“I dream with my eyes open…”
When Jules Verne sought inspiration for ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ he found it, like many others who have sought inspiration, among the twisted lava fields and hulking glaciers of Iceland. The Snaefellsnes Peninsula and in particular the Snaefesllsjokull Glacier were cast as the entry point deep into the Earth’s core… And having seen the brilliant white hues of the glacier contrasting with the black gnarled lava fields below, its easy to see why.
We begin our trip in the charming fishing town of Grundafjordur which sits picturesquely at the foot of all 463m of the inspiring Kirkjufell Mountain. The town itself wraps around a serenely calm fjord and in the long nights of winter, the moons reflection still reflects across its otherwise undisturbed surface. It’s 9AM, yet dawn is yet to break. In the inky light we sit transfixed staring at the layers of rock and snow on Kirkjufell and the frozen waterfalls cascading down the mountainsides to the little farms below.
As we drive out of Grundafjordur, we are immediately struck at the elemental beauty of this place. Twisted and dramatic lava fields lay on either side of the road, as black as the soul of the night and shaped into grotesque apparitions. They stand now as memories of the power of the earth; memories of a violent past when molten lava exploded high into the sky from deep within the Earth. Ash and black sands lapped at the side of the road as empty lava tubes and craters dot the landscape. Today the silence is only broken by the cry of a lone seabird, but not so long ago Snaefellsnes was aflame with the wrath of nature.
Our first stop is Kirkjufellsnes Waterfall… As the meltwater plunges down from the glacier high above us, it drops gracefully over 10m to the frothing pool below. The dawn light illuminating every drop of water as it makes its way to the sea… Water as pure as summer rain, finally free after a millennia trapped in the ice of the glacier.
We continue round the peninsula to lonely Olafsvik, Rif and Hellisandur… Remote fishing villages with an end of the world feel to them. White washed houses with blue shutters stand at the foot of the lava fields in a bold act of defiance against whatever the world can throw at them. A cold wind is blowing in from the sea direct from the arctic… A wind that cuts through to your very soul… The landscape could not be much more bleak and desolate, but it’s in this bleakness that its beauty comes to the fore and it’s in its desolation that the energy of the landscape envelops you.
A lonely single track road takes us through a maze of gently rolling hills as we stop to look at Skardsvik Beach where the Vikings would bury their dead… An icy artic sea washes against the sand as the sun takes its position low on the horizon… Weak and far away; you cannot escape the sense of being at the top of the world where life struggles to exist, but yet despite the harshness of the landscape, life has triumphed.
I have a love of lighthouses and I persuade Christina that we must continue along the track to visit the remote Ondervarnes Lighthouse… The most westerly beacon of the Old World… Beyond this point the Atlantic Ocean was said to continue for several kilometres before you reached the end of the world where only sea monsters dwell before you fall off the very face of the earth.
Gale force winds are now sweeping across the lonely clifftops, but the lighthouse stands strong, a gentle light shining out across the rocky outcrops leading out to sea guiding the fishermen back to safety.
At Vatnsbord and Saxholl, we encounter craters jutting out from the core of the Earth. While now only moss and hardy grasses grow; lava once flowed, smoke once spewed and from the landscape we see today was formed.
We head round the headland to Dritvik and Djupalonssandur where the lava fields run down across the black sand beaches to meet the churning arctic sea. Four large stones stand at the start of the beach; an ancient viking test of strength. I manage to lift 3 of the 4 stones to class myself as a fully fledged viking seafarer allowed to call himself a half strong man…
At this point the hulking icy mass of Snaefellsjokull is at its most impressive. From sea level we stare up at the mountains above in silent awe. Beyond the realm of men, nature stands firm – There are no words for the sheer majesty of this colossal mound of ice.
For thousands of years it has stood here, slowly moving down towards the coast, cutting deep grooves into the landscape and forever leaving its mark. Sadly, climate change now means the glacier recedes each and every year… A terrifying reminder of the damage mankind has done to the planet.
At Hellnar and Arnarstapi, the part giant part troll, Bardur, made his home. Now the guardian spirit of Snaefellsnes, Bardur is said to have been turned to stone as he made his way out to sea to return home… Later than usual, he was caught by the rising sun and now he stands just off the coast, a blackened stone hulk carved into an agonising stoop.
We leave the car behind and hike up beyond the farms and lava fields to the gorge of Raudfeldsgja where we climb along the narrow gorge for several hundred metres… There is an energy to this place… A feeling of one watching over you… We are not the first to notice this and it’s told that Bardur still watches over this gorge.
One of the things we were most looking forward to in Iceland was having the chance to swim in one of the many geothermal pools and we were not to be disappointed. At Stykkisholmur, we bathed in the milky warm waters rich in natural minerals and looked back on the day. Snaefellsnes has a powerful natural energy to it. In this remote peninsula at the end of the earth, the elements compete to create the most wondrous of landscapes.
From the very earth itself comes fire and ash. The sky delivers snow and ice. While from three sides the ocean pounds the land. Geologically, this is a new landscape, but it is difficult to think of anywhere on Earth more beautiful. Interlacing this natural beauty is a rich tapestry of myth and tales from Viking Sagas to local legends and tales. Snaefellsnes is a land of trolls and giants and pixies and monsters… A land of heroes and berserkers… warriors and witches… A haven for writers and romantics and those who wish to dream with their eyes wide open.
Come nightfall Snaefellsnes has one last treat in store. Sitting on the edge of the lava field, we sit and watch as an eerie green glow begins racing across the night sky, creating a firework display quite unlike anything else we have ever witnessed… The Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights danced and flowed… Why dream with your eyes shut, when only with our eyes open can we see such beauty.