The Wetfjords continued

No, the title is not a spelling mistake. I woke up today to a grey sky and a light drizzle.  The plan was fairly simple – drive from Isafjordur in the north of the Westfjords to Paktreksfjordur in the south.  Setting out, I noticed people playing golf in the rain. I remembered what I had been told in Reykjavik – “Icelanders never change their plans because of the weather”.  I had a feeling that this saying would apply to my day today.

The road led through a long tunnel through the mountain of the Isafjord peninsula.  At the other end of the tunnel, the drizzle had turned into steady rain, but the magnificent scenery still impressed me.

The moody Westfjord mountains in the rain

My next destination was very much off the beaten track – the tiny botanical garden of Skrudur. I found it after a short drive up a lonely road, and was not surprised that I was the only visitor. Skrudur will never make it onto a list of “top ten things to do in Iceland”, but I was curious what a botanical garden in this utterly remote location near the Arctic circle might be like.  As expected, it was small, nestling discretely in a valley under huge mountains. To my surprise the gardeners has succeeded in growing trees – in the rest of the Westfjords there is only grass and bushes – and some wild strawberries that were nearly ripe. There was a sundial (I suppose some days this might be useful) and an interesting archway been made from the jaw bones of a blue whale. The place had a quiet charm and felt like a Garden of Eden in the middle of a barren, wild wilderness.

The entrance to Skrudur botanical gardens
An arch made from the jaw bones of a blue whale

My next stop was the Pingeyri peninsula.  Its south coast is closed to cars and can only be discovered by foot or by bike – neither of which appealed to me, so I contented myself with a short drive up the north coast.  I  discovered a small café owned by Danes which served excellent coffee and cookies.

Coffee!

The road continued, turning into an unsurfaced bumpy track.  My next stop was Dynjandi – possibly the most impressive waterfall I had seen so far in Iceland (after ten days here, a waterfall has to be VERY special to impress me). There are a series of small waterfalls, each with a different name, along a path the mountain leading to the final, huge, fan-shaped Dynjandi falls. I was lucky that the rain eased off during my visit, and I had lunch admiring the torrent of water pouring down the mountain.

Dynjandi from the sea
Half-way up the climb
At the base of the falls

From Dynjandi, the road got even worse, and the rain and clouds returned with a vengeance. Not knowing how deep each pothole was, I drove slowly, battling my way slowly towards the last big fjord of the Westfjords, Patreksfjordur. The scenery might have been pretty in the sun, but in the rain, I could only see a few tens of metres in front of me. After an hour of painful driving, I finally regained a paved road, and drove the rest of way without incident. The road looked like it might have been scenic….. had I been able to see anything. It was a relief to find my accommodation for the night.

Despite the rain and difficult driving, I was happy with my day. The garden and the café had an intimate feel, as if I was the only person to have discovered them. Dynjandi ranks as one of Iceland’s top sights and was worth the effort to get there. One or two washed out days on an active holiday are inevitable. Still, I was hoping that the next day’s weather would be a bit better – there is only so much rain a bear can take – and anxiously checked the forecast before going to bed. Hmmmmm….”cloudy”…..that was also today’s forecast, and in Iceland it usually turns out to mean “rainy”.

The wonderful Westfjords

Today I started my 3-day exploration of the Westfjords.  First, I discovered the remote Strandir Coast north of Holmavik. The road runs for about 60km before ending – the rest of the peninsula is accessible by boat only and houses Iceland’s (maybe Europe’s) most remote nature reserve. 

The beginning of the wild Strandir Coast

I contented myself with a short drive along half the road before stopping at a hotel with a large geothermal pool.  I enjoyed the views whilst floating in 38C water, before climbing out and sprinting through the cold air to try a tiny natural “hot tub” located a bit further up the mountain.

A natural hot tub

Feeling refreshed and clean, I tracked back to Holmavik to visit the Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft. Icelanders have always been very superstitious, and in the middle ages, magic was widely practiced – mostly by men. Spells were used to protect against the extremely harsh conditions of the time, to make money, or to get even with enemies. Sorcerers could also produce magical artifacts, like the “necropants” on display in the museum. These are trousers made from the skin of a dead man, which are supposed to generate an endless supply of coins and make the wearer rich – but only if very detailed instructions are carefully followed. For a full description of this repulsive artifact see here. Magicians could also conjure fantastic creatures, like the tilberi.

