Google Analytics

Friday, 23 July 2021

Walking In Iceland 3: to Sveinstindur

links to: introduction and index - previous day - next day

Another extract from the notebook. Neville and I are on a guided walking tour in the south of Iceland with ten others. After two nights in the youth hostel at Reykjavik, today is the first day of the tour proper.

South West Iceland, Dick Phillips tour, 1977
South-West Iceland showing yesterday’s drive to Thingvellir, Geysir
and Gullfoss, and the walking route (east to west) in blue

Friday 26th August 1977

The route consists of ten days walking from mountain hut to mountain hut across an isolated and uninhabited part of southern Iceland, a total distance of about 70 miles (112 km). Huts are roughly 12 miles (20 km) apart, although sometimes we stay at the same hut two nights running. We carry our own clothes and sleeping bags, and a share of the equipment and provisions. We are warned we might have to carry loads of up to 44 lbs (20 kg) although it is normally much less. It would be more but for the advance food depots left along the route by the tour organiser. We are also warned we should be able to walk double the distance in case of difficulties with routes or huts. These problems are only likely to arise earlier in the year, before mid-June, when there is more snow on the ground and the rivers are higher. Our walk, in August, is a soft option.

Dick Phillips in Iceland

The tour is organised by Dick Phillips’ specialist Icelandic travel service which has been operating since 1960.

Dick Phillips is something of a legend and sounds a bit scary. He possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge of Icelandic landscape, culture and folklore. 

He first visited the country several times in the nineteen-fifties, initially on a month-long cycling tour, and then on expeditions to the interior, including the first unassisted coast-to-coast crossing of Iceland by bicycle. He worked on a farm and lived in an upland community before converting an old farm house into a hostel. 

The tour brochure shows him with a fearsome beard, wearing one of his distinctive Icelandic jumpers, checking out a glacial river crossing. He looks formidable, not to be messed with. He is also very smart. He appears to have sent the photographer across first.

Icelandic Mountain Bus, Dick Phillips tour, Iceland 1977

Despite being a walking tour, this first day does not involve much walking. It begins with a long cross-country ride of around 150 miles (240km) in a chunky, radio-equipped, four-wheel drive, low gear-ratio, Icelandic mountain bus. It needs all this kit. Soon after Selfoss, the bus turns left off the deteriorating road on to cindery, bull-dozed tracks, and then winds off-road across open country. It picks its way through volcanic wastes, swerving to avoid boulders, rising and falling to cross undulations and splashing through rivers. At one point it crawls diagonally down a steep, unstable hillside, hoping not to start a landslide. Few other vehicles would have been able to pass this point.

Hekla from Icelandic Mountain Bus, Dick Phillips tour, Iceland 1977
The view inside the bus, and out towards the Hekla volcano

We stop to pick up Paul, our tour leader, who is waiting in a Land Rover. We are a little wary, unsure what to expect. Is he going to be another tough mountain guy like Dick Phillips, a commando boot camp bully or a snarling Eiger Sanction assassin? Surprisingly he is a pleasant, young, bespectacled, quietly spoken human being with shorts and suntanned legs.

He asks for help to unload provisions from the Land Rover, and Neville, ever the volunteer, rushes forwards. It doesn’t need all of us, only two or three. Neville returns arms filled with loaves of bread, highly appropriate for someone who works for a Hull bread manufacturer. The provisions are piled on to the overhead racks and vacant seats so as not to be squashed by the rucksacks in the luggage compartment. As the bus bounces over the rough terrain, my views to the south of the dormant Hekla volcano [it would next erupt in 1980], snow-capped and shining in the sunlight, are frequently disturbed by loaves of bread raining down on me.

At the front people are asking Paul about the tour, other tours, the elusive Dick Phillips and “what happens if …?” sort of things. Paul speaks slowly, emphasising each word as if painstakingly chosen, with long pauses at full stops and commas. He has a nice line in irony and understatement. He would like to be able to promise us a fortnight’s weather like today but he can’t of course. “Has it ever rained for two whole weeks?” “Yes,” replies Paul, “but I can’t guarantee it.” Someone else asks about crossing glacial rivers. “Sometimes, you can even get the bottom of your shorts wet,” says Paul, as if it is a pleasure. 

Dick Phillips Walking Tour in Iceland 1977

Eventually the bus drops us in the middle of nowhere, at the side of a small lake in a cindery, rock-strewn desert. We could be up a Knottingley slag heap: the Black Hills of West Yorkshire. Despite the evening sun, it is surprising how cold it is. There is a bitter wind. The provisions are divided up for us to carry, although Paul took the most. After about an hour’s walk across a stream (wet foot but not wet shorts) and a gap between gravel hills, we arrive at the Sveinstindur hut where we are to stay for two nights.

