Something we had been thinking about for a while was a slight diversion on our route to Edinburgh. This week we finally got around to it. After topping up the caffeine levels in Moffat we took the A708 towards Selkirk from the south end of the High Street. It is a quieter road than the A701 Edinburgh road but there are a lot of forests on the hillsides so large forestry trucks laden with wood are not uncommon. There are passing places where the road is narrow. The road follows the Moffat Water and then the Little Yarrow rivers through the valley. Our first stop was 10 miles up the road at The Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve. It is one of the highest waterfalls in the UK, dropping 60m from Loch Skeen which is the home of a rare fish, the vendace. It is apparently a relic from the ice age only found in a few freshwater lakes in southern Scotland and Cumbria. There is a 2.75 mile walk up to and around the loch but it began to rain heavily so we contented ourselves with looking at the waterfall (while I tried to remember when I had last been here), views of the valley and the heather which was flowering.
There are a number of ancient sites along the valley including, at Chapelhope, the site of Rodono Chapel. Further on the road reaches the Loch of the Lowes and following a short stretch of river under the bridge lies St Mary’s Loch. At one point there was only one loch but stones and gravel washing down from the hills separated them.
There is a café next to the Loch of the Lowes car park and a sailing club on St Mary’s Loch. Nearby is the Tibbie Shiels Inn which used to provide accommodation for walkers, including those on the nearby Southern Upland Way and was named after a widow who ran it between 1824 and 1878. Sir Walter Scott was a regular visitor. The inn closed in 2015. A statue on the hillside is of James Hogg born in 1770: the Ettrick Shepherd who became a writer. His work was admired by Thomas Carlyle and Walter Scott who introduced him to Edinburgh publishers but he never really left his work of sheep farming.
There is a circular walk round St Mary’s Loch which we might do at some point in the future.
A minor road to Tweedsmuir leaves the A708 at Cappercleuch.
It passes two reservoirs. The first, Megget Reservoir was finished in 1983 and supplies Edinburgh with water.
A mile from Tweedsmuir is Talla Reservoir which was opened in 1905. Construction began in 1899 and a railway was built to transport the materials. It is still possible to see some of the rail route and some of the bridges alongside the A701. The railway was dismantled in 1912.
Along the roadside were rowan trees laden with berries and many wildflowers including rosebay willow herb. Talla and Gameshope along with two other sites nearby are restoring the landscape to its previous wilderness state and providing a haven for wildlife. Where the forests are being regenerated, grazing sheep are excluded. The 4.500 acres includes blanket bog, moor, heath, rocky screes, lochs and burns.
At Tweedsmuir we re-joined the A701 and were soon in a very busy Edinburgh.
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.
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.
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.