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Sunday, 24 October 2021

Iceland 12: to Fljótsdalur

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Sunday 4th September 1977

Einhryningur, Dick Phillips tour, Iceland, 1977
Leaving Einhryningur

Our last day of walking, on the move again from Einhryningur to the Fljótsdalur youth hostel. The route drops from the mountains into the Markarfljót valley. Ahead of us, to the south, the ice cap over the Eyjafjallajökull volcano shimmers in the sunlight. The volcano, you may recall, would later erupt in 2010 causing enormous disruption to air travel across western and northern Europe.

Dick Phillips tour, Iceland 1977: south towards the Markarfljot valley

As we descend from the mountains, the Markarfljót valley looks like a dry estuary with a stranded island. You expect the tide to come in, but Paul says it has not done so for hundreds of years. The estuary is filled with an outwash ‘sandur‘ plain, the Markarfljótsaurar, consisting of sand, clay and other glaciofluvial deposits from the Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull glaciers.
 
Dick Phillips tour, Iceland 1977: the Markarfljot sandur plain

Along the plain is a long flat road to the hostel. I talk to Tony for a while. He is a mature student who used to work in stockbroking. He had to overcome a lot of prejudice on switching to the lower status of trainee design technology teacher. He seems very happy and content. I take encouragement from this, being about to switch from accountant to psychology student. Nearly everyone on the walk has been to university, and all say they would have got more out if it as mature students.

Ed falls further and further behind as the day goes on. He deserves a medal for finishing. As he sits with eyes closed, someone says he looks as if he is trying to escape from reality. “What do you mean?” he replies, opening his eyes. “This is reality.”
 
Fljotsdalur, Dick Phillips tour, Iceland, 1977
Fljótsdalur

The youth hostel at Fljótsdalur (meaning: River Valley) is an old farm house converted by Dick Phillips, the tour organiser. It feels as if we have returned to civilisation out of the wilderness. There are tables, chairs, cutlery, crockery, bookshelves with an extensive collection of books about Iceland, hydro-electric power and comfort. Yet it is still isolated. Many years later, interviewed by BBC Radio Stoke, Paul said of Fljótsdalur: “The silence is broken only by the booming call of a Whooper Swan, or the whirring wingbeats of a Red-Necked Phalarope...” 

The hostel lies on the northern side of the Markarfljót plain between the Tindfjallalajökull and Eyjafjallajökull ice caps. Dick said he imagined Icelandic farmers of times past sitting out the dark days of winter, waiting for the first sight of the spring sun above the lowest point of Eyjafjallajökull.   

Dick Phillips tour, Iceland 1977: Eyjafjallajokull from Fljotsdalur
Eyjafjallajökull from Fljótsdalur 


Here is the map of the second half of the route on which the last five huts are indicated by blue arrows (click here for a greatly enlarged version):

Dick Phillips tour, Iceland, 1977

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

25 comments:

  1. Your Icelandic saga continues to be fascinating. If ever there was a daunting picture, the first photograph in this post is it. The prospect of that little band forging straight ahead, up and over that great peak in the distance, gave me chills (no pun intended). I was relieved to read that your journey veered off in a less challenging direction

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    1. Goodness, it was only a walking expedition, not climbing. It would probably have been a full days walking needing ropes and other equipment just to get on to the ice, but as you correctly read, we turned right and descended into the valley. The peak is the volcano that blew up in 2010.

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    2. The photo looks positively Tolkien-ish.

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  2. I am truly enjoying this series on your Iceland experience. The map helps me to picture the distance you covered and the layout of the land. This may have been a walking expedition, but you were all amazing to do this for that distance and in those conditions and location! I especially love that first picture because you can almost see a little skip in your steps knowing it is the last day of walking.

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    1. Thank you. As mentioned in preceding part, there was something of a party atmosphere knowing we were nearly there. We actually did have a last walk the following day, but it was optional.

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  3. I count nine sets of feet leaving on the last morning. Is that correct?, and I am simply astounded that your put one foot ahead of the other and made the trip.

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    1. There were 12 of us on the walk, plus the leader, plus by this point the leader's wife had joined us, so 14. I'm not quite at the back.

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  4. The map is interesting. Of all the place names I could only pronounce a couple, and I may even have those wrong.

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    1. Paul, the leader, said everyones pronounces Einhrningur differently.

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  5. I remember that volcano eruption very well - my friend from Northern Germany was going to come for a visit, but her flight was cancelled like so many others. She sent a picture of the eerily empty airport hall with the signs all reading "Cancelled".
    Can you imagine what life was like on such isolated farms, especially in winter? No sun for months on end, and how they managed to make enough to survive from such infertile-looking land is beyond me.

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    1. Sheep, sheep and more sheep. The land not far from there will also grow a few crops, but you have to choose what you grow carefully.

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  6. It looks like you had the best of the weather at the end of your trip. Great photos.

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    1. Thank you. We did, although the following day when we did a last walk there was a very icy wind.

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  7. I find the farmhouse interesting, I read somewhere long ago, that in olden times the cattle were housed all winter and then in the spring carried out to the new pastures. They were starved of course over the long winter. Another interesting fact, that is if you love flowers, is that the Marsh Marigold comes from Iceland.
    I wonder how its bleakness struck you and your fellow travellers as you trudged through its evocative landscape?

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    1. I guess they would have had to keep the animals indoors over winter. But my uncle did that with his cattle - he had a machine for chopping up turnips to feed them.
      Didn't know that's where Marsh Marigold is from. As regards the bleakness, I think that's what we went to experience, but by the time we got to this point after all the ice and volcanic stuff it looked positively lush.

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    2. We were looking at Norwegian art a couple of weeks ago and Marsh Marigold appeared in many paintings by Nikolai Astrup. I was surprised seeing it so far north.

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    3. I for one had been thinking of marsh marigolds like French or African marigolds which don't survive even our winters. However, I now read that marsh marigolds are of the buttercup family.

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    4. Evidently in the Isle of Man they have magical properties.

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    5. You have to spread the Mayflowers, as they were known, on your threshold on May Day to ward off the spirits and little people.

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  8. As you deal with the challenges of the walk, it is interesting that you were also grappling with the challenges of a major life decision. I imagine that at your age, you probably felt as if you had failed, having to change your course of study, but looking back at it from the comfort of many years, you can see that you were not...simply a young man in the wrong field.

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    1. Thing were looking up because I had just received my results for two 'A' levels I had studied for, and done well, so by this time I felt confident that I could and should do a degree. In the years prior to that, though, I had gone through some bleak moments.

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  9. I love the ri h warm colours underfoot and the contrast to the bleak cold coneyed by the mountains and the braided watercourses. The lzck of anything resembling a tree just adds to that feeling you would be at the mercy of the elements out there. Hardy souls all of you.

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    1. Ah but we have our outdoor clothing, also very photogenic against the green, greys, browns and whites of the landscape.

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  10. Perhaps for many of us having some bleak time in our late teens was a rite of passage.

    I would add the wind to the sounds at Fljótsdalur. I have leaarned the different winds over the last half century - those to enjoy and those from which to hide in fear.

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    1. There could certainly be a stong wind, although it's well sheltered there. The following day we had a last walk and the wind was bitterly cold.

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