Mollydog was reported to be feeling better this morning, so we set off feeling cheered despite the weather being distinctly gloomy. We stopped on our way at Dyrholaey, a black beach tipped at one end by scary black rock fingers (the Reynisdrangur) and at the other with a bunch of black rock stacks and a huge archway. The waves were grey and angry. We hurried away lest they drag us into the sea, which was something they seemed keen to do.
Not content with ski doos on Vatnajokull, we went up the next glacier along, Mýrdalsjökull, this time with Arcanum tours. This glacier is quite a bit smaller, but frankly, it was hard to tell. Luckily for us, it was clear and sunny, or at least it was when we went up. Again, it wasn't the best time. Apparently in spring the snow stretches down to the base on a mountain top and you can zoom straight up, but in September you get a seriously hair raising drive up to the glacier. I would definitely not have wanted to be driving at the bit where we drive between two great rotten lumps of ice over rolling rocks, through a fast running grey angry stream. This time we were the only people going out with the guide: although apparently they run tours year round if the weather is OK, it did feel like we were more at the end of the season.
This snowmobile seemed heavier and rather easier to manage, but unfortunately, it had snowed harder on Mýrdalsjökull, and we found ourselves going over some fairly bumpy snowdrifts. Somewhat to our embarrassment, we managed to tip the ski-doo over not once, but twice. Ow. Luckily we did manage to remember to keep our legs tucked in (this is so hard! Instinctively you want to kick out and push the thing back up again, but you can't, it's far too heavy) so nobody lost a foot. And snowdrifts are soft to fall into.
You can do dogsledding on Mýrdalsjökull as well as ski-dooing. We hadn't booked that, but it was interesting to see the dogs and sleds.
Onward, and we dropped in to what is thought to be the oldest house in Iceland, at Keldur. I'm not sure if this is it or if it's the rather bigger place opposite, but this was the best photo I took.
Then it was off to Hveragerði and the resoundingly named Hotel Ork. We'd been looking forward to Hotel Ork a bit because unlike pretty much every hotel in Iceland, it has BATHS! Showers are all very well, but there comes a point when one needs a soak...
But alas, our room had no plug! As the car park was empty, and the hotel was empty, we suggested that we could perhaps move to another room – but we were told sternly that they were all booked, so we went out for a walk round Hveragerði while the receptionist battled to explain the concept of a bath plug over the telephone to someone who really didn't seem to understand the entire idea of keeping water inside a bath. This confirmed our suspicions that Iceland doesn't really get the whole bathtub concept, despite all the geothermals - but when we got back, she had none the less magicked a plastic plug from somewhere. This made Mark very happy. He does love a bath.
Hveragerði is blessed with many steams, and has a Warm River. It's a bit eggy as a town, truth be told.
The hotel was still completely silent and deserted. Where were all the people that had booked every room but ours? Could it be that they really were all Orcs (or Orks) and were not able to arrive during the hours of daylight?
As we ate an early dinner, suddenly the Orks began to arrive. They came in giant troops, on enormous coaches. We noted that they seemed to be of different tribes – there was one where none of them wore sleeves, for example, every member of the troop wearing a sleeveless garment of some description. And not one of them wore anything with a floral pattern. The hotel people flung open giant doors at one end of the dining room, exposing access to a monstrous Orkish Eating Hall, and as we ate, Orks streamed past us to their food. They seemed tired, many of them walking very stiffly. Clearly these Orks had been out on campaign for a long while.
There are Three Tourist Attractions of the Isle of Iceland, known to all as the Golden Circle. The Tourist Attractions of Iceland are these : Gullfoss, the golden waterfall, Geysir, the geyser, and Thingvellir.
We both darkly suspected that the Golden Circle would be highly attractive to Orks, and would probably not be as exciting as was advertised, but still, it was only one day. We decided that we would endure the hordes of Orks and do the Golden Circle anyway, on the grounds that otherwise we'd always wonder about it.
We were wrong. OK, the Golden Circle is indeed somewhat swarming with coach parties, but there's a good reason for that, Gullfoss, Geyser and Thingvellir are amazing.
Gullfoss, the Golden Falls, is a very beautiful waterfall. It may be smaller and more accessible than Dettifoss, but it is also more lovely. Dettifoss comes across as a waterfall that would really like to kill you. Gullfoss would kill you if you jumped into it, but it would do it gently and regretfully and put up a rainbow of spray in your memory afterwards. As you go near it, first you hear the roaring, then this amazingly deep bass note chimes in as you get closer until your feet are resonating.
(Also, the cafe does a mean hot chocolate).
Geysir himself no longer performs for the hordes of visiting Orks, but his sister Strokkur is very obliging and sends up giant surprising gouts of water every 8 minutes or so. The blue pools around them are rather lovely too.
But Thingvellir was wonderful. What a place to hold your national events and celebrations. What a place to hold a parliament (even if it does sound like it was a quite outstandingly argumentative and violent one). It stands right on the edge of the rift between the American and European continents, which collide at this point, throwing up amazing cliffs and huge rifts full of clear blue water. You can't really see it in this photo (try clicking for the bigger version), but the water is very deep and blue, and very far down you can see a great many silvery coins, sparkling.
It's a very peaceful place too, and strangely warm and sheltered, and resultingly blessed with berries. And it's big enough to swallow regiments of happy holidaying Orks and their coach drivers, and not even notice.
Our last day, but our flight wasn't till 4pm, so we had time to do some final sight-seeing. We went to a brand new shiny museum - so shiny and new that there weren't any signs pointing to it yet in Njarðvík. It had been created to house the Íslendingur, a reproduction Viking longship. It had few 'real' items, pretty much everything was reproduction, model or photograph, but the displays were good and it was definitely worth the visit. When we arrived it was swarming with Orks (a well-fed Western tribe), but they very quickly left, leaving us in sole possession.
After that, we drove on, past the international airport, to Sandgerði on the western end of the peninsula, an empty town where we found an empty Natural History Centre, inhabited only by a slightly anxious lady who I think was worried that we would quiz her with difficult questions in English. They had some amusing Butterfish which kept turning round to watch us going round their tank, and a telescope which Mark expertly employed to spot a Brunnick's Guillimot.
Mysteriously, there was also an extensive exhibition devoted to the French Polar explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot. It was quite interesting, but I'm afraid that as I read French rather slowly, I failed to discover why it was in Sandgerði.
Then we went and walked along the beach where we saw yet more previously-unspotted (by us) birds - Ringed Plovers. We ate in our last Islandic Wooden Cafe – all the wooden cafes we ate in served nice and relatively cheap food, to the point that by this time I was specifically looking for a cafe built of wood – and went off back to the airport. I managed to leave a bag in the cafe, but luckily it was still there when we went back for it, and Keflavik is such a pleasantly quiet and spacious airport that it didn't matter that we turned up a few minutes later than intended.
The same could not be said of Heathrow, where we flew in circles for a while coming in – then, bizarrely, flew very low right over central London, in the manner of a plane that had decided to give us a scenic tour of the capital. As it was a clear evening, the views were excellent, though I must say I had thought there were Rules about that sort of thing. But nobody on board was complaining, we were all too busy peering at the Houses of Parliament and the Millennium Eye.
And then we landed, and it was all over bar the airport hotel (dull) and the train (unremarkable).