Iceland summer 2014: Akureyri to Borgarnes and Esja

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


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.


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.


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.

Iceland summer 2014: Wonders of the North

On Monday I went to see if the Edda breakfast is worth having. It is. Not only do they have orange juice and little bread rolls, they also have miniature croissants. I’m not a huge fan of croissants but if there are mini ones on offer, then I’ll go for it. And mini chocolate muffins and biscuits. I did not get caught out by cardboardy cereal again.

I went to see the wonders of the north. They don’t really have a tourism tag for them yet because there is next to no tourism infrastructure up in the north. There’s very little in the way of accommodation outside Akureyri despite the Wonders being an hour and half away from Akureyri. There’s no flybus from Akureyri airport into town! I want to go and watch the planes for a bit today because the runway is right in the middle of the fjord.

First stop was Godafoss, where Thorgeir the Godi threw his pagan statues into the water in 1000AD when Iceland was Christianised. It’s a nice little waterfall, overrun with tourists, many of whom get far too close to the edge.
Then I stopped at some odd lava formations on the edge of Lake Mývatn and got angry with some Spanish tourists who were determined to walk on the wrong side of the rope marking the path despite there being no difference – I might have at least understood if the path was rockier or muddier but it wasn’t.

Next was Dimmuborgir, a maze of quiet pleasant greenery among twisted lava formations. I visited the Yule Lads’ cave, which surprised me by being furnished, and strayed onto the hour long Church path by mistake. The Church itself is a bubble of lava which has popped, leaving something a bit more round than a simple lava arch.

I tried to get fuel and food at Reykjahlid but it was chaos. The queue went all the way around the supermarket, there were more 4x4s in the car park than I’ve ever seen before and the tanker was refilling the pumps.

I finally got fuel at Húsavík, nearly an hour away and over a long and unexpected gravel section of road. Húsavík’s main function is for whale-watching tours but it also sits on the side of a pretty fjord. I stopped on the hill just outside Húsavík for food and photos before heading on to Ásbyrgi which is a deep horseshoe-shaped canyon full of woodland and wandering paths. I hadn’t appreciated how deep it is – tipping my head back to look right up at the cliffs wasn’t such a great idea. I’d been driving for a long time so I settled down on the decking at the pond to just sit on the floor and relax.

My main stop for the day was Dettifoss and the biggest Wonder of the day is why haven’t they built a real road to join their biggest tourist attractions?! There are two roads joining Ásbyrgi and Dettifoss and according to my map, only the east one is paved. So I picked the east one. It is not paved! It is 56km of the worst gravel, rutted, washboard-like track through countryside that looks less inviting than most of the Interior! I was half-convinced I’d strayed onto an F road by mistake – a 4×4 only Interior route from which hire cars are banned. But no, this is what northern Iceland considers a suitable tourist route. It isn’t! This is why tourism concentrates on the south and not the north! It’s 2014 and I see that you don’t want to scar the landscape with unnecessary paved roads but I really think that one is worth the effort of paving and maintaining. I thought the car was going to shake apart, I didn’t know whether driving faster or slower would lessen the vibration and the tent pegs – which I left on the back parcel shelf in my panic on Saturday – spent the entire 56km trying to deafen me. Worst of all, it turns out the southern part of the west road (from Dettifoss down to the Ring Road) is in fact paved and “there’s talk of surfacing the entire road by 2014”. Read the guidebook, don’t just look at the map, which has been faultless up until now.

Dettifoss, when you have the time to properly appreciate it (and you’re putting off the horrors of going back on that road), is mind-blowingly powerful. Last year I saw it from the west side but stayed up high because we didn’t have long. This year I saw it from the east side, up close. Not too close – many people do go far closer than I feel is wise. It’s very powerful. The spray it throws up is almost strong enough for the water to bounce off. You can’t see the bottom. It’s carved out a deep sheer-sided canyon and the spray appears to have carved things too. Dettifoss is part of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum, which is a massive glacial river, flowing from 200km south at Vatnajökull – the whole river canyon right the way up to Ásbyrgi is part of the massive Vatnajökull National Park. The Jökulsá á Fjöllum is one of the most relentlessly grim places I’ve ever seen. The water is grey and opaque and churns and it cuts out a long grey rubble-strewn canyon. Even at Dettifoss, where the spray makes the banks bright green, all you see is grey. I met this particular river further south last year, near Askja and it was grey and grim and there was just a mess of basalt boulders everywhere. It’s magnificent, I love it, it’s just so grim that I’d love to see a proper post-apocalypse movie filmed along it.

