Iceland, Land of the Midnight Sun

AkureyriIn Djupivogur we take a boat to Papey Island, where Irish monks used to live in the tenth century. Now the island is populated during the summer by thousands of seabirds raising their chicks, while seals sun themselves between the rocks.

A little farther along the road we come to the small village of Stödvarfjördur, where 80 years ago a young lady called Petra Sveinsdottir was fascinated by the many colours and shapes of rocks and minerals, so she started collecting them. Her passion for rocks continued over her entire life and, though she is now in a retirement home, her children continue to care for her collection. The small house and magnificent garden contain many thousands of rock samples and is the biggest and most magnificent private mineral collection in the world. About 25,000 tourists visit this place each year.

Now along the east side of the island the landscape changes again, it is less stark and there are frequent meadows and fields and small trees grow along the side of the road. We are told that the climate here is actually a few degrees warmer than in Reykjavik, but there is still snow left on the shaded side of the mountains.

Just south of Egilsstadir we travelled along a long lake, Lagarfljót, and there Gugga took us into the forest called Hallormsstadaskógur, which was first planted in 1899. It now has mature trees and stretches for about 15 km along the lake’s shore. It contains spruce, pine, larch, Alaskan aspen and birch, all looking very healthy. Clearings are covered by blue lupines, which were introduced to Iceland about 70 years ago and have spread amazingly all along the coastal plains and hillsides, much to the delight of the people because the plants stabilize the ground and reduce erosion. However, biologists say they destroy indigenous plants and should be controlled.

On the other side of the lake we climb to the top of Hengifoss, the Hanging Waterfall, which at 128 meters is the second highest fall in the country. From the top we have a great view of the falls and the surrounding countryside.

SkogafossAt the northern end of the lake, just before the road turns west and inland, we see Egilsstadir again in the distance. We have lunch in a sod-roofed restaurant in the village of Mödrudalur, where the painter Stephan Jonsson used to live and work. All his paintings contain fantastically-stylized images of nearby Mount Herdubreid; one is displayed in the village church; it shows Jesus sitting on the mountain among palm trees, and the flowers are the apostles in colourful, oriental costumes.

In the evening we reach Lake Myvatn, a geologically active area. Reykjahlid, the centre of this district, is a small village with few facilities, but the church is worth visiting. When the volcano Krafla last erupted in 1729, the lava flowed for several days toward the village. The people congregated in the church to pray and the lava stopped just short of the church but continued to flow a short distance on either side.