Iceland 2019 3 Days 10-13

Rather than be efficient (who wants an efficient holiday?), I drove the long way (roads 54 and 59) around from Grundfjordur to Blonduos, back on the infamous Highway 1 (Day 10). At this unimpressive town, I had booked to stay at the Youth Hostel. The long way took a long time: over six hours of slow driving, taking things in, but not doing much photography, and even skipping the waterfalls on the map – mainly because Michelin is very enthusiastic about marking waterfalls, and they are not always there, and rarely called by the name this French map gives them. My main memory of this day is the monstrous struggle against sleep. No scenery stands out in my mind. The sun was shining but it was perilously freezing outside. I didn’t do any real exercise. I was just too uncomfortable.

Heading east after Grundarfjörður

On Day 11, I also chose the long way around, but this time, i felt I scored. I was en route to Godafoss, and my accommodation at Fljotsbakki Farm, only 4kms north of the falls. Michelin had marked my chosen peninsula with green, which is usually a good sign. And this time it sure was – possibly more so as it was totally unexpected, and Jean Pierre at the Youth Hostel had specifically warned me against this road, as it was unsealed and slow.

On Skagi Peninsula

I think my favourite part was an area named Ketubjorg, which is a kind of gulch with massive cliffs. It sported an unnamed waterfall, so, in the absence of a given name, I dubbed it Ketubjorgfoss. After that took the main road, as I was sick of driving. I finally arrived at my destination after nine hours. Google had said it was a two hour trip (had I gone the short way and not stopped to ooh and aah at all the wonderful sights). I didn’t do all that much photographing, considering, as it was sleeting, and the wind was sharper than my kitchen knives (which, thanks to my older daughter, are of excellent quality).

Ketubjorgfoss

Before settling in too comfortably, I paid Godafoss a visit. It was predictably lovely, but I was freezing cold, and there would certainly be no sunset of any description, so I hoped for better things on one of the later nights I had there.
History: Iceland was proclaimed a Christian country (divorcing itself from saga gods) in 1000 AD. Thorgeirr, the law speaker and a pagan priest, made the decision at the Allthingi (a kind of parliament held annually at Thingvellir, where a national park is now situated – see my blog Iceland-2019-1). Thorgeirr came back home to his farm here at Godafoss after this momentous decision, and, possibly to prove to the people he was serious, and to set a good example, threw his pagan gods into the waterfall, which has ever since been known as Godafoss, Waterfall of the Gods. I had always thought it had that name because any God of sensible choices would elect to have this waterfall as a token of beauty, might and wonder.

Godafoss

My visit to the Godafoss the previous evening had been to the more popular western side, so on day 12, I began the day with a visit to the eastern one, before doing an 8km hike in the hills behind my farm in snow and strong winds.
I also explored the stretch of the Skjálfandafljót River (which contains the foss) that runs past the farm. It is a magic blue for its whole length. Wild geese squared as I went, but were never obligingly still enough for me to get a good photo.
I had planned to visit Aldeyafoss, also on the same Skjálfandafljót River, but a bit of a drive upstream. Emil, my host at the farm, encouraged me in this, saying it was definitely possible to get there. It was nice to have that assurance, as it sure didn’t feel like that in the final couple of kilometres.

Aldeyjarfoss on Skjalfandafljot R

So, on day 13, I set out. I loved the route by the river, driving slowly with geese following my car, sheep here and there, the river of magic blue beside me, and snowy fells above. I followed this side (the eastern) for 24 kms, when google told me to cross the river on the bridge. I obeyed. After crossing, I went 14 kms to Myri, and then, oh joy, there was a sign to Aldeyafoss 4 km, my first indication that google was not mistaken. When I only had 2.2 kms remaining, signs announced that it was illegal to drive on this (now) F road ( it had gained this status at the turnoff); we could be fined if caught; we were not insured if we damaged our chasis. It seemed very scary, and I wanted to just park and walk, but it was snowing and bitingly windy outside, so I took what was actually the safer option, and stayed in my car until the last moment. To be sure of not damaging my car, I drove like a snail on what had been, up until now, an entirely empty road (sheep and geese excepted). Four cars materialised behind me. 4WDs. I pulled aside. They belted past. Luckily, none of the flying rocks hit me.
When I got to the falls, the occupants of these hasty cars were there, totally absorbed, not by the beauty of this place, but in taking a series of selfies, where the self in the image was so huge that the wondrous nature behind was obliterated. These were “I got here” photos and nothing more. Their fists were raised in victory. And yet these braggish people are so insignificant in the face of the mighty, powerful and enduring forces of nature. What absurd pretensions. One guy was so preoccupied with the self and how it would look in his image he almost bumped me over the cliff. I would have fallen several hundred metres to my death.

Skjalfandafljot River, unnamed falls north of Godafoss.

This is not the first time a selfie taker has done this to me. I am terrified of them and try to give them a wide berth. Their next move, now that there was actually room for me to take a photo of the nature I had come to see, was to ask me to take a photo of their whole group. I told them they could wait until I had taken a few photos (the light was good right now, so I wanted no delay, and wasn’t in the mood for putting these people first). I took maybe four, but they grew tetchy. Hey, my shots lasted several seconds each. I was delaying these important people. A guy had lined up the shot I was to take. Yes, these people entirely filled the frame. Behind them, one of the most beautiful waterfalls on this planet was only a tiny bit of background glare. I took it as requested, and one more that gave some context because I hated my task (no doubt they will delete it). Off they went. I photographed some more, although I couldn’t do justice to these falls. The wind was so strong I didn’t bother with the length of exposure that would show them to their best advantage.
When I got back to my car, I saw they hadn’t left yet, but, noting my approach, their bodies visibly stiffened and a frenetic rush to get away took place. They feared that I would get away first and thus hold them up, so they quickly finished photographing the guy who was going to the toilet and started their engines. There was no notion of manners or consideration to make sure I got this difficult section of 4kms dispensed with safely. They accellerated quickly away, sending dust and stones flying. I covered my camera to try to protect it. God had made them masters of the universe, and to hell with the rest of us. For now, I dusted off my camera but refused to do obeisance to people who thought the world was made entirely for their benefit. I managed to get out safely.