I can now put names to half the faces, but conversation remains guarded, formal and polite. It won’t last. We are about to be holed up together for a week and a half like Icelandic sheep herders. 

Sveinstindur, Dick Phillips tour, Iceland 1977
Arriving at the Sveinstindur hut. Paul the leader, with his massive carrying frame, is on the left.
 

(next part)
Some names and personal details have been changed. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who was there.

31 comments:

  1. That lake looks amazing. The place probably looks the same today but if you recreated the photo with the current generation the clothes would have changed and they'd all be standing backs to the lake taking selfies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It looks very still in the late afternoon light. I wrote down there was a wind but it most have been low enough to be sheltered from it.

      Delete
  2. This is reading just like something from a Boy's Own Adventure story. Thrilling. Especially with lots of manly, bearded types too.
    I like the bus!

    ReplyDelete
  3. It's so good that you kept your expedition notes. Little did you know when you wrote them that one day in the future they would appear in a blog called "A Yorkshire Memoir" that would be accessible to visitors from around the world. Great memories to look back upon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Who knows what I was thinking in keeping them. "Neville" read them recently and found them quite amusing.

      Delete
  4. It is one of the few places I regret not visiting while I was still able=bodied enough.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think I'd be able to do a walk like that now. At least I can celebrate it through the diary I kept.

      Delete
  5. The photos are good quality considering it was long before digital photography. My Kodak Instamatic ones of the era aren't half so good although I remember a trend for taking slides, no good for passing round, and everybody had a slide projector. The last photo with the backpacks looks like serious stuff, like an Everest basecamp.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Only a Zenith E. I've spent quite a time digitally enhancing these, but even so, megapixel digital would be so much clearer.

      Delete
    2. We liked to believe it was lie Everest base camp.

      Delete
    3. I was thinking Zenith E when I wrote the comment. They were the camera to have at that time among male friends of mine. I stuck to my Kodak Instamatic.

      Delete
  6. I have to read my own blog to remember holidays from a few years ago. Some holidays are much more firmly planted in your memory than others.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Notebooks and photographs supply rather more than memory. I doubt I'd be able to produce an account like this without.

      Delete
  7. I hope a fellow adventurer checks in, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So long as they aren't upset by anything I've written. They'd probably be going "no, that's not rigth it wasn't like that at all".

      Delete
  8. That was a tour for the young and fit!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I am really enjoying this. This walking tour is very interesting to read about although I'm sure it was not for the faint of heart! Your pictures are excellent too. This is such a wonderful memory for you to now look back on and share with us!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really would love to do it again, but I would be a wreck by the end of the first day.

      Delete
    2. I saw the Olympic marathon bike ride for women this afternoon. The woman who won was delighted but she lay on the ground trying to breathe. I was thinking of your walking tour, successful but e exhausting :)

      Delete
  10. Lol at Dick Phillips sending the photographer first! I am enjoying your trip!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dick Phillips was rather a mystery to us at that point, which made him a bit of a comic character.

      Delete
  11. Wow, Tasker - a very impressive adventure! I read on the first comment: "That lake looks amazing." So it does, but I thought "That legs look amazing" - looking at Paul the leader on the right of the second photo :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess if you lead all those long walks carrying that massive carrying frame you're going to get legs that look as chunky as an Icelandic mountain bus. Maybe you should ask Yorkshire Pudding for a picture of his legs.

      Delete
  12. The view out that bus window was rather like looking out at a moonscape. How fortunate for you to have made this trek long before Iceland became so popular.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It occurred to me too, looking again at the photographs, how much it looks like the photographs taken my the Mars rovers. I think it makes one appreciate that our planet is not all that different from others, and it's just fortunate that we have the right gravity and get the right amount of sunlight etc. for life to have emerged.

      Delete
  13. Thank you for another great read!
    Once again, the photos make me think I would like a walking tour there, too.
    If the picture of the group by the lake were new, I would assume everyone has their backs to the lake and is looking down because they are all faffing with their mobile devices.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Neville" read the notebook a few weeks ago and said he found it very entertaining, so I wondered whether it would make a blog post. I'm pleased others seem to like it too. It is turning out to be a true Icelandic saga. They might now faff with their devices but I doubt there'd be a signal, even today. Anyone with a satellite phone should be thrown in the lake.

      Delete
  14. Despite being only an occasional visitor to Blogland in the last month or so I'm determined to keep up with your Icelandic trip. So far so good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've linked them all together at beginning and end of each so they can be followed in sequence - assuming the links work for everyone.

      Delete

I welcome comments and usually respond the same day (unless it looks like you are trying to advertise something).