Footpaths Come, Footpaths Go or Saturday Night at the Movies

An Icelandic Saga Part Two: Chapter Six

Day 11. 15 August 2002

Friday. I wake to the sound of rain on my tent and struggle with myself to get up. Work today is to be around Vesterturdalur and we gather in damp clothes at 9 o’clock in a damp van. Driven five minutes to the car park at the end of the road, we pile out – rush through an exercise routine and then, in reaching for a tool we are selected into two work groups. The two will not meet again until this afternoon, and whilst Sarah’s group is promised lunch in the van, Chas’ is promised a secluded location…

My choice of rock bar dictates me to Chas’ group along with Larry, Claude, Melissa, Summer and Rosemary. We head for the ‘Church’, set down our rucksacks in the dry and set to work reconstructing and repairing steps on its approach – for good measure we throw in a couple of water bars and break for lunch in the church.

In the afternoon we change tack and begin work removing some footpaths from use by scattering rocks, turfing areas and replanting trees strategically. We move on and begin work improving the path further on, being joined on site by VO Katie, newly back from travelling round Iceland with her boyfriend, and Ranger Hanna Katla.

We finish work at four, take a wrong turn, and end up back at camp at 5 o’clock rady to go and take the showers. A lull in rain is short-lived as it begins again during tonight’s meal of fish, fried in cream sauce, Á la Chas. We now prey for better weather tomorrow and an opportunity to finish our work at Dettifoss with the mythical machine.

Day 12. 16 August 2002

Saturday. It was a cold night last night – snugly warm when I was curled up in my sleeping bag I kept being woken by cold drafts whipping through the tent. Waking at 7 o’clock at last, to make breakfast I coax myself out as the rain eases off. I choose to not don my waterproofs and I am rewarded for my optimism by an improving day.

Gathered in the bus we hear the news that the ‘mythical machine’ is broken and with the site at Dettifoss looking ‘a bit like a war zone’ a small but determined team is need to sorth this out. Larry, Alex, Summer, Phuong and Clare are chosen by Sarah for this specialist task, leaving those of us remaining in Vesturdalur to reroute a footpath with viewpoints over the river.

The project is to close off the official path because it is deemed to be a trickier climb than the unofficial one. We work well, and by lunchtime the old path is no more.

Swapping groups around, Jenny and Victoria stay behind with Claude to work on the completion of the new path whilst the rest of us carry out some repairs to footpaths on the other side of the circle, including the access point a Dragon’s cave.

As the afternoon progresses the sun comes out and the temperature rises with blue sky. We finish our work and head back through the canyon admiring the turning colours of autumn and the babble of water in the brook. We enjoy and hour of lunging around the campsite and spring cleaning, preparing supper for when the Dettifoss crew arrive back.

We head out in the most gorgeous of suns (c. 7pm) to shower at Ásbyrgi, and then to visit KÁri in his home at Ás. There we are witness to a sunset to dream about over a lake, and the wide, open, northern bay beyond. As the chill of evening settles we retreat into the warmth of his home for popcorn and slideshow of his time in the Highlands. The photographs are amazing and the narration is effective, if somewhat stunted, in a less than practised English, and punctuated at times with the hyperactive outbursts from KÁri’s knife-weilding, five year old grandson.

We have been talking of this night all day, of going to the ranger’s warm house to watch a movie (okay, slide show) – and it’s Saturday night! It’s Saturday Night at the Movies…! Of course we had to bring popcorn with us. The slideshow closes with a passionate plea from KÁri to help stop the Karahnjukar Dam Project – a proposal that if it comes to fruition could see the end of Dettifoss as we know it.

Following the talk, we are about to stow ourselves back into the van (and escape the terrorising, knife-weilding, boy) when KÁri points up to the sky. We pile out again to look – the Northern Lights!

Back at the campsite in Vesterturdalur, in the gulf between the canyon walls, we stand together, brushing our teeth and gazing up at the sky, as the dancing, eerily green, Northern Lights rise out of the east move across the sky as we stand watching and sink beneath the western cliffs. These we are told are the first northern lights of autumn.

Chapter Seven: Shorts and suntan lotion, a walk to the Red Hill, and the start of the journey into the highlands…