Iceland. What kind of weather comes to mind when you hear the name? I think cold, obviously, snow, rain and cloud. I see monochrome landscapes with volcanic formations emerging from the mist. I don’t expect sunshine, although sunshine was what we experienced on our first trip to Iceland in 2017 (link). My daughter Jane and I loved Iceland so much that we decided to go back and explore more of the country, but we were reconciled to the idea that we couldn’t possibly have as good weather as last year.
Actually, the weather was better. It seems that we had the first sunny week of the summer for our trip to West Iceland, north of Reykjavik. It wasn’t quite wall-to-wall sunshine – we had some cloudy spells but mostly sunshine with no rain or mist. I didn’t manage to take any dark brooding landscape photos at all.
There are geothermal areas all over Iceland where the ground steams and there are pools of boiling mud and water. On our way from the airport to West Iceland, we visited the Reykjaladur hot springs valley, which is well-known for its hot river. This is a popular Sunday outing for folks from Reykjavik so it was quite busy but lazing in the river, which was about the temperature of a warm bath, was a unique experience. I really enjoyed the hike up to the river and, on the way, we passed several bubbling pools, with colourful mineral deposits around them. This one was a bit too hot for dipping.
We stayed in an Airbnb in Borgarnes, which is an unassuming town about 80km north of Reykjavik. It was called Mountain View and this was the view of the Hafnarjfjall mountains that we had. Borgarnes is a utilitarian rather than a pretty town with supermarkets and a couple of good restaurants. It was a good base for visiting West Iceland but not really a destination in its own right.
We booked an ‘Inside the Glacier’ tour at where we snowmobiled to series of tunnels that had been excavated in Langjökull, the second largest glacier in Iceland. I took this photo of Jane looking a little apprehensive at the prospect of riding on the back of a snowmobile with me as a driver. I thought the snowmobiling was great fun – sadly no pics as I couldn’t drive and hold a camera. Jane’s view, I think, was that my snowmobile driving was to be enjoyed more in retrospect than at the time. Oh ye of little faith!
The glacier tour was really interesting with lots of information about the formation and evolution of the glaciers. It’s not obligatory to go there by snowmobile – there’s a Snocat alternative. It was an expensive tour but when you see the amount of equipment and work done in tunnelling into the glacier, you understand why. It was pretty dark inside the glacier but I managed to get a few images. I particularly liked this one of melting icicles.
This is Hraunfossar, which is a remarkable group of waterfalls where the water literally falls out of the lava, with no visible river above. Apparently, there are underground streams and a geological weakness allows them to emerge here.
What I find quite mind-blowing about Iceland is that the landscape is incredibly recent. All over West Iceland, you drive through lava fields like this were there hasn’t been time for a soil covering to evolve, where the principal vegetation is moss and only a few plants are just managing to get a tenuous foothold on the land. You can just see one on the bottom left of this image if you look carefully. This landscape is only about 8000 years old, which is incredible for those of us who live in Scotland where Assynt is 3 billion years old. We walked the coastal path between Arnastapi and Hellnar, dominated by Mt Stapafell (which I guess was the source of the lava field here).
Shapely Kirkjufell is a ‘must-go’ destination for photographers in West Iceland, with the usual viewpoint by the waterfalls (Kirkjufellfoss), with the mountain in the background. Sadly, too many photographers ruin their shots by using a neutral density filter and a long exposure so that they lose all the dynamism of the waterfalls. The long exposure approach where water goes milky hardly ever works in my opinion and it is ridiculously overdone. I decided that I would try and do something different and, when we arrived about 9pm, I was lucky that the evening light was picking out the bog cotton.
We drove back from Kirkjufell to Borgarnes and arrived just after sunset with the sky and sea aflame in shades of orange and red. We had a sunset every evening but this was by far the best. The image really needs a centre of interest so maybe I’ll learn one day how to Photoshop a wee boat into it.
Last year, on our first visit to Iceland, we did the tourist thing and went to the Blue Lagoon, which I thought was over-priced and over-rated. This year, we looked for natural, free hot springs and this was my favourite – the Landbrotalaug hot tub. It’s in the middle of nowhere and you can relax looking over the mountains of the Snaefellnes peninsula. I’d love to go there in winter and watch the Northern Lights from the pool.
Bjarnesfoss, our last waterfall of the holiday is an enjoyable short walk from the road. It isn’t one of Iceland’s well-known waterfalls but it’s very impressive when you get up close to it. I liked this image because it showed the basalt columns around the waterfall.
This year, we only spent one night in Reykjavik to avoid a very early start to catch our morning flight home. I woke up early and went out for a walk in the morning sunshine to find the courtyard in front of the Hallgrimskirkja completely empty – it’s normally packed with sightseers. I think that it’s a beautiful building and, although it’s in shadow, I liked the contrast here between the kirk and the statue of Lief Erikson, reflecting the shape of the kirk.