Spring in Edinburgh and discovering another art gallery

On Wednesday morning I was standing on the northbound platform at Crewe Station. The destination board said that the train was going to Edinburgh however the display on the door of my carriage said, ‘next stop Tamworth’, which was a little disconcerting. Fortunately, we did leave heading in the right direction and before 7.30am were at Warrington where the train spotters were already out on the platform. I was going up to Edinburgh a few days ahead of James to get some spring cleaning done but did find time to explore a gallery I have not been in before. The Talbot Rice Gallery is in Old College and free to enter. Old College is undergoing some renovation now but the dome was still visible.

One of the exhibitions was Between Poles and Tides comprising new acquisitions from the university collection and focusing on elemental forces, natural rhythms, destruction, social discord and displacement. It consists of works by David Batchelor, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Ilana Halperin, Jessica Harrison, Fabienne Hess, Daniel Hughes, Daisy Lafarge, Jonathan Owen, Katie Paterson, Isobel Turley, Luc Tuymans and JL Williams
I particularly enjoyed Ilana Halperin’s works which were new to me

Paterson’s Future Library

and works by a familiar artisit, Ian Hamilton Finlay. Here is Les Femmes de la Revolution after Anselm Kefer
and Bicentenary Tricolour

 Also on display was The Torrie Collection, the University of Edinburgh’s founding art collection being exhibited in the Georgian interior of Gallery 2. It consists mainly of Dutch and Flemish 17th and 18th century painting and Renaissance sculpture.
Back at the flat, the cherry tree outside is in flower, a little earlier than usual. The wood pigeons enjoy the petals
The wood pigeons were enjoying the petals

and some passers-by spent ages taking photographs of the tree, selfies with the tree in the background and persuading one of my neighbours to take a shot of them both. I think they were Japanese and perhaps missing the cherry blossom back home.

On the way home through the borders we saw some of the first upland lambs. Lambing in the uplands lasts from mid March to May so there will be many more on my next trip.

Iceland Ring Road: completing the circle

A slight detour from R1 took us to Laugarvatn, a natural thermal pool favoured by Icelanders over the Blue Lagoon. Some of our party went in but it was quite busy so we had a leisurely beer instead. Our guide took us on a short walk along the lakeside to show us where the locals baked their rye bread on hot stones near the pools. We then continued to Þingvallavatn in the Rift Valley. It is Iceland’s largest natural lake.

Iceland’s ancient parliament used to be situated near here but was later moved after earthquakes and flooding. Apparently being drowned in marshes, lakes or the sea was one form of execution. The Rift Valley is widening by 2cm every year. We crossed over to the American plate and had a walk through the rocky cleft where the Öxará River runs.

A short time afterwards we were back in Reykjavik for a meal in the Icelandic Bar. At the next table was a hen party from Suffolk. On our last day we had a slow start and walked down the coastal path to the Modern Art Museum at the harbour. On the ground floor of the museum is an installation entitled Panik by Ilmur Stefánsdóttir who is also a theatre designer. Photography was not allowed so here is a picture from the museum website.

The first floor had video installtions from their archive but I think my favourite of the exhibits were the colourful pop artist Erró’s works.

We went into the cafe only to find that the espresso machine was broken. The member of staff behind the counter brewed a pot of coffee and then refused to take payment as were were ‘guests’. The 24 hour ticket for the gallery also covers the Painting Museum and Sculpture Garden elsewhere in the city. They and the Photography Museum will have to wait until the next visit. Also down near the harbour is the Flea Market which is open daily 10-5. There is some serious collectors’ stuff including postcards, stamps, vinyl and vintage clothing but also bric a brac, secondhand books, DVDs, CDs and Icelandic woollens at 50% of the price in the shops. There is also a section devoted to Icelandic Food.

Wandering back it was too foggy to climb to the top of Hallgrímskirkja for the view and we have seen some fabulous views in the last week. Heading back down the hill to return to our hotel we came across this intriguing collection of single gloves. The sign reads ‘Single Gloves’ and someone has added ‘speed dating’. The project was begun by Estelle Divorne who is originally from Switzerland but now living in Iceland.

Iceland Ring Road: exploring the south

Vik, the rainiest place in Iceland is in the southern-most region. We had a short walk on the beach just before arriving at our hotel.

The hotel had an installation by Aðalheiður S. Eysteinsdóttir entitled ‘The Ravens’ Parliament’.

Certainly the cliffs and stacks here would be ideal raven nesting places and many birds were circling above us as we left before sunrise the next morning.

We wandered on the beach, having been warned about rogue waves which can occur here. The basalt columns are reminiscent of those on the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

There is even a cavern: Halsanefshellir.

