Morning. Low cloud about 100 metres above us. It is 7.30am. I’m up and showered, and sitting outside in the stillness – the stroke of this pen is one of the few sounds. I was the first up from our group, and went to take a shower and make breakfast. As the porridge was boiling, Arne came down; others are rising now and the cloud is starting to lift.
I slept really well, solidly and deeply, much better than the previous night. I woke just before seven – I could have easily gone back to sleep, but I felt rested and wanted to get a shower without a queue. So, refreshed, I’m set for the day – the double portion of porridge doesn’t hurt, either.
Arne has just come back from the shower. Apparently, he went for a walk early, returning by six – so much for thinking I was the first up! He likes his mountains and his peace. He says that after spending much of his life, growing up, bored by this landscape, he’s re-discovered it – no, discovered it for the first time – in the last few years. He’s like a kid enjoying his place for the first time. It’s great to see, so much enthusiasm and pleasure in the simple reality of here, it’s infectious. The feeling of well-being that I experienced at the end of the first day here – it seems to have settled on me and it’s great.
* * *
We’ve arrived at Botnar, our hut for the night. It’s 4pm and we have an hour before we head off for a short walk to a canyon, of which we caught a glimpse on the way down from the path. The hut is idyllically located: terraces tumble down the hillside beside a beck fringed with tents – a much more appealing prospect than camping at Hraftntinnusker. There is a view of Entujokull , an arm of Myrdalsjokull between green mottled hills. [Mýrdalsjökull is the neighbour of Eyjafjallajökull, the glacier over the 2010 volcanic eruption that grounded much of European aviation] The hummocky hills between here and there are predominantly black ash, the constant companion of the day, which has largely been on the bottom of a flat broad valley, enclosed by striking green peaks – the result of sub-glacial eruptions in the old days, apparently. There have been waterfalls, bridges, one ford through icy grey water, and a lot of flowers, dotted in clumps across the black sand: Arctic River Beauty, Sea Campion, Lambagras, and a myriad of others, which Arne has been identifying with his Icelandic Flora Map. He pulled up a little wild thyme and some Crowberries, which tasted like sharp, tangy blackberries.
Sitting at table, having eaten my cheesy pasta from a bag, and chatting about traditional Icelandic food, drinking a little Johnny Walker. I’m going to try to record the day, but quickly as I don’t want to appear rude – and because I’m sharing a bunk tonight, with Avi, I suspect I won’t be able to write later.
The day started with a detour from the main route, to walk along a small river gorge (only ten metres deep), past some very small waterfalls, under Hvanngil Fell (I think – in fact – the gorge is probably called Hvanngil…) At the end of it there was a springy, mossy descent from above Tangafoss, to an earlier part of the river, where there was a powerful, but smaller waterfall. A foot bridge over that, then to the river ford, across a different branch. The water was cold, but not too deep, and the bed fairly even – and the current wasn’t too strong.
Then a long walk through the desert – flowers, black sand and green mountains. Another bridge, another waterfall – this time fierce and impressive. Then more desert (which never became boring, strangely).
I was walking with Nathan and Janeen, just behind Priska and Ann- Sophie, who headed the group. We passed an Anglo-Irish group, who had been shadowing us along the trail since Landmannalaugur. They were taking a break, sitting under a huge rock at the crest of a ridge, where the valley narrowed. Nathan and Janeen stopped off ‘to use the facilities’ afforded by the rock – rare in the midst of this flat bleak landscape – and I continued on until I caught up with P and A-S on the other side of the ridge, the path continuing through the black desert, towards a giant, hooded, hulking green mountain to the east.
After one or two hundred metres, we noticed that our group had disappeared behind us – the path was empty. We paused for a couple of minutes, but the path remained empty. We sat on three paving slab rocks to one side of the path to wait, exchanging details of our working lives to pass the time. In the distance, across the miles of black flatness, columns of steam rose from the distant hill side, disappearing into the clouds above.
A group came over the ridge – at first we thought we recognised them, but they turned out to be the Anglo-Irish group. After they had passed, fearing that we were thought lost, I volunteered to go back to find out. Half way back, an Irish guy (who I’d chatted with at Swan Lake the day before) came along the path, waving; when he reached me, he told me that the group were sitting having a tea break, oblivious to our absence. We continued.
We passed under the green hulk, its lava cowl a memory of the magma hitting the base of a long melted glacier, the soft ash beneath eroded over the centuries. Then up towards another ridge, as the rest of the group gradually caught up with us. We paused at the edge of the plateau, before the path descended towards the green, for the whole group to reconvene. The sand here was black but also red and grey, like colour washes across the desert. Then a brief and speedy descent to Botnar, beautifully situated on the slope, with a glacier’s end as a backdrop.
After an hour or so at the hut, some of us walked out to the canyon. Maybe 200-300m deep, the sheer sides constructed of different blocks of stone, some black, some red, some shaped like a giant’s grinning face. We walked along the eastern edge, past more interesting flora, including spiralled moss – Iceland’s fairy rings – and up a hill to a point where the canyon’s lower reaches, two glaciers and tomorrow’s path could all be absorbed. It was raining so the photos will do it no justice, but it was majestic: a highlight of the walk, no matter what else comes.
* * *
Whisky, chocolate, talking and building a house of cards. We are crammed into a tiny room – kitchen, dining area, and bunks for 20 people – but the atmosphere remains convivial.
A more complete set of photos is on my Flickr page