Barnafoss on Skjalfandafljot R

In the afternoon, I went, again at Emil’s recommendation, to the Barnafoss of this area, which is maybe 8kms downstream from Godafoss. (So, I have now photographed 4 falls in this river). Emil pointed out the farm where I was to park, across the river and in the distance. Maya, his wife, helped by map staring with me. Even so, I had to ask a friendly farmer, as nothing was a perfect match with my expectaions. Emil was right about parking at the last farm. The friendly farmer implied I could drive all the way. My Subaru could have, easily, but I am driving a Hyundai, with exceptionally low clearance, so parked just after a fence boundary and walked what could be driven if you weren’t worried about insurance company’s ire. The pleasant enough walk on a 4WD road took me 37 minutes in each direction. Nobody told me I’d be on a road. I enjoyed the chance for some extra exercise, and the wind was no longer quite as fierce. It had even stopped sleeting.
At the road end, there is a tiny path with ropes for the slippery sections. The waterfall was so powerful, it was actually rather hard to photograph; the white froth dominated the scene too aggressively, and I only have a .6 GND since my camera on tripod blew over in a massive gust and smashed my Little Stopper and .9 GND. I really enjoyed having such a powerful waterfall entirely to myself, without the slightest risk that anyone would come that way. This waterfall is for locals. The name is also local, and the mappers haven’t put it on. If it were in Tasmania, it would have accolades as state champion of something. Blueness for a start. Volume per second possibly also.

Iceland 2019 2 Days 5-9

It was sad to leave the farm at Fludir, but I was excited to see what lay ahead, so set out eagerly on the day’s rather long drive (Day 5). My goal was a waterfall called Glymur, but I got a little distracted along the way, firstly by a nice early revisit of the Thingvellir National Park minus the tourists, and then by a little unmapped, unannounced waterfall called Þorufoss, beside road 48.

Thorufoss, Laxa River

Glymur is at the far end of the Hvalfordur. Herein lay my third distraction. I was driving along, minding my own business, and I saw a sign of a little man walking, and the word Fossa (the name of the river there. No, I am not driving in circles. Every second river is called Fossa).

Sjararfoss on Lana a Myrum R

Then there was a sign to a Fossarrett, which is an old ruin of sheep holding pens, and was a name I knew from my research. That is because next to this lies the unheralded, yet very attractive, Sjararfoss, which, of course, I needed to visit and photograph. In climbing up for a different view of the falls, (and because hills are meant to be climbed, because you just never know what you might see from the top, and the act of climbing is extremely pleasurable), I noticed an upper falls behind, so shot them too. Upper Sjararfoss, I guess.

Upper Sjararfoss

Now, at last, I was finished with distractions and diversions, and could proceed to Glymur. I parked and set out. However, I very soon encountered a sign that said “Leggjabrjotur”. I decided it meant “dangerous” or something of that ilk, so just kept going, as such signs are always overstated. However, it seems to be the name of a place, so my fourth diversion was to climb an extra, really lovely mountain, from which I could look down on Glymur, way across the valley. In climbing the wrong thing, I found another few wonderfully blue waterfalls with snow as their backdrop.

Leggjabrjoturfoss Botnsa River tributary

And finally, at long last, I had run out of other things to do, and set out on the real path to Glymur. Information says it is Iceland’s second highest waterfall, but I think they mean tallest, as we had not gained any particularly great height above sea level, which was not far away. It was a fun hike, as the path went through a cave, over the quickly flowing river on a log, and then quite a few roped sections. It was a most satisfying little exercise.

Glymur on Botnsa River

On the way out, I passed a German family who had obviously had a blow out on the rough road, and had then driven down a steep embankment. The situation looked quite dicey. I stopped to see if I could help. (Ha ha, I am useless, but maybe I could call, or drive to get, someone for them). Yes, yes, do I have a jack on board? Theirs had busted. I didn’t realise that I was now expected to use my jack, lift off their tyre, help put the other on, and more. Time went by and more time went by, as the process was very slow. I couldn’t believe that this person who cannot change her own tyres at home, had been made chief mechanic by these people, This does not mean my expertise had suddenly increased to be existent. It means they were even more useless than I am (and presumably won’t be reading this blog). In the end, someone else stopped, so, with great relief, I handed them over, and left, now running very late indeed for my destination of Borganes.
My chosen route (as dictated by Glymur) was along the Hvalfjörður, which is apparently now known as a “ghost” fjord, since most Icelanders bypass it through a tunnel under the sea (built a few years ago), saving 2 hours’ driving. Nowadays, the road of the old route is almost empty. I drove along, delghting in the calm water with reflected mountains to my left, dramatic mountains to my right, and the sheep and newborn lambs dotting the fields before the water. It was, nonetheless, a relief to have finished the day off – in time for a rather late dinner.

Hraunfossar on Hvita River

On day 6,  I set out after a fulsome breakfast at my air bnb for the Hraunfossar and Barnafoss, which are basically adjacent (maybe 100ms from each other), and accessed from the same carpark. The walk is barely worth putting shoes on for. I was a bit disappointed at the lack of excercise, and the whole ‘episode’ was over in a very short time.
The “Hraunfossar” is a series of waterfalls formed by rivulets streaming over a distance of about 900 metres out of a lava field. The waterfalls pour into the Hvítá river from ledges of less porous rock in the lava. It is rather a fun sight, and the water is magic Iceland blue.
Hraunfossar, means Lava waterfalls, and Barnafoss, Children´s waterfall. There is rather a sad story yielding the second name.

