***  ICELAND  2017  -  WEEKS 11~12  ***

This week's Photo Gallery Harbour Seals of YtrÝ-Tunga Bottom of Page Return to Iceland Index Page

CAMPING IN ICELAND 2017 - SnŠfellsnes Peninsula and West Iceland:  EirÝkssta­ir, Reykholt, Borgarfj÷r­ur, Eldborg Crater, Arnarstapi and Hellnar, Hellissandur, Grundarfj÷rđur, Stykkishˇlmur, Borgarnes and Hvalfj÷r­ur:

South from Reykhˇlar:  after our relaxing couple of days enjoying the warm weather and bird-life at peaceful Reykhˇlar, we returned around the Reykjanes peninsula coastline to re-join the main Route 60 at Bjarkarlundar. It was another beautiful morning: the sky was clear with bright sunshine, the valleys looked green against the misty, stark, craggy mountains, and the fjord reflected the blue sky. Farmers had been taking full advantage of the few days of fine weather for hay-making, and fjord-side fields were dotted with plastic-covered hay bales (see left).

Click on the 4 highlighted areas of map
for details of SnŠfellsnes Peninsula

The White-Tailed Eagles Centre at Krˇksfjar­arnes:  there was little traffic as we drove around the coastal strip of Krˇksfj÷r­ur, dropping down to the tiny settlement of Krˇksfjar­arnes (Click on Map 1 right). Just before the village, the newly engineered Route 61 branched off along Gautsdalur towards HolmavÝk, the route taken by all the Icelandic holiday-making caravans from the ReykjavÝk conurbation. We had seen reference to a White-Tailed Eagles Centre in the Gamla KaupfÚlagsh˙si­ (Old Shop-house) at Krˇksfjar­arnes, but had been unable to find any details. We turned off the main road into the scattered village, found the old shop, and sure enough the sign in the window announced Arnarsetur Eagle Centre. The former village shop had closed, but had re-opened as a community enterprise selling handicraft works, with locally made genuine Icelandic sweaters (so much of the knitwear ubiquitously sold at enormous expense to tourists are far eastern imports). We were graciously welcomed, to be told that a local person organised the displays and information panels about White-Tailed Eagles; being now protected, these magnificent birds of prey are now nesting again in ever greater numbers around Brei­afj÷r­ur.

We watched the video about White-Tailed Eagles; although only in Icelandic, we could follow the gist. With a wing span of up to 2.5m, White-Tailed Eagles (known also as Sea Eagles) (see left) feed on both carrion and hunt live prey, either fish or birds, mainly Eiders or Fulmars; they are non-migratory and pairs mate for life. This admirably unpretentious little museum at Krˇksfjar­arnes, which charges only 250kr for admission, deserves greater recognition. As we sat outside in the sunshine to eat our lunch sandwiches after our visit. we chatted with the girl who had welcomed us; it turned out she was German, who had come originally as a back-packing traveller, and had stayed for the summer to work here at the handicraft shop. If you pass this way en route to or from the West Fjords, make a point of stopping for coffee and cakes at this worthy community venture.

South to B˙­ardalur for provisions re-stock:  Route 60 crossed the mouth of Gilsfj÷r­ur on a 4kms long causeway (see right) and, amid stately hills, climbed steadily up into the depths of Hvolsdalur, gaining height to cross the Hˇlknahei­i watershed, for the long descent of SvÝnadalur down to the shores of Hvammsfj÷r­ur, the innermost corner of the vast Brei­afj÷r­ur, to reach the large village of B˙­ardalur (click here for detailed map of route). Along the main road, we found a Samkaup-Strax supermarket and filling station, for us to stock up with provisions at very expensive prices and to re-fill George with diesel. This place was clearly exploiting the tourist traffic and holiday-makers who pass along this main road.

EirÝkssta­ir in Haukadalur:  20kms south of B˙­ardalur, we turned off into the broad, green farming valley of Haukadalur (see left and right), and 8 kms along the dale on a dusty dirt road we reached the site of what has been interpreted from a tentative reference in one of the Sagas as EirÝkssta­ir, the farmstead of EirÝk the Red, father of Leifur EirÝksson. The Norse Viking, EirÝk the Red (EirÝk Ůorvalsson 950~1003 AD) had, according to the Icelandic Book of Settlements (the Landnßmabˇk), originally settled in Hornstrandir in the West Fjords after his father had been exiled from his native Norway for murder. EirÝk moved to Haukadalur after marrying into a land-owning family there. and built a farmstead which he named EirÝkssta­ir. But, a violent and ill-tempered man, he was exiled from Haukadalur after murdering several neighbours in a dispute. He moved to SnŠfellsnes from where, after committing further acts of murder, he was exiled again. With a shipload of comrades, he set sail westwards discovering new lands where, according to the Saga of the Greenlanders, he settled naming the country Greenland to entice other settlers to follow. His son Leifur EirÝksson, who had been born at EirÝkssta­ir around 980 AD and moved with his father to Greenland, set out also to sail further westwards, discovering new lands in 1000 AD thought to be along the Labrador coast of North America, which he named Markland (Forest Land). Sailing on, he reached more fertile lands where wild vines are said by the Sagas to have grown; he accordingly named the land Vinland. Leifur EirÝksson attempted to establish a colony there, but this lasted for no more than a generation. Among his fellow settlers in the New World were Ůorfinnur Karlsefni and Gu­rÝ­ur Ůorbjarnardˇttir, who after the Vinland settlement's failure returned to Iceland in the early years of the 11th century and settled at GlaumbŠr (See log of our visit to GlaumbŠr); their infant son Snorri Ůorfinnson was born at Vinland in 1003 AD becoming the first European born in America, 500 years before Columbus re-discovered the continent. The unknown location of Vinland remains a subject of speculation and controversy.

Excavations at Haukadalur in the late 1990s revealed a Viking era longhouse (skßli), and although there is no direct evidence to link the site to EirÝk the Red, the place has been named EirÝkssta­ir. And the tourism industry rubbed its itchy hands with glee as the tourists flocked in. We drove along the valley on the dusty dirt road past Haukadalsvatn to reach the EirÝkssta­ir parking area, large enough to accommodate a whole fleet of tour buses. Up a hill-side path, past the over-stylised, twee statue of EirÝk the Red standing at the prow of his long ship, we found the site of the archaeological excavation. The view looking along the broad, fertile valley was even more striking; you could understand why sea-born settlers had chosen this dale for their farmsteads. A modern replica of the turf-roofed long-house had been constructed nearby (see above left and right) (Photo 1 - EirÝkssta­ir reconstruction), attended by unconvincingly costumed modern-day 'Vikings', one of whom had we had seen in the supermarket at B˙­ardalur! This was clearly little more than an over-priced tourist attraction and of little interest to us; the unpretentious farmstead at GlaumbŠr (GlaumbŠr turf-walled farmstead museum) was far more educative than the over-hyped imitation at EirÝkssta­ir with little evidence to support its tourist-focussed claim to links with EirÝk the Red and Leifur EirÝksson.

South to re-join Route 1 Ring road:  back along the valley, we continued south on Route 60 , with speeding Icelandic holiday-making traffic now increasing, and turned off at one of the valley dairy farms, Erpssta­ir, to sample its renowned home-made ice-cream (see left). Route 60 now climbed lustily over a high pass, amid spectacular mountain terrain (see right) (click here for detailed map of route), to descend the long, steep southern side passing an impressive gorge carved out by the river torrent dropping from the watershed. This long descent brought us down regrettably to re-join Route 1 Ring Road, which we had left 3 weeks ago at Bru. ReykjavÝk-bound traffic now became horribly oppressive, with equally stressful driving standards. It was thoroughly unpleasant, and will from now only get worse as we approach the capital. As we turned south onto the Ring Road, the nature of the terrain changed suddenly from green, rolling hills to the volcanic lava fields of Grßbrˇkarhraun (see below left), with an evident ash-cone by the road side. 10 kms further and the lava field ended equally suddenly as we approached the turn-off onto Route 50.

A miserably crowded and noisy stay at the dreadful Varmaland Camping:  crossing the salmon-rich wide River Nor­urß, we turned off to find tonight's campsite at Varmaland, a huge geothermal swimming pool with attached so-called 'campsite'. Being relatively close to ReykjavÝk, this was bound to attract holiday-making crowds from the conurbation. We had little expectations of the place, but it was even worse than we could have conceived: it was nothing more than an enormous rough field alongside the swimming pool complex, crammed full of caravans and luxury trailer-tents, the sort of fun-loving, materialistically-minded, rowdy folk we should normally run a million miles to escape from, except that for tonight there was no such escape. This was the only place to camp in the vicinity, and we just about managed to find a reasonably quiet spot in the far corner looking out across farmland to a distant horizon of volcanic mountains (see right). With heavy hearts we settled in. There was of course no power supplies in this corner and the distant facilities were limited to WC and a geothermally heated wash-up sink. Even so, with a captive audience of such massed holiday-makers, prices were appallingly expensive, but at least the Camping Card was accepted. But there would be little peace, despite having tent campers as near neighbours. On a fine, sunny evening we cooked a barbecue supper, and tonight we had just turned in and got off to sleep when we were wakened by noisy late arrivals thoughtlessly slamming car doors, until our robust protests caused them to move. The following morning was hot and sunny and we sat out for breakfast behind George, out of view of the rowdy hordes. We managed to get a limited wash at the basic facilities, and were glad to get away from this hideous place and the even more hideous holiday-makers.

