Iceland summer 2014: Akureyri to Borgarnes and Esja

Suppose I should update the blog for the last three days…

Tuesday

It was grey and rainy and horrible and I’d driven a previously unimaginable distance the day before. I had a lazy day which consisted of eating, a trip into Akureyri town centre to see what I missed on Sunday (not much) and lust after some orange Cintamani mittens. By the way, I love that my tablet offers the word slurp before it realises I’m trying to write Akureyri. In the evening I went to the pool again. Mistake! The biggest hot pot was closed, the main pool was too cold, the beach pool was both too cold and too shallow to fully submerge myself to get out of the wind and the two hot pots were too hot and too crowded. They reopened the big hot pot but I suspect it had been closed because it was too cold, as I discovered when I’d been curled up in it for ten minutes and started shivering. So the pool wasn’t any fun.

Wednesday

I drove back down south, another four hour drive along the Ring Road. I actually took it more slowly than I did on Sunday. I stopped for photos everywhere I spotted a layby or a picnic spot. Unfortunately, they don’t really signpost these so often by the time you’ve spotted them, you have no chance of stopping in time. I stopped at a hamlet in the middle of nowhere at Varmahlid because the car was making a noise like a window wasn’t properly shut and on a whim, I ran into their little supermarket. At last! Plain Milka and plastic cheese slices! I thought these were basic supplies but I haven’t been able to find them in over a week!

I stopped at Bluönduós for lunch but I wasn’t very hungry. I hadn’t been very hungry at breakfast either, which was why I’d accidentally walked off with more rolls than usual.

I stopped at Thingeyrar which was 6km up the best and smoothest gravel road I’ve ever driven on because the church there is supposed to be quite special. It’s a lovely little church but I could have done without the one-to-one guided tour. It has a blue wooden ceiling with 1000 gold stars on it and there are 100 panes in each of 10 windows. 1000 again, because Christianity came to Iceland in 1000AD. The church itself only dates back to 18-something but everything inside is older. The altarpiece is from about the 16th century and was made for a monastery in Nottingham. My nice guide was very vague on the details of how it ended up in a church in the Icelandic countryside.

My next major stop was at Ósar, also about 6km out ofy way. I went to the Icelandic Seal Centre to see if I could see seals sunbathing but it was the wrong tide. It was also really windy and really cold. Also I learnt how inconsistent Icelanders are with their English pronunciation. Sheep are seep but seals are shiels.

I made a couple of stops on my way over the last bit of mountain, paused in Borgarnes and then headed on to Akranes where I planned to spend the night. The trouble is, Akranes isn’t such a nice place. It’s very concretey, very industrial, very functional. I had a look at their famous 1km stretch of golden beach – that is not a standard km, that’s for sure – and then decided I’d rather spend my last two nights just up the road in my beloved Borgarnes. So I drove back.

Thursday

It’s my birthday! I’d long planned to spend it climbing Esja, “Reykjavik’s mountain” but when I got up, it was windy. I went to get fuel and food, everyone ignored the fire alarm because apparently no one knew what they were supposed to do and we carried on shopping.

It was still windy, really cold and,my satnav couldn’t find Esja. I came back to the hotel to consider what to do. No, I was going to climb the mountain! I found directions, the satnav understood them and off I went. Past Akranes, through the Hvalfjord tunnel – 1000kr in both directions! – and found the parking space.

I was there reasonably early, it turned out. I packed my bag and headed off. 15 minutes later, it became clear I’d packed too much. It was like carrying another person on my back and there was no way I was going to make it to the top loaded down as I was. Reluctantly I returned to the car, dumped 90% of my luggage and set off on attempt two.
It was really hard. It was so steep and so gravelly and absolutely everyone overtook me, then vanished and I was trundling along, stopping every ten yards.

It seemed like months before I reached Sign 3, where I didn’t realise the path split. Unbeknownst to me, I picked the shorter but steeper and far more brutal route. It was horrendous. It was so steep it was getting on for vertical, it was a mess of shattered rock and one bit was such an awkward scramble I thought I was going to fall backwards off the mountain. Further up the path ran out and it became a network of tracks which were barely followable, up to the top. Well, up to Steinn, the normal person top. The actual top is a bit higher but it’s on almost vertical compressed ash and scree, very dangerous and only to be attempted if you know what you’re doing. Steinn was fine for me. The view! You could see for miles, right over Reykjavik and most of Reykjanes, almost to Keflavik. You couldn’t see anything north unfortunately because of the knife-edge ridge behind us but the south was plenty good enough.

Getting down was another adventure. I’d worn my Mammut shoes, which are half trail shoe, half climbing shoe and therefore perfect for scrambling my way over Iceland’s various rocks. But they are terrible for picking your way downhill! My toes slid forward and got crushed and there’s no padding or give in them whatsoever, so by the time I’d got to the bottom I could hardly walk. Actually, it was so steep and the path so loose, I’d more minced than walked down, I’d yelled my unfavourable opinion of the path so loudly half of Reykjavik probably heard it and I struggled so much with the scrambly section going down that first I’d frozen, not dared take another step because the mountain was certain to throw me down itself face first, and then been offered help by a passing stranger going uphill. If you ever climb Esja, turn right at Sign 3. It’ll save you a world of pain.

I thought I’d go swimming afterwards. It seemed a good thing to do after a mountain and I wanted to go to Borgarnes pool so I went straight there – coming home would mean I probably wouldn’t go out again. The building itself needs replacing, and the changing rooms in a dark concrete basement are just creepy. But the pools are lovely! Three largish hot pots of assorted temperatures, a nice warm beach pool, an indoor swimming pool, a splash pool for three slides and an outside lane pool with views over the bay, cool enough for proper swimming but still warm enough to swim in outside in Iceland when it’s windy. I swam 10 lengths, ran back to the middle hot pot (39 degrees), 10 lengths, hot pot etc until I’d done fifty lengths. By then it was dawning on me that I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast so I washed the pool out of my hair and came home.

Tomorrow I have to empty the car and hand it back 😦 It’s a bit of a mess. My camping stuff is still thrown in the back seat – I’ll need to find the bags for everything and put it away. Still, this time tomorrow I’ll be in Reykjavik and the Natura has its own spa pool. Last time I was there the room was uncomfortably cold but I’ll investigate tomorrow.

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