In Stöðvarfjorður we stayed overnight in a very unique hostel. Kirkjubær is a church that has been converted by a fisherman and his wife to accommodate visitors. The fisherman sold us redfish (krafla) that he had caught a few days ago. It was delicious! When we woke up the next morning, the grey clouds had lifted and large striated cliffs of the East Fjords surrounded us. The geological patters and processes that these striations emphasized, revealed and demanded that one see the landscape in more than a purely pictorial fashion.
Sheep dotted EVERY landscape we saw! From the small hillocks to the linear lines of inscriptions, these creatures are affecting the land with their powerful hoofs. Even the drainage swales are created in preparation for their winter feeding. On this journey, sheep have provided great entertainment; from spotting them in the most bizarre and unfathomable places, to pondering the implications a species has on the terrain.
Skeiðarársandur is the largest glacial outwash plain in the country. This is an immense landscape composed of grey stone and gravel interwoven with glacial tributaries making their way to the ocean. It was oppressive. The dark grey was everywhere: in the dark clouds overhead, in the gravel below and even in the reflection of the water. It made me feel grey. The processes leading from ice to ocean proved to be extremely powerful and visually descriptive. This outwash plain is one of the most difficult parts of the Ring Road to maintain. Massive flooding can be sudden and extreme as geothermal heat and volcanic eruptions melt Iceland’s icecaps. Global warming has also contributed to the frequency of these flood events. They can be so sudden and so massive that the floodplain fills with water and continuously washes out bridges. We actually saw where one of these bridges was swept aside by a flood. A temporary bridge had been installed in its place, so crossing was possible. It was impressive to witness the powerful effects this flooding had recently employed on the landscape, and the ease with which human construction had been tossed aside.
Núpsstaður is a farmstead situated west of Skeiðarársandur. Besides having importance as a productive farm the location and layout of this outpost were of great significance. On the fringe of this outwash plain, the farmers here used to served as guides to travelers journeying across Skeiðarársandur. Protected by the impressively high cliffs, Núpsstaður’s turf houses are nestled deep into the terrain. Construction and siting of this farmstead was derived entirely from the conditions of this site. These turf houses date from the 18th and 19th centuries and are in the care of the National Museum of Iceland. The raw state and condition of these houses brought a sense of reality to this type of living.
Vatnajökull + it’s icy fingers cover more than 8% of the country. This MASSIVE glacier remarkable. White ice stretches as far as the eye can see, while it’s glacial ice water weeps towards the flood plain. We stopped next to one of its tributaries carrying blue and white icebergs out to sea. It was a grey day, but the small amount of light reflected off the glacier and brightened the sky. The reflected light in the middle of this glacier must be almost unbearable. I recently finished reading World Light by Halldór Laxness. He describes this glacier as heavenly and comforting, “Where the glacier meets the sky, the land ceases to be earthly, and the earth becomes one with the heavens; no sorrows live there any more, and therefore joy is not necessary; beauty alone reigns there, beyond all demands.”
Seljavellir is a swimming pool/ hot pot situated at the foot of the Eyjafjoll Mountains. Nestled in a narrow valley and carved out of the mountainside, this pool is magical. A sheer rock cliff comprises one of the pool walls. This along with a mountain stream cascading alongside the pool embed the visitor directly into this extraordinary landscape. A short walk into the valley provides magnificent views of basalt formations and prepares the psyche for reflection and contemplation.