Deildartunguhver geothermal source in Borgarfj÷r­ur:  on a beautifully sunny morning, driving inland across the rolling fertile farmlands of lower Borgarfj÷r­ur (click here for detailed map of route), we could see several steaming geothermal sources dotted across the landscape, and turned off to Deildartunguhver, Europe's most prolific hot spring. This enormous geothermal source pumps out 180 litres/second of boiling water (see left), which is conveyed by insulated pipeline to heat the houses of Akranes 64kms distant and Borgarnes 34kms. We parked by the source but there was now little to see other than the building works covering the spring outpourings together with the huge clouds of steam billowing above the splashing boiling water and the start of the pipeline (Photo 2 - Deildartunguhver geothermal pipeline) (see right). The geothermal source is also used to heat nearby market garden green houses growing vegetables, and we bought a bag of locally grown geothermal tomatoes from a stall (see below left).

Reykholt, the farmstead of Snorri Sturluson:  5kms along Route 518 we reached Reykholt, site of the farmstead estate of Iceland's renowned medieval clan-chieftain (go­ar), politician and poet, Snorri Sturluson (1179~1241). Born into the wealthy land-owning Sturlung family, one of the powerful clans whose feuding wracked medieval Iceland, Snorri was educated at the cultural centre of Oddi in Southern Iceland; he married into a wealthy land-owning family at Borg ß Mřrum near Borgarnes so acquiring wealth and property. He later settled at the church centre of Reykholt in Borgarfj÷r­ur, building up the estate, consolidating his grip on power and wealth, and becoming go­ar (chieftain) of the Sturlung clan and in 1215 Lawspeaker of the Al■ing, the Assembly of the Icelandic Commonwealth. While at Reykholt, Snorri composed his famous Saga works, the Prose Edda an account of Norse Mythology, Egil's Saga a history of the Viking Skald court-poet Egil Skallagrimsson, and the Heimskringla a history of the Kings of Norway. His position of power brought him into contact with King Hßkon of Norway whose vassal Snorri became. In 1218 he travelled to the Cathedral city of Nidaros (Trondheim) and the Norwegian court of the teenage King Hßkon at Bergen, also forming a friendship with Jarl (Earl) Sk˙li, Hßkon's co-regent and rival for the throne of Norway. Medieval power politics were however a changing game: Hßkon was playing off the Icelandic clan chieftains against one another to enhance his hold on power and extend his realm to Iceland. As Lawspeaker, Snorri fell foul of this and was suborned by King Hßkon to persuade the Al■ing to accept Norwegian suzerainty. On his return to Iceland in 1220, he resumed his duties as Lawspeaker of the Al■ing, but his support for Norway's cause brought opposition from the other chieftains; the rise to power of Snorri's opponents resulted in several years of violent clan feuding. By 1237 Snorri was forced to seek refuge in Norway and he returned to Hßkon's court. But the power rivalry there between the King and Jarl Sk˙li had erupted into open civil war; because of Snorri's support for Sk˙li in his unsuccessful bid for royal power, Hßkon forbade Snorri to leave Norway; Snorri disobeyed this command and sailed back to Iceland in 1239. Hßkon charged one of Snorri's rival clan chieftains, Gissur Ůorvalsson, to bring him back dead or alive. Gissur led a band of 70 armed men to Reykholt, and Snorri was hacked to death in 1241. Hßkon continued suborning the clan chieftains of Iceland, and in 1262, the Al■ing finally ratified union with Norway; royal authority was instituted in Iceland, so bringing to an end the Commonwealth which had ruled Iceland since 980 AD and the Settlement.

Set in the broad, open farming valley of Reykholtsdalur, Reykholt is now a quiet and unassuming cultural centre of medieval Icelandic studies, the Snorrastofa, with a modern church and exhibition on the life and works of Snorri Sturluson. We had expected it also to attract hordes of visitors, but were amazed to find it quiet with just a few cars in the parking area. Uncertain how superficial or informative the Snorrastofa exhibition would be, we paid our seniors' admission of 1,000kr and viewed the presentations. In fact they gave a well-documented account, with full English translations, not only of Snorri's life, rise to power and his extensive literary output, but also of power politics in medieval Norway and Iceland, and the feuding of the Icelandic clan go­ar which led ultimately to the end of the Commonwealth and absorption into the Norwegian realm. The weather was now unbelievably hot with temperature around 23║C. We walked around the landscaped estate and found the pool fed by a hot spring, the Snorralaug, where Snorri is said to have bathed; a modern statue appeared to show him wearing his dressing gown, perhaps just having got out of the Snorralaug (see above left). And nearby was the entrance to the tunnel leading to his farm where he was murdered by Gissur's assassins.

The Hraunfossar and Barnafoss Waterfalls on the glacial HvÝtß River:  we continued eastwards on Route 518 (click here for detailed map of route) with the road rising over higher pasture land to drop down into the neighbouring upper valley of the glacial HvÝtß River whose sources rise in the Langj÷kull Glacier. Inland the distant view was dominated by high mountains and the massive ice-fields of Langj÷kull (see right). 5 kms deeper into the Borgarfj÷r­ur valley past several farms, we pulled into a lay-by to visit the waterfalls on the fast-flowing HvÝtß River. But so also, it seemed, had half of the million tourists who swarm to Iceland each summer! Viewing platforms gave direct vista over the Hraunfossar (meaning literally Lava Waterfalls), a series of cascades almost 1 km in length, where surface water and melt-water draining from Langj÷kull percolate down through the Hallmundarhraun lava field to emerge from under the leading edge of the deep surface layer of lava, tumbling down in cascades over the moss-covered series of bed-rock steps into the passing HvÝtß River (see above left) (Photo 3 - Hraunfossar cascading from under lava field). The bright turquoise cascades pouring out from under the lava contrasted in colour with the murky grey glacial silt-laden river. The Hallmundarhraun resulted from a volcanic eruption under the NW edge of Langj÷kull around 930 AD, the time of the first recorded Settlement of Iceland, which flowed westwards along valleys to form a massive lava field covering an area of some 242 square kms bordering on the HvÝtß River. The Hraunfossar made a unique sight with the long lateral series of cascades pouring from under the base of the depth of lava which overlays the lower strata of harder, more impervious bed-rock bordering the river's far bank (Photo 4 - Hraunfossar).

Paths led along to another set of falls on the river's main course, where the fast-flowing, silt-laden glacial river has carved out a deep, winding canyon in the lava (see below right). Barnafoss (meaning Children's Falls) takes its name from 2 children from a nearby farm who drowned here while crossing a natural rock-bridge above the falls. Barnafoss drops into the winding lava canyon in a series of falls (see left) (Photo 5 - Barnafoss Falls) where the power of the water has cut rock-bridge arches under which the surging torrent now flows in the base of the falls. A platform gave perfect views upstream along the length of the canyon of grey-black lava to the falls (Photo 6 - Barnafoss), and a footbridge spanning the river gorge crossed onto the lava field on the far side for further downstream views along the silt-grey HvÝtß and the length of Hraunfossar cascading from under the lava field (see above right) (Photo 7 - Downstream view of Hraunfossar). Clambering up onto the lava gave an astonishing vista of the full extent of the Hallmundarhraun lava field stretching away into the distance, covered with Woolly Hair Moss and birch scrub. The bright sunlight lit beautiful patches of Pahoe-hoe basaltic lava flow, picking out the pronounced detailed patterning of the lava's smooth, undulating, ropy surface texture (Photo 8 - Pahoe-hoe lava-flow) (see left). Pahoe-hoe lava-flows are associated with low-effusion rate eruptions; the low flow-velocity of Pahoe-hoe lava's advance means that the skin formed by air-cooling is not disrupted during flow and can therefore maintain its smooth, unbroken, well-insulating surface. This contrasts with the other major type of basaltic lava-flow, given the Hawaiian name of A'a. A'a lava-flows are characterised by their rough, knobbly surface composed of fragments of clinker-rubble, formed as pasty lava is pulled apart by shearing and twisting during A'a lava's rapid advance, as distinct from Pahoe-hoe lava-flow's smooth, ropy surface texture (Photo 9 - Ropy textured Pahoe-hoe). The basaltic chemical composition of the 2 types of lava (Pahoe-hoe and A'a) is the same; the difference in their physical form reflects different lava-flow dynamics (see below right).