Salarfoss 1 and 2 at Husafell

Now, I was feeling cross at being so very exercise deprived by this silly “walk”, so, in order to get to actually move, I drove a bit further to Husafell, where I had been told there are a few hiking trails. I chose the yellow trail which climbed up  next to Selgil, and the Salar River, en route to Beajarfell. At the start, this looked boring and moonscape-ish, so I didn’t burden myself with my camera or tripod. This was just going to be exercise for the heck of it. Drat. The actuality was really beautiful, and at the top I just adored the impressive gorge and the series of four waterfalls I discovered. (None of these was on my map). It was fabulous having everything to myself, and finding something so unexpected. I went up for just over an hour, and down, similar – a much more satisfying amount of exercise. The photo is only an iPhone one. At least I had that on board!

After lunch I set out for a different Haifoss (having found the well-known one on day 2). This innocuous, and on most maps unnamed, little waterfall nearly terminated my life. I have only felt that nauseous with fear on one other occasion that I can think of.  The way there had not been overly exciting, and, for whatever reason, I decided to climb the cliffs to a highpoint above, which would then give easy access to the road, and save much stuffing around through bushes at the low level of my approach. Nice plan. Trouble, was, the cliffs were excessively crumbly, and by the time I realised that I really, really shouldn’t be doing this, going back down was even scarier than climbing up. I am an animal who ascends much more happily than the opposite. Only, unlike pussy cats, I was not going to be rescued by nice firemen. I tested each rock before using it. Three of every four just came apart in my hands. The slope was vertical. The drop was enough to kill. I kept apologising in my mind to my younger daughter who is always asking me to be careful, and I had promised her I would. Fear of leaving her parentless kept me on my very best behaviour. My older daughter has absurd faith that I will always land on my feet, so I didn’t need to feel guilty towards her. I hope to never challenge this ungrounded faith of hers, however. The work was slow, and larded with adrenalin. At the top, I was sweating like a pig, and panting – but not from the physical effort.
I never want to climb a basalt cliff again. I was unmotivated to have any more adventures that day, so came straight home.

On day 7, I found that the experiences of the day before had left me quite drained, and I was quite listless all day. Trouble was, this was the day on which I was to drive to Grundarfjordur and its famous Kirkjufell, a most attractive and shapely mountain, rising with ridiculous steepness out of the ocean, and decorated with what is maybe my favourite waterfall in the whole world. Expecting to enjoy it, and wanting to give myself the best opportunity to photograph it, I was booked in for three nights. I discovered to my pleasure that the marvellous denizens of this little town have drawn up a map with hiking trails on it. I was about to have fun.

Bjarnarfoss on Bjarnaa River

To reach there, I drove around the Snaefellness peninsula clockwise rather than using the shortest route. En route to Arnarstapi, I passed Bjarnarfoss, just before Budir. I liked the look of it, so stopped for photos.
I was also interested in a gorge up ahead: Raudfeldsgja. Because I was not feeling well, I almost wasn’t going to bother exploring it, but luckily I did, as I really loved it. Unfortunately, my lack of energy meant I did not feel like carrying my tripod, so the photos do not do it justice. I really was feeling very lethargic at this stage.
By lunchtime at Arnarstapi, I was really feeling sick, and explored nothing. I ate a bit and drove on.

Svodufoss on Laxa River

Listless as I was, I still stopped for Svodufoss, with the snow of Snaefellsjokul behind, and, right next door – maybe 300 ms away – Kerlingarfoss. Svodufoss woud be great from a helicopter or drone, but an earthbound human is too low to get in the snow plus the falls 😢. Maybe if I were taller it would have helped. I climbed a structure, but it still didn’t work.

Kerlingarfoss on Fossa River (yet another Fossa R)

The drive to Kirkjufell was amazing, but I was too tired, sick and nervous about falling asleep at the wheel to enjoy it properly.

Eyrarfjall

With so many trails on offer, (day 8) which one should I choose? One that someone who felt very ill the day before could tackle, so I chose Eyrarfjall. Good choice. I was at the summit in a pinch over an hour, and down in less. Perfect quantity. It was an enjoyable climb, but I hated not having a real map. The contour interval on the one provided is 100 ms!!! That barely qualifies as a map.
I was still not well, so after lunch had another sleep. I didn’t even feel like photographing!! There were no clouds. I skipped it.

Grundarmon view. That tiny lump down there is Kirkjufell. It looks a bit different from up here!

Luckily, I felt a lot better next morning (day 9), so could do a lot more, and was a lot happier. I began my adventures with a lovely early climb up the stunning Grundarmon. Such drama!!! There was a knife edge ridge the whole way along. I climbed to the snowline before retreating.

Another of the views on offer seen while climbing Grundarmon. The views along the way were better than from higher up, actually.

From up there I had a fabulous view looking down on tiny little Kirkjufell way below. The water of the ocean was a deep blue. I just sat on the cliff edge, dangling my tootsies over a several hundred metres of free space, and enjoyed the spectacle for a while before descending.  Two hours’ exercise so far. Nice.

Grundarfoss on Grundara River

Next, I decided I’d better visit the other “legal” waterfall in the area (there are more but farmers don’t want us there). This was called Grundarfoss, and it took 23 minutes in each direction.

Gjafi, on the way up

After lunch, I chose to climb Gjafi until the point where it got too dangerous (violently sloping scree). The colours of the rock were wonderful and on the way down, I had great fun in the well-cushioned alpine vegetation, springing as if I were on a trampoline.

