A Photographic tour of Iceland.
April 2014. Part III - The East.
Thursday 10th April.
Originally I had planned to bypass the East in the longest single drive of the trip. About 260 miles or so.
Nature took a hand in changing that plan for us as the shortest route, through a mountain pass was still blocked with snow.
That left the longer coastal route which we decided to break somewhere around Egilstadir.
It also put us in the right area to look for an old abandoned French hospital in Fáskrúđsfjöđur that I had seen some interesting shots of during my research. I like ruins and derelict buildings. They have a character that is often quite photogenic.
On our travels we had seen a lot of abandoned or neglected farms. It seems that there is a slow migration going on from the rural areas to bigger towns and cities like Reykjavik. Looking around at the landscape, I am not surprised. It is easy to be romantic about rural living but it is not an easy life and the tough conditions here do little to make it easier.
Sheep are one of the few viable crops here and that is supported largely by the tourist market for hand knitted jumpers which have become quite fashionable at the moment. We'll put our hands up to say we happily supported that trade, with a couple of very nice, heavy duty wool cardigans ourselves.
Traditional Lopapeysa knitwear uses the natural coloured wool from the double coated breeds that came here with the Vikings and have since been bred for these conditions. As a fan of wool for use in the outdoors I have to say that they are warm and very practical for this kind of climate and for many parts of Britain as well.
Another kind of building that we had seen in places are the turf built huts that often still serve as farm outbuildings. This is a tradition that really does go back to the Vikings and as such, was something that I was keen to see more of.
Arriving in Fáskrúđsfjöđur we set about looking for the derelict hospital. I had an idea where it was from Google satellite images so was surprised not to find it. We drove back to Fáskrúđsfjöđur to get a better signal and checked the internet. The vague directions we found online seemed to indicate we were in the right place but could also have led to the other side of the fjord. We tried that but with no luck again. We retuned to our original location and had a better look. Sure enough we found the foundations. The historic French hospital is no more. C'est la Vie.
The condition of it's next door neighbour probably gives a good clue as to it's fate. Once neglected, things fall apart fast here.
If it was attracting visitors and was in dangerous condition I'm guessing the safest thing was to pull it down.
We moved on towards the South through some wonderful scenery that I wish we had given ourselves more time to explore. I had a couple of other locations in mind and the next on my list was Stokkesnes.
En route we started seeing a lot of reindeer. Originally introduced in 1771 and again in the years that followed they now thrive here like so much other wildlife. We saw seals in almost every bay, varied bird life everywhere and unfamiliar plant species too. I have a casual interest in natural history but there was much here that was fresh and interesting to see.
As we rounded the headland at Hvalnes, we also spotted this.
To all appearances it looked like another set of rather derelict turf buildings.
On closer inspection they were miniatures built either by Hobbits, which I doubt, or as some kind of film set for background shots, which is more likely given their dramatic location.
Stokkesnes was a little disappointing. There is an old Radar station there from Cold War days but we had gone to see the lighthouse and the black sand dune system. What we didn't expect to see was old rusting refrigerators and building rubble. It would seem that when the base was passed over to local hands it was not too carefully done. Sadly it was a bit of a dump. The lighthouse was surrounded by aerials and other scruffy paraphernalia and the vegetation growing on the dunes had not yet come back to life over the winter. I got this shot before the weather closed in over Vestrahorn and we cut our losses by moving on.
Jökulsárlón is possibly one of the natural wonders of the World.
Breiđamerkurjökull, a tongue of the great Vatnajökull glacier has retreated leaving a deep hollow filled with water.
Add to this the huge pieces of ice calving from the glacial face to float on the surface and you might have a sight worth seeing on it's own but add it's close location to the sea, and a narrow channel connecting the two, and you have the perfect conditions for a spectacle.
On every retreating tide ice leaves the lagoon towards the sea. The waves then wash the icebergs back onto the beaches, where they either melt away slowly or get washed about on the next tide.
As if this was not already a perfect enough opportunity for photographers, did I forget to mention, that the sand that these sparkling jewels rest upon, is black... It really couldn’t get much better.
As the light changed the colours reflected in the ice changed too, producing shades that you would not think credible if you didn’t see them with your own eyes.
The sea was quite lively so I had to keep dodging not just the waves but sometimes huge chunks of ice that were being tossed around on the shore.
What we didn’t realise at this point was that the gathering wind (24mph.) would soon bring snow with it.
Friday 11th April.
By morning we were in danger of being stranded in our little camper. The roads were quickly covering with snow and the traffic had died down to the occasional 4WD vehicle.
Shortly after a snow plough passed us heading South we decided to follow it.
A few miles down the road we left the blizzard behind us.
Literally as we turned a corner near Hof into another dale the snow stopped and we were left with just rain and the wind (37mph. gusting at 45mph.)
We reached Núpsstađur and the waterfalls were flowing upwards as the wind hit the rock face and the dust from Skeiđarársandur was flying through the air looking like mist but stinging a lot more.
Núpsstađur, was one of the sites at the top of our list to visit when we started planning this trip. The turf church and farm here are a UNESCO World Heritage Site with good reason.
It's position as the most Easterly farm in Skaftárhreppur made it an important stopping place for travellers crossing Skeiđarársandur. The site has been farmed continuously until recently and the original condition of the buildings means this place just oozes history from every seam.
We arrived in the afternoon to find a locked gate and a sign saying that it was private property...
We were bitterly disappointed.
I got a few pictures of this barn nearby as consolation and we parked up overnight at a picnic site further down the road to consider what to do.