A wild camp in Upper Borgarfj÷r­ur:  we still needed to find somewhere acceptable to camp tonight; it was out of the question to consider returning to Varmaland to camp. We therefore continued further into Upper Borgarfj÷r­ur valley to investigate potential wild camp spots (click here for detailed map of route), documented for us by fellow travellers Kathy and Rick Howe from California (read the Howes' excellent Travelin' Tortuga Icelandic travelogues on their web site Icelandic Sagas and Land of the Sideways Sun). A couple of kms eastwards beyond Barnafoss, a rough gravelly area of lava was just about accessible from the road but was also very open and exposed. We therefore continued for a further 5kms to H˙safell Camping, but this was both obscenely expensive and even more overcrowded with Icelandic holiday-makers than Varmaland; even its web site publicity photographs were enough to repel! We moved on, still with no where identified to camp tonight. Our guide books suggested Fljˇtstunga Farm offered camping, located in remote wild country 6kms beyond the end of the tarmaced Route 518, on a single-track dirt road across the Hallmundarhraun lava field on the far side of the upper HvÝtß River. The remote VÝ­gelmir lava cave and Surtshellir lava tube were both on Fljˇtstunga Farm's property, and the farm organised tours of the caves. We set off, and just beyond H˙safell where Route 518 passed through an area of birch scrub, we chanced upon a lay-by, sheltered from the road by birch woodland; here was a potential wild camp spot if all else failed. Just beyond, we reached the road junction where the tarmac ended and Route 550 mountain road branched off southwards across the remote interior towards Thingvellir.

Route 518 continued ahead as a single-track dirt road crossing the upper reaches of the grey silt-laden HvÝtß, which here flowed in shallow, winding meanders across the lava wilderness of Geitlandshraun with the imposing snow-white mountainous massif of Langj÷kull filling the eastern horizon (Photo 10 - HvÝtß River, Geitlandsrhaun lava field and Langj÷kull) (see above left). Even in bright afternoon sunlight, it was a fearfully staggering vista. The dirt road crossed the dusty lava wasteland, running alongside an ochre-coloured scoria ridge (see left), and on the far side climbed steeply to cross the ridge; this descended even more steeply of the far side into a further desolate valley filled with the moss-covered Hallmundarhraun lava field. The rough road turned to cross a tributary of the HvÝtß, cutting across the lava field to reach the turning to Fljˇtstunga Farm up on the hill-side. It was a remote and isolated spot, but heart-sink: the camping symbol on Fljˇtstunga's sign was crossed out. We tried unsuccessfully to phone, but the number was no longer in use. We drove up, to be met by a security man who said we were 2 years too late; the place had changed hands and no longer offered accommodation or camping!

Disappointed, we returned across the lava field and over the ridge down to the bleak HvÝtß valley, pausing to photograph the magnificent view looking up to Langj÷kull. Back to the junction with Route 550, we returned along the tarmac lane and turned into the birch-wooded lay-by as our wild camp spot for tonight. Largely hidden from the lane and the occasional passing traffic, with plenty of cover from the dense birch woods, we set up camp (see below left) (Photo 11 - Upper Borgarfj÷r­ur Wild camp) and lit the barbecue for supper (see right). Despite failing to find camping out at Fljˇtstunga, the drive out there had given opportunity to explore the wilds of the upper HvÝtß valley with its views of Langj÷kull and the extensive reaches of the Hallmundarhraun and Geitlandshraun lava fields. Despite fears of being disturbed by late-arriving tourist cars pulling into the lay-by, we slept through without disturbance, and woke to a cloudier, cooler morning.

The lower Borgarfj÷r­ur valley to Borgarnes:  as we returned down the valley, Hraunfossar and Barnafoss were already swarming with tourists. Beyond Reykholt, we turned off on the more southerly Route 53 across broad open farming country of the lower HvÝtß and its meandering tributary, the GrÝmsß, towards Borgarnes  (click here for detailed map of route). The southern aspect of the valley was dominated by the shapely, craggy peaks of Hafnarfjall and Hrossatunga, outlying crests of the Skar­shei­i range (see right). The road ran alongside these peaks to approach the junction of the Ring Road (see below left). In busy traffic coming up from ReykjavÝk, we crossed the 3kms wide bridge over the open mouth of Borgarfj÷r­ur, where the now brisk NE wind was whipping up vicious looking turbulence. A modern commercial centre now sprawled along the Ring Road at the outskirts of Borgarnes, with filling stations, supermarkets, tourist-oriented consumer shops and banks. We pulled in here and stocked up with 4 days' provisions and used the ATM for cash. Having come this morning from the peaceful remoteness of the Upper HvÝtßdalur valley down to this modern world materialism, it felt as if we had suddenly been pitched into a different universe!

A blustery day in camp at Snorrasta­ir:  thankful to be leaving all this behind, we headed north on the Ring Road in heavy traffic, and even more thankfully turned off onto Route 54 towards SnŠfellsnes (click here for detailed map of route). In a couple of kms, we reached the tiny hamlet of Borg ß Mřrum, and paused at the tiny church by the historic farm where the father of Egil Skallagrimsson, hero of Egil's Saga, had first settled and which Snorri Sturluson later acquired by marriage. We continued across the rough pasture land which was criss-crossed with basalt outcrops and distant volcanic peaks, and beyond the ┴lftßrhraun lava field, eventually reached the turning to Snorrasta­ir Farm, the first of tonight's campsite options. 2 kms along the farm's driveway, the little campsite looked empty and inviting. This was the start-point for the walk across the Eldborgarhraun lava field to climb the scoria cone of the Eldborg Crater. We had been undecided between the campsite at Snorrasta­ir Farm and our other option at the Eldborg Hotel a little further north which was a Camping Card site. We phoned Eldborg for more information; the person answering assured us it was not busy, but it was another of those sites with showers at the neighbouring swimming pool charged extra at an expensive 700kr. The lady at the farmhouse confirmed the Snorrasta­ir price was 2,500kr all-inclusive of showers, kitchen and wi-fi. That decided it; we should stay here at Snorrasta­ir Farm.

Even inland at H˙safell this morning, the wind had increased, and at Borgarnes it was whipping up a swell on the fjord; but out here on the high, flat coastal plain exposed to the full force of winds blowing straight off the North Atlantic, a 10 m/s gale was forcefully blowing from the NE. There was absolutely no shelter or wind-break on the open, flat turfed camping area, and the old barn converted for facilities served to give no shelter from the gale blowing from the NE. With some difficulty struggling against the force of the wind, we pitched with George faced into the gale (see right) (Photo 12 - Snorrasta­ir Farm-Camping), and once inside out of the wind, the sun was warm. Quite remarkably, we initially had the campsite almost to ourselves, but as we prepared supper, more arrivals began, all clustering around us trying to shelter from the wind. Clearly these inexperienced tourists in hire cars had no idea of checking wind direction before trying to pitch their tents; they simply would not believe our attempts to demonstrate that the wind direction was from the NE, and that trying to huddle around the facilities barn would offer no shelter. Why not pitch your tent in the lee of your car, we suggested. But no. Eventually giving up the struggle against the force of the NE gale, they moved on! Late in the evening, the sun declined to the NW, giving us chance for some glorious late sun photographs against the silhouetted peaks of SnŠfellsnes (Photo 13 - SnŠfellsnes sunset) (see below left and right). We battened down for a rough night of blustery wind.

It was indeed a rough night, and this morning dawned heavily overcast with a brisk NE wind still blowing at 10 m/s. The forecast confirmed the decision to take a day in camp here today, and to climb the Eldborg Carter tomorrow when the wind speed would be less. The weather remained largely overcast all day and the gusting NE wind scarcely lessoned. Snorrasta­ir had proved a good choice of campsite for a rest day, with its full facilities, albeit straightforward, particularly the welcome relief of showers which were becoming something of a rarity! The site-wide wi-fi was also a welcome addition, and with its very reasonable all-inclusive price, Snorrasta­ir merited a +4 rating.

The Eldborg scoria cone crater:  the gales continued all night, buffeting George, with no let up now forecast for today's walk across Eldborgarhraun lava field and climb of the Eldborg (meaning Fire Castle) scoria cone crater. The walk began on a clear path following the Kaldß River past the home pastures of Snorrasta­ir Farm, to reach the edge of Eldborgarhraun lava field. This covers an area of some 32 square kms and had spread from eruptions some 5,000~8,000 years ago from a short SW~NE fissure. The Eldborg scoria spatter cone, exceptionally symmetrical in shape, formed during an eruption from a circular vent along the fissure that had caused the lava field. Regular crater walls built up around the vent in thin layers of lava, forming a narrow edge all around the conical scoria crater, which now stands 60m above the surrounding lava field, slightly oval in shape, 200m in diameter and 50m deep inside.

The path turned way from the river and threaded a way through the dense and otherwise impenetrable birch scrub vegetation which now covers the lava field, with a ground cover of Bilberry, Crowberry and Bearberry. The birch scrub stood head height, meaning that the cone crater only occasionally came into view as the path rose across higher areas of lava (see left). The path wound a way for some 3kms through this maze of impenetrable birch scrub, reaching a mini-crater slightly apart from the older main Eldborg crater, and built up of scoria clinker rubble. This was the site of a second and younger, smaller and perhaps more explosive eruption resulting in A'a lava, the other major type of basaltic lava-flow. There was now a clear view ahead of the main Eldborg crater, the walls of which looked formidably vertical, rising 60m above the surrounding birch scrub-covered lava. But we could make out a clear path rising diagonally across the near walls, and figures standing on the crater rim way above (see above left) (Photo 14 - Eldborg Crater). The path now passed the mini-crater, and climbed steps cut into the lava to cross a less distinct subsidiary crater where ropy patterned Pahoe-hoe lava-flows were more evident (Photo 15 - Pahoe-hoe lava flow) (see above right). The wind was now blowing more strongly, at times making it difficult to maintain balance. We had been well-sheltered crossing the main lava field among the birch scrub.