Another view from the Gjafi climb

Iceland is famous for its lamb, but up until this point in time, I had not tasted it. This night, I celebrated feeling well again with a lamb dinner at the local restaurant. It was wonderful! This was my final night night here, so my celebration did have a little grey cloud.
Yet again (a habit of every night but one), I set out near midnight to photograph Kirkjufellsfoss, returning in the early hours of the morning. It was also my habit to be awake at 3 a.m. and to roll over in bed and take a phone shot of the dawn pink over the snowy mountains out my window. I was simply too tired to do anything more than that.

Kirkjufellsfoss on Kirkjufellsá River

I enjoyed meeting the other togs in the midnight fun. Amongst many, I made friends with Denise and Stefan from Switzerland, primarily bird photographers (and macro), but I persuaded them to come and see what was to be seen of this waterfall at that hour. They were just down the corridor from me at the Old Post Office. We still have contact through instagram.
Next day was a big drive. Yawn.

Iceland 2019 1 Days 1-4

I am not someone who enjoys dashing huge distances on a holiday, and thus, on my first trip to Iceland, I only saw the south-eastern corner, and took two weeks doing it. This trip, I opted to see the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and the coast along the north east. This particular itinerary meant I would be mostly having a huge waterfall bagging spree, with climbing mountains most days for my daily exercise … which makes this trip not much different from the last one.

Faxafoss Tunguflot River

I did not have as much excitement about this trip as I did the previous one, as that one I undertook with my gorgeous daughter, Yelena, whereas this time I was to be tout seul. I am used to doing stuff solo / alone, so I am not sure why this hassled me. I guess because Lenie and I had had such enormous fun last year, I couldn’t help but feel lonely about this year’s prospects. Na ja. Off I set into the blue yonder.
I’m not actually sure what other people do when in Iceland, but I obviously have an impoverished imagination, as I can think of nothing better to do than visit the island’s many fabulous waterfalls. As usual, I spent not a single second in the capital (or any other city). I landed, collected my car, and drove for one hour forty five to a tiny farm in the middle of absolutely nowhere, which is just how I like it. My base for the first four days was at Fludir. I had my own little house on a farm.

Hlauptungufoss Braur River

Day 1, I arrived fresh off the plane from Tasmania, forty long hours of travel behind me, at about 7.30 pm, so the hospitable farmer’s wife gave me enough goodies to see me through until the shops opened the next day. Out my window lay the huge River Hvita. I don’t actually like my rivers quite so enormous, but it was still nice to be near a river. The noises of cows and sheep and blackbirds could be heard on occasion. The trees out the window were just coming into bud. Spring was on its way. The snow was mostly in the process of melting, when it didn’t decide to have a last fling, which it did a few times. Due to snow melt, all waterfalls had massive flow. I hadn’t thought about that when I opted for May. I only thought of choosing “fewer tourists”.

Bruarfoss, Bruar River

Day 2‘s major fall was the Bruarfoss, easily accessible from my farm. En route, I passed Faxafoss (given a different name on my Michelin map for some reason), so pulled in there to spend some time with it. The sky was moody; the day cold. The water was a pleasant colour, and I felt right into the swing of things by the time I continued on to my goal. Googlemaps was guiding me, which was helpful. I merely typed in “Bruarfoss carpark”.
There is a track to these falls which is 3.5 kms in each direction. It is very clear, and mostly follows the river Bruar, whcih contains not only the object of one’s quest, but also the lesser known – but nearly as magnificent – Midfoss and Hlauptungufoss. It was (ambling upstream, taking everything in) 23 mins to Hlauptungufoss, 35 to Midfoss, and 50 to Bruarfoss. On the rebound, my gear was tucked away and I was faster: 50 mins up, but 40 back. The blue of this river is spellbinding. It remains one of my favourites.

Kerid

After lunch it was raining, but I decided to see this “thing” called Kerid, which announced itself as a major attraction, and wasn’t far from my intended route to my next waterfall, the rather boring Urridafoss, noted for being the most voluminous waterfall in Iceland, but, as pure volume fails to impress me, this was merely a box ticking exercise – although I photographed it for the records, of course.
Kerid was a pleasant surprise. Due to the now heavy rain, I decided it was just a bit of tourist hype, and was about to go away, when two other travellers came back from having visited. I asked was it worth the cost. The girl sat in my car and showed me her phone photos. I put on my raincoat straight away. What amazing colours! There were even some fun trails to walk. I loved it there.

Hjalparfoss Fossa River

Day 3 was a bit of a mixture of a day, with possibly more failures than successes. I won’t bore you with names, but several of the falls I had planned using the map were either not accessible at this time of year, or were non-events lying on the huge and unimpressive glacial river, the Þjórsá. I have now learned that what I love is “run off” rivers, and the big glacial ones, a dull, milky olive green colour and full of sediment, fail to impress. But we are all different, I know others for whom “the bigger the better” is what gives them kicks. And so it was that I drove quite a long way along this monster, not delighting in its offerings, until at last I reached the Hjálparfoss, which is on the Fossa River, just before it merges with the Þjórsá. (How many Fossa Rivers are there actually in this country?? When in doubt, call your river “Fossa”.)
Hjálparfoss was such a pleasant diversion after so much milky mirk. It was the fabulous Iceland blue, with interesting knobs and bobs about the place, so I had fun climbing this and that, partly to get a different vantage point, but probably more because I do love climbing things. Apparently my antics were being watched from below by a trio of Koreans, for we met each other later, at the next waterfall, and they commented on their spectator sport at Hjálparfoss.