A further 31km along that accursed track – overtaken by buses, 4x4s and even another i10 – and I was finally back.on real road, west of Mývatn. I passed the crater from Oblivion, which marks the start of the Askja F road – there are information boards 50 yards down there which I’m sure normal cars are allowed to visit but it’s not a good angle for photos. It’s real name is Hrossaborg, I think. It sits at the top of the Ódádahraun lava field – commonly translated into English as the Desert of Misdeeds. I did wonder if my gravel road ran through it but it turns out that’s the Borgarás Hólssandur. Incidentally, my car came with a map showing where I’m not legally allowed to drive and has some gravel roads marked in black as roads with high number of accidents involving foreign drivers. Yes, my gravel road was one of them! But my map showed it as paved – I was deliberately avoiding what I thought was the gravel road! Never mind. You get a better view of Dettifoss from the east anyway.

I got back to Mývatn just before 7. I’d skipped a few local.wonders – the blue-black boiling bubbling mud pools on the back of Krafla, a few hidden hot pools around Reykjahlid that are either too hot to swim in or too cold and thus riddled with bacteria. Instead I went somewhere I wanted to go last year and didn’t have time for – Mývatn Nature Baths. The Jardbödin are the northern version of the Blue Lagoon and if you’re going to compare and contrast, I think the Jardbödin actually win. The Blue Lagoon has a connecting door to the inside so you don’t have to go outside and get cold to get to the water and it does have the magic bracelet system so you can buy food & drinks while in the water and ok, the changing rooms are better but the Jardbödin win on setting, by miles. The Blue Lagoon is carved into a bowl of black lava, growing a hard white silicon shell. It has a view – from the right spot in the water – over the power station next door and of some small mountains. It’s a beautiful splash of bright milky blue in a black and white setting. Now, the Jardbödin are on the side of an active volcano, overlooking Mývatn and the plains on one side and black, red or orange volcanoes on the other three. The water is waste from a power station too, I think, and it also comes from a borehole but it’s heated by Krafla, which is pretty active and has erupted in my lifetime! Jardbödin are about half the size of the Blue Lagoon and just as touristed, in its northern way. It means it’s quieter. The pool ranges from painfully hot to quite pleasant, there’s a trough-like hot pot and there are underwater slabs to sit on. But unlike the Blue Lagoon, these slabs are covered in.some kind of slippery stuff and if you’re in the mod for being childish, you can slide on them. The sides where the steps come in make even better slides, if you can get to the top in the first place. Finally, the water is actually different to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon’s water is very salty and really dries out your hair. I think the Jardbödin’s water is more sulphurous and it makes everything feel really soft. However, having unplaited my hair this morning, I think it’s a lot drier and bushier and nasty-feeling than I expected.

I spent about two hours in there and could have stayed longer. I watched the air temperature fluctuate between 14.2 and 13.6C, which meant the hot water felt nice instead of too hot. I drifted around, slid, enjoyed the view and reluctantly got out at 9.15, knowing I had a ninety minute drive still, over the mountains. I stopped briefly as I came into Akureyri’s fjord because the sun was setting at the mouth of the fjord – at eleven at night! – and making a huge blood-orange fireball that desperately needed photos. I was home ten or fifteen minutes later. It was a very long day.