We now reached the foot of the main crater wall. Steps cut into the lava helped to climb the lower part, then a safety chain gave some security to haul up the much steeper higher sections. The sharply angular projections of lava gave good footing, but the main path was warm smooth by the 100s who daily scale this route up to the crater's rim (Photo 16 - Climbing Eldborg Crater) (see left). With the aid of the safety chain, we scrambled a way up to emerge onto the crater rim, no more than 2 m wide, to stand gazing down into the deep abyss of the crater whose inner walls dropped sheer into its depths (Photo 17 - Crater rim) (see right). The jagged, brittle summit wall around Eldborg's 200m diameter oval crater rim were now sealed off as a safety measure, but the distant views across the crater's lava walls looking over nearer mountains towards the peak of SnŠfellsnes crowned by its glacier were simply magnificent (see below left) (Photo 18 - SnŠfellsnes glacier). We stood now alone taking our photographs across the gulf of the crater with its lava walls (see left) Photo 19 - Eldborg Crater rim), then gingerly began the steep descent, thankful for the security of the safety chain. Edging our way down, we reached the foot of what had felt the near-vertical cone wall, here able to stand to admire the view looking down over the subsidiary crater below and the separate mini-crater set further over (see below right) (Photo 20 - Subsidiary craters).

Back across the side of the scoria subsidiary crater down to a paths junction, we cut across on a side-path and up the slope of scoria clinkers making up the smaller cone. This provided a vividly marked contrast between the slow-moving Pahoe-hoe lava-flows that had accumulated around the eruption and had built up to create Eldborg's cone; while here at the separate and later mini-crater, the cone was formed of loose, small pieces of rubble and airy, light pumice clinker, associated with classic A'a lava-flow. We climbed the slope to the crater rim for the views looking back across the subsidiary crater to the main Eldborg cone (Photo 21 - A'a lava) (see below right). Regaining the main path, we began the long return walk through the birch scrub-covered Eldborgarhraun lava field (see below left), which at least gave some shelter from the wind that had increased in intensity. Back at George, the wind made it difficult to open the doors without risk of slamming. We settled up with the farmer's wife and asked about the lava field; it was part of Snorrasta­ir's land, where the farm had bore holes for geothermal hot water, but the scrub-land had no other use than for grazing sheep.

The expensive and mediocre Eldborg Hotel Camping:  after 2 nights at the well-appointed and good value Snorrasta­ir farm-camping, we now drove 25kms north for a night at Eldborg Hotel Camping (click here for detailed map of route). We knew this had no showers, (at least we were not prepared to pay 700kr each for showers at their swimming pool), its only advantage being that it accepted payment by Camping Card. The now powerful headwind made driving around Route 54 unsteady, yet even so the irresponsible young tourists in hire-cars still hassled from behind and sped past dangerously in the face of oncoming traffic. We turned off along Eldborg's driveway across the flat moorland, to reach the unsightly, ugly concrete bunker of a hotel. The rough, grassy camping field alongside was thankfully almost empty, and in the now really strong NE gale blowing over from the inland mountains, the thick spruce and birch hedge across the middle of the field at least provided an effective wind-break. A German couple in a camping-car filling the middle space had no objection to our pitching alongside in the lee of the only section of hedge within reach of the one and only power socket; with some difficulty battling against the gale, we settled in (see below right).

We walked over to the huge concrete bunker masquerading as a hotel to book in, to be treated to an utterly indifferent and unresponsive non-welcome from the girl at the hotel reception; if such a Why should I bother to serve you? attitude represented the standard of service expected of such a hotel, it spoke volumes about the place! We insisted on her showing us the camping facilities, limited to 2 WCs and a hand basin in a dingy, underground dungeon beneath the hotel, along with a wash-up sink and electric ring passing for a 'kitchen'. For all this substandard service and mediocre facilities, they had the nerve to charge 1,200kr/person plus 1,000kr for electricity (showers in their swimming pool were 700kr each extra). We paid by Camping card. When it came later to writing up Eldborg Hotel's review, we tried telephoning the hotel and received a similarly inhospitable, non-responsive response! The place was given a generous -2 rating.

The wind continued unabated, blowing violently if you stepped beyond the shelter of the hedge; tucked in behind the wind-break, George was snug as we cooked supper. The following morning, with the wind still forecast as 7 m/s today, we decided to take a rest day here in spite of the place's inadequacies, and review things tomorrow. The neighbouring camping-car departed and we moved George fully into the shelter of the spruce hedge. This morning we discovered that the campsite's basement WCs were in a disgustingly filthy state. At reception we demanded to know from the hotel staff if this was the normal standard offered in the hotel, and if not, why were campers discriminated against. The girl hastily set to cleaning the loos, emptying bins and re-filling paper towel and loo-roll holders. The gale continued to blow all day, but the forecast showed a gradual reduction tomorrow and return to a more gentle 3 m/s on Tuesday.

Ger­uberg Basalt Columns:  the following morning was bright, and as forecast the wind had reduced to 5 m/s. We returned to the main Route 54 and almost opposite, a farm drive dirt track led inland sign-posted for Ger­uberg and Rau­amelur. The trackway led in a short distance to the Ger­uberg Basalt Columns, a 2kms long shattered escarpment of grey, 50m tall, hexagonal and square columns with a skirt of broken blocks at the foot of the cliffs, the longest and most perfect set of such basalt pillars in the country (see left). We stopped at a parking area and climbed up the slope to the foot of the huge columns which towered overhead. But the natural grandeur of this wonderful feat of nature was tarnished by the silly antics of crowds of tourists swarming all over the cliffs and the skyline above the pillars. For such folk, the only passing relevance of this magnificent natural phenomenon was to form an incidental backdrop for their 'selfies'. But fortunately, true to form, the tourists' span of attention typically was so brief that within moments, they had all rushed off in their hire-cars to sully the next 'attraction', leaving us in peace to admire in wonder the Ger­uberg Basalt Columns. We stood amid the Bilberry and Crowberry (see below right) at the foot of the parade of columns, admiring their majesty, and contemplating their formation as the cooling basaltic lava cracked into such regular patterns on such a scale. From this perspective, we took our photos in the clear morning sunshine looking along the line of the columnar cliff escarpment; some of the pillars were even leaning outwards, separated from the walls of the cliffs (see above right) (Photo 22 - Ger­uberg Basalt Columns). This was nature at its most spectacular here at Ger­uberg. A further km along the trackway, brought us to the abandoned farm of Ytri-Rau­amelur, and its little corrugated metal chapel standing on a slope surrounded by a hedge of birches (see left). From here we could look back along the Ger­uberg escarpment stretching away into the distance.

The Harbour Seal colony at YtrÝ-Tunga beach:  re-joining the main Route 54 (click here for detailed map of route), we turned westwards across the green coastal strip, passing modern working farms set against the backdrop of elegantly sculpted corries of mighty Hafursfell towering above. The road swung inland away from the coast but running parallel with the mountainous spine of the SnŠfellsnes peninsula which was now dominated by the grey peaks of Ljˇsufj÷ll. The now wide and remarkably flat, green coastal farming plain stretched away to the distant coast and inland to the spine of mountains which culminated in the peak of SnŠfellsnes capped with its glacier (see left). At the Vegamˇt service station road junction, Route 56 branched off to Stykkishˇlmur on the peninsula's north coast; Route 54 continued westwards turning back towards the coast. Here we turned off down to YtrÝ-Tunga beach, but so regrettably had the tourist hordes. Our reason for venturing off the main road down to this beautiful stretch of wild beaches and golden sands surrounded by rounded volcanic boulders, was to find the colony of Harbour Seals that bask on the rocks along this coast-line. On such a bright, sunny day, we were not sure whether the seals would be out of the water. But as we walked along the magnificent beach, and scrambled over the rocks at the far end, sure enough there were 2 pairs of Harbour Seals basking by the water's edge on flat rocks (see right) (Photo 23 - Harbour Seals at YtrÝ Tunga). Much smaller than Grey Seals, Harbour Seals are the most common seal species in Icelandic waters, and can be recognised by their shorter, be-whiskered 'teddy bear' snouts. They live on fish and are accomplished divers, feeding at depths of 30~50m. They are sociable animals, gathering in groups to bask on the shore-line. We positioned ourselves for photographs of the seals, as they lay basking unconcernedly on the rocks no more than 5~10m from us (Photo 24 - Basking Harbour Seal); for our Seals Photo Gallery, click on Harbour Seals of YtrÝ-Tunga. But the peace of the setting was shattered by the arrival of a whole busload of tourists making an unbelievable racket. Not surprisingly the seals flopped over into the water and swam off, their shiny black heads just visible in the water (Photo 25- Swimming seal). Why such folk come here remains a mystery: they clearly have no interest in or appreciation of the natural surroundings and wild-life, and with all their noise and disturbance, they ruin whatever it is they do come to see. That regrettably is the story of modern Iceland, whose unique natural beauty is progressively being destroyed by the get-rich-quick greed of the mass tourism industry.

