Iceland 2009: The North

Sunday 7th June: Sta­urskßli - VarmahlÝ­ (134 km)

You know you are cycling in Iceland when ... you cannot find a public toilet.

There are very few public toilets along Route 1. There are not many towns and it is a long way between them at cycling speed. In remote areas, there are no trees to hide behind. You have to be quick!

Before human settlement over a quarter of the land was covered in trees - dwarf birch and willow forests. The wood was a valuable resource for the early settlers but most of it was gone after the first century of settlement.

Now forests make up only 0.5% of the land.


Route 1 south of Bl÷nduˇs


Geitaskar­, east of Bl÷nduˇs, offers accomodation at a traditional farm


A strong tail wind blew us up Langidalur for more than 30 km

Karen's diary:

The hotel breakfast was at 8.00am so we had a leisurely start. We were back on Route 1 but it was Sunday so the road was quiet. Last night's blue sky was disappearing fast as clouds blew in from the southwest. At ground level the air was still, the grass was green and dozens of white swans floated on the calm water below us. The roadsides were bright with buttercups and herds of friendly Icelandic horses trotted to the roadside to watch us go by. They are small, sturdy creatures with long, fluffy manes.

The wind grew stronger and we flew along effortlessly, enjoying the scenery and the fast pace. Far away to the left was the high, snowy plateau we had crossed two days ago. The countryside was mainly rolling pasture, populated with horses or sheep, and a backdrop of snow-topped mountains. The cultivated pastures were lush and emerald green.

We decided to follow Route 1 as far as Bl÷nduˇs and then decide what to do. The distance was about 80kms and we got there very easily except for the last ten kilometres; the wind had changed direction and was now against us. According to the computer we were very close to town but we just couldn't see it - where was it? Suddenly we dropped over the edge of a steep-sided valley and there was Bl÷nduˇs, close enough to touch. The river Blanda ran through the middle, its turquoise waters tumbling through rocks and rapids. The supermarket was closed (as normal on Sundays) so we headed for the N1 gas station to hunt for food. It was crowded with hungry people but the only food on offer was lame, expensive sandwiches or... hot dogs!

We sat outside, ate our hot dogs and checked the map. It was only 2.30pm and a strong northwesterly was blowing. It was too good to waste so we decided to try our luck and see how far we could get. Langidalur (the valley of the Blanda) is a narrow, flat-bottomed valley with steep 800m peaks along one side and slightly lower peaks on the other. It was very attractive with green pastures and nice looking farmhouses. Efforts had been made to plant trees on the higher slopes. Some of the plantings were really enormous but by our standards the spindly trees looked very small. After 28kms the road climbed dramatically up the steep north wall of the valley. The tailwind was still very strong and the steady climb (about 8% gradient) seemed ridiculously easy. At the top was a nondescript grassy plateau without any obvious features.

The descent was undulating and messy. A cold wind hindered us; we had to pedal hard all the way down. As we approached VarmahlÝ­ we could see a big range of snowy peaks in front of us. They were about 1200m high and very steep but had strange flat tops. Far away to the north we could see Skagafj÷r­ur and the town of Sau­ßrkrˇkur. VarmahlÝ­ itself is a very small village on a road junction but it satisfied all of our needs. After asking directions we found the camping ground perched above the village in a little forest. The tent sites are flat, grassy spaces surrounded by trees, beautifully sheltered and very peaceful. The shower was excellent. It's a very nice place to camp.