which means the water enters from the plateau above into the Althing meeting plains below.
And the area's charming church which stands next to a 5 apex building which is the Iceland Prime Minister's summer residence. At the church is also the National Cemetery for people of high repute. Such high repute is required in fact that although established in 1940 this National Cemetery still only contains two tombs, both poets!
You can also go scuba and snorkel diving in lakes within the rift valley, and we were fortunate enough to watch a couple of parties entering the water. 2 to 4°C apparently, but supposedly not that noticeable in the thermal dry suits provided, not that we put that to the test.
Pushed the boat out self catering wise tonight - cooked up a couple of reindeer burgers, with trimmings.
Headed east today to the other two great Golden Circle stops.
First up Geysir, the one after which all others in the world are "named".
As a site this is a bit of a misnomer as its largest geysir, named Geysir, is a very
infrequent blow nowadays, only every 10 years or so. Fortunately for Iceland's Golden Circle tourist industry its smaller cousin Strokkur does blow, often with a double blast, every 8 to 10 minutes. The area is also dotted with numerous other bubbling, boiling pools with warnings against getting too close. Apparently Ed Sheeran managed to miss these warnings and ended up with a very badly scalded foot requiring skin grafts, on his 25th birthday, when he accidentally stepped into one of the boiling pools.
Slightly further on is Gullfoss, a mighty 2-step waterfall.
Those things, with a little remote geocaching, and a late Icelandic soup lunch - meatsoup for Pip, fishsoup for Paul - filled the day before a wonderful evening under the stars in thermal pools just a short walk from our hostel.
Very mild tonight. We checked the car temperature when we returned in the dark at 9.30pm and we had double digits, just, on the car's gauge.
Tot: 0.032s; Tpl: 0.018s; cc: 7; qc: 23; dbt: 0.0056s; 1; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.2mb