The repulsive Tilberi

This horrible creature could be used to steal milk from the livestock of neighbouring farms. A full description of how to create, nurture, use and finally destroy a tilberi is found here. 22 people accused of practising witchcraft were burnt alive in the 17th century in Iceland.  The museum had an interesting collection of these stories. Justice was very arbitrary in those days. One local official had four people burnt over the years for using sorcery to make his wife ill (she had a frail constitution and was often ill).  Apart from having an interesting collection and intriguing witchcraft stories, the museum also served good coffee – the previous day had taught me just how rare this is in provincial Iceland, so I indulged myself.

Refreshed and educated, I set off again on the 230km drive to Isafjordur, the main city in the Westfjords. The road headed over a mountain, where I was greeted by wind and rain again.  I was beginning to worry that I would see a repeat of yesterday’s weather, when the road dived down into a fjord and the sky cleared.  The road then hugged the coast, skirting no fewer than six huge fjords.  The scenery was amazing and I stopped often to take photos of the fjords, rainbows… and even some seals.

I arrived in Isafjordur in the early evening. It is a big town by Iceland standards, with a population of 2600 and a well-stocked supermarket. I stocked up with food for a few days and headed to my holiday rental to cook dinner, very happy with my day.

A long and difficult day

Today I faced a long drive from Myvatn, roughly half way along Iceland’s north coast, to Holmavik at the entrance to the western fjords.  My map said I could drive the 500km in six and half hours, but based on past experience I knew that it would take much longer after stops were added on, so I set off early.  First stop was another of Iceland’s famous waterfalls, the Godafoss or “waterfall of the gods”.  Helpfully it is located right on Route 1.

The Godafoss – yet another impressive waterfall

My next stop was for petrol at the teeming metropolis of Akueyri, which is Iceland’s second biggest city… with a population of only 18,191 (according to Wikipedia).  It is supposed to be an interesting place but I didn’t have time to stop. After Akueyri I opted for the long scenic detour of the Trollaskagri peninsula, which follows the coast, rather than the more direct Route 1, which stays inland.  Indeed the views were quite pretty, if not exceptional by Iceland standards. 

Pastoral green scenery at the east side of the Trollaskagri Peninsula
Forbidding mountains in the overland road in the centre of the peninsula

As noon approached, I really fancied a coffee and looked in vain for somewhere to stop.  Lonely planet recommended a couple of places but they were both closed (in the peak of the tourist season….).  “Surely there will be somewhere in the next town” I kept on telling myself………but each settlement was a tiny windswept village, often without any shops at all. The weather changed, and it became overcast, with rain showers.  My mood dropped. Finally at a place Hosfos I found a petrol station with a big shop attached…..and a café!  However, their only coffee come not form a machine but a large thermos flask that had been filled with cheap filter coffee, which had been brewed long ago.  I paid for a coffee and was given a paper cup to fill myself from the flask. Undrinkable. I searched on google for cafés near my location. The only place indicated within 100km was in an unlikely place – the tiny village of Holar, about 10km off the main road. Remembering that Holar (but not its café) was also mentioned in Lonely Planet, I decided to give it a go.

Despite the rain and clouds, Holar turned out to be a pretty little village nestling at the foot of tall mountains.  Although tiny today, Holar was an important religious centre in the past and was a bishopric from 1106 to 1798.  The see of Holar was restored in 1909 and there is a Bishop of Holar to this day.  Holar had a pretty church (technically a cathedral even) dating from 1760 and some traditional old buildings with turf roofs.  Continuing its tradition of being a centre of learning, Holar also has a (admittedly small) university teaching agriculture and tourism.

Holar cathedral with the university behind it

I could see a café attached the university buildings, but the lights inside were off.  I tried the door in desperation…………and it opened!  Inside was a small counter…….with a coffee machine. I rang a bell for service and a friendly Icelander served me expresso.  He also recommended his asparagus and mushroom soup, made with mushrooms from the mountains around Holar – it was delicious!

Soup and coffee – saved!