Iceland summer 2014: Borgarnes to Akureyri

When we left the story on Saturday night, I was still feeling a bit dizzy but ok when upright and enjoying walking around the headland at Borgarnes, seeing fluffy ducklings and a redshank.
On Sunday it was time to move on. After a breakfast of cardboardy cereal, warm apple juice but perfect orange juice and lovely hot buttered toast fresh from two trips through the very exciting conveyor toaster, I smuggled the tent out to the car, did another quick walk around my circuit to make sure I was definitely ok when upright, stopped at the roadhouse for petrol and juice and headed north.
The journey itself was fairly unremarkable – four hours across lava fields, low mountain passes, past long flat-topped ridges of mountain which gained a smattering of snow as I went further.
25ish minutes out of Borgarnes, I came to the university town of Bifröst. Hafnarfjordur gets called “the town in the lava” but it’s a much more fitting name for Bifröst, literally carved into the middle of a lava field and loomed over by two reddish scoria volcanoes.
It turns out you can climb one. I didn’t mean to but… it was there. Its name is Grábrók and it’s only 170m. Nice and easy, follow the steps to the top, walk around the top of the crater, take lots of photos of the view, steal a little piece of lava rock – some kind of basalt, looked like pumice but not light enough.
That was a detour of much less than an hour and it was just after 4 when I arrived at the hotel in Akureyri. The Edda chain of hotels are school/university accommodation most of the year and open as budget hotels in summer. It very much looks like a student room and I have shared facilities. As usual, all the sockets are in inconvenient places. But all the rooms have names – mine is called Helgrimur.
I went down to the town centre – really down. I hadn’t really realised that Akureyri is built on on the steeply-sloping side of a mountain and I’m quite high up the town. I made it to the church. They want it to be compared to Reykjavik’s Hallsgrímskirkja but it’s just not on the same scale. Apparently its windows are from Coventry Cathedral, “removed, with remarkable foresight, at the start of World War II” and found in a London antiques shop by an Icelander. There’s not much in Akureyri town centre because Akureyri is quite a small place, even if it is Iceland’s second city.
I finally found a supermarket, five minutes walk from my hotel in the opposite direction to the town centre but first I thought I’d go swimming.
All would have been beautiful except I left my towel in the car. Never mind. That’s actually not such a catastrophe. The pools are lovely. A big warmish main one. A huge but freezing one with lanes. A hot pool. A warm beach of a pool with waterfall. Two hot pots – a pleasantly hot hot pot and a painfully hot hot pot. And a kids pool. Plus the splash pool for the slides. And the container of cold water for the men to prove how manly they are.
I went to the supermarket afterwards. No plastic cheese slices. I had to get real cheese – no idea what it is, the packet just says “ostur” which is Icelandic for cheese. The hamburger bread that I bought to go with it had mould within 24 hours, so that was nice and I shall find somewhere else to get bread tomorrow.
And then I was tired so I was asleep by 8.30. Not so dizzy just lying down but moving while lying down didn’t feel too delightful.

Iceland summer 2014: Borgarnes part 2

Since I was feeling a little better – a little better than I did at 7am, anyway – i was persuaded to go out for a nice little walk in the fresh air.

I had made the delightful discovery that the socket I had my tablet & camera plugged into was actually pulling power out of them. My tablet was visibly losing power while being used despite being plugged in and the camera, which I was just keeping topped up was so dead it wouldn’t even switch on, after having been charged for eight hours. I moved them to a different socket and with my camera at one nearly bar of charge, took it out for a walk.

I now remember why I’m fond of Borgarnes. There’s nothing here other than the service centre and the wonderful Settlement Museum for tourists but it’s such a pleasant little place and it sits right in the fjord, with mountains on one side and little rocky cliffs and islands around the lower part of the town. When it’s reasonably sunny, it’s just a pretty place to enjoy the view. I’ve worked out that the weather drifts from south to north. It’s getting sunnier here, sunset is a long way off yet but Fossatún looked like it’s in for another nasty night. I chuckle vengefully but I do really like Fossatún when it’s dry and no one’s trying to force me out of my camping spot.
Speaking of Fossatún, there was a girl from Florida in the hot tubs, first talking about this “really nice guy” she stayed with couchsurfing (who did not sound nice and sent up several red flags in what she was saying including asking her to not mention something that happened because he had a really good reputation on Couchsurfing – presumably because he bans anyone from mentioning the bad things and she also said “I think I’d stay with him – but maybe not on my own” which she also wasn’t going to mention and which i felt is really worth mentioning – “as a single female traveller I did not feel safe on my own with him” is definitely something I’d want to know.)

Anyway, she was complaining about the European-style breakfast on offer at Fossatún – and that’s unusual, I think, a campsite offering breakfast. First, she felt it was too expensive (I’m inclined to agree – 1600kr is about £8 and I can’t eat enough breakfast for that to be worth it for me ) and second: “Where are the aigs? Where are the pancakes?” Well, pancakes are not a breakfast food, so that’s the answer to the second question. As for the first, if I’d heard it out of context, I’d have had no idea what “aigs” were supposed to be. “Aigs”? Really?

Oddly, I feel a little more dizzy back in my room (which smells of sulphur because I had a shower and apparently the hot water here comes directly out of the ground, which dates this hotel back at least a couple of decades) than I did walking around outside. So waking up in the morning will, in itself, probably not tell me whether I really feel better or not.

