4. Patreksfjörður-Reykjane

Patreksfjörður to Reykjane_travel notes 4

August 14th

Total distance covered: 340 km  | 211 miles

 

Latrabarg had bestowed new sounds upon our 16-year old rental car, and left us nervous about the strain of the remaining yellow and brown marked roads. I fell asleep wondering if we would make it out of the Westfjords with our little car, and also, if my mother would catch a plane tomorrow and head for home. Needless to say, we had to forgo the planned counter-clockwise trip around the region, as experiencing all the fjords would have required a 4×4 vehicle. And, luckily for me, my mother did stay with me for the remainder of our expedition.

The layers in the land were striking throughout our travels in the Westfjords. The horizontal strata in the geology of the terrain demanded attention. Bold, lateral lines created a consistency and unification which visually strengthened the already massive cliffs. Upon closer inspection of these layers, I noticed the basalt columns. At this scale the vertical lines of basalt were subtle and delicate. Did I mention these cliffs are HUGE. At times, the horizontal and vertical lines in this landscape suddenly disappeared; the crumbling steep slopes marking the process of erosion on a grand scale.

 

Swales on the ground plane etched stunning lines into the landscape of the Westfjords. To make hay production possible, farmers reshape the land. Swaths of dry ground are created using swale systems for drainage. 

 

Sand color is a stunning example of the differences between the fjords we visited. Beach combing at Osafjördur resulted in numerous large clam shells and white sand. Beach combing at Vatnsfjörður revealed neon green seaweed and black rocks.

 

The fish-drying shack in Vatnsfjordur was restored by the National Museum in 1976. Birgit Abrecht’s Architectural Guide to Iceland led us to this historic structure. The book informed us that these shelters “were formerly a common site on the coast”.  We had discovered a building similar to this only yesterday along the coast of Patreksfjörður and surmised it had to do with fishing. However, the word “shack” had not come to mind as the massive stone walls brought with them a sense of permanence and stability.

 

Hotel Reykjane was bustling when we arrived. The front lawn of this hotel was packed with tents and campers, creating a carnival-like scene. It was the weekend, but we hadn’t seen this many people, or this sort of festivity, since we arrived in the Westfjords. It became apparent that the locus for this gathering was the large concrete pool, with views of the fjord beyond. The pool held a plethora of diverse groups: kids learning to swim, couples soaking, families convening, and as night wore on, adults (beers in hand) conversing. The water gradient spanned all comfort levels: from cool at the deep fjord end, to hot, hot, and even hotter. Geothermal water was helping to creating a thriving culture in this impressive pool.

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Thvottalaugar (Washing pools): a historical “hot spot” of Reykjavik

 (source: Torfbæjum inn i Taækniöld, Annð Bindi)

Even before Iceland’s geothermal waters were harnessed to produce energy, geothermal water was recognized for its important contribution to a community. Iceland’s Ancient records indicate that geothermal springs were used for washing and bathing. Cleanliness was considered an important factor in Nordic life. Carrying baskets of laundry was not a light task. If the distance to hot water was far from the homestead it was a great burden. Women gathered at nearby hot springs or hot streams to use the already heated water for washing. Laundering was hard, steamy, work, but it also served as time for ladies to socialize.

Norse poetic literature emphasized the importance of grooming and cleanliness. This example is from Reginsmal (The Ballad of Regin):

“Combed and washed | shall the wise man go, And a meal at mom shall take;

For unknown it is | where at eve he may be; It is ill thy luck to lose.”

(source: Torfbæjum inn i Taækniöld, Annð Bindi)

In towns with larger populations, laundering was an even larger communal event for the ladies and their children. Because there were many homesteads in these areas, washing often required walking a further distance.Thvottalaugar (washing pools) was a busy locale set to the east in Reykjavik. The road which led from the heart of the city to Thvottalaugar was named Laugavegur (washing road). This road was well worn by women carrying baskets and workers carting loads of wash.

Contemporary Laugavegur is the “major shopping” road of downtown Reykjavik. Traveling east along this road, travelers will find Laugardalur Park where Thvottalaugar remains today (although dry). Along with the gorgeous old infrastructure a structure and signage exist to describe the history of this site.

Thvottalaugar in its Laugardalur Park environs (photographs in October 2011)One of the first trial wells for geothermal water was sunk at Thvottalaugar between 1755, and 1756 by Eggert Olafsson and Bjarni Palsson. Between 1928 and 1930, more wells were sunk in the Thvottalaugar vicinity in pursuit of hot water for space heating. In 1930 enough geothermal water was recovered from these wells to heat Austurbackjarskili, a school in Reykjavik. The school was the first building in the city to be heated by geothermal water. Shortly after the school, the hospital, public pool and approximately 60 residential houses were connected to and utilized hot water from the geothermal pipeline originating at Thvottalaugar.

Vatnavinir Friends of Water recognize the importance of Thvottalaugar and have created a very interesting proposal for the area.

GEOTHERMAL CENTRE IN LAUGARDALUR   (source: Vatnavinir)

“The washing springs in Laugardalur lie at the centre of the history and development of the City of Reykjavík. Here, maids washed heavy loads of clothes, people and animals bathed, boys and girls learnt their first swimming strokes, experiements were made with cheesemaking and drilling for hot water for heating and electricity.

But steam no longer soars towards the skies and there is little to remind of old times other than stone walls by the dried up stream and grass covered washing tubs now long disconnected.

Vatnavinir propose the creation of a Geothermal Centre to honour the important history of water use in a vibrant way, e.g. by bringing to life the spirit of the old springs – the white linen blowing in the wind, the outlines of people in the steam, the smell of hot water and coffee.

Hot water may again be supplied to the springs and the stream (Laugalækur), now contained within an underground pipe, allowed to flow again along a part of its old channel linking the Botanical Garden and the old washing springs.

   (source: Vatnavinir)

The baths themselves are an education centre around hot water in a historical and geological context and are underground. Guests relax in hot pools while they learn about utilisation and origin of the hot water and geothermal heat through multimedia. In the evenings silence reigns – all screens are turned off and the bath house only used for bathing – but there could be occasional events in the evenings – story and poetry evenings, film screenings, concerts or even naming of children.

A public laundromat is also to be found here where guests and passers-by can wash their clothes. The laundromat is a historical museum on washing utensils and appliances but open to public use. Guests could choose between washing clothes on a washboard in a tub or in a washing machine from 1950. Simple refreshments, reminescent of the food washing women and travellers ate in times past, will be on sale – hot spring coffee and baked bread, fish, potatoes and meat. Paddling pools for children are in old washing tubs. The largest pool is open to the sky but beneath the present surface and white linen blows in the wind on lines above it creating a play of light and shadow in the pool.

   (source: Vatnavinir)

It is also proposed that a small steam power station be erected, which would supply the area with electricity. Thus the project – once upon a time began but never finished – would be brought full circle to its conclusion and the area thereby also made self-sustainable in terms of electricity.” (source: Vatnavinir)

Daylighting the stream and allowing geothermal heat/energy to stimulate this area, as it did in the past, is an extremely exciting prospect. I also see another important aspect to this historical rejuvenation as linking this steamy location back to Laugavegur, the main shopping street. Not only is this path a historical reference, but it would draw people from the center of the city to this lesser known area. I believe Thvottalaugar has huge potential!

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