Haifoss and Granni, Fossa River

Content, I headed of for Haifoss and Granni. Luckily my googlemaps was cooperating, as there were no signs to these falls on the main road 32. The paper map said I needed rd 332, which is cute, as it wasn’t named either. Anyway, Siri spoke to me, so all was well, and I bounced along the gravel, happy that I’d decided to pay for comprehensive insurance. This road was, for me, pretty scary, and I drove like a snail, not wanting to ding the car (despite the insurance). My Subaru would have waltzed in , but this Hyundai was very low slung, and made me nervous. An unnerving number of stones mercilessly whacked its underbelly.
With enormous relief I parked at last, prepared for what I had been told was a three hour hike. Alas, the falls were about two hundred metres from the car. The challenge, yet again, was in the driving, and not in any physical exertion. I had fun meeting the Korean guys here. They were much braver drivers than I was.
On way back, I had intended to then visit Gjarfoss at Gjain (signed), but the road looked muddy and a sign  indicated they wouldn’t rescue you if you got stuck, and I got too scared to go, so gave it a miss. Sadly. The photos others have taken look appealing.

Pjofafoss, Þjórsá River. Burfell behind.

That was the first of many waterfalls I was locked out of that afternoon. I did an enormous amount of driving, but was pulled up short each time. By now the wind had worked up a temper, and I was less sorry about not being able to hike or see any falls than I might have been. Pjofafoss, which I did get to see on the way back after all this failure, was lovely, even if the mountain behind it, normally providing the perfect backdrop, was not visible due to heavy, low clouds. Not only had I failed on many waterfalls this day, but my exercise tally was a dismal twenty minutes. Not my favourite day in Iceland.

Gullfoss, Hvita River

I thought I was by now (Day 4) due for a pretty pink sunrise or sunset. Na. Rain continued. Yet again, my theoretically made plans and the reality that eventuated differed. Plan: Gullfoss, Oxarafoss, Thingvellir NP, hike. Reality: Gullfoss froze me to death. Oxarafoss was full of ridiculous tourists standing in the lightly falling snow under the waterfall so you had to wait forever to get a clear glimpse of it.
Thingvellir was a huge disappointment. The idea of what it was thrilled me, but you weren’t allowed to go anywhere, or do or anything. You had to stick to a highway indicating that just out of sight was something lovely, but you may not have a look as it is possible for someone with an IQ of 20 to do some damage. Beauty was always a step or two away, if you wanted to get the proper angle. They teased and tantalised us, but never delivered. My ‘hike’ was a non event. There is no hiking in this park. And no real maps, and no information on what you can do (basically, nothing other than a couple of granny strolls). What they should do is cull the numbers by making the path small, uneven and difficult. Instead, they’ve simplified, widened, smoothed and evened it all so they can attract millions of people who have turned up in busses and don’t seem remotely interested in what they’re looking at. They’re busy consuming food, the wrappers of which they throw on the ground as they go. I looked over the edge at one stage, and I have never in my entire life seen so many cigarette butts. These had company in the form of paper cups, tissues, and wrappings. That’s what happens when you go fishing for tourists at any price. How I would have loved to walk on a little path between those incredibly important tectonic plates and seen them in nature rather than with a road through the middle. I expected heaps of this park and got almost nothing back. My best photos were from outside it.

Oxarafoss, Oxara River

Just in case you don’t happen to know what this park is actually about, it has enormous interest if your inclination is for history, or for geology. Historically, if you have done any reading of the sagas of of Icelandic history in general (and I had read up big time before my previous visit). this is the spot where the annual kind of parliament met, in the amphitheatre where you can stand. Lots of incredibly important matters pertaining to Icelandic history were decided in this very spot – like the decision to change from worshiping gods to becoming a Christian nation (in order, mainly, to stop Norway from attacking). This mammoth decision was made around 1000 AD. The sagas changed their tune a bit after that.
Interesting as all that is, for me the most fascinating aspect, however, is the geology. The Þingvellir NP is located in a rift valley created by the drifting apart of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Is that not totally amazing? This drift of the tectonic plates is not exactly at the speed of summer lightning, so you are not going to do the splits if you put one foot each side: they are travelling in opposite directions at the rate of about 2cm per year. As they move apart like this, they cause the land between them to subside, and that is what is in the park. But they want to steer all tourists into one spot, so it is tricky to get a good look at what you’ve gone to see. In some of the gaps created by the rift, water has seeped in, and it is as clear as could possibly be, and also is, of course, that fabulous deep blue of Iceland.  Whilst being very annoyed, I was also in love, so returned the next day very early so I could have the park to myself, and have a better explore.

Ravine waters, Þingvellir National Park

The Almannagjá gorge path goes between the edge of the North-American plate and an old part of the wall that collapsed. Most tourists mistakenly think this is the corridor between the two continents. The gorge basically ends at Öxaráfoss, which used to look quite beautiful before they built viewing platform. The beautiful ravines made by the tectonic movement have filled with the Langjökull glacier’s water, which has travelled underground for decades through porous lava rock, undergoing a very thorough filtration process. When it enters the ravines, the water is pristinely clean and crystal clear. This is nice. People are allowed to pay to go scuba diving there, but photographers are not allowed to get an angle on any of the ravines that demonstrates this beauty of colour. I did not go scuba diving.

Cow shed fun

This night, my fourth on the farm, was my final night at this location. The next day I would proceed to Borganes, further west. (Seriously, there was some logic to my route). That late afternoon, the children of the farm knocked on my door. They wanted to show me the newborn calves and lambs and to generally chat to me. They were 8, 10 and 13, and spoke excellent English. Quite apart from having fun seeing newborns and being-borns, and smiling at the children’s exuberance and their pride in their farm, one of my happiest memories was of us all walking down the muddy road, singing Abba songs together. I didn’t tell them that I have lived on a pseudo farm for most of my long married life, and have annually had my own newborns.

Faroe Islands 2019

My experience on the Faroe Islands was so mixed, that I find it hard to answer the question: Will I return? On the positive side, there is the stunning drama of the landscape, where nature’s fury seems exhilaratingly evident – in the steep slopes, the impossibly jagged peaks, the vertiginously high cliffs. All the angles are acute, declivities extreme. The grass is green, the villages picturesque (mostly), and the sea – even on a grumpy day – an alluring shade of blue.