The café in Holar was a lucky find because the next stretch of road was very boring and would have been hard to do without refreshment.  The road rejoined the main Route 1, and ran, flat, monotonous and grey for mile after mile. Even Lonely Planet could not suggest anything worth stopping for in this dull, remote bit of the country. To make things worse, my car started to struggle against the ferocious headwind, and an array of warning lights appeared on my dashboard. I stopped to check the owner’s manual but found only Icelandic text. A search of the web (internet connection seems to be available almost everywhere around Iceland) suggested that the warnings were not critical and that I could carry on,  but I had an uncomfortable feeling – breaking down here would be worse than inconvenient, since there were no garages for miles.

As I left Route 1 for Route 68 going to the Westfjords, the weather improved, and my warning lights suddenly disappeared. I even stopped to take some photos.

Scenery at the start of the Westfjords

I finally made it to Holmavik at around 6pm – I had been on the road for nearly nine hours.  It was a tiny place, and was functional rather than pretty – but at least I had arrived.  The town had a shop, self-service petrol pump, a small port harbouring fishing boats, a pile of what looked like abandoned freight containers, a couple of guesthouses, a museum, and a cold wind howling along the main street.

Holmavik

Fortunately my accommodation was very good – unlike most of the places I had stayed so far, it had old furniture and looked like it might once have been someone’s home. And best of all it had a cosy living room with a comfortable sofa and view of the sea. I cooked the cod I bought in the local shop and celebrated the end of a long, difficult day with a glass of whisky.

Taking it easier at Myvatn

After two long and very busy days, I resolved to take it easier today and left late to explore Myvatn,  a large, shallow lake formed by a volcanic eruption 2000 years ago. The lake is lush and green, with lots of small islands, bubbling rivers entering or leaving the lake, and lots of bird life. It is surrounding by many interesting volcanic structures.  My only plan for today was to drive around the lake clockwise and see what I would find.  

Myvatn lake

My first stop was to climb the small mountain called Vindbelgjarfall, on the western side of the lake.  It was a steep but short walk, and from the summit there were fantastic views across the lake.  I found a little hollow in the mountain to shelter from the strong wind and enjoyed my sandwich lunch whilst taking lots of pictures.  

Vindbelgjarfall
The view from the summit
Another view from the summit
Yet another view from the summit – this time with “pseudo-craters” (more about these later)

Next stop was Dimmuborgir, on the east side of the lake. Here the lava from the eruption had made many strange shapes. I stopped for a coffee in the café at the entrance to the site and noticed an interesting item on the menu – “lava bread”.  This is bread made by placing dough and yeast underground, where the cooking is done by geothermal heat. I resolved to set off on a short walk and to buy some bread when I returned. After wandering around a bit on the many marked paths, I spotted a path leading to the volcanic cone of Hverfjall, about 2km away.  The path up to the foot of the volcano was very pretty, with lots of flowers and strange lava forms.

An arch of lava at Dimmuborgir, with Hverfjall in the distance
On the way to Hverfjall….

In contrast, the climb up was extremely hard and monotonous – the soft grey ash that formed the cone gave way under foot, and for every two steps up, I slid one step back.  When I finally reached the top, the view was only average – the crater had no water, and resembled a giant grey ashtray. The view of the surrounding area was good, but not as good as I had experienced in my morning climb of Vindbelgjarfall.  

….and on its rather disappointing summit

Remembering that the café closed at 5pm – even in peak tourist season many things close really early in Iceland – I hurried back, only to find that they had sold out of “lava bread”.  I guess it probably tastes exactly like normally bread, but who knows…….

I regained my car and continued my drive, this time to the southern shore of the lake.  Here the main attraction are the many small “pseudo-craters” – structures that formed when lava flowed over an expanse of water.  The water boiled, and the steam created exploded through the solidifying lava to leave lots of small craters.  

Pseudo-craters at the southern end of the lake

It was time to go back to my rental cottage.  For some reason I feel sleepy here all the time – maybe it is the fresh air, maybe the big variations in temperature during the day, or maybe a subtle effect of volcanic gases. I had dinner and slept well.

Whales (maybe) and Volcanoes

Today was busy.  First, I set off in brilliant sunshine for a whale watching trip from Husavik, about 30 minutes drive away.  My vessel was a pretty wooden boat called Hildur, that had sails as well as an engine. 

