Stöðvarfjorður to Hveragerði_travel notes 9

August 18th

Total distance covered: 650 km  | 404 miles


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 steam 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.


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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.


“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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