Bour, first night, the view from my window

So why would I not return? I felt like I was part of William Blake’s poem, The Garden of Love, where “Thou Shalt Not” was writ over the door of where he wanted to play. Every mountain I wanted to climb, it seemed, was on someone’s private land. I either had to sneak on, like a fugitive, or pay between $50 and $110 for the privilege of walking a few hundred metres across the land to be able to start climbing. I don’t enjoy feeling unwelcome, and even less do I favour feeling like a felon. They don’t seem to have heard of the notion of “National Park” where you save something beautiful for all the people to enjoy, or of the wonderful English Right to Roam, where you access high land through established rights of way, and have freedom to roam above a certain height. Oh how I adore that system!!!!!!!! But what we have, and palpably feel, on the Faroe Islands, is a huge tension between the broader Tourist Industry, which desperately wants our presence (well, our money will do), and the farmers, who equally desperately, do not.

Bour. That’s my little bothy down by the water. Great view. Pity about the interior.

Now, I have no problem with the farmers not wanting us there. It is their land, and their right not to have us on it, and not to want their country overfilled with idiotic, rubbish-dumping, disrespectful tourists. I totally get it. I also get it that they don’t want signs in a foreign language and they don’t want to have to alter their own beautiful customs to accommodate ridiculous tourists who can’t leave home without demanding to have their own habits infiltrating a foreign place – a kind of culture conquest. The Faroese quite rightly want to be who they are, thanks very much. So what’s the problem? The problem is that the tourist industry lures us there, but then farmers implicitly tell us we’re not welcome. The tourist industry’s representatives and the farmers need to sort out their tensions and come to some kind of resolution so that travellers are not caught as pawns in this battle zone. When I was there, farmers had worked out that they could get rich faster than a charging cheetah by requiring each tourist to pay $50 to cross their land. Like many others, I paid, as I’d gone to the trouble of being there, but I felt we’d crossed from “culling the number of tourists” to downright greed.

Malafossur. First morning. Gasadalur is the town above.

Funnily, I even totally agree with the concept of culling numbers by charging high prices (they do that on Lord Howe Island, with great success) – I just don’t like naked greed, and that’s what I witnessed on the Faroe Islands. Also, the situation we confronted in 2019 contradicted what we had been told: “There is only one hike on these islands that costs money”. Bunkum!!!! I don’t enjoy misrepresentation and deceit.

Climbing Middagsfjall

I’m afraid that every tourist I spoke to was feeling ‘used’, and unwanted. Some laughed about it; some were angry; others, just philosophical, but all felt it. It wasn’t so much about the money, as the feeling we had of being unwelcome and bled dry. For example, my first night’s accommodation (in Bour, Vagar Island), I paid $375 (just for me), and yet slept on the couch in my own sleeping bag, as the bedroom didn’t fit me as well as the bed; it had no windows to speak of; the cheap, synthetic duvet was too heavy to tolerate; and the fabric of the sheets was abrasive. There was no milk in the fridge, or anything helpful. The shower grew mould like a Tassie tree grows lichen. I had packet soup for dinner, as all shops were closed (Sunday) and there was nothing to let me know I was welcome in my little bothy. (In fact, I stood for over ten minutes in the rain trying to work out how on earth to get in. I was not welcomed by the host.) I had dried biscuits and my own coffee for breakfast, there being nothing else available. I kept telling myself: “You’re paying for the view, Louise”, and staring out the window. The view was certainly dramatic and amazingly beautiful, but is that enough?

More from Middagsfjall. I loved it up there. A plane flew underneath me to land.

I had to use my own sleeping bag on three of my seven nights. It would have been four, but I cleared out of one place I’d paid for, and just paid double to be somewhere nice on my final night. I wanted to finish on a good note, and I’m so glad I did.

Mykines Island. Day 3

That’s a lot of negatives, so let’s not forget that I’m still undecided on the topic of a possible return. In fact, even given the above, I probably will go back – just like a woman is able to kind of forget the pain of childbirth and turn up for baby number two. The joy of the birth outweighs the pain of the process. So, having warned you that life on the Faroes is not all candy and cream, I can proceed in gushes and gahs about the beauty. (Actually, I have NEVER seen so much candy in my whole life; I was truly amazed. Unfortunately, I wanted, and couldn’t find, something nutritious and tasty to eat).  Apart from playing inept criminal in the local saga, I really did enjoy myself, and every single fellow traveller I met was extremely nice.

Mykines. Lucky Puffin: home with a view.

On the first day (having survived my opening night on the couch), I set out for the famous Mulafossar (pictured) and was not at all disappointed. The sun even gave me a gorgeous shaft of gold, stage-lighting the village of Gásadalur above. That was a good start. I felt almost appeased. I felt very much so when I arrived at my accommodation for the next night in Midvagur (Ingis Guest House) very early indeed (before lunch) – I was actually just checking out what it looked like, knowing that places don’t like you checking in so early, but this place had an owner who was visible and who saw me and made me perfectly welcome. The place was as roomy and comfortable as the other one wasn’t.

Mykines lighthouse

That afternoon, I went to inspect my second waterfall, Bøsdalafossur, and the famous cliffs nearby, Trælanípa. And thus began the game of farmers deciding to whack on huge charges. I wanted to see, so I paid. But I wanted my money’s worth, so climbed a few extra mountains alongside, and neither asked about, nor cared, whose land they were on … and then felt guilty for climbing mountains. Oh dear. And now, from the safety of home, I am angry that I didn’t climb more. There were others I wanted to climb, but felt uncomfortable and cleared out, and now regret it. There’s no point in reading blogs written in previous years about climbing this and that, as things were different then. I wanted to go back for a sunset or sunrise photo, but the farmer said the $50 was for one visit only!