Husavik, a pretty town and Iceland’s whale-watching centre
My boat – the Hildur

Husavik is Iceland’s whale watching capital, and the four companies that provide excursions all had websites showing encounters with large humpback whales – sometimes with the whale jumping out of the water. One company boasted a whale sighting rate of 99.6%. Once we had boarded, our guide told us  ten species of whale have been seen from Husavik, including the blue whale, the biggest living animal. However, as regards actually seeing anything on our trip she was more downbeat, stressing that this was a matter of chance and where the whales happened to be feeding that particular day.  And so it proved – we sailed for two hours towards the mouth of the fjord, and only saw a few birds. Whilst there was a great view of the mountains from the sea, and I saw my first ever guillemot, that wasn’t what I had come for!

Pretty mountains….but no whales

It had been hot – T-shirt weather – in Husavik, but on the sea it was cold. I put on extra clothing but was still shivering – the lack of the excitement of a whale-sighting didn’t help.  The boat had just turned around to head back to port when the guide announced that their sister ship had spotted something.  We hurried to join them, and finally got a glimpse of a black whale’s back, and its dorsal and tail fins. It was a minke whale, one of the smallest and most common species – the same type of whale that had recently become stuck in the River Thames only a few miles from home in London. But all the same, it was a whale, so the trip could be considered a partial success. We watched it for a while as it surfaced and dived, reemerging in a new spot each time.  Its appearances were so fleeting that I gave up trying to film and just enjoyed watching.

Back on land, it was hot.  The strong variations in temperature, from hot to cold to hot again had made me very tired. I ate my sandwich lunch sitting the grass of the square next to the church, and then dosed off in the sun.  I felt better after my snooze, went to grab a coffee from a nearby restaurant, and then headed off to my next destination – a volcanic area called Krafla that was the site of major eruptions in the 1970s and 80s. Krafla is located just next to the major tourist centre of Myvatn, which I will visit tomorrow. The road went past a large geothermal power plant, which supplies all the electricity in the region. My first stop was an impressive volcanic crater, filled with brilliant blue water.

The Viti volcanic crater (“Viti” means “hell” in Icelandic)

Next, I backtracked a couple of kilometres to Leihrnjukur, the site of the 1970s eruptions. The area is still volcanically active to this day. A path led through the eerie landscape of sulphurous pools and volcanic vents belching steam, with a huge lava field from the eruption stretching away into the distance. It was important to stay on the path – in places, a narrow crust of earth covers areas of boiling hot water, and it is quite possible for people to fall through and be boiled alive. Toxic volcanic gases can also be a hazard in this area. Maybe because of this, there were very few tourists visiting this area and for most of my hike I was completely alone.

As close as I dare go – a steaming vent at Leihrnjukur
A volcanic pool
The lava fields stretch for miles

My next stop was to admire yet more volcanic activity at Hverir – a series of boiling mud pools and steaming vents located a little further down the valley.   This area was much more popular with tourists than the previous two, and people competed to be photographed next to the biggest and smelliest vents.

Bubbling mud pools at Hverir
Like the planet Mars….
Steaming volcanic vents dot the landscape

My final stop was Myvatn’s Nature Baths.  Here, they have made a large hollow in the ground and filled it with hot water taken directly from the boreholes of the nearby geothermal power plant. The water is a brilliant blue colour, due to suspended silica that scatters blue light – the baths are very much like the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik, but less well known. The water arriving from the power plant is a scalding, pressurised 130C and is allowed to cool in a large storage lagoon before being pumped to the baths, which are a pleasant 38-42C. I spent a happy hour wallowing in the water, admiring the views over the volcanic plain to the mountains in the far distance. 

The Myvatn Natural Baths

The baths stay open until midnight and I thought about staying until the sunset at 9pm, but decided that spending three hours lazing in hot water was a bit too decadent.  Besides, I was now hungry, so I headed home and had an excellent dinner of fresh Icelandic cod after another busy and varied day.

The drive north – Waterfalls, Canyons and Lunar Landscapes

Today I made the long drive to the north coast of Iceland.  I left early and drove back over the pretty mountain pass to Egilstadir, and then my route lead straight across Iceland’s interior.  At first the road went through green rolling hills, like the countryside I had seen before – with the inevitable waterfalls.  