We walked slowly back over the rocks, to photograph the distant snow-capped peak of SnŠfellsnes against the foreground of shore-side Marram Grass (see left) (Photo 26 - SnŠfellsnes peak from YtrÝ Tunga), as ignorant, ill-mannered tourists, too self-obsessed even to show any awareness of others, wandered blithely in front of our cameras. Further along, we stood quietly by a side beach photographing Dunlins (see right) (Photo 27 - Dunlin) and Ringed Plovers busily pecking away at the water's edge, as tourists wandered indifferently past.

B˙­ir church and the B˙­arhaun lava field:  back to the main road, we continued westwards in bright afternoon sunshine (click here for detailed map of route). The road over the flat, wide coastal strip ran alongside the wonderfully sculpted mountainous escarpment of the SnŠfellsnes spine, with watercourses cascading over the brim of cliffs and sunlight picking out all the details of the crags. A further 20kms along around B˙­avÝk Bay, we reached the point where the partly unsurfaced Route 54 branched off over a pass on the mountainous spine to ËlafsvÝk; just beyond a turning led down to the former fishing and trading hamlet of B˙­ir. The trading settlement was abandoned in the early 19th century, and all that remains now is the tiny wooden church and nearby isolated inn-hotel, standing at the edge of the B˙­ahraun lava field. B˙­ir's original name was Hraunh÷fn, meaning Lava-field Harbour.

We turned off onto the single-track lane which led across the lava field, past the hotel, and ended at the tiny, black-tarred wooden B˙­ir church (see left). The present church is a reconstruction of the original 1703 church. More impressive than the simple little church was the turf-topped lava-block wall surrounding the graveyard. But again, the tourist hordes had got here before us, wandering aimlessly around the church; they were even clambering pointlessly onto the turf-topped wall. Having taken our photos of the church, we moved George back to park near the hotel so that we could walk back along the lane to admire the lava field, backed by the glorious view of the SnŠfellsnes peak and glacier (see right) (Photo 28 - SnŠfellsnes above B˙­ahraun), and B˙­ir church alongside the lava field (see below right). The B˙­ahraun lava field had flowed originally from the nearby B˙­arklettur crater, and now forms a low area of wonderfully shaped lava formations and fissures, all covered with vegetation and moss (Photo 29 - B˙­ahraun fissures) (see left). A little further back from the coast by a prominent fissure (see below left), we found a small patch of Autumn Gentians (Gentianella amarella) still largely in bud (Photo 30 - Autumn Gentian) (see below left). We also noted a flat area just off the road as a possible wild camp spot with beautiful Grass of Parnassus growing in profusion among the lava boulders (see below right).

The outrageously over-priced and sub-minimally equipped Snjofell Travel Service Camping at Arnarstapi:  Route 574 continued westwards, rounding a high shoulder of the SnŠfellsnes mountainous spine, and ahead the fullest view so far of the SnŠfellsnes peak and glacier opened up before us. All day on our westward drive along the southern coastline of SnŠfellsnes, this view had dominated the distant sky-line. The road continued around Brei­avÝk Bay passing farms, and ahead the murky mass of the gloomily shady subsidiary peak of Botnsfjall blotted out further views of the glacier capping the main SnŠfellsnes massif. Parked cars just off the road marked the start of the path up the mountainside of Botnsfjall to the fissure-gorge of Rau­feldsgjß. But, weary after a long day, and still uncertain about where we should camp tonight, we left this for another day, and continued to the turning down to Arnarstapi. It may long ago have been a trading post, but today Arnarstapi was clearly a holiday-village, with a mass of holiday homes spread across the flat, green foreshore.

We had earlier phoned Snjofell Travel Service guest-house-camping at Arnarstapi, as a potential campsite for tonight, only to discover what an exploitative tourist rip-off this was. The woman answering openly admitted that the only facilities were WCs and cold water; no showers, no kitchen, and no hot water, and for this they were charging 3,000kr plus 1,000 for power. But we had so far found no viable wild camp spot, and a quick tour of the village showed that clearly there was no potential for wild camping amid the holiday homes of Arnarstapi. Given therefore that we wanted to walk the Arnarstapi~Hellnar cliff-top coastal path tomorrow, there was nothing for it but to face the outrageously over-priced and sub-minimal facilities at Snjofell Travel Service.

Not prepared to pay the silly price for electricity, we positioned ourselves on the far side, well away from all the Icelandic holiday-makers and tourists in hired campers clustered around the facilities hut and one and only power point, and pitched by the boundary hedge looking up to the mountainous massif of Stapafell towering above us (see below left). We just had 2 nights' worth of food left in the fridge, and after a hot day heating was not an issue. Inspection of the facilities showed just how limited they were. A lad came round after our barbecue supper to collect payment. We were all prepared to raise vehement objections to the excessively high cost and minimal facilities, but in fact the lad, a summer worker from Portugal, took the wind from our sails: he came straight out with a statement about the campsite owner's monopolistic charges and complacency about providing adequate facilities with the never-ending influx of tourists. He then surprised us further by volunteering to charge us only 2,000kr as seniors and as if we were in a tent. So honour was served and we duly paid 2,000kr for our night's stay.

The Arnarstapi~Hellnar cliff-top coastal path:  a grey and mistily moist start to the day, but gradually the sky brightened, even showing signs of the cloud breaking. Down through the village, we parked by Arnarstapi's little harbour which was surrounded by lava formations eroded by tidal action (Photo 31 - Coastal lava formations). The harbour walls themselves were constructed from blocks of black lava (see right) (Photo 32- Arnarstapi harbour). The sun was now bright in an almost clear sky as we set out along the cliff-top path for the 7kms coastal walk along to Hellnar and back.

The path followed all the indentations and clefts eroded into the basalt cliffs by the power of waves (see left) (Photo 33 - Eroded cliffs), passing a small cliff-top pond where gulls splashed in the water. Inland, the bulky pyramid of Stapafell towered above the village. Close to the cliff edge, we could peer down at the many Kittiwakes nesting on ledges; this year's young birds were by now almost fully grown (see right) (Photo 34 - Juvenile Kittiwakes). We followed the cliff-top path around each of the indentations and clefts, passing a rocky, carved out sea blow-hole; we could not see down into the hole's depths, but could hear the sea water sloshing around in the bottom. Southerly gales create fountains of sea water blowing up through these sea-holes. A clump of Scots Lovage grew on the hole's rim. Cormorants perched on low rocks with typical wing-hanging pose (Photo 35 - Cormorant), while offshore a cluster of stumpy lava pillars provided nesting ledges for more Kittiwakes (see below left and right). Looking ahead along the line of the cliffs, part of the Gatklettur rock-arch came into view, but it was not until we reached a diversion from the main path to a cliff-top wooden look-out point that we could see the full scale of this remarkable masterpiece of erosion (Photo 36 - Gatklettur rock-arch). Closest to the shore, an original rock-arch had collapsed leaving just a gap, then the slender main arch spanned across with clear water beneath. Further out, wave action had carved a smaller hole in the projecting spine of rock. What a spectacle, backed by the array of stumpy rock pillars passed earlier, and the distant misty coast-line of southern SnŠfellsnes stretching along the horizon (see below right).

Clearly the numbers of tourists treading the cliff-top path had caused serious problems of erosion, and as a result the path had now been reinforced with hard rubber mesh covered with gravel, a non-intrusive protective measure along the main body of cliff-tops. Along this stretch, we found the first of the Gentians that populate the Arnarstapi cliff-top turf: purple Field Gentians (Gentianella campestris) (Photo 37 - Field Gentian) (see below right), and were soon sprawled out on the close-cropped turf to photograph them. Continuing westwards, another side-path led to a look-out point where in both directions a parade of outward curving hexagonal vertical basalt columns graced the line of cliffs (see below left) (Photo 38 - Basalt columns) along with a huge sea cave to one side (see below right) (Photo 39 - Sea cave). A little further, a foot-bridge spanned a watercourse running down to the cliff-edge and dropping into a cleft. Beyond this, a rocky spine stretched out into the sea, again providing nesting ledges for Kittiwakes. All along this coastline, the line of basalt cliffs was eroded into varying rock formations of clefts and off-shore pillars, with Kittiwakes soaring above the cliffs.

The path now reached a gate marking the end of the cliff-top turf meadowland, and beyond this point the on-going path wound a tortuous way over and through a rough lava field (see below left) (Photo 40 - Lava field) with even more fantastically shaped lava formations dropping down at the cliff-edge (Photo 41 - Coastal lava formations) (see below right). The stony path climbed up through the lava field which was overgrown with Woolly Hair Moss (Photo 42 - Hellnar lava field) (Racomitrium lanuginosum), winding a way past lava pillars and hollows, eventually emerging on the far side in sight of the hamlet of Hellnar, once a large fishing village but now reduced to a few tourist cafÚs. Hellnar had been the birthplace of Gu­rÝ­ur Ůorbjarnardˇttir who, with her husband Ůorfinnur Karlsefni, had been companions of Leifur EirÝksson on the expedition which discovered the North American continent around 1000 AD; they had attempted to found a colony  at Vinland, where Gu­rÝ­ur had given birth to a son Snorri Ůorfinnson, the first European born in America who later, after the Vinland settlement's failure, returned to Iceland and settled at GlaumbŠr. A board-walk crossed the last of the lava field, dropping down to the remains of Hellnar's little harbour and the large sea-cave of Ba­stofuhellir cut into the base of the basalt cliffs (Photo 43 - Ba­stofuhellir sea-cave), and once used by villagers as a bathing cave. Up the steep hillside, past all the tourists gathered at one of Hellnar's cafÚs, we continued up the road past the full car park trying to find the SnŠfellsnes National Park Information Centre.