Tindholmur and Drangarnir. Sunset (near midnight)

My next day, day 2, I had tried to book a ferry to go to Mykines and see the puffins. But the booking was all in Faroese, and very confusing. I and three other couples managed to book in the opposite direction to the one we wanted, and thus weren’t booked at all. Anyway, by a stroke of luck, I did manage to get onto the ferry, and had an enjoyable trip across. By the time I arrived, however, I was a little block of ice, so thought I’d have a coffee in the cafe the island was supposed to have. I couldn’t find one anywhere. I eventually found someone to ask, and she said I was right outside it. It doesn’t have a sign. Coffee, cake and fish soup were wonderful, and I was then defrosted enough to begin the walk. It was very short indeed, but also cost $50. Everyone was there for the puffins, but the signs told us we had to march purposefully past the puffin area, and we were not to stop or even slow down. To my relief, I saw everyone disobeying, but, again, I felt terribly naughty for looking at what I’d come to see – and paid for. In Iceland, we were allowed to stare and photograph to our hearts’ content. Nobody hurt or endangered these birds. We were all staring because we love them. I didn’t witness any bird suicide due to human invasion. Right at the end, the day’s gang of tourists had all gone back, and puffins and I enjoyed just being there on the hillside. I watched the partner come in from a day at the office, tell his wife what he’d been up to; she offered a few remarks, and off he flitted again, to be repeated many times over.

Tindholmur and Drangarnir. Sunset (near midnight)
Mulafossur, also around midnight

On Day 3, I had booked to go on a hike with a guide. No. I did NOT need or want a guide, but this farmer insisted. Cost $110. This guide was hilarious. He turned up in his slippers and track pants, while we, the eager hikers, were assembled with boots, packs and stocks (those who use them).  We had to wait a bit, but were then allowed to begin. I was up the front with the eager beavers, wanting to get as far as possible for my money, and especially wanting to arrive at our goal before the midday glare ruined it. I actually wanted to see it at sunset, but this was not allowed. There were three of us with tripods, and he agreed we could go to the end alone. Two of us did. I arrived, photographed a bit and some more, and was eating lunch when the rest turned up.

Hike to Tindholmur

“Did he say we’d eat here?”, I asked.
“He says nothing to anyone”, they said. Oh. I thought it was just me.
The others decided to eat lunch too. Our “guide” turned up, and played on his phone, ticking boxes while we chatted to each other.
He spoke to us to tell us it was time to turn for home. (The info said it was a six hour walk. We’d been walking for 1 hr 10 mins. I didn’t feel I’d had my money’s worth.)
On the way back, one of the poor Chinese got dive-bombed by a vicious attacking brown sea bird. He lay on the ground petrified. Who rescued him and taught him how to deal with these birds? Our guide? No. You guessed. Me.
I felt ripped off by the mismatch between $110 and what we’d received, and was longingly eying up nearby mountains. Damn this farmer. I’d paid to be on his land. I was jolly well going to get more than this, so I told the “guide” I was going to climb that one there, and turned around and went. He couldn’t call me back, as he’d never bothered to ask any of us our names. On Lord Howe Island, I had to have a guide I didn’t want, but he was highly educated, with a university degree in environmental science, and spoke interestingly on various issues of the island. He was also friendly and helpful. (Same price).
I had great views up there on my naughty mountain, and felt more peaceful on my return.

Looking down on Tindholmur and Drangarnir from nice and high.

The following day (day 5) I had to head north, and decided this would be the day I climbed Villingadasfjall, quite high and dramatic. It was recommended not to do this in the mist. My mist was as thick as quick mud, but off I set, past the collection box, and up the gooey slope into the palpable gloom. The maker of the track did not waste time with zigs and zags, which meant the slip factor was pretty extreme. I witnessed one descender damage his coxis with a bang. There will be problems in the future. It felt a bit eerie up there for some reason – perhaps because of the dire warnings against doing exactly what I was doing, so I saw my summit and retreated quickly. It rained lightly most of the day, and the wind was not gentle. This was as far north as I got. The fjall is the third highest on the Faroes, and the view is supposedly brilliant. Another time I can try for the view. It felt nice to have had a good workout.

Fabulous views from Villingadalsfjall
Scene on Kalsoy Island day 6

On day 6 of my visit, I had chosen to take a ferry to Kalsoy to see the famous lighthouse there. I loved this island, and don’t even remember being asked to pay money – but maybe that’s because the rain was bucketing oceans and no tax collectors wanted to brave such conditions. I knew it was due to clear around 2pm (briefly), but needed the early ferry to be sure of getting there. I was armed with a book, and read for four hours at one village, and then two more hours at Syðradalur waiting for the promised break. My friend Goncales from the famous guided hike was there, so when the break finally came, we dashed up to the lighthouse (27 mins), photographed with squeaks of excitement at the beauty we were witnessing for 45 mins, came back in about 25, and closed the car door as the rains returned.

Kallur Lighthouse, Kalsoy Is

My accommodation that night was at a village I didn’t like (Vestmanna) at a place that I liked even less than the village (yet another use-my-own-sleeping bag but pay-big-money place). Yet again, for love of money, I could not find one single thing in the supermarket I felt like eating, so settled yet again for packet soup for dinner. Next morning, I decided I just could not bear to be there for the next – my final – night, so cleared out (I’d paid for two, so this was money in the bin, but worth it).

Saksun Village, Streymoy Is

The last day involved a visit to Saksun, but I felt the dislike of tourists and left. Others did the same. A smoking guard stood over me while I had my brief wander. I wanted to climb the highest mountain on the islands, Slættaratindur, but I couldn’t even see as far as the back of the car, and wasn’t in the mood for that, so proceeded further to the village of Gjogv.

