Tag Archives: Landscape

Day 13 – Water goes up…must fall down

Sunday 11th July 2021. The plan for today was Golden Circle day. This is basically the route that tourists who are based in Reykjavik can use to see The Sights, the main ones of which are Geysir (water goes up), Gullfoss (water falls down) and Þingvellir National Park (water stays where it’s put). We expected to tick those boxes in pretty short order before retiring to the bar in our Reykjavik hotel for a G&T before some kind of extravagant dinner. We ticked the boxes all right, but the day didn’t quite work out like that… in a good way.

Our extreme good fortune with the weather didn’t hold, and we had a grey, windy and occasionally wet day, with the sort of driving drizzle whose ubiquity has probably earned it a special Icelandic name. It didn’t interfere with our enjoyment, but it’s not the weather that a photographer would normally choose.

Before we got to the major part of the box-ticking exercise, Dagur took us to the cathedral, just down the road in Skálholt.

Skálholt has a major place in Iceland’s history. It was an episcopal See, a school, a seat of learning and administration for more than 700 years and a place of pilgrimage in medieval times. The present Cathedral was consecrated in 1963 and is the 10th church standing on exactly the same site. In it is a list of all the Bishops stretching from the current (female) one right back to the first one, who took office back before Willam the Conqueror decided he fancied a bit of English rule. It was, unlike most of the Interesting Churches we’ve seen this last fortnight, open, so we went in. It’s a lovely interior.

The stained glass is very striking, as is the mosaic above the altar. There’s an escape tunnel to the outside, used both for exit and entry in emergency, e.g. attack by a band of marauding riffs.

and in the grounds is a replica of the type of house that once also stood on the land.

Our next stop was also something that’s not on your normal Golden Circle tour – an amazing place called Friðheimar. To say baldly that they grow tomatoes there is technically accurate but utterly misses the point of how they go about it and the scale of the undertaking . The creators, Knútur Rafn Ármann and his wife Helena Hermundardóttir, have created an environment in which they can be grown year round.

Geothermally heated greenhouses and a carefully controlled growing process ensure that light, nutrients, water and heat get to the plants

and they keep bees to pollinate them.

They also, by the way, grow cucumbers and lettuce – over a ton of produce every day of the year – and have even put a restaurant in place so you can eat a meal in the surroundings. It’s rather surreal – a lush, green, warm oasis amid Iceland’s rather more hostile environment.

After this – at last! – we got on to the first of the major Golden Circle attractions – Geysir.

Well, actually – not. The original Geysir, whose name is now used worldwide to refer to such phenomena, has not erupted, with maybe a couple of days’ exceptions, for decades.

Here’s a picture of the dormant Geysir, taken by a dozy old geezer.

However, on the same site is its little brother, Strokkur, which is active. As might be expected, there’s a crowd of people waiting for the next eruption

which, although not as high as Geysir was, is quite impressive when it happens.

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We then moved smoothly on to the next box to be ticked – Gullfoss, the Golden Waterfall, billed as Iceland’s version of Niagara. I’ve never seen Niagara, so I can’t comment on that (come back to this blog in October next year for my thoughts on it, if plans go according to, erm, plan). It’s pretty substantial.

So substantial, in fact, that it’s quite difficult to convey in still photography. There’s a high viewpoint which enables a video panorama, which I hope helps you a bit more with its scale.

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Our next stop was at the rather unusual home of “The Cave People“.

The idea here is to re-create the sort of environment that Icelandic people, typically shepherds, lived in long ago; and about a century ago, this house was used by Icelandic couples. There are a few mod cons visible – solar PV and a small wind turbine – but otherwise the Caves have been rebuilt to look exactly like they did when the last Cave People in Iceland lived there only a century ago. You can take a tour if you like, but we didn’t because the next box to be ticked was calling – Þingvellir National Park (pronounced “Thingvellir” by the way).

Þingvellir is the National Park where the Althing, an open-air assembly representing the whole of Iceland, was established, way back in the year 930 and continued to meet until 1798. Over two weeks a year, the assembly set laws – seen as a covenant between free men – and settled disputes. It’s held to be the world’s first Parliament. There’s a pole erected to mark its place.