It was by now 2-45pm; we had spent 3 hours on the outward walk with all the cliff-top photographic interest of basalt formations and wild flora. Reaching another cafÚ, we learned that the Information Centre had moved, so we returned downhill to begin the return walk. Keeping up a good pace, we re-crossed the lava field passing swarms of tourists wandering indifferently though this natural wonderland, and reached the gate leading to the cliff-top meadowland for the return path along to Arnarstapi harbour and its lava formations.

Around the western tip of SnŠfellsnes:  not prepared to tolerate a second night at Snjofell Camping, we set off to drive around the western tip of SnŠfellsnes peninsula to camp at Hellissandur on the peninsula's northern coast (click here for detailed map of route). Although this would mean returning tomorrow for the planned visits around this route, it was only 35kms and preferable to Snjofell. Beyond the road turning to Hellnar, as Route 574 swung NW-wards around the far SW tip of SnŠfellsnes, a bleak and barren lava-scape opened out before us. To our right, the slopes of the 1,446m high SnŠfellsj÷kull peak extended upwards towards its glacial snow-cap, and below the slopes, endless lava fields. Even on a bright afternoon, this was a fearsomely bleak and desolate wilderness stretching away as far as the eye could see, and dotted with clusters of outlying cone-craters. Although covered with low vegetation, this entire landscape was barren supporting no farming. The only thing to be seen were tourist cars gathered at parking areas. The road continued northwards, swinging inland past the Sßxholl Crater which we should visit tomorrow. Finally reaching the flatter north coast and the shores of Brei­afj÷r­ur, the road turned back eastwards along the coast, passing the huge 412m high radio mast (one of Western Europe's tallest structures) of Iceland's main 189kHz long wave transmitter which broadcasts the national shipping forecast.

Hellissandur Camping:  reaching the large and scattered village of Hellissandur, we found the municipal campsite in the western outskirts, a flat grassy circuit tucked under the lava field. A cluster of mega-buses monopolised one end, but we found a space by an electric point next to a friendly German couple in a smaller camper (see below left) (Photo 44 - Hellissandur Camping). Facilities were limited but at least there were showers and wash-up sinks both with plenty of hot water. In that sense it was good value at 1,100kr/person (750kr seniors' reduction) plus 500kr for electricity, and they accepted Camping Cards. Inevitably therefore it was very popular, and we reserved the pitch to drive over to the nearby NI filling station and mini-market for essential supplies. Back over at the campsite, we settled in, both exhausted after such a rewarding day. The campsite gradually filled to capacity tonight with both Icelandic holiday-makers and tourist hire-campers. Being so crowded, the site was inevitably noisy even after 10-30 when we turned in.

SnŠfellsnes' geological history:  the following morning was more determinedly overcast with little sign of the cloud breaking. This morning we enjoyed welcome showers after several days of poor campsites without showers. Reserving our pitch, we set off on Route 574 to return around the western SnŠfellsnes coast (click here for detailed map of route), for today's series of visits to geological features around the lava fields. Down to the SW corner of SnŠfellsnes, we turned off to the SnŠfellsnes National Park Information Centre which we now had discovered had relocated from Hellnar to the abandoned farm of Malßriff. Here we learned more of the detailed geology of the SnŠfellsnes active volcanic area, which lies considerably further west of Iceland's main zone of volcanism located on a SW~NE line across the central part of the island along the tectonic plates boundary of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (see right). The central active volcano of SnŠfellsnes and its subsidiary vents in the vicinity have erupted 20 times during the past 11,000 years, including 3 very powerful Plinian eruptions, 1,800, 4,000 and 8,000 years ago. Plinian eruptions are the most violent of explosive eruptions, ejecting huge columns of pulverised volcanic debris, pumice, ash and volcanic gases high into the stratosphere, as happened with Vesuvius in 79 AD and described in the letters of Pliny (hence the eruption's name). In spite of there having been no eruptions in recent years, it is still an active volcano beneath the SnŠfellsj÷kull glacial cap.

The SnŠfellsnes area's geology is very diverse with formations from almost every era of Iceland's long history of volcanism: lava from the Tertiary Period (3~16 million years ago) forms the underlying bed rock layer, whose porous make-up prevents the accumulation of surface water; resting on this are strata of rocks formed beneath glaciers during the Ice Ages, and the surface layers are lava fields from the post-glacial period, younger than 11,000 years old. SnŠfellsnes volcanic crater is best known as the fictional setting for Jules Verne's adventure novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth, in which the hero, German geologist Professor Lidenbrock from Hamburg, descends into the crater of the dormant volcano under its glacier with his nephew Axel and an Icelandic guide; after fantastic subterranean adventures, they eventually emerge at the Mediterranean volcano of Stromboli. These apparently barren lava fields covering such an extensive area of the peninsula's western tip are state lands, since 2001 covered by the SnŠfellsnes National Park. The only productive farming usage for the land is for sheep grazing, although there are now few remaining farms. The lava fields once had a greater covering of vegetation, but during the 19~20th centuries this was largely stripped by over-grazing.

The Rau­feldsgjß fissure-gorge on Botnsfjall:  we continued SE-wards, around to the southern coast to turn off to the parking area for the Rau­feldsgjß fissure-gorge. The approach track led up the lower eastern slopes of Botnsfjall towards the vertically scarred cliff-face, which was cleaved by a steep, narrow cleft from the bottom of which a stream issued (Photo 45 - Rau­feldsgjß fissure-gorge) (see above left and right). Today the stream was little more than a trickle, but the scale of the lower gorge-cleft showed that, in spring time spate, an impassable torrent would discharge from the base of the vertical cliff-fissure. The track led up into the base of the gorge, from where it was possible to scramble up the rocks of the stream bed into the tightly enclosed lower chasm of the claustrophobic fissure (see left) (Photo 46 - Rau­feldsgjß fissure-gorge); this narrowed to 2m wide with imposing, moss-covered cliff-walls looming several hundreds of metres high on both sides, and the stream issuing from higher in the tight fissure. Balanced on the stream bed rocks, in the fissure-cleft's confined space scarcely a shoulder's width between the rock walls, and with some difficulty in the poor light, we tried to get photographs which did justice to this remarkable feat of erosive nature (Photo 47 - Rau­feldsgjß fissure-gorge).

Lˇndrangar rock pillars and Dj˙palˇnssandur and DritvÝk beaches:  with the weather still gloomily overcast and light poor, we returned around the south coast past Arnarstapi under the brooding shadow of Stapafell, to cross the Hellnahraun lava field past the turning down to Hellnar. A short distance further across the bleak Hßahraun lava field, we paused at a parking area from where a footpath led up to a viewpoint overlooking the 2 massive Lˇndrangar lava rock-pillar formations standing 75m high atop the cliff-edge (Photo 48 - Lˇndrangar rock-pillars) (see right), one of them shaped in silhouette like a church, both remnants of a basalt cinder cone. The foreground cliffs provided nesting ledges for Kittiwakes. Continuing around the coast, we turned off onto Route 672 across the magnificent BeruvÝkurhraun lava field, with jagged, crusty outcrops poking up from the main body of surface lava which was now covered with layers of flourishing layers of Woolly Hair Moss (Racomitrium lanuginosum) (Photo 49 - BeruvÝkurhraun lava field) (see left). The road ended at a parking area filled with tourist cars and tour buses. Paths passing though larger, jagged outcrops of fantastically shaped lava formations, led steeply down to Dj˙palˇnssandur and DritvÝk beaches (Photo 50 - Jagged lava outcrops). Down at the grey, volcanic pebbly beach, the rusted, twisted remains of the British trawler Epine from Grimsby, wrecked off this coast in March 1948, lay scattered across the beach. Just 5 of the 19 crew were rescued by local men managing to get a line aboard the stricken boat. The National Park map showed that all along this western coast of SnŠfellsnes, there had been a history of wrecked trawlers, several of them British, the most recent being the Svanborg in 2001. In such grey, overcast weather, the beach was a gloomily eerie place, whose peace was disturbed by the racket created by moronic tourists milling around. We explored the grotesquely-shaped lava formations which spilled down the beach right to the water's edge (see right) (Photo 51 - Dj˙palˇnssandur beach), and scrambled back up to the path to the parking area.

Hˇlarhˇlar Craters cluster and Sßxholl Crater:  continuing further north across the desolate lava wilderness, we turned off again onto a dirt road leading towards the Hˇlarhˇlar cluster of craters. 2 kms along led us directly into the vast open amphitheatre of the Berudalur explosion crater with views looking back at the SnŠfellsnes peak, its glacial cap now in cloud (see below left) (Photo 52 - Berudalur explosion crater). Back to the main road, we turned off again to the jagged topped, Sßxholl Crater, resulting from an explosive eruption some 3~4,000 years ago. The crater cone was formed of pure scoria, light, airy pumice clinker and ash, with a metal rung step-way curving around its side (see below right) leading up to the remains of the 100m high crater rim This was certainly the easy way to the top; without this step-way, it would have been an exhausting scramble causing much erosion of the friable scoria. The jagged lava surround of the crater rim formed a more vivid impression of this form of phreatic eruption crater (Photo 53 - Sßxholl Crater rim) (see below left) than others we had climbed such as Hverfjall at Mřvatn. From its rim we had distant panoramic views across the Neshraun lava flow extending down to the coast, across to the larger nearby crater of Stori-Sßxholl Crater, and inland to the east, the main bulky body of SnŠfellsnes itself, its glacial topping now covered by cloud.

