Under the ice

Day 7. Monday 20 May.

T is dangerous in the morning with a cup of tea in one hand, iPhone in the other and Google at the ready. D was vulnerable: catching up on the news from Australia online, he was ready to agree to anything. So the plan for the day was settled: we’re going to go to Husafell to go under the glacier into a man made cave. D immediately went online to book, securing a 3 PM spot. With a drive of about an hour to get there, we had some time to fill and some vital tasks to complete – visit the state-owned liquor store being number one on the list (a cask of Chilean red won out) and some olive oil (well down D’s list but T can’t operate without it).

Ventured out to find that the liquor store and the supermarkets didn’t open until 11, not 10 AM as we’d thought. Never mind, we’ll drop into the next door bakery to get some bread. D asked for a sourdough loaf and received a blank look. ‘Surdeig’, said D, comprehension dawned and we bought a loaf and a couple of rolls for lunch. Amazing what you read on labels the day before and more amazing what sticks!

To fill in time we dropped into the next-door Farmers Market, in reality a craft outlet targeting tourists. T started up a conversation with one of the women running the store (it is perhaps a cooperative) mainly about wool, but the discussion ventured into the cost of living. It seems that revenue is now mainly from tourism, and although fishing is still big, it’s nowhere as significant as in the past. Salmon, for example, is all imported or farmed (or both). Wild salmon is available, but is hideously expensive, and the once abundant stock from the rivers is no longer readily available. But things are good for the rich – who can afford to buy, or fish for in closed rivers, this delicacy. Another woman joined the conversation, and then took over. She had definite opinions about tourists – cruise ships in particular – and the negative effects, notwithstanding the positive impact on the economy. She complained that they didn’t buy anything because the cruise ships had warned them against doing so, purportedly for insurance/warranty reasons, but really so that the money would be spent on board. We quickly advised that we were a ‘nice’ type of tourist, disassociating ourselves from cruise ships.



Stocked up, we headed for the glacier. Because we had time to spare, we did a U-turn to revisit a small location named Reykholt. We had driven in earlier but as there didn’t seem to be much on offer, we drove straight out but T subsequently found some information that suggested a visit was worthwhile.  What we thought was a church was indeed so, but it also accommodated a library and a big research facility/display focused on Snorri Sturlusan, a thirteenth century poet/writer/law teller, politician, and (although this is not how he was described) a bit of a philande

The man in charge, an enthusiast, seemed surprised that we’d not heard of Snorri, because he is the foremost and most famous figure in Nordic literature. We felt suitably chastened (a bit like someone asking in Britain: who was Shakespeare?)



The display was very comprehensive – and afterwards we visited Snorri’s Pool. It was interesting that concepts, ideas and practical applications of physical/mechanical/infrastructure needs were so well advanced in that age, without the internet to help. We’ll have to catch up on some medieval Nordic stuff.

Then to Husafell to visit Langjokull Glacier, the second biggest in Iceland and the third biggest in Europe (as Inga, our lovely Alison G look-alike told us several times). The rough terrain transporter (a US missile carrier in a previous, Cold War life) transported 12 tourists up to the ice. How fantastic, we were the only people on the glacier this afternoon.

D was not so convinced: being underneath 50 metres of ice, slushing through pools of melt-ice, water dripping from above…but he was suitably impressed by the colours and guarantees of environmental etiquette. Interesting that the tunnel/cave has a shelf life of only about 12-15 years, due to its constant downhill movement and regardless of any climate change factors. Nonetheless, Inga made a passionate, sensitive plea for us to join her in a ‘reduced-plastic-/reduced meat-eating/more bike-riding world’. Fortunately, that’s all we had to commit to. T wondered about the 2 lamb shanks waiting in the fridge. D thought that for them, it was too late.

This operation, now privately owned but set up with government assistance, is apparently environmentally sound (if you don’t count the diesel trucks going to and fro, the diesel generators, the thousands of tourists and the cost of getting them (& us) there, etc) but we were assured that when the cave finishes its useful (i.e. commercial) life the glacier will, over a relatively short period if time – about 5 years – simply absorb the cave and it will return to its pristine condition.




On the return trip we decided to drop in to check out the waterfalls at Hraunfossar and the thermal hot spring at Deildartunguhver. The early evening was glorious, with late sunshine. The first stop had several waterfalls and cascades, reminiscent of New Zealand, water emerging from a lava field – a beautiful sight and unique. Others were more ‘traditional’. The water was that light turquoise usually found in glacial streams and the power in the narrow sections was awesome.

Apparently there was once a stone bridge that crossed the river to which a sad tale is attached (which may be an Icelandic ‘saga’): there were two children in the Hraunsás household who were supposed to stay home while the parents went to church for Christmas Mass. When the parents returned from mass, they discovered that the children had disappeared – possibly because the children got bored and decided to go out.

They then followed the children’s tracks to this waterfall at the stone natural bridge where the tracks disappeared. The mother concluded that the children must have fallen into the river and drowned. The mother had the arch destroyed in order to ensure no one else faced a similar fate. The waterfall is now named Barnafoss: Children’s Waterfall.

Deildartunguhver is Europe’s most powerful hot spring producing 180 l/sec of 100°C.  Most of the water used for central heating in the nearby major towns of Borgarnes and Akranes, as well as other locales, is taken from here. At Borgarnes, where we are staying, for example, the water is still at 77 degrees C after travelling 34 km. Iceland has a big advantage in being energy autonomous, perhaps mitigating the high cost of other items. T had a chat with two women from Austria, who highly recommended the adjacent Krauma spa, fed from the same hot springs: they’d spent two and and half hours immersed.T commented on the quietness, as it’s still not tourist season, but the Austrians remarked that their spa had been busy with a group of ‘Brits” who were apparently not quiet. Who would have thought ? D was surprised that the Austrians didn’t look like dried prunes (there’s a disconnect there).


It’s now 1045 and still very light…most confusing! No idea what we’ll do tomorrow – a cup of tea will probably generate some ideas.

One thought on “Under the ice

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