Day 9: Wednesday 22 August 2012
Distance travelled: 352km (218 miles)
Our last breakfast with Vilborg and we are both very sad about it. She is a lovely person and a wonderful host. In doing a last check round our room I find the sheet of A4 that tells us a bit of history about her and the farm. She was born in a farm in the south of Iceland before studying to be a nurse before marrying the farmer at Ytra-Laugaland. After his death in 2005 her son took on the running of the farm and she extended the original farm house to open it as a guesthouse for travellers which has always been her dream.
Over breakfast, Vilborg’s “friend” talks to us about how he learnt all his English since staying at Vilborg’s with all the travellers who come. He also shows us a traditional Icelandic wooden eating container with a lid and the carved horn spoon from 1926 – just one year earlier than Ytra-Laugaland was originally built.
And so, with some sadness at leaving Vilborg’s homely house and excellent breakfasts we set off on the next leg of our journey. We set off past the decorated postboxes for the last time and back onto the N2, the high pass again to Mývatn. Past the Laxa river, stopping for half an hour to explore the pseudo-craters of Skútustidir, look for golden-eyes fruitlessly, see more widgeon and miscellaneous brown ducks and try and avoid breathing in the swarms of midges that made a beeline for our carbon-dioxide.
One more stop at Reykjalið for petrol and then onwards again past Bjarnarflag and Namafjall to the open road to Dettifoss. Last time I was here the only way to Dettifoss on the west side worth speaking of was the 4×4 only track from Vesturdalur in the north. Now there is a new, paved road from the N1 in the south. I find myself worrying about this – if there is a brand new road serving Dettifoss that is every bit as good as the N2 at its best what will the car park be like. It used to be a circle of cleared gravel borded by large rocks cleared from the centre and the only convenience a solitary compost toilet. I pray that there is no staffed information point and café…
There is no information point beyond a board and no café. The car park though is humungous with separate coarch park, painted bays, curb stones, and paving. The original car park is still visible around whare there sits a modern toilet (still of the composting variety).
It’s all a balance I suppose. Yes Dettifoss is now more accessible than it has ever been but I cannot be cross about that as the early work that I helped with a decade ago was to improve access.
We walk the path to Dettifoss and it is as it ever was. I remember working this same and it all comes back to me. I remember now that Chas had someone bring a little digger to clear some of the bigger rocks but that on day one it broke and so we had to do some rudimentary levelling in the interim. There’s a picture of me with Jennifer Tait, each with a rock bar easing a massive bolder into a new position. Sometime in the intervening 10 years they have fixed (or got a better) digger and shifted the stones so that that now it is a fully accessible gravel path that is the ‘regulation’ width of one rake handle. We pass a small group of volunteers working on some new/improvements to some steps. I recognise their boulder carrier as the exact same one I used 10 years ago if changed by 10 years of wear and tear.
Dettifoss when we reach it is as raw powerful as it always was. The noise from it as it thudners to, and over the falls, is deafening and the water a churning, seething mass of water straight off the Vatnajokull ice cap with all the stones and soil churned up with it. Dettifoss is not the prettiest. It’s not even the biggest. But it is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. It’s breathtaking.
Leaving Dettifoss, we rejoin the N1 and turn left to the East and new territory for me. For the next 100km or more the road is almost like a desert, a canvass of greys and browns and no green at all; no farms; no villages, just miles upon miles of tundra-like desert. We cross the Jokulsa-y-fylum river via a huge single-carriageway bridge that creaks and wobbles when a lorry crosses it and the river, wide and fast races on beneath.
Then there is a range of mountains of the jettest black I have ever seen. Black mountains amongst the low cloud. It seems somehow appropriate that today we get our first real dose of rain.
Eventually the road does descend into the lower slopes of east, but on wild, unkempt greenness of rough fields and pine forests in contrast to the lush, fresh meadows of the west. I stop for petrol at one of the lonliest petrol stations I have ever seen. And then we journey on, driving about 3km of roadworks on the N1. Unlike back home where they would close a lane, here they just do the whole road in one go and you drive on whatever surface (or not) that they have got to at the time.
Descending further down through the valleys the communities and farms become more numerous and the fields lusher, and then we cross the bridge into Egilstadir with its curious modern church up on the hill. There doesn’t seem to be a lot to the major town in this region apart from the two supermarkets (one of course, a Bónus) and the ubiquitous purveyor of hot dogs and fast food 0 the local petrol station – and not much else in the way of eating. Heading out of town to find oru guesthouse we pass Gistiheimild Egilsstaðir and it does look very nice. With its speciality of locally raised beef we decide that even if it is slightly on the pricey side we should definitely eat there.
Our own guesthouse – the still unpronounceable Utnydingsstaðir is set back a couple of kilometres down a gravel track – a farm specialising in horses and horseriding. It’s a very nice, if a simpler affair to Vilborg’s. The family are also in a separate farmhouse although we are in the original farmhouse with other guiests (if you don’t count the old turf-roofed farm that used to stand here).
I write some of my journal whilst Emma has a sleep and then we freshen up before heading out to dinner. Gistiheimild Egilsstaðir is altogether a grander affair – almost a villa beside the lake it is like a proper restaurant inside and we feel a bit under-dressed for the place. A book about the restaurant, the guesthouse, their history, and their values is on each table, and the menus are given to us in beautiful hand made sketchbooks.
We try to be good and to only look at things on the cheaper end of the menu, but our eyes keep flitting back to the steaks from beef raised on the Egilsstaðir farm next door. We decide that having had some reasonably inexpensive meals, just this once we go for it. For both of us we have the soup of the day – parsley root soup (parsnip?) – followed by T-bone steak. It’s delicious and very, very special.
Following our meal we take a stroll down to the lake which is quietly serene, say hello to some Icelandic horses, including a young foal who is still getting used to his legs, and then we head off for home to writes some more our journals. Emma entertains me with her dying fly impression in honour of all the rooms we have stayed in with an annoying (and dying) fly…
Day 10: Egilsstaðir to Hólmur…