Yet another waterfall just off Route 1

Then the landscape turned grey and barren, and it looked like I had arrived on the moon or another planet.

The Lunar Landscape of Iceland’s interior

I drove for about two more hours along these straight, empty roads, before reaching my first destination for today – the waterfalls Selfoss and Dettifoss.  These are not the highest waterfalls in Iceland but still impress through the power of the huge volume of water hurtling through the steep river canyon. I made the short walk to the smaller Selfoss first………

Selfoss waterfall (the “smaller” one)

…..before standing in awe in front of mighty Dettifoss.  It was a great stop for my lunch sandwiches, and when the sun periodically appeared, the waterfall’s spray made a pretty rainbow.

Views of Mighty Dettifoss

Dettifoss was just one of things to see in the “Jokulsargljufur” area, a long canyon formed long ago by a volcanic eruption under the Vatnajokull glacier in the centre of Iceland (which I visited earlier on my trip in the South).  The melted glacier water surged down the valley in a cataclysmic flood, and carved out the canyon in a matter of days.   I followed the canyon by a new road leading along its west side, and stopped for another walk to explore further. I saw weird volcanic lava shapes that looked like sleeping monsters (Icelanders would call them trolls),  a lave cave (formed when the outside of a lava river solidifies but the inside keeps flowing) and pretty mountain flowers, with purple heather.

A sleeping troll
A Lave Tube (nicknamed the “chapel”)
Rolling countryside with arctic flowers
I found the river again!

Further down the road, I explored the last part of the canyon, a huge horseshoe-shaped ridge surrounding a lush forest covering the floor of the old, now dry, river bed.

It was now later in the day, and my remaining route took me through the town of Husavik (my destination for tomorrow) where I stocked up on food and took photos of the mountains lining the other side of fjord.

Views over the bay from Husavik

I finally found my rental cottage in the evening evening, and cooked myself Icelandic lamb for dinner.  It had been a very long but very fulfilling day.

Driving Around South East Iceland

Today was a quiet day spent driving from the south to the east coasts. I left Hofn in the rain and followed Route 1 around the south-eastern coast of Iceland.  The road would probably have been very pretty, had it been possible to see the mountains looming behind the clouds.  I took a few pictures in the breaks between rain showers.

A beach in South East Iceland – between showers

My one stop on in the morning was a cute museum in the tiny village of Stodvarfjodur, which showcased the huge number of local rocks and minerals collected by one woman – Petra Sveinsdottir. She became fascinated by mineralogy at an early age, and whenever she had free time, she would set off into the mountains to collect more samples, sometimes coming back with 40kg of rocks in her backpack.  Interesting specimens that were too large to carry had their location marked so that Petra could come back in winter with a sledge to collect them. It was an interesting museum, even if I got the impression that Petra had collected the same ten types of rocks hundreds of times.

Petra’s rock museum

The road continued to snake around the fjords of the east coast of Iceland until it headed inland to Egilstadir. Now it was even sunny!

A typical Icelandic view on the way to Egilstadir

There, I left Route 1 to head to the small town of Seydisfjordur, located at the head of a fjord on the eastern end of Iceland.  The road to get there crossed a beautiful mountain pass, before descending steeply to the bottom of the valley, with yet more waterfalls.

View from the pass travelling to Seydisfjordur
Yet another waterfall – this one is called the Gufufoss

Seydisfjordur is a small, pretty town consisting mostly of old traditional wood buildings.  It has had a long and varied history – the fjord was colonized by the Vikings in the 11th century, became a centre of the herring and whaling industries in the 19th century, and then a British and American military base during WWII.  Now that the fishing industry is gone, the town is home to many artists, and has a relaxed feel to it. 

Seydisfjordur nestles next to a lagoon, at the foot of steep mountains
The “Rainbow Street” leading to the church

I had booked a private room in a hostel, which turned out to be surprisingly good. It was located in one of the many pretty 19th century buildings.

My hostel

 I arrived in mid-afternoon and set off to explore the town. The weather had changed dramatically, and after shivering in the rain in Hofn the day before, I now stripped down to a T-shirt to enjoy sun and 20C temperatures.  I booked  a restaurant for that evening and headed back to my hotel to relax and write my blog.