Behind the pole, you can see the wall of rock which marks the start of the American Tectonic Plate.

This “wall” is visible from some distance away as a line across the landscape. Anything this side of it is therefore in Europe.

From a viewpoint on top of the wall, you can see people walking between it and the European Tectonic Plate. The two plates are moving apart at some 2cm per year, but I still assert that it takes some courage to walk between them, just in case the middle bit collapses.

There is an Interesting Church across the river

and a very nice, calm lake

(in this windy country, you rarely get lovely calm reflections like this).

So that was the Golden Circle well and truly ticked off. But Dagur had a couple of “extras” for us, some less expected than others.

The first was a visit to The Volcano – the recent eruption near Fagradalsfjall. Bearing in mind that the actual eruptingness of the volcano was no longer visible to pedestrians (and any available helicopter for miles around was fully booked to fly over the site), and all that could be seen was lava, I frankly had low expectations for something that took us two hours out of the way between me and a refreshing gin and tonic, particularly since the weather was looking rather grim – after all, we’d seen quite a lot of lava over the last couple of weeks.

When we reached the site, it was evident, though, that it was still a popular day out

and as we walked towards the lava flow there was a constant flow of people coming back from it, with a huge variety of languages among them, and none of them, even the ones carrying expensive-looking camera equipment, looked dejected. And, in the end, after a 20-minute hike along a defined path but across somewhat broken ground, we reached the start (or, to be more accurate, the end) of the lava flow.

It was actually a very interesting experience, despite poor visibility. You might be able to make out the lava field receding into the distance and splitting round a hill; we walked about half a mile along the left hand side before it became clear that you could walk for a further hour or two and see still more lava. To give you a better idea, here is a photo that Dagur sent us some days before our trip started.

You can see where the lava flow has split around a hill; our half-mile walk took us just short of the “blob” of lava on the left, somewhat before the split – so you can see that it’s a very, very large lava flow.

As we approached the lava flow, the first thing that struck me was the smell. It was a singed kind of smell, but not, as it were, “natural”. As Jane said, it was the sort of burnt plasticky, rubbery smell that a photocopier makes as it goes seriously on the blink.

And the second thing was the heat. It wasn’t very hot, but there was a sense of a vast amount of powerful warmth emanating from the lava – and the very real understanding that setting foot on it would be a foolish thing to do, the sort of total fuckwittery that only Instagram selfie addicts might try and which will hopefully lead to the Darwinian extinction of that vapid species.

The lava gave rise to some interesting abstract image possibilities.

All in all, I’m glad that Jane insisted we do the trip to the site; even though there were no eruptive fireworks to marvel at, we came away with a sense of the enormous power that lay beneath, despite it being (for the moment) quiet.

Then Dagur sprang his last two surprises on us. One was a visit to a major tourist site – the Blue Lagoon. Although it’s quite close to the eruption site, we hadn’t expected to see it, so it was a nice little fillip for the end of the tour. Again, it’s one of those places where the basic description – a lagoon of black rock containing blue water – doesn’t cut it to convey what the place is really like.

There’s a hotel and spa there, where guests can frolic in the water (which frankly looks toxic to me)

and they can even buy beauty face masks if they’re completely unselfconscious.

But you can also walk around the lake proper, and it is a weird and wonderful sight.

By this stage, it was getting quite late, and we thought that these two diversions had eaten rather heavily into Dagur’s time and goodwill; but he sprang one more surprise on us…..

Dried Fish.

This might not sound much, but….

there’s a site outside Reykjavik which is so little talked about that even the locals don’t have a formal name for it. It’s a site where fish are hung for up to three months to dry them before they can be used for some local products (e.g. in cat food) and also for export – apparently the eyes are a delicacy in Nigeria…

It’s an extraordinary sight -rack after rack after rack of – fish, being hung out to dry.