Gjogv, Eysturoy Is

I saw it and fell in love. Did they have a room left? Yes, one. Oh joy. They even had nice food, and friendly staff. This was the note on which to finish my trip. I checked in, and then climbed a mountain up behind the village, from which I had a great view. Boy was it good to have a cooked dinner with real meat and vegetables!!! Trouble is, I broke the world speed-eating record and forgot to chew, so long had it been since I’d eaten real food.

Gjogv from up high

This village – that area – is one of the reasons I do actually want to return to the Faroe Islands. I have a lot of unfinished business (in terms of mountains I want to climb) in that northern region, and the failure to have climbed all that is possible does not sit well with me. I stare at my map and plot …  even now.

Gjogv: lovely note on which to finish.

Next morning I drove to the airport to begin the big trek home. The hire car guy – from Justdrive – was so disappointed to hear what I said about the farmers (and angry at the greed) that he didn’t charge me for any of the tunnels to give me a better feeling about the place. His spontaneous generosity worked. Now I have left with an ambrosial taste in my mouth. It’s great to finish a trip on a good note!

ENGLAND Lake District 2019

I was completely taken by surprise by my strong emotional reaction to being in the Lake District this year. I gazed out my hire-car window at the usual quaint pastoral scenes: lush grass, gorgeous Herdwick sheep, stone walls, charming cottages, and huge spreading trees that always fill me with delight; I smelled the marvellous combination of roses and other early-summer flowers; and I heard the welcome call of blackbirds along with other twitters that I can’t identify. All these aspects of what I love filled me with an aching nostalgia and I burst into tears that shook my body.

Climbing Robinson

I have been travelling to the Lake District on and off since Bruce and I first completed undergraduate studies at university. We’d been there three times by the time we had children; of course, we took our girls there to walk the high fells; and we have been there many times since, but this was my first visit since my husband died late in 2017, and I realised here, standing in the lanes near Skelwith Bridge, how much all this beauty surrounding me was part of the very being of my husband. The Lakes were not just an area Bruce admired: they were actually part of who he was.

Climbing Robinson

The teenager Bruce imparted to his little teenager girl friend, later wife, his deep love of all things English. Bruce inhaled English literature. By the time he had finished his honours degree, he had read every great book written in the language before 1900, could burst into Old English at the drop of a hat, or chat about any of the characters that filled the books as if they were old friends. The Lakes were beloved as the padding ground of many of his favoured poets. He loved telling me stories of their experiences here. This area embodied much of what filled his being and sparked his enthusiasm, but now I was here without him. I was yanked back to younger days, but without the person who made them meaningful.

Elter Water

Together as recent graduates in our early twenties we had roamed its hills, with me photographing while he wrote poetry on the summits. Later we loved sharing what we loved with our girls. When we did post-graduate work at Oxford, back we came for more, and somewhere in there, I realised I could “get” all the Wainwrights, so then we came back each year to enable that. But by then, Bruce had developed Parkinson’s disease. Bit by bit he got slower and less coordinated, but still he came, and still he wandered up high, gathering fells with me, and delighted in being there. He died just over a year after his last trip there.

Herdwick sheep greeted me

I walked the lanes still crying. I don’t care. There’s nothing wrong with crying. As I climbed Loughrigg Fell, my first fell for this trip, and became distanced from the cottages and lanes, roses and blackbirds, and up into the zone of open spaces and expansive views, my spirit picked up. Up there on the ridges and summit, with the breeze in my face, I was able to tap into a different version of me, of us. I am probably at my most peaceful in life going up or down a mountain : moving freely in grand nature with space all around.

Borrowdale Gates Hotel: scene of our party

It’s good that I did recover my spirit, as I had a party to attend that night, and I didn’t want to ruin its mood. My dear friend, David Purchase, was celebrating his 30-year Monroaversary, as well as the completion that day of his second round of the Wainwright Outlying fells. I sure would have dampened his summit party had I arrived in time for that one, but by evening when we all met up, I was ready for a party, and could focus on celebration, and not my drowning wave of emotions.

Misty morning

What do you do when you come from Tasmania and have climbed all the Wainwrights, but still want to keep climbing? Why, you begin all over again, of course.

Climbing Lingmoor Fell

So, the day after the splendid party, along with party guests Stephen Moore and Michael Earnshaw – both mighty multiple completes of meaningful lists of mountains – I climbed five Wainwrights of my Round Two Collection. I have now, as of the end of this short stay, climbed thirty five fells on Round Two. It’s fun beginning again. I am every bit as haphazard and unsystematic as I was on the first round, just climbing what I feel like / what takes my fancy at the moment. I want to return next year and begin the task of photographing the ones Bruce and I climbed in the very early days, but which I failed to photograph, as photography was very expensive when you were still a student and each slide cost 1/6th of my weekly scholarship allowance, aimed to keep two of us alive. Other photos are just blurry prints from when I downgraded cameras to save money, and did a triple downgrade in quality.

Black Crag

You know, it’s not just being up high in the endless space with mist or breeze (or both) in my face. I also love the valley life in England. I love it that if you pop into a pub for soup at lunchtime, almost every single other person there is wearing walking boots, and there is a map on the table. Spontaneous conversations begin across tables as people compare where they’ve been that morning, and what conditions were like up the top before we all venture out for another round in the afternoon. I love the attitude to dogs, especially as I live in a ridiculous canine-ophobic society that seems to think dogs are the worst pestilence that has hit planet earth. How my little Tessie would love to come freely roaming the hills with me instead of being forced to walk suburban blocks with a lead around her neck. (Yes, she comes waterfall bagging with me, but I can’t think of a single real mountain she’s been allowed to summit, as they are all placed in National Parks).

Ivy Crags near Holme Fell summit

I just can’t wait to be back, reacquainting myself with long-neglected fells. Tessie will be babysat in Tasmania.

Climbing Black Crag