Iceland summer 2014: Borgarnes

Today has been a total waste of a day. It began badly on last night. My neighbours had no intention of shutting up and going to bed until about 2.30, the rain bucketed down and what had been a patch of mud when I arrived on Wednesday became a huge puddle, almost a flood. It kept everyone else off the main part of the field but it also kept me checking it every ten minutes for fear I’d have to suddenly move the tent or even abandon it.

By about 6.30, the kids were crying and shouting and I discovered that every now and then, the tent seemed to start spinning uncontrollably. Ignoring it was impossible. Well, obviously I had labyrinthitis, I wasn’t going to be able to drive, I wasn’t going to be able to fly home and I’d be stuck in a tent about to be flooded for the next several weeks. Settling down at the other end of the tent on a little mountain of sleeping bag helped a bit but not enough. I got up, discovered that it was more or less ok once I was upright. I had a little drink and a biscuit in the car and then made a plan. I struck camp and threw everything into the car. The flood had hidden in the grass and I had to paddle through water deep enough tp submerge my feet every time I crossed from tent to car. Being upright and active was helping but there was no way I was driving four hours to Akureyri today. I could make it to Borgarnes though. So I did. I went to the Hotel Borgarnes, asked for a room for tonight that I could have immediately and was in a warm, dry, quiet, cosy bed with not-quite-good-enough blackout curtains by 9.45am.

And there I have remained. There hasn’t been any room-spinning, just general feeling dizzy. I thought about going to Borgarnes pool but settled for just a shower in the end. I’ve eaten and I really hope I feel better tomorrow after a good night’s sleep in a real bed because if I don’t, I don’t know what

Iceland summer 2014: Snæfellsnes

When I got back to Fossatún, I was feeling quite attached to the place and quite sad about leaving tomorrow. However, when I reached my tent, I discovered that a load of morons had moved onto my field and were trying to park a caravan where it would not fit. I went to the hot tubs for a couple of hours and found they’d moved yet another caravan on and had blocked my car in with one at each end, parked inches away. “Can you move your car please?” How the hell do you think I’m going to do that? And why should I? Mine is next to *my* tent and has been for two days and I assure you, it wasn’t me who chose to pitch your camp in an awkward place. I will slam my car doors as many times and as loudly as I can when packing up in the morning, believe me, you rude, inconsiderate people.

Anyway. Before the entire world descended on Fossatún and ruined everything,I was driving around Snæfellsnes, dodging showers, climbing gorges using stepping stones, being divebombed by Arctic terns, knocking over stone towers on the beach (graffiti, junk, eyesores and haven’t you grown out of being proud of making little towers yet?), enjoying the view from the little mountain that forms the north wall of Stykkisholmur’s harbour and generally doing a lot of driving.

Now, if that radio is still wailing in an hour and those stupid kids scream even once in the night, I will lose my temper.

Tomorrow I move on to Akureyri, where I shall find a hotel for at least two nights. Four if this endless rain doesn’t stop.

Iceland summer 2014: The West Country

Sitting in my tent yesterday evening got really cold so I decided, difficult as it was, to go and warm up in the hot tubs, which I didn’t at all have to myself this time (and everyone else had brought alcohol of some kind).

Today I explored around the west of Iceland. First stop, Hraunfossar, unusual waterfalls which kind of aren’t waterfalls. Instead of a stream or river falling down, the water pours out from under the lava field and into the fast-flowing glacial river below. A little further upstream are the Barnafoss where the fast-flowing river crashes through twists and turns and arches and all kinds of dramatically eroded shapes. At the end of the footpath were two idiots – one more idiotic than the other – who had climbed over the chain, ignored the “you shall not pass” sign and were scratching their names into the rock. I gave them disapproving looks and then when the idiot got out his phone to take a photo of how clever he was to be able to write his own name, I stared at him and shook my head and to my astonishment, he put the phone away, came back to the path and wandered off downriver.

Next stop – in order to kill time – was Reykholt, Icelandic cultural centre and home to Snorri Sturluson. I wanted to paddle, or at least dip my feet, in Snorralaug, Snorri’s private pool but it was too cold. Still, time had been killed and now I could go to the Icelandic Goat Centre. Of course, had I known how long it would take to get there, I wouldn’t have bothered going to Reykholt. The map looked like it was just off the main road. It turned out to be a good half an hour down a gravel road – or ten minutes if you’re one of these people who can drive a gravel road at the speed limit instead of 30kph.