And thus ended our second week in Iceland and the touring aspect of our holiday here. We’d covered 2,000 kilometres, taken 2,000 photographs and presented nearly 400 of them on this blog (oh, I’m not done yet, though!) It has been fascinating, educational and often awe-inspiring. I’m absolutely delighted to have documented it through these pages, because there is no way I could have remembered a tenth of what we’ve been told and what we’ve seen otherwise; and we were both utterly knackered and quite glad to get back to Reykjavik, check in to our final hotel, hotfoot it out for burger and stellar chips once again at Reykjavik Chips (see the “Cry Freedom” blog), and – relax. Our brains are full. Full of the sights, sounds and smells of an extraordinary country which it has been our pleasure to travel round and our privilege to see in largely beautiful weather. As a way of breaking out of UK’s Lockdown it simply couldn’t have been bettered.

As I say, I’m not done with you yet; we have a day at leisure in Reykjavik (and the rain, if the forecast is anything to go by), and we have to do some Covid-type admin before we leave. I’ll report how the day went in the next post, and hope you come and join me there.

Day 10 – Caught in the wind, darling, and the reindeer

Thursday 8th July 2021. The Fosshotel Austfirðir continued to not particularly impress over breakfast. Slow replenishment of items on the buffet, and staff not seeming to be particularly keen on keeping the selection refreshed. I think this hotel is definitely suffering from the pandemic-induced shortage of trained staff in the hospitality industry – just like the UK, really. I’m sure things will improve in time (just like the UK, really); but it’s interesting that the Fosshotel in Myvatn managed to provide a decent service (despite clearly being short-staffed) whereas this one, well, didn’t. Anyway, nobody died and we got a decent breakfast, so we were well set up for the day.

Oh, I nearly forgot to provide the utterly essential comment on the weather outlook for the day. It was good. Sunny and warm. Better than at home, so yah boo.

Before we set off on the day’s travels, Jane and I decided to have a walk around Fáskrúðsfjörður, which is a small town, but not unattractive. The hotel itself is photogenic.

We came across an extraordinary hanging basket of flowers.

The pot was originally used a century ago to melt liver in the the local whale factory, and then for salting fish, just so you know.

Also intriguing were the street signs, which were all in both Icelandic and French.

Apparently the town was a centre for French sailors and fishermen, back in the Good Ol’ Herring Days, so this street-naming is a tribute to their history, and the hotel itself combines historic buildings previously made for French fishermen in the years between 1898-1907: the French hospital, the Doctor’s house, and the Chapel.

The town has a nice little church

and several other interestingly decorated buildings.

and I was able to get a decent reflection photo at the small harbour.

As with yesterday, churches would figure quite large in the day. The first town we passed through, Stöðvarfjörður, provided not one but two Interesting Churches for our collection. One is the old church, Kirkjubaer, now used as a guest house.

and from which you can see the new church,

which is quite a striking building.

Another feature of the town is “Petra’s Stone Collection“, which is a good example of how far short a name can fall in describing something. Petra Sveinsdottir collected stones and kept them in her house. You can go and see them. This is true, but doesn’t prepare you for the impact of the place.

There are literally tons of stone samples, from all over Iceland, which Petra personally collected over the many years of her life and which are now on display in the house – and the garden.

All of the outdoor stones have to be cleaned every year, which looks like it’s a massive task. As well, there are quirky items on show, such as this animal made from various odds and sods

It’s a magnificent tribute to a magnificent obsession – I commend her story to you. There are some very lovely things on display; Jane was very taken, for example, with this small but perfect piece.

Stone actually was a key factor at and en route to our next stop, just along the coast. Iceland provided some typically dramatic rocky scenery as we went.

We stopped along the side of Berufjörður to look at an unusual geological sight – “Green Rock” (the Google Maps description, not mine; I would have sought something a little less literal and a little more, well, intriguing).

Whatever the key mineral was – we never found out – there was plenty lying around on the beach.

The next stop was a waterfall. Well, it’s a while since I showed you a waterfall photo, so here you go:

This waterfall is set on the river Fossá, and is one of several along the river. I suppose that’s why the river is basically called “waterfall”. Anyway, it’s a nice sight, worth a few minutes to set up the long-exposure shot.

