I was freezing in my tent. I conclude it’s partly because I didn’t bother bringing my groundsheet and I should because the tent’s built-in groundsheet is not really waterproof, and partly because you can’t buy a four season down sleeping bag from Millets in a sale and expect it to actually be as warm as a four season down sleeping bag. Job for the next year: invest in a good sleeping bag.
Because I was so cold, I was awake for a good chunk of the night and I didn’t hear any rain but when I dragged myself out of the tent, it was soaked. Either it had rained heavily and recently, or someone had thrown several buckets of water over it. It was so wet that when I sat up and bumped my head on the top – easy to do in a tent barely three feet high – the water came through the outer and the inner and made my hair so wet it was as if I’d just come out of a pool again.
I packed up my stuff, brushed my teeth, ambled around and eventually decided I just didn’t have the time to leave the tent to dry. It was going to have to go in the car wet. So it did.
I was heading for Skaftafell, which is a long way. You can do the return journey with two entertainments in a day trip from Reykjavik but equally, if you do the “Iceland On Your Own” thing, which means buying a bus passport and travelling by scheduled tour bus, like I did in 2013, it takes eight hours. I was already nearly an hour out of Reykjavik and I decided to do the tourist thing.
I wasn’t far outside Selfoss when I saw a police car sitting beside the road. “Hello Lögreglan”, I said as I drove past. And the moment I was past, it put on its blue lights and sirens and screeched out onto the road and I immediately had a heart attack. I definitely wasn’t speeding, I had my lights on and both hands on the steering wheel. What illegal thing had I inadvertently done?!
I had done nothing. It wasn’t after me. It was after the 4×4 that had overtaken me five minutes back at an obscene speed. At least, I assume that’s what it was. It went past so fast I didn’t get a chance to see anything except that it was a 4×4 and I found the police car had pulled over a white Dacia Duster, so I assume that was the culprit. The police are pretty busy in Iceland at the moment, what with this and stopping us in the Highlands on Sunday.
My first stop was at Seljalandsfoss, where I was witness to a lady who had fallen over and hurt her foot and was being attended to by the police, who seem to sit at the waterfall waiting for trouble. They had bandaged her and radioed for an ambulance and by the time I’d walked up behind the falls and taken a few photos from the front, the ambulance had arrived. It did not stay in the car park – it drove down the footpath and you wouldn’t believe how many tourists will not get out of the way for an ambulance. Considering it took about twenty minutes to arrive, I just can’t think where it might have been sitting. There’s no town of any size for at least forty minutes.
Next: Skogarfoss, where it rained. I had my waterproof on because of the spray from a 60m high waterfall and I got as close as I could – I could actually see the edge of the splash pool, which is a lot closer than most people. And then I got back from it, took advantage of my sandals and waded into the river to take a picture from an angle that no one else was getting. The water was cold and it hurt my feet a lot but I think it was a nice photo. Waterfall and river and no heads in the way.
Next: Dyrhólaey. That was an accident. I meant to go to Reynisfjara but took the wrong turning. Dyrhólaey is a cliff just outside Vík with a big hole in it, like Durdle Door. And of course, you can’t see the hole when you’re standing on top of it. I had lunch in the car, out of the wind, at Dyrhólaey and then set off for Vík to run down to the black sand beach and take photos of the sea stacks, Reynisdrangar.
From Vík, it’s just two hours to Skaftafell and there’s nothing in between except a tiny settlement called Kirkjubærklauster, known locally as just Klauster. You stop there because if you don’t, it’s a straight two hour drive. There’s plenty to see – the Katla and Grimsvötn floodplains, where at any second, a tidal wave of volcanic flashflood could come down and wash the road away. They’ve done it in the past, which is why you drive over a huge expanse of flat black gravel with meandering rivers across it. There’s the Eldhraun, a huge moss-covered lava field. I can’t remember whether it came from Laki in 1782 or Eldgjá a thousand years ago but it’s pretty spectacular. It’s also evidence that you can build a good tarmac road across a lava field. I understand why they don’t do it in the Highlands but it can in fact be done. There’s the pseudocraters just outside Klauster – where hot lava ran over marshland and the marsh boiled and blew bubbles in the lava, making lots of rounded hills. There are more famous ones at Mývatn, which I passed at the weekend, but those ones have collapsed at the top, so they actually look like craters. There’s the expanse of just plain nothing. There’s farmland. There’s more gravel plains. There’s a lot to see if you like apocalyptic desolate scenery. Lots of einbreið brus – one-way bridges, some of them on blindheiðs – humps in the road where you can’t see what’s coming the other way, so you approach the einbreið bru with no idea whether a coach is coming towards you.
Just outside Skaftafell is a piece of bridge, left as a monument, where the road was swept away by the glacial flood from the 1996 Grimsvötn eruption. Of course, the Ringroad barely existed in 1996, which is to Iceland as the Victorian times are to us, but it would still be severely damaged in another flood. Eyjafjallajökull’s 2010 eruption took out parts of the road and that flood was relatively small.
I pitched my tent at Skaftafell and then went on another forty minutes to Jökulsárlón, the glacial lagoon. I’d originally planned to do it in the morning but I’d arrived before 5pm, it was a nice sunny afternoon and it would save me time in the morning.
I’m so glad I did. It was quieter than it would be during the day, the sun came down on the icebergs in a beautiful way and I hopped on the last amphibious boat of the day. These things drive up to the jetty, on dry land, you board and then they drive away through the morains and down into the water. They take you on a tour of the lagoon for half an hour or so, giving you a good view of icebergs and glacier and seals, someone in a safety boat fishes out a piece of crystal-clear thousand-year-old-plus glacial ice and the guide smashes it into pieces so everyone can eat a piece.
The glacial lagoon, by the way, is a lagoon formed at the very end of one of the glacial tongues, where icebergs break off and float around in bright blue water before making their way out to sea. It’s 250m deep at the glacier end but “only” 30 or 40 by the time you reach the point where the cars and the amphi-boats are. Some of the icebergs are so big that they ground themselves right here and sit looking pretty until they melt or break up enough to start floating again and depart. It’s very beautiful, especially on a bright evening. Remember in Die Another Day where they had the two cars spinning around on the ice? That was here. They blocked it off at the sea so that salt didn’t leak in and that meant it froze with icebergs trapped in the frozen water and then they filmed the scene there before opening it up again and letting it melt back to a lagoon. It’s indescribably beautiful. Blue and white icebergs, some streaked with black from eruptions – and not Eyjafjalljökull’s 2010 one, older ones, hundreds of years ago.
It was nearly 9pm by the time I got home. I’d learnt my lesson – get in the tent while you’re still warm. I’d also learnt that books left on the tent floor will get damp so I packed anything I wanted to take into a drybag.