Iceland 2009: The East

Wednesday 17th June: Svinafell - KirkjubŠjarklaustur (74 km)

You know you are cycling in Iceland when ... the sheep come in different colours.

Icelandic sheep came to Iceland with the early Viking settlers. The sheep are a distinct breed that belongs to the Northern European short tailed group of breeds. You will see sheep often, as they outnumber the people.

One of the most obvious characteristics of the sheep is the colour of their wool. In addition to white and black they come in shades of grey and brown.

Woollen clothing can be found everywhere, even in small supermarkets. The beautiful traditional hand-knitted woollen sweaters - 'lopapeysa' in Icelandic - are patterned at the shoulders and cuffs, often using the natural colours of the undyed wool. They are made from yarn that is unusual in two ways: firstly it is not spun and secondly the wool fibre has two diameters, giving a coarse outer fleece and the fine inner fleece.

Many of the locals will be wearing lopapeysa on June 17, Iceland's Independence Day holiday.

Skei­arßrj÷kull and Skaftafellsj÷kull

Skei­arßrj÷kull and Skaftafellsj÷kull are two of the many glaciers that come down from Vatnaj÷kull

The old Skei­arß bridge

The old bridge: In November 1996 a massive flood destroyed the bridge over the river Skei­arß.

Skei­arß bridge

The new bridge over the river Skei­arß


Brunahraun resulted from the Laki eruption of 1783-1784


The lush farm at Fagrifoss

Karen's diary:

It rained a lot overnight but stopped at 6.30am so we ate in the kitchen and then packed up the wet tent (again). When I went back inside to clean my teeth the bathroom had been invaded by the French girls, who were hard at work with their lipgloss and eyelash-curlers. We set off at 8.10am. The road was wet and the air was misty and damp. We were surrounded by glaciers but we still couldn't see them!

We had decided not to go into the national park because the weather was not good enough and there would not have been any views. The road was flat; we passed SvÝnafellsj÷kull and Skaftafellsj÷kull and began the long stretch across Skei­arßrsandur, which had been described to us as a desert but was actually a massive glacial flood plain. We had never seen anything like it (not even in New Zealand). The long, dark expanse of gravel and sand seemed to go on forever. It has several long bridges across it, one of them being the longest bridge in Iceland. Despite last night's rain there wasn't much water in the glacial streams. Sometimes they flood; I couldn't imagine how it would look when the rivers are running bank to bank - it must be terrifying.

It was fast, easy cycling. At the end of the 'sandur' the road skirted along the bottom of some tall, rocky bluffs and then crossed Brunahraun, a big lava field. It was fascinating; most of it is endless football-sized boulders, stacked up in mounds and ridges two or three metres high, covered in a thick blanket of greenish-brown moss. One short stretch was peppered with sink-holes, each several metres across. The terrain looked completely impassable... imagine trying to cross it in the dark!

After the lava field the road follows a long, low cliff line. Several waterfalls come down over the cliffs and the farmland beneath is very green and lush. It is a great contrast to the barren, windswept 'sandurs' which we could observe further out towards the sea.

The southern sky was black with rain as we approached KirkjubŠjarklaustur and we expected a drenching - it hit us 2kms before we got into town. Oh well. We went to the campground, which was almost deserted, and pitched our wet tent. The campground has a lovely, warm kitchen and dining room and we warmed up there before exploring town.

June 17th is Iceland's Independence Day holiday and the supermarket was closed. The N1 roadhouse was crowded with people and we joined the happy throng. Hot dogs and ice-creams never tasted so good! With a motley selection of groceries in our bags we went back to the campground and watched the crowds arrive. It was the beginning of a long holiday weekend and every few minutes another caravan would roll in. Two more cycling couples turned up, one from Switzerland and one from Denmark. By evening the weather had cleared somewhat and the campground was packed. It was officially summer.