Still, I got there eventually. I met and played with many of their nearly 200 goats. I met a few “men” who had acted in Game of Thrones – you know the goat that gets eaten by a dragon? I met him. I also met a friendly if scatterbrained goat who enjoyed some attention but had lost her baby (they wandered the field bleating for each other in adorable high-pitched voices) and Molly, whose name is somehow pronounced with two ls in a way I just can’t manage, who wanted to eat everything and wanted all the attention. I bought some mint-flavoured goat milk soap and then I had to drive another 10km back to paved road, getting overtaken by a milk tanker along the way.
The last stop was at Deildartunguhver, the biggest hot spring in Europe. It springs out 180 litres of boiling water every second and provides heating and hot water for the entire west of Iceland, as well as leaving plenty bubbling and sloshing and steaming for tourists. I went there briefly last year and this year discovered that the dog really does live there.

Back at Fossatún, I have eaten cheese sandwiches and now I’m still sitting in the inside kitchen because it has electricity and my tablet is not charging very well in the car.

Iceland summer 2014: To Fossatún

It was still damp and miserable and fly-infested at Laugarvatn when I woke up, still no sign of anyone to pay. I decided it was time to move on, stopping first at the roadhouse to contend with an automatic petrol pump that demands you put your card in upside down and then demands the value of petrol you plan to put in. 1) I have no idea how much petrol costs here 2) I have no idea how much my car plans to drink.

I stopped at Thingvellir at exactly the same time as approximately 16 coaches from a cruise ship and immediately became quite possessive about Thingvellir – how dare all these people crowd it, with no understanding of or interest in the cultural and geological significance of it. It also rained heavily.
I drove on towards Borgarnes, going around the Hvalfjordur instead of through the tunnel under it. This meant my route from Thingvellir was via the lesser used road 47 (I think) – a gravel one. I’m allowed to drive on gravel – I’m allowed to drive at 80kph but if I got up to 40 it felt far too fast. I did meet a nice waterfall called Thoráfoss but the whole road (all 14km of it!) felt isolated and scary. I am not going to the Westfjords where I’ll have to drive over 50km on gravel, not this time. I have a car. I’ll explore the north instead.
I drove around the Hvalfjordur which took a while but was nice ans scenic, drove up the Ring Road to Borgarnes and stopped at the N1 service centre where I discovered there was a cafw which did soup. In Iceland, soup comes with free bread and butter and it seems the bread and butter remain free even if you don’t have the soup.
Fed at last (having skipped breakfast in favour of bundling a wet tent into the car and yelling at the flies while trying to force a brush through my hair) I set the satnav to take me to Fossatún. I’ve been here twice before – I saw the Northern Lights here eighteen months ago and I also had a long lunch stop here last summer. It’s a nice site.

Windy though but that made sure my tent was dry within five minutes of pitching it and then I made straight for the hot tubs. I sat in there for hours, enjoying the hot water and lack of rain and reading my guidebook.
After the hot tub, I put out a groundsheet and had a cheese sandwich sitting out in the wind. It turned out to be a bit cold and windy on the troll trail so I’m back in my tent now.

I’ll be here a while – two nights paid for and I’ll almost definitely add a third before heading for the North coast at the weekend.

Iceland summer 2014: The Golden Circle

Continuing from where I left off this morning: I went across to the airport to collect my car. It’s a black Hyundai i10, reg no RM H32 and instantly named, imaginatively, “RM”.

It was terrifying at first. I had to get RM from the airport across to the hotel to get my luggage and no amount of sitting stationary playing with the gearstick made it any less terrifying so I just had to try it out. It’s not so bad. I do keep knocking the door when I want to change gear and I keep forgetting the gearstick is as high and as far forward as it is and changing into second seems particularly tricky but actually, I did a lot better with the car than I did with the trolley at the supermarket later.

First I had no choice but to drive on the closest thing Iceland has to a motorway but I came off pretty quickly, heading south towards the Blue Lagoon and Grindavík. Then I followed the road that runs along the southern coast of Reykjanes, detoured to Grænavatn to reprogram the satnav and carried on up to Hveragerdi.
Many a time have I been through Hveragerdi but only once before have I stopped, on my very first morning of my very first trip, when we stopped to give the sunrise a chance to catch up with us. This time I wandered the shopping centre, had a good the crack between the continents which runs right under the building and is visible through a glass floor and then I went shopping.