We were on the lower slopes of the Katla volcano which has erupted every 100 years, the last in 1918. As we continued along the Ring Road, the sun rose and by the time we reached Skógafoss we even had a rainbow.

The farmland here is richer than elsewhere in Iceland.

We continued past the rather small icecap on Eyjafjallajökull, the Sejalandsfoss waterfall and then inland to the largest lava field on the planet.

The snow-capped top of Hekla which last erupted in 2000 was visible.

The Gossfull waterfall was pretty busy and in summer it would be best to visit it before 7am or after 11pm to avoid the crowds. The crowds were also in evidence at Geysir as we were now in the Golden Triangle which is often all some visitors see.

Iceland Ring Road: finding the ice in Iceland

Jökulsárlón is a glacial lake where small icebergs calve from the ice cap tongue and are washed down to the sea.

We saw some common seals at a distance offshore and snow buntings were flying around the cafe in hope of picking up some scraps. The nearby bridge has another possible Banksy work on it. It has always been headless but there have been graffiti additions.

Our next port of call was the last turf church built in 1884 and dedicated to saint Clement, Hofskirkja. The stone receptacle for holy water sits near the door and there are other stone receptacles just outside the graveyard which were used for beating and cooling metal. Wood for the fire and metal from shipwrecks were used.

More ice was seen at the Svínafellsjökull glacier. We had a short walk along it but we were now getting back into tourist territory and had to dodge the drones and selfie sticks.

We drove over the Skeiðarársandur sandflats where with the highest peak in Iceland, Hvannadalshnjúkur was hiding in the cloud. In 1996, a flood following an eruption, washed away a bridge. There is now a memorial.

The lava field here is the largest since Iceland was settled. Unlike those in the north of the country, where there is less rain, the southern lava fields are green with moss and lichens. We were now in the rainiest part of Iceland and it rained.

Iceland Ring Road: a black beach

We have visited black beaches in the past, mostly in warmer climes e.g. Corsica and the Aeolian Islands. However, none have been as extensive as the one at Hvalnesviti.

It was surrounded by misty mountains on the day we visited.

There was some colour to break up the monochrome; the lighthouse

some shells and seaweed on the beach

and James’s coat.

The road to Höfn goes through a short tunnel. We also passed an almost but not quite black derelict building which has been decorated by various artists. One of the works is said to be by Banksy but I did not get a particularly good shot of that in the very low light.

Iceland Ring Road: the eastern fjords

We left Eyvindur where we had stayed overnight and the Ring Road in fog and snow to explore the eastern fjords. Driving down a long valley we spotted a little red hut, one of the few remaining bothies that used to sit along all the mountain roads. We passed another hanging valley and came to the town of Reyðarfjörður which has a World War II museum as the British Army was stationed here. It is also the place ‘Fortitude’ was filmed and anyone familiar with it might recognise some of the buildings. Continuing on R96 we drove through a long tunnel under the mountain to Fáskrúðsfjörður. This town was settled by French fishermen in the 19th century and a museum covers their work and the French Hospital that was set up to care for them.

Many of the signs in the town are in French as well as Icelandic and English and so I discovered that there is not a French word for ‘iceberg’. Someone also had had a better view of the aurora than we had.

There were eider ducks in the harbour and in summer you can sometimes see porpoises. In a small village Stöðvarfjörður further on, there is a geology museum based on the lifetime collection of local stones undertaken by a woman aptly named Petra. Unfortunately it is only open May to September so we were unable to visit. The coastal road rejoined the Ring Road a little later and we passed cliffs where Herring Gulls and Fulmers nest in summer.

We visited another waterfall in the Fossardalur valley which is the second highest in Iceland at 122 metres.

By the time we reached Djupivogur the sky was overcast and gloomy. The only colour was the boats and equipment down at the harbour where these gulls had found a colourful perch.

This town is one of the oldest ports and guidelbooks say that the last great excitement was when North African pirates ransacked it in 1627. Papey Island is just offshore and is inhabited by seals and birds. Boat trips run to it in summer. Down towards the jetty in the town is a place reminiscent of many we saw along Route 66: Bones, Sticks and Stones. The garden, house and greenhouse are full of stuff, he even has a totem pole.

The eastern fjords are one of the best places to spot reindeer. They are not native having been introduced in the 9th century as a gift from the King of Norway because the people were starving. Unfortunately for the reindeer they were all eaten and had to be reintroduced again later. We did see a few at great distance so I did not get any good photographs of them.

Iceland Ring Road: an unexpected art exhibition

Seyðisfjörður is situated at the end of a long fjord. It has some lovely wooden houses and is also the port where the ferries to Denmark and the Faroe Islands leave from.