We continued around the main road to Hellissandur on the north coast, and drove on to ËlafsvÝk to find the larger Kassim's supermarket for a provision re-stock. While here we took an exploratory look at ËlafsvÝk Camping at the eastern end of the village. Back along the coast, we settled back into our reserved spot at Hellissandur Camping. After such an overcast day, the sun amazingly broke through for a bright evening, as the campsite filled up again.

Skar­vÝk Beach and Ídver­arnes Head at NW tip of SnŠfellsnes:  the following day, the campsite gradually emptied of the grossly materialistic Icelandic mega-buses all towing their quad-bikes on trailers, leaving us to spend a peaceful morning in camp and luxuriating in hot showers. We departed early afternoon to return westwards and turn off on Route 579 (click here for detailed map of route). The single-track lane continued west, tarmaced for a couple of kms through ancient moss-covered lava fields as far as Skar­vÝk. Here dark grey basalt lava cliffs enclosed a small bay with golden sand beach (see right) (Photo 54 - Skar­vÝk Beach). We walked down to the beach to admire the cliffs; the basaltic lava at its original solidification had fractured into regular shaped blocks whose end surfaces showed on the cliff face (see below left). Today a gentle tide lapped against the foot of the basalt cliffs enclosing this sheltered cove, and for once we had this peaceful setting to ourselves. Beyond here, a very rough, narrow and unsurfaced trackway continued westwards, meandering through newer black lava fields. George bumped along slowly and in 3 kms reached a T-junction: left headed for Sv÷rtuloft cliffs and the tall lighthouse; we turned right for a further km to the rough track's end at Ídver­arnes Point with its squat orange lighthouse. This was the westernmost tip of SnŠfellsnes peninsula at 24║ west (see below right) (Photo 55 - Ídver­arnes Point), almost as far west as Lßtrabjarg. It felt even more like the end of the world, gazing out over the turf-covered lava, shore-side rocks and the calm Atlantic, for any sign of Orcas (Killer Whales) which can be seen in these waters. The cliffs on the distant northern side of Brei­afj÷r­ur were just about visible on the misty horizon, and closer at hand a lava-block-lined tunnel led down into the ancient well of Fßlki.

Rif fishing port and ËlafsvÝk Camping:  having taken our photos at Ídver­arnes, we returned slowly along the rough track, glad to pick up tarmac again at Skar­vÝk, and drove eastwards through Hellissandur to the little fishing port of Rif. Fishing boats equipped with cable drums for long-line fishing (Photo 56 - Long-line fishing boats) were moored around the harbour quays (see left). We had previously learnt the difference between long-line and hand-line fishing techniques at Su­ureyri (see our West Fjords travelogue). Juvenile Arctic Terns still learning to fly squatted in the road by the port (see below right); they must perfect their flying skills quickly now since in a month's time they will have to fly their trans-globe migration to Antarctica, that is if they survive being hit by vehicle in the meantime. Leaving Rif, we drove along the coast to the work-a-day fishing port of ËlafsvÝk and its campsite, which at 6-00pm was still not too busy. We selected a pitch by one of the few power-outlets in the second field (see below left). The site was clearly run by the same municipality as Hellissandur with the same cheery man calling round evenings for payment. The facilities were newer and well-designed for Icelandic conditions with a covered area with picnic tables for tent campers, spacious showers, plus a well-equipped kitchen. ËlafsvÝk campsite, like Hellissandur, merited a +4 grading. Just above the campsite, a small HEP generating station was fed by a pipeline descending from the high mountains which enclosed the site on 3 sides. The smell of fish from ËlafsvÝk fish-processing factory wafted over from the town. By the time we had cooked supper, the evening grew very chill, and the campsite filled to capacity as late-arriving tents and hire-campers swarmed in, with much noise and lack of awareness for other campers.

A day in camp at ËlafsvÝk Camping:  with the Icelandic Labour Day public holiday approaching, this morning we telephoned Stykkishˇlmur Camping about the forthcoming holiday weekend. Being within easy driving distance of the ReykjavÝk conurbation, it was inevitable that Stykkishˇlmur would be crowded with rowdy Icelandic holiday makers, leaving us in a quandary as to where we should camp this coming weekend. We decided in the meantime to take a day in camp today here at ËlafsvÝk. The campsite emptied leaving us in peace for a productive and restful day of mundane jobs catching up with writing. This evening the campsite soon filled up again.

Grundarfj÷r­ur fishing port on a gloomily grey morning:  a grey and sullenly overcast morning, and we were up early to make an early start today. Eastwards from ËlafsvÝk, Route 54 passed around GamlavÝk Bay and across the mouth of VallnavÝk Bay (click here for detailed map of route). Low, heavy cloud covered the SnŠfellsnes mountains towering unseen in the murk above. Along the shore of LßtravÝk Bay, ahead we could just about make out the misty outline of the bulky, shapely Kirkjufell which dominated the port of Grundarfj÷r­ur. Reaching Grundarfj÷r­ur, we turned off to investigate the local campsite set by the town swimming pool. But this was a very straightforward site, with basic facilities, and not really on our route. The sky was now very gloomy, making what should in fine weather have been the picture-postcard view of Kirkjufell across the fjord scarcely visible. What however was entertaining was the sight of forlorn-looking tourists from the cruise-ship anchored out in the bay, wandering aimlessly around the town, wet, bedraggled and totally ill-equipped for Icelandic weather conditions, and clearly puzzled at what they were doing here in this no-nonsense fishing port! We drove down to the harbour, but all the boats were out; in such gloomy weather, with low cloud obscuring the mountains enclosing the town, even we had to admit that there was nothing for it but to drive on.

The Berskjahraun lava field:  leaving Grundarfj÷r­ur, Route 54 passed across a mountainous shoulder of land and the mouths of Kolgrafafj÷r­ur and Hraunsfj÷r­ur, and ahead the spiky desolation of the Berskjahraun lava field extended across the plain between the coast and mountainous interior. This area of viscous, spattered A'a lava flow erupted from scoria craters on Bjarnarhafnarfjall some 4,000 years ago, and solidified into a lunar landscape of jagged rock, now covered with Woolly Hair Moss (Racomitrium lanuginosum) (Photo 57 - Berskjahraun lava field) (see above left and right). The curious name derives from Beserkers, sadistic warriors who fought like madmen and were hired as mercenaries in Viking times. According to the Eyrbyggja Saga, which relates tales of clan feuding in SnŠfellsnes, a late 10th century local farmer, Viga-Styr from Hraun brought 2 berserker warriors from Sweden to defend his property and work on his farm. But when one of them took a liking to Styr's daughter, he gave the Beserkers the seemingly impossible task of clearing a way through the rough lava field, as the condition for marrying his daughter. Unfortunately the Beserkers succeeded in tearing a passageway through the lava. Styr killed them both with the connivance of the Saga's leading character Snorri ١rgrÝmsson, and married his daughter to Snorri. Today a rough trackway, the Beserkjagata, can still be seen through the lava field, with 2 mounds said to be the Beserkers' graves. We paused at the junction where an unsurfaced side lane led off to Bjarnarh÷fn at the coast, to admire and photograph the magnificent spectacle of the lava field formations, and its fragile covering of Woolly Hair Moss, and to collect specimens of the light, frothy A'a lava. And even on the lava field's barren rubble, bright yellow Arctic Poppies (Photo 58 - Arctic Poppies) (see right) and patches of Arctic Thyme (see left) had managed to take root.

Bjarnarh÷fn farm-museum and Hßkarl fermented shark meat:  the turning to Bjarnarh÷fn led to the farm which houses the Bjarnarh÷fn Shark Museum, which documents the production of Hßkarl, dried fermented meat cubes from the Greenland Shark. In its raw state, the shark meat is laden with highly noxious toxins. To render it semi-edible, the Vikings had buried the flesh in sand for 2 months which decomposed the meat, releasing the toxic urea and trimethylamine oxide, and hung it to dry and cure for another 4 months. But the resultant so-called edible meat still reeks of ammonia, and is still a disgusting gastronomic experience. Just because the Viking settlers in Iceland may have had nothing better to eat than such evil-smelling, revoltingly nauseating stuff, it has now became an Icelandic piece of tourist machismo to taste Hßkarl. And the farm-museum at Bjarnarh÷fn dedicated to its production has now become a much-publicised stop-off for tour-buses, and obviously a profitable source of tourist income. It all sounded even worse than Surstr÷mming, of similar origin, and having tasted that in Sweden, we saw little point in repeating the objectionable experience here with Hßkarl, let alone visiting an obvious tourist trap, and continued across the magnificent Berskjahraun lava field.