After that I drove up through Hveragerdi towards the mountains in the hope of finding the hot springs area. I found a very hot hissing something but I was on the wrong side of a river that looked far too big and deep for paddling.

I’d taken the satnav down while I was shopping and I decided I didn’t need to put it back on just to drive to Laugarvatn. I followed the Ring Road almost to Selfoss then turned left at Ingolfsfjall and stopped a little way along for a picnic and to look at the view. On the horizon there were mountains – volcanoes actually, including Hekla, Tindfjallajökull and Eyjafjalljökull and closer, a greyish glacial river joining a crystal clear blue fresh river. It was a bit breezy for a picnic but I ate anyway, took photos of the view and got my Icelandic sim working in my tablet.

While I was sailing along the road towards Laugarvatn I stopped first at a wooded picnic site in an actual bit of very rare Icelandic forest, which turned out to be the little place we’d been to looking for the Northern Lights on my first trip, and then at Kerid, once thought to be an explosion crater but now believed to just be where the sides of a scoria cone collapsed. Either way, it has steep red sides streaked with green vegetation and a pool of deep greenish-blue water in the bottom. It’s an unofficial part of the Golden Circle but currently involved in a dispute over access rights – the landowners are charging for entry but there’s a debate over whether that’s legal here. I handed over my 250kr and went to see.

I’ve been to Kerid a few times but I’ve only ever had a few minutes to take photos before moving on. This time I followed the path which leads right down into the bottom. You can walk right around the lake but it’s not a real path and it looked a bit unstable in places. Then you climb up the side and walk around the top. I took many many photos.

Next stop, since the weather was good, was Geysir. Another place I’ve been hurried through many times. I took my time enjoying the other hot springs and watched several Strokkur eruptions and wandered the shop looking at 66N jackets and extra-long socks and bought an I Love Iceland bag for those times when I just need to bring my wallet and phone with me and have no pockets.

Back at Laugarvatn it started to rain the moment my tent was up and I decided the best thing to do was go to Laugarvatn Fontana – ditto yet again not enough time previously.

I spent more than three hours in there. The middle pool felt hotter than usual and the two hot pools felt painfully hot. Several times I jumped in the coolest pool – a miniature swimming pool – just to cool down. It kept raining and every time it did, I retreated under cover. There’s not a lot at Fontana under cover. The view across the lake kept disappearing in cloud.

At last I had to get out at about quarter to ten – didn’t feel so late because it was still light, give or take the cloud. Soley conditioner is actually very good (because mineral-rich geothermal water is really bad for hair) and I dried my hair for once because soaking wet hair isn’t fun in a tent and then I cane home. There was still no sign of anyone to pay for camping. I dragged my food and electronics and so on into the tent and immediately decided I was just too tired to eat or read.

There’s something at this campsite that’s been making weird alien noises all night. I can only conclude it’s some kind of bird. It also rained all night but it feels warm and dry now, although I haven’t been outside yet.

Iceland summer 2014: Keflavik

I got to Heathrow with no major problems, only traffic just a little faster than a standstill on the M25. Got to the car park and wasn’t expecting to have to hand over my car keys. I’d much rather look after my own keys and make sure they’re with me no matter how many times I move my tent around the west of Iceland than hand them over to a total stranger on an industrial estate in west London but apparently that’s how it works.

Flight was uneventful. My plane was called Öræfajökull, which is the highest mountain in Iceland. You can tell tourism in Iceland is growing because there were new airlines at Keflavik – Lufthansa and Atlantic Airlines and easyJet. When I first came here it was prety much Icelandair and nothing else. Flights were going until 2am so the shops were still open when I arrived at nearly midnight so I finally have the book on thermal pools.

I got my huge heavy bag on my back – apparently lighter than last year but still painful, even if you’re only carrying it a couple of hundred yards to the hotel (see photo to see how close the airport is to my window).
Of course, being so close, it’s really noisy. Really really noisy but I slept. Then I had a much-needed breakfast of cereal and four slices of perfect toast and now I have to pack up and go and collect my car. First stop: Hveragerdi for some food. Second stop: Laugarvatn Fontana spa!