By this stage, the idea of lunch was beginning to appeal, so we stopped in Djúpivogur. Before we could eat, though, there was another Interesting Church to add to our collection.

as well as a very striking artwork along the edge of the harbour called “Eggin í Gleðivík” (“The Eggs of Merry Bay”).

This is an artwork by the popular Icelandic visual artist, Sigurður Guðmundsson. There are 34 eggs, each representing a local bird.

We had a nice lunch in Hotel Framtid (“Hotel Future”), in the dining room which seemed more like someone’s living room from the past – very homely and comforting.

The rest of the afternoon was spent staggering about in whistling gales around a kind of “East and West” matched pair of mountains, Eystrahorn

and Vestrahorn.

We spent a lot of time scrambling around and trying to keep our balance in the windy conditions to take several different views of Vestrahorn, but actually the first one I took, above, with the lupins, is the one I like most. Note the “Batman” rocks to the right of the picture:

Also on offer to the unwary tourist at Vestrahorn is a visit to a “Viking Village”. This was actually a film set for a film about Vikings to be directed by one Baltasar Kormákur, who is a recognised Hollywood director and was briefly related to our guide Dagur until his (allegedly frequent) philandering caused a marital split. Anyway, we trudged over towards it

only to find that the years of neglect (we don’t think it was ever used) have taken their toll and it’s rather dilapidated.

There’s evidence of the nice touches that were used, for example the authentic-looking carving around the doors.

so I guess it was worth the visit, but only just; it could really do with a lot of maintenance if they wish to charge the entry fee they do.

As we exited the Vestrahorn site, Jane suddenly asked Dagur, urgently, to stop. Her sharp eyes had spotted something that’s quite rare in Iceland these days – wild reindeer.

It was good to see these creatures just pottering about without being spooked by anyone and it was a nice end to the day’s relentless tourism. All that was left was to get to a nearby town called Höfn and check into our hotel, imaginatively called the Hotel Höfn. We had an agreeable evening meal, with good service from a waiter called Philip, from Prague, whom we learnt has spent the last five summers working in Iceland whilst he studies for his degree in International Relations. Whatever that entails (other than talking to foreigners…)

We are now in South-eastern Iceland, officially in the southern region, and distinguishing features of the area are mountains and glaciers. Tomorrow we are promised a ride on a Zodiac RIB and a glacial lake, which is either going to be fascinating and fun or freezing cold and wet. Tune in tomorrow to find out how it worked out, eh?

Day 8 – Making a great deal more foss

Tuesday 6th July 2021. Yes, I know that obsessing about the weather is terribly British, but it simply has to be pointed out that today was the first day that the weather outlook for us here

was better than at home.


In reality, the weather here today really was pretty good – even, at times, a little too warm.  So, we’ve been lucky so far.

Our first stop was actually to the “supermarket” just along the road so we could buy something that would serve as lunch.  It wasn’t what we’d think of as a supermarket and the selection was a little sparse, but we found some pizza-ish sort of things that would probably do, and – mirabile dictu – a couple of apples.  To be honest, whilst the food we’ve eaten in the hotels and restaurants here has been very well-cooked, well-presented and tasty, we’ve discovered that They Don’t Do Fruit And Veg Much here, so the quest for dietary fibre is often, erm, fruitless. That’ll be me showing my age, then.

So: a morning of waterfalls beckoned.  Firstly, the most powerful waterfall in Europe – Dettifoss.



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As I hope you can hear from the sound on the video, this is an awesome thing. It must be said, though, that we preferred those from yesterday.  Dettifoss, because it’s carrying such a volume of glacial rock fragments, actually looks a bit muddy.  I know it’s pathetic to expect pristine white water, but there you go: we’re tourists – what do we know?  Dettifoss is one of several waterfalls along a canyon, and there was an insight into the impact of the glacial sediment on the water flow via a view of whatever the geologists would call the side street of a canyon.

You can see the clarity of the water which is out of the mainstream.

The second waterfall of the day is visited on the same hike which took us to Dettifoss. It’s called Selfoss, and it’s also pretty impressive.

