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.
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.
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…….
………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.
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.
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.
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.
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.