Yesterday I went on a Sunday drive to Þjórsárdalur, a magical valley tucked up beneath the shadow of the volcano Hekla. It was cloudy in Reykjavík as we left, but in typical fashion, descending into Hveragerði brought a total change in the weather. We turned towards Fluðir, then followed a wide, meandering glacial river inland, its milky turquoise color highlighted by the slanting afternoon sun.
We turned after crossing an incoming river to follow a typical dirt road through the reddish-brown glacial till, ending at a small parking lot where, for the first time ever for me in Iceland, I shed layers prior to starting in on the hike. The best way to get to the good parts of this sojourn is to wade, so we all wore old sneakers without socks, and stretchy pants so we could roll them up.
The hike starts out along the river in the valley, then we crossed through it to get to the higher side. The water is, as usual here, coming straight from a glacier, so in spite of the warm sun, the water was frigid enough to make my legs tingle after the crossing. We climbed up to a ridge that gave a glimpse of our final destination, a network of waterfalls about twenty minutes away.
After the easy walk we descended into the valley, an enchanting mix of greenery, moss, and fizzing waterfalls. This place is rumored to have the densest population of fairy folk and elves, and with the afternoon sun setting the water alight and turning the greenery golden, it was not hard to believe. The whole valley was scented with the rhubarb-fresh smell of angelica mixed with the fragrance of wild thyme that we crushed underfoot as we made our way down into the valley, and the only sounds came from surging, tumbling water, and the wind rustling the short birch trees.
Down in the valley, we climbed the rocks, splashed across the river and waded in the still corners, finding steady footholds among the mossy rocks and tugging water, discovering which places were warmer and which were cooler. I waded to this tiny island to lie down and enjoy the moment, warm in the sun, surrounded by such incredible views. It's hard to believe how many nooks there are like this in this country, tucked at the end of long valleys in the middle of forbidding-looking mountains.
On the way back, we stopped at the archeological site of Stöng (anyone familiar with Reykjavík's nightlife might know about the bar Gaukur á Stöng, named after this historic farm), an ancient homestead from Iceland's settlement times, abandoned in the 12th century when Hekla's explosion and ashy outfall made the area uninhabitable. When the volcano wasn't busy, it must have been a lovely place to live, strangely warm in this protected valley, fed by a busy river, and protected by fairies.
Ship sighting: Aida Blu with her creepy tadpole décor is here again, on another Nordic tour. Other than that it's the usual set of tankers and cargo ships.