That evening, it was warm enough to eat outside without a coat. The restaurant’s food was good, but the portions turned out to be tapas-sized, and I was still hungry after dinner.  Another stroll around town provided a solution to my hunger – a van called “The Fancy Sheep” serving burgers and fish ‘n chips.  I enjoyed a very good lamb burger – it was now 10pm, but it was still warm and light, so I ate outside again, admiring the valley, before heading back to my hostel for bed.

The “Fancy Sheep” (you can see me just under the window collecting my burger)

The Ice Lagoon – a unique experience

I woke up early the next day to see heavy mist through the window. I set off for the short walk to the Svartifoss, or Black Waterfall, in the national park.  The Svartifoss is smaller than the other waterfalls I had seen in Iceland but had an interesting setting – it tumbled down over hexagonal black basalt columns.

Svartifoss

I took some photos and then continued my walk, with views over the mountains and out to the glaciers.

The view from my walk

The park is huge, with hiking trails that over 20km long, but although the mist had lifted, the tops of the mountains were still hidden in clouds, so I decided to head back to the visitor centre and continue my drive down Route 1. I drove past many more “arms” of the mighty Vatnajokull glacier; the sun had now emerged, making the view much more impressive.

Arms of the Vatnajokull glacier, as seen from Route 1

After an hour’s driving I found one of Iceland’s highlights – the Jokulsarlon lagoon.  In the early 20th century, the glacier here used to stretch all the way to the sea, but over the years it retreated up the mountainside leaving behind a large lake, connected to the sea by a short river. Mini-icebergs break off the glacier and float in the freezing water, slowly melting and all the time drifting slowly seaward. The larger icebergs would get stuck in the shallows of the river, and would sit there, with the water rushing past them.  Eventually they would lose enough bulk to float onwards and out to sea, where the salt water would speed up their disappearance. Some icebergs ended up washed back onto the black sand of the beach – nicked the Diamond Beach by locals. There, the waves would play with them, washing them one way and another, rolling and shrinking them. It was a splendid and unique sight, unlike anything I had ever seen before, and I spent an hour watching the spectacle and trying to film the seals that live in the lake.  I was really lucky that the clouds had lifted a bit, allowing the sun to occasionally bring out the wonderful colours.

The Amazing Glacial Lagoon
The “Diamond Beach” – waves playing with ice

When I had had enough of simply standing and watching, I took a trip by amphibious truck to see the icebergs from close up. 

Shots from the boat trip on the lagoon

The guide explained that the water in the icebergs had been trapped in the glacier for a thousand years, and that the black strips you could see in some icebergs was layers of volcanic ash from eruptions hundreds of years ago during the ice’s long journey to the sea. The bright blue areas of the icebergs were made of ice that had been underwater until recently, but which had flipped to the surface as the iceberg melted and became unstable. Once exposed to the air and sun, the ice turns to snow and turns white.

After the boat trip I continued my drive to my next hotel, in the village of Hofn.  I stopped off briefly for a soak in some geothermal hot tubs. It was relaxing to sit in the hot water, with nothing to do but admire the mountains in the distance.

Hot tubs….an Icelandic way to relax after a busy day

Hofn looked like it could have been a pretty, small fishing village, but by the time I arrived the rain had returned, and everything was a dull grey colour.  I checked in and this time was very pleased with my hotel. It I had a large communal sitting room with a view of the sea, which inspired me to sit and write my blog. After an hour’s writing I decided that I deserved to eat out for change – the speciality of the town was freshly-caught langoustine, which sounded very tempting.  Unfortunately, I set out rather late by Iceland standards (7.30pm) and each restaurant had a queue of hungry, wet, tourists outside, who were being informed that they would need to wait an hour for a table. I returned to the hotel and ate the last of the food I had bought in the supermarket back near Reykjavik. I would have preferred to have eaten out, but at least I had a change from smoked fish……smoked lamb! Although it was very good, I resolved to book a table in a restaurant in advance at my next destination.