We had lunch at the Skaftfell Bistro, a very cosy, lively place that hosts the Centre for Visual Arts. The town has a community of artists, musicians and craftspeople. I was delighted to discover that there was an exhibition on the upper floor of the bistro, something I had not expected to find outside Reykjavik. The exhibition Koma, is on from 28 January until 2nd April and is free to enter. A variety of media were used. One wall had a display of 35 photographs of dogs. There were paintings and prints, video and installations using several media.
Guide books recommend visiting in summer but if you want to stay here, book well in advance as the ferry makes it a busy place.

Iceland Ring Road: pools and mud

It had rained all night so there was no chance of seeing the aurora again and it was still raining as we left in the morning. Our first port of call was Grjótagjá, a small lava cave near lake Mývatn with a thermal spring inside. In the early 18th century the outlaw Jón Markússon lived there and used the cave for bathing. It was a popular bathing site until the 1970s but in 1974-85 volcanic eruptions brought magma streams in to the caves and raised the temperature to 60 degrees. It has now fallen to 43-45 degrees and the public are prohibited from bathing there. However, many people clearly ignore this and some of our party were rather surprised to find a naked German man in the cave they went in to explore.
The earth’s crust around here is very thin and we were close to the meeting of the American and European tectonic plates. Hence there are fissures, vents and flat-topped mountains all around.
Some of the activity is due to industrial boreholes in a nearby gravel quarry and there is also a geothermal power station in the area.
As we continued along the road we noticed several cairns alongside. Once we had noticed them, they seemed to be everywhere. Apparently, they were used in the 9th and 10th centuries as a navigation aid and then people began to make them just for fun and to mark their ascent of a mountain as occurs elsewhere. However, item number four on the Environmental Agency of Iceland’s Traveller’s Code reads: “Never dislodge stones or build cairns.”

The Namafjall, also known as Hverir geothermal field means that there are many boiling mud pots, surrounded by sulphur crystals of many different colours. Not surprisingly there is little vegetation.
Lunch that day was at a farm which also has a café/restaurant, campsite and are planning to build a hotel. The small church here has a lighthouse at the top of the steeple. This was added after a family member got lost in the mountains and died of hypothermia. The light is to aid others in finding safety. It started to snow as we drove towards Egilsstaðir which is situated near Lagarfljót, Iceland’s third largest lake. It is said to resemble Loch Ness and even has a monster. En route we passed a gorge where ice was piled up at the level recent floods got up to. The road to Seyðisfjörður (another diversion from the Ring Road) can be closed in winter but not on this occasion. On the way, we had foggy views over the valley found another waterfall before we reached the town.

Iceland Ring Road: watery wonders

The waterfall Goðafoss on the glacial river Skjálfandafljót is just off the Ring Road. Goðafoss means ‘waterfall of the gods’ and is 12m high and 30m wide.
There is a path and lookouts all around it providing a good view of the waterfall and the surrounding landscape.
There are some interesting rock formations on the river bank…….
and clearly a lot of iron in these rocks.
From Goðafoss we continued on towards Lake Myvatn. The quieter marshy wetlands on the west of the lake make it a destination for migrating birds from Northern Europe (particularly ducks) in the warmer months. Its name means ‘lake of midges’ so be warned if you come in summer and bring your insect repellent. We had an icy walk in a birch forest (the crampons and walking poles came out for the first time) and got some good views of the lake which has a lot of lava pillars in it.
There are plenty of icy areas.
In fact you could spend days wandering around the lake in different light conditions taking photographs.
Eventually it was time for us to head for our hotel, arriving when it was too dark to explore the pseudocraters just across the road.

Iceland Ring Road: discovering history in Laufás

Another detour from the Ring Road took us to the ancient village of Laufás situated on the opposite side of the fjord from Akureyi. Just before we got to the village we had some lovely views across the fjord to Akureyi as it was getting light.
The village is mentioned in records soon after the settlement of Iceland. It has a manor farm and parsonage built of turf with brick gable ends. There was some farm machinery lying on the grass outside the farm building but it did not seem to be too ancient as James, who comes from a farming family remembered some of it being in use on their farm. The farmhouse is larger than usual, accommodating around 20-30 people needed to farm the land. The parsonage was built in 1866-1870 for the priest and was rebuilt in 1853-1882. In summer the house is open and you can see the furnishings of the late 19th/early 20th century, visit the small museum and the cafe. We had to be content with wandering around outside the house but the church was open.
The church dates from 1047 although the current one was built in 1865. It has a pulpit with wood carvings from 1698. The priest now lives in a newer parsonage.
There were also some views over the surrounding countryside and one I snapped out of the bus window as we moved on to our next stop. I must come back to Iceland and explore at a more leisurely pace.