Lost in an Icelandic Forest?

An Icelandic Saga Part Two: Chapter Five

Day 9. 14 August 2002

Wednesday. If you get lost in an Icelandic Forest – stand up! This old local joke is told to us by Chas as we stood in the the forest of Iceland spread out in the the horseshoe shaped canyon, caused either by glacial flood or hoofprint of Odin’s stead depending on your viewpoint. Personally, I go for Odin every time.


We should of course be on day six of our work days, however after we were rained off the worksite yesterday the rain has rained through to this morning, and faced with the overwhelming enthusiasm on their volunteers faces, Chas and Sarah decide to abort work in favour of a walk round Ásbyrgi.


The birch forest, which is tall by Icelandic standards, is little more than scrubland in any other country, but still hauntingly beautiful, and once we ha emerged from the flower trail we are faced with a question – just what is a square of concrete surrounded with post holes used for? Basket ball court, band stand and helepad are all sugestions? Adn yet the answer is that it used to be a dance floor for the local community back in the fifties. It is said that when they made the new bus park, in that one small area, they found 30 wine bottles, evidence of where kids had drunk thhe bottles they had previously stashed amongst the trees. This discovery is a tempting reminder of the history of the forest, and the stories, were it able to speak, that it could tell.


As the weather beginss to clear we hear from Husavik that a ship went out that morning and saw whales. We book fifteen places, and drive west at full throttle, driving up to board the ship. Heading out across the bay we see puffins entertaining us with their attempts at flight – almost a, ‘Look at me Mum, I’m flying! I’m almost there, yes – yes – I’m flying…!’ as the back feet flip back like an under carriage.


The weather lifts but the whales are illusive, and we only get to see a couple of minkie whales, but we enjoy and aftershow feast of hot chocolate and cinnemon role none the less.

We leave Husavik in good spirits, and upon our return to Vesturdalur at 8pm, Jenny, Larry, Alex and myself manage to throw together some pasta and sauce with various salads. For desert Alex produces a chocolate soup and I reconstitute last nights savoury bread into Thomas’ Fried’n’Spicy Balls – to much intentional hilarity.

We close the impromptu day off with games of scrabble, cards, more laughter and the promise of a late start, half a day’s work and a walk tomorrow.

Day 10. 15 August 2002

Thursday. Day off, part two – allegedly. The rain it raineth every day. After our impromptu day off yesterday it was back to work today. Well, I say back to work – we had a late start of 10 o’clock, and then it was a quick trip up to the car park at Ytra-þórunnarfjall to collect tools that we had stashed up there after Tuesday, and whilst there, just finish off the path in places. Humour for the say was present from the outset when, during our warm-up routine (which culminated in a quick burst of the hokey-kokey – thanks Alex!), the tour guide from the onlooking coach load of English tourists helped Rosemary out in a leg-stretching exercise!



We finished our path by lunchtime, and leaving Rosemary and Theresa to their chosen walk back to Vesturdalur, the rest of us are driven on to a car park near Hafragilsfoss were Sarah will leave us for three hours whilst we do a six kilometre circular walk.


We set off in fine, if greying weather, across the lunar landscape at the top of the JökulsÁgljúfur National Park, and the heading down in the canyon itself by way of a rope slung round a rock. We walk on a long the river side, approaching the falls at Hafragilsfoss from the top. It’s stunning.


Surrounded by lush vegetation the water tumbles with immeasurable power, smashing into rocks and ledges below sending fireworks of spray and white water up before setting in an almost still pool and surging ahead downstream. A little further on we encountera sheltered cove in the river where fresh water meets the glacial runoff and creates an almost perfect turquoise oasis of ink. Curving on round the canyon, andn we have to cross a wall of tumbled rocks before rising steadily out of the canyon by way of a ravine, before crossing the bleak lunar landscape – made bleakeer by the onset of increasing rain.


After encountering bizarreness on the road in the form of various bus drivers passing at various time in varying directions. At one point Clare – taking the idea of a van with blacked-out windows driving through the barren wilderness – writes out ‘HELP! I’VE BEEN KIDNAPPED!’ across the back window as a signal to the van behind. This van is the one that later uts up both us and forces an oncoming vehicle off the road.

Upon arrival back at camp we do a quick, if damp, turnaround before heading off to first further fill the drying room at Ásbyrgi and then head off to the pool – specially opened on our behalf. We enjoy a couple of good warm showers and an hours dip in the hot tub with cold rain cooling our faces.


A second trip to the drying rooms gives us an opportunity to witness the still growing mass of wet clothes steaming the air within, and greet the tourists finding warmth in there from their tents. Slightly guiltily we head back to The Green House where we are ushered in through the basement door. There we are soon to enjoy not one but six pizzas cooked by Chas in an oven upstairs. Once the boxes of leaflets are shifted out and extra chairs found we sit in this underground bunker with a narrow strip of a window at eye level. We feel like we are sheltering from a nuclear holocast or planning our lines of attack .We should almost be better upstairs standing around the relief map of the national park moving plastic figurines around the canyon – but we are not.

Later we make our escape through driving rain to the petrol station in search of steaming hot chocolate adn conversation about eye-laser treatment, fighting with jelly fish and the merits of 24 hour opening of pubs in England.

Our return to Vesturdalur is fraught with Snipes and Trarmagons all over the road, and flooding across the lanes. We dodge the showers and retreat to our tents to sleep before the dark closes in and the rain really begins to pour.

Chapter Six: Closing paths, opening paths, the arrival of VO Katie, and rapid reaction forces in Vesturdalur…