You can see photographers on the far side of the canyon. These are the keen beans who have risked the tyres and suspension of their vehicles and a possible broken ankle or two to get to the Dedicated Photographer side of the canyon. Ok, the view of Selfoss would have been better from that side, and you can also get a Classic Shot of Dettifoss from over there; but our schedule, and my not-preparedness to lug a tripod over rocky terrain and spend much time setting up long-exposure shots, conspired against my achieving anything other than the standard Tourist Pics (which I’m very happy with). Dagur did his Pro Photographer bit as best he could at Selfoss, given that his clients were too pathetic to go the extra mile.

But the two falls were anyway impressive to see.

And that wasn’t the end of the foss we had to make this morning, as there was a third waterfall to visit, Hafragilsfoss, down another rocky track.

It wasn’t possible to get really close to this one because the track, even under normal circumstances a somewhat tricky descent, was impassable because of rockfall.  Such a shame. No, really.

It was getting towards lunchtime by this stage, and we were understandably anxious to get at our pizza-ish goodies, and Dagur suggested that we could hike to lunch at Katlar, which was along, you guessed it, a rocky track a little further downstream in the canyon. So we loaded up with lunch goodies and set off. We hit a decision point and, through a process that I don’t quite understand but am very grateful for, took a side track. This was actually a revelation, as it led through a landscape that we simply hadn’t come across before in Iceland, involving, as it did –  trees!

and wild flowers!

It really was a gorgeous walk, beside a river which of course gave rise to more photo opportunities.

After a while, we wound our way back towards Katlar, which is a gorgeous gorge

but decided in the end, and mainly because of the increasing numbers and importunateness of the flies, to head back to the car, where we ate our lunch in air-conditioned comfort but with no view.

At the next stop, we agreed between us that it wasn’t worth spending time heading toward the lava cave that Dagur had originally in mind (we’d already passed a couple, maybe not so grand, earlier in our walk).  However, the car park for that trek was interesting as it illustrated the difference between how serious Icelanders go on serious camping holidays

and how the Germans do it in Iceland.

After this, we went to an oasis of calm called Ásbyrgi Canyon.  This is a huge horseshoe-shaped wall of rock with a lake at its foot (Icelandic legend has it that this was a hoofprint of Odin’s 8-legged horse, Sleipnir. I couldn’t possibly comment on the veracity of that.)

And yes, a rocky trail leads down to the lake and at first blush it didn’t look as if it was going to be all that calm

but fortunately the bus load of Americans left shortly after we arrived and it settled down a bit. From the lakeside, you can’t capture the scale of the place in a photograph. You have to climb up to a viewing platform to do that.

But I did try a little snippet of video (creative director again was the distaff side) to give some idea of what it’s like on the lakeside.

We then headed back to the hotel, via a small town called Husvik, the Whale Watching capital of Iceland, where Dagur took the Land Rover off to clean it whilst we pottered around. The town is typical of our experience so far here, in that there are some attractive buildings

but much of the town is basically workmanlike rather than pretty.  It does, however, feature an unusual church, which we of course added to our collection of same.

After Husvik, we headed back to the hotel but Dagur took us by an alternative route which enabled us to get some insight into the reason for the lupins in Iceland.  You  can see them dotted about in the laval soil here.

Dagur told us that he remembered being driven along this road by his father when he was quite young, and it was just black sand. And this sand had been a major problem, particularly as it blew in the wind; soil erosion was one issue, and damage to cars’ paintwork was another. So the lupins were planted to combat soil erosion and they work – but it’s still ongoing and will be a task that carries on for generations to come.  The authorities are trying to leaven the mix with grass planting as well as lupins and this seems to be working overall; the problem is really to decide exactly where to cover with the programme, as a huge area is affected by this issue.

And thus ended another varied and interesting day, apart from the bit where Jane educated the hotel bar staff about Boulevardier cocktails. We have another V&I day in prospect tomorrow, with – who knows? – perhaps even more puffins! But much of the schedule will be decided on the hoof and so you’ll simply have to come back here and find out what we got up to, won’t you?