Stykkishˇlmur fishing port:  Route 54 swung northwards up the length of the ١rsnes peninsula towards Stykkishˇlmur. In passing we called in at Skj÷ldur Community Centre Camping, a possible alternative to the municipal site at Stykkishˇlmur (which we knew would be packed with holiday-makers over the holiday weekend); but this looked a poor set up as well as being unduly expensive. By now, as we drove into the town of Stykkishˇlmur, the overcast conditions of earlier had given way to bright and sunny weather. We did a major, and very expensive provisions stock-up at the Bonus supermarket, and drove down to park at the harbour. With a population of 1,100, Stykkishˇlmur is the largest town in SnŠfellsnes. A place of early settlement, the town became an important and wealthy trading centre and fishing port for Brei­afj÷r­ur. Nowadays, with its inheritance of attractive, brightly coloured wooden harbour-side houses, its sheltered, warm climate, easy driving distance from the ReykjavÝk conurbation, and ferry-link across Brei­afj÷r­ur to Flatey and the West Fjords, Stykkishˇlmur has become a popular holiday resort and tourist destination. The town's harbour is now enclosed by a causeway built out to connect to the large protective off-shore island of S˙gandisey. Having parked by a harbour-side fish and chip stall, whose unconvincing smell wafted across the quay, we ambled around the harbour photographing the fishing boats in the bright sunshine (Photo 59 - Stykkishˇlmur fishing harbour) (see above right and left). The basalt walls of S˙gandisey enclosing the outer side of the harbour were lined with weathered columns. Just by the ferry dock, where the Baldur car-ferry crossed to Flatey and Bjarkalundur near to Flˇkalundur on the southern coast of the West Fjords, steps led up onto the turf-covered top of the rocky island with its squat lighthouse. From here, the view looking south across Stykkishˇlmur harbour, its colourful wooden houses backed by the distant misty mountains of the interior, was memorably photogenic (Photo 60 - Stykkishˇlmur and harbour) (see left and below right)) despite the gathering cloud. The outer side of the little island looked out NW-wards across Brei­afj÷r­ur's multitude of islets, with the distant West Fjords coastline just visible on the skyline.

Back down to the harbour, we looked around the attractive wooden houses of the old merchant town, most of which now were converted to museums and restaurants geared to extracting kronas from the tourists and holiday-makers who throng here. The museum that attracted us, mainly for its subject matter (but also for its free-entry!) was the Icelandic Eider Centre (Ă­arsetur ═slands). This showed a fascinating video on the farming of Eider ducks, and the gathering and processing of their down for its extraordinarily light, insulating properties. Samples of processed Eider down and finished bed cover products were on display. We drove back through the town up to Stykkishˇlmur's modernistic church (see left), set on a rocky hill overlooking Brei­afj÷r­ur. The church's interior was lit by 100s of suspended electric lights and dominated by a modern painting of Madonna and child seemingly floating in space (see below right). With nothing more to detain us in tourist-oriented Stykkishˇlmur, it was time to depart to find a campsite for tonight.

A return to Snorrasta­ir Farm-Camping:  the 2 local campsites were either over-crowded with holiday-making weekenders from ReykjavÝk with all their noise and materialistic paraphernalia, or basic and over-priced. We examined the map and took stock: it was only an hour's drive on Route 56 back over the peninsula spine to Snorrasta­ir Farm-Camping, which was conveniently on our route back to Borgarnes. A quick phone call confirmed that they were not overcrowded; their favourable response was that for them the public holiday was just an ordinary working day. Back along the ١rsnes peninsula (click here for detailed map of route), with a passing glance at the much-promoted hill of Helgafell, we returned around the end of the Berskjahraun lava field and turned south onto Route 56. Gaining height over the SnŠfellsnes spine gave clear views of how the viscous lava's spread was halted at a watercourse. Over the pass, we descended to the junction with Route 54 and turned back eastwards, the way we had come out to SnŠfellsnes a week ago across the broad coastal plain. Speeding tourist traffic was bothersome, as in now gloomy light we passed the turnings for Eldborg Hotel-Camping and Ger­uberg basalt cliffs, with the outline of the Eldborg Crater standing clear above the lava fields. Turning off to Snorrasta­ir Farm, the campsite was virtually empty (see left and below right); we selected a pitch at the far end of the camping field and walked over to the farm house to book in. As always, it was good to return to a place where we had enjoyed a peaceful stay a week ago.

War and Peace Museum documenting WW2 Allied naval bases at Hvalfj÷r­ur:  the campsite remained quiet last evening with just a few tents, and this morning we woke to a warm and sunny morning. The forecast showed days of heavy rain next week, and given this pattern of weather, we revised our planned schedule: today we should drive south to Hvalfj÷r­ur, and camp at Hafnarfj÷r­ur in the southern outskirts of ReykjavÝk as our base for visiting the capital, to make full use of the 2 days next week with albeit far from perfect weather on Monday and Wednesday. It was noon by the time we finally left Snorrasta­ir after another peaceful stay. South across the bleak flatlands of Mřrar, we re-joined the Ring Road at Borgarnes and again stopped at the Netto supermarket to re-stock with provisions. Continuing south across the Borgafj÷r­ur causeway-bridge (click here for detailed map of route), Route 1 rounded the shapely massif of Hafnarfjall, and busy with traffic returning to the capital on a Sunday afternoon, continued southwards across the rough coastal pastureland. Glad to leave the aggressively speeding ReykjavÝk-bound traffic, we turned off onto the more peaceful Route 47 for the 60kms detour around the long and mountain-enclosed inlet of Hvalfj÷r­ur. The long and lonely road around Hvalfj÷r­ur was once the main route from the capital to the north, until the opening in1998 of the 6kms long undersea toll-tunnel across the fjord-mouth at Akranes. Most traffic now speeds northward from ReykjavÝk via the tunnel, preferring this faster route's 1,000kr toll to the 60kms detour deep inland, leaving the Hvalfj÷r­ur road more peaceful.

Hvalfj÷r­ur (meaning Whale-fjord) was named by early settlers after the number of whales that once lived in the fjord. During the WW2 Allied occupation of Iceland however, the deep waters of the sheltered fjord were used as a naval base by both the British and Americans, and the War and Peace Museum part-way along Hvalfj÷r­ur's northern shore now documents the history of the naval supply bases built along the shores of the fjord. We pulled in at the museum, and the sight of the small campsite crowded with Icelandic holiday-making weekenders made us glad to have changed our plans about staying here. The small museum's entrance fee was expensive for the collection of wartime artefacts and archive photographs relating to the Hvalfj÷r­ur naval bases during the 1940~45 British and American occupation of Iceland. The Allies constructed naval bases both deep at the fjord's head and towards its mouth, with anchorages for warships and supply vessels. From the summer of 1941, Hvalfj÷r­ur was used for 18 months as an assembly area for merchant vessels from both Britain and USA gathering to sail in convoys north around Iceland through Arctic waters past Nordkapp to Murmansk to supply USSR with war materials. This continued until winter 1942 when the Arctic convoys sailed directly from Scotland. Hvalfj÷r­ur continued as a naval base for warships protecting the Atlantic convoys throughout the war. In winter 1940~41, the British battleship HMS Hood was anchored at Hvalfj÷r­ur before joining HMS Prince of Wales in the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck. Hood was sunk with the loss of 1,421 sailors in the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland in the naval battle with Bismarck in May 1941, before Bismarck herself was sunk by Royal Navy cruisers in the Atlantic. The naval supply bases built by British and Americans continued in use throughout the war, with a fuel depot at Mi­sandur in the head of the fjord, and stores for supplies and ammunition, and repair workshops including floating dock at HvammsvÝk and HvÝtanes on the fjord's southern coast. The American oil depot at Mi­sandur was sold to the Icelandic government at the end of the war.

Having viewed the museum's displays, we continued our journey around the inner depths of Hvalfj÷r­ur (click here for detailed map of route). Route 47 wound a way towards the fjord's inner head, passing the site at Mi­sandur of the wartime oil storage depot, now a modern oil terminal (see above left). Around the lonely fjord head at Botnsdalur, where the Botnsß River flowed in from the 200m high Glymur waterfalls, the road began the winding return route along the southern shore, following every inlet. Normally a lonely route, today on the holiday weekend, quite a number of ReykjavÝk-bound cars had taken the longer route around Hvalfj÷r­ur. Route 47 passed the site of the former naval stores and repairs depots, now occupied by holiday-homes, and eventually reached the junction with Route 1 Ring Road at the southern mouth of Akranes undersea tunnel. We joined the Ring Road, now very busy with returning holiday traffic, to approach the outer suburb township of MosfellsbŠr, and the start of the Greater ReykjavÝk conurbation.

Coming next:  we shall now spend a couple of days in Iceland's capital city ReykjavÝk, including a visit to the Al■ing, Iceland's Parliament, and onwards to the Hengil geothermal area around Hverager­i, the volcanic plain of Ůingvellir astride the Mid Atlantic Ridge and site of the medieval Al■ing Assembly, and Geysir spouting hot springs and Gullfoss waterfalls, Iceland's south coast at Eyrarbakki, and Selfoss. But more of that in the next edition which will be published soon.

Next edition to be published quite soon

Sheila and Paul

Published:  2 June 2019

 

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