A poster in my hotel – rather appropriate for this holiday

Into the Great Outdoors

Today I picked up my hire car and left Reykjavik on Iceland’s road “1” – the circular road that goes all around the country.  My destination was a tiny place called Skaftafell, at the entrance to the National Park of Vatnajokull.  It should have been about four hours’ driving, but on the way I kept getting distracted by interesting detours

First were the Seljalandsfoss waterfalls, which were located just off Route 1. I found them really impressive but did not realise that by Iceland standards they were only of average height and size.

Seljalandsfoss waterfalls

Next was a much bigger waterfall called Skogafoss.  This was a step up in terms of size and power, with a broad river thundering over a sheer cliff to fall 60m in a great misty spray.  

Mighty Skogaoss

By now it had started to rain, and I hesitated about taking the steps up the mountain to get a view of the waterfall from the top. In the end I decided to go, and was rewarded by a great view…….

The view from the top of Skogafoss

………and a path that followed the river up the mountain.  The path was beautiful, and I couldn’t resit continuing until I reached another waterfall…..and then another……..and then another and then another. 

The fourth and final waterfall I found….only 17 more to go

By this time I had been walking for an hour. To my surprise found that I still had a strong phone signal, so I googled “Skogafoss” to see how far the path continued.  I found out that I had just started of one of Iceland’s most famous walks, the 23.4km Fimmvorduhals trek from Skoga to Porsmork.   If I continued I would see another 17 waterfalls, before traversing a barren volcanic landscape between two glaciers and then descending through alpine meadows to the village of Porsmork.  I knew that I had neither the time nor the equipment (I was even still wearing my city shoes, and had left my waterproofs in the car) to continue my exploration, so reluctantly I turned back to the car park.  My regret at not being able to go any further was soon gone as it started to rain, lightly at first and then more and more heavily. I made it back to the car just in time, with my coat soaking wet, but my shirt still dry.

Back on the road, the rain came down more and more heavily and was driven against the car by a strong wind.  Despite the weather I decided to make one more stop, at a place called the Black Beach.  I parked my car and was immediately blown towards the sea. 

The Black Beach – the little white dot in the cave is the bride!

To my amazement a couple were having their wedding photos taken in the wind and the rain.  In Reykjavik, a local told me that Icelanders never change their plans just because of the weather, and here was living proof of what he had claimed. I took two quick pictures of the hexagonal basalt columns surrounding the cave that the beach is famous for and battled back to the car against a ferocious headwind, that even humans struggled to walk against, never mind a small teddy bear made of fluff.

I set off along route 1 again, with the wind howling and wind beating down.  The road went through a very long flat plain, with thick green moss the only vegetation.  Heavy grey rain clouds surrounded me on all sides, reaching right down to the ground. I felt like I was driving along the bottom of the sea, with a storm raging above me on the surface.

Finally, the rain eased off, and I could see glimpses of mountains through the clouds.  When the mountains were joined by the edges of the huge Vatnajokull glacier, I knew I was nearing my destination of Skaftafell.  The glacier is the biggest in Europe, covering a big chunk of Eastern Iceland. It has many different “arms” that flow down from the mountain towards the sea; Skaftafell is located between two of these arms.

The mighty Vatnajokull glacier emerges from the clouds

I checked into my hotel. As Lonely Planet had warned, my horribly expensive room turned out to be very basic – there are very few accommodation options in this part of Iceland, and demand from tourists is high.  I sat down to write my blog. When I had finished, it was eight o’clock and the clouds had lifted.  It was still light, so I decided to take a quick walk to base of the glacier – the weather forecast for the next day was still not good, and if I didn’t see the glacier now, I might never see it. It was a lot further than I had expected, but after an hour I arrived at the base of glacier, where a lake had formed from melting ice, and where there was a memorial plaque to two walkers who had gone missing in the area twenty years ago. Small icebergs floated quietly on the icy water. I was alone, and with the light of the sun setting behind the remaining clouds, the atmosphere was very special – but sadly not something my phone’s camera could completely capture.  

The glacial lake at the end of my walk
Dusk falls over the Vatnajokull glacier

I got back to my hotel at around ten, tired but very happy with my impromptu evening walk. Wishing to avoid the hotel’s expensive restaurant, I had a dinner in my room – smoked fish for the third evening in a row! Then I collapsed into bed and slept soundly.

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