Iceland Ring Road: craters and a modern church

After visiting the lighthouse in Akranes we continued on the Ring Road (R1) through farm land. At Bogarnes we had some views over the fjord.
Icelandic horses and sheep were grazing in the fields which is most unusual in February. We also saw some Greylag and Pink-Footed Geese that had not migrated. Heading north, we left the farmland behind and drove into the northern hills and lava fields. The only native tree in Iceland is the Downy Birch (Betula pubescens). It has a maximum height of 2 metres and most of the trees we saw were considerably shorter. This has given rise to the saying that if you get lost in an Icelandic wood, stand up. Juniperus communis also grows on the lava fields with succulents. There are other trees in the country which have all been imported. 33 km beyond Bogarnes are the Grabok Craters. They are a National Monument and there is a stepped path up to the rim of one crater which you can walk around and also a path between them.
Running alongside R1 are some remnants of the old road and its bridges. Some are painted (we passed a blue one) and our guide told us that an artist had asked the authorities if she could paint the bridges. They agreed, assuming that she intended to paint pictures of them. She actually painted the bridges blue, purple and yellow. We continued into a valley between mountain ranges which reminded me of driving north to Wyoming between the Rockies and the Medicine Bow Mountains last summer in upland prairies. This is a road with numerous landscape photography possibilities but very few places to safely stop a vehicle. Tourism has mushroomed in Iceland and some thoughtless tourists have irritated the locals by stopping anywhere, blocking roads and one-lane bridges.

In Blönduós, there is a modern church designed by Dr. Maggi Jónsson to resemble an erupting volcano which was consecrated in 1993. It is unusual as most churches in Iceland are older or built in a traditional style.
Continuing along the road we found ourselves in Öxnaladur, a 540m hanging valley where the snow was melting. Again, this is unusual in February. There used to be farms here but the communities were moved to the coastal towns. Our guide pointed out the almost invisible remains of farms, homes and a tavern which being made of turf, have decayed. Some of their descendants have summer houses in the valley.
We were also told about the pressure and tensions as schools in towns place on people in rural communities who prefer to attend their local schools even if they are only just outside the town. All too soon we arrived at our hotel in Akureyi.

Two days on Mount Etna

Up and out early this morning for an attempt to climb to the summit area of Mount Etna. We took the bus so far and then had to switch to four wheel drive and pick up our guide Franco before heading into the National Park. The aim was to tour the Northeast Crater which is the highest at 3300m, the central crater which is 2000 years old and the Bocca Nova formed after the 1968 eruption. The southeast crater dates from 1971. There are numerous lava flows from the various eruptions. Here is an early view of the mountain on our way up.

Etna view 4 (1 of 1)

We could hear explosions underground and ash clouds and sulphurous smoke came out of numerous fissures and crevices.

Etna view 13 (1 of 1)

The landscape is almost as if you are in another world and I took over a hundred photographs. Here is one of the craters.

Plants on lava flow with cone (1 of 1)

Walking among the lava flows is tiring and it would be so easy to twist an ankle between the rocks so watching where to put your feet is a must. We did a long descent through the ash from one of the eruptions. Scree walking skills are useful but taking care to avoid dislodging a lump of lava and causing it to roll down on one of your friends. When we were traversing the side of one of the ash cones, two people above us were sliding down the side causing lava rocks to come down onto our path and delayed some walking along it. On the lower slopes plants have started to colonise the lava flows.

Today was a slightly later start and we were driven up to 1900m to walk across the 1865 lava flow, up the ash cone and then look down into the crater. There are many interestingly shaped ‘bombs’ of rock and lava and some distorted trees. There are birch and pine forests which we walked through and had a break at Monte Barranco. We crossed three dry river beds and were then nearer the 2002 lava flow. Many dead trees in all sorts of contorted shapes stand in midst of the lava. Eventually it was time for a refreshment at one the bars and then a steep climb up one of the ski runs before descending in a beech forest where our bus was waiting. We had a short wander round Linguaglossa but it was the four hour siesta so most of it was closed. It was then back to our hotel to get ready for tomorrow’s early start.