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Index of Days…

We really enjoyed our time in Iceland, but our travel yielded quite a lot of photos. We still take great joy in reading through them, top to bottom, but I’m kinda aware that this is a brutally big blog to skim through. So. Take it as you will! Skim through at leisure, or use the links below to hop to any particular place…

And in case you’re not familiar with the place names… There’s bits of everything everywhere, but for my money Day three‘s the best for coastal roads, Day eight‘s the best for bloody awful driving conditions (also explored in a separate page, here), back end of day five / start of day six for blasted arctic volcanic plains, and day six leads the charge for stunning mountain passes (though day five has an elbow in there, too). Day four is right out in front, if you’re after rotting genital-shaped artmeat in perspex boxes.

Day one… (Keflavik, Reykjavik)

Day two… (Reykjavik, Borgarnes, Varmahlíð)

Day three… (Varmahlíð, Glaumbær, Siglufjörður, Akureyri)

(Parenthesis! Sagas, civil war, and locality…)

Day four… (Akureyri)

Day five… (Akureyri, Goðafoss, Lake Mývatn, natural hotpot pools (‘Jarðböðin við Mývatn’))

Nadgers.

Day six… (Mývatn, weather, boiling mud pools, Varmahlíð via Akureyri)

Day seven… (Varmahlíð, sort of Blönduós, Hólmavík, opposite Reykjarfjörður, Drangsnes)

Day eight… (Drangsnes, Bjarnarfjörður, dodgy mountain passes, Borgarnes, Reykjavik)

backhomewithnigel…

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Day one… (Keflavik, Reykjavik)

My good lady wife thought we should write about what we do as we do it, because otherwise we’ll forget and never be able to re-remember. She says she tried it once, with Patricia, in the Czech Republic, and it set a benchmark for all future holiday rememberings.

She may be onto something, too. There’s no way I would’ve remembered Keflavik’s tremendous display of non-native wildlife if we didn’t post about it today:

The cat stood alongside some crocodile skin shoes, and what might have once been a beaver, in surroundings that were quite distinct. The whole of Keflavik’s main terminal stank like a fisherman’s knickers, and we spent some time wondering if we were in the right place at all. All the signs said “Departures” and, having been last off the plane (to avoid several herds of squealing teenagers), the route was deserted. Unstaffed, remarkably posh duty free shops offered giant toblerones and Icelandic wool from behind dainty red ribbons, saying DO NOT ENTER CCTV. 

Anyhows. We finally managed to leave the airport building. Beautiful blue skies! Mountains! Rainbow pointing statues!

A really nice start. All the more so. Given we swiftly realised that we hadn’t been flying over vast mud flats. We’d been flying over SEAS OF VOLCANIC SCREE that look a lot like mud. Hell yeah!

So then we drove to reykjavik and I only drove on the wrong side of the road twice, which isn’t bad going really, given we didn’t die at all. Or go round roundabouts the wrong way. We passed through a grievously industrial wasteland, which proudly advertised itself as “City of the Elves,” which led us to think of miserable elves pressganged into forced labour behind the walls of one of the low, bleak warehouses. A also saw an oil pipeline, which she was very happy about. And we shared ongoing joy at the mountains. Which presented a long, low rising slab to our right; and which rose up into the mist out of a very fat slab of an island to our left. Lovely stuff. And A has just reminded me that we have a photo…

Then we arrived in Reykjavik. It’s all a bit industrial and strange. Lots and lots of corrugated iron. And not really any particularly distinct architectural styles. The sun was hammering down, though, so after being upgraded from our hotel room to a full-blown two-bed apartment, we went for a wander!

Iceland’s rocket ship to god was up the top of the road, so we started there:

With a great big axe-wielding hairy Viking out front, who’d been given to Iceland by America in 1930:

All things considered, I thought that the big hairy axe wielding Viking and I had quite a bit in common. A politely demurred, pointing out that I’m of better stature. (Either that, or “but he’s a statue.” Male hearing has never been too great in our family, but I know which version I prefer, and I’m sticking to it.)

There were lots of Japanese and English speaking people there, alongside three Icelandic toddlers, all wearing stripy outdoor pyjamas. As you do, I suppose. 

Then we went for a wander through Reykjavik, past a friendly cat:

 (We would appreciate it if no one told Nigel about this). 

The capital turned out to be very small, and filled with a remarkable number of hipsters, and large men wearing polar bear skin jackets, puffing vigorously on tremendously noxious cigars. We accidentally bought a £7 loaf from what we suspect might be Iceland’s poshest bakery, before sort of accidentally coming out of the bottom end of town without really realising we’d hit the middle. Fantastic people watching available throughout. And mountains and sea regularly visible off through the buildings, and the car parks. This picture doesn’t quite do them justice. 

There were several hen parties,; all of them bedecked, for reasons unknown, in zebra skin patterned shawls. And the city had a remarkably odd background sound effect, sort of like a horrendously tacky child coated in the dribblings of ten thousand boiled sweets, rolling around and around on the most inexcusably sticky nightclub floor. It was only after an hour or so that A pointed out that this was the sound of studded winter tyres rolling across metalled roads…

We were both beginning to feel tired, so headed across town before heading back up. And as we passed our Nth+1 gaggle of zebra hens, found ourselves walking alongside a huge frozen lake, with dozens of people walking around it.  

And then back to our apartment, via a supermarket where we spent £40 on, basically, some ham, muesli, chips, milk, and a toothbrush! Chips and bread for dinner. But, tbf, I think we’d both agree that our accidental £7 loaf is just about the most incredible bread we’ve ever tried. 

Oh! One last thing. They have Iceland in Iceland:

That kinda made my day. 

Day two… (Reykjavik, Borgarnes, Varmahlíð)

We woke up this morning (well, we woke up several times during the night) to the sound of screaming gales, battering against our shuttered windows. None too great, but it took me back to one of the odder features of Reykjavik: virtually every house had at least one window open, despite it being <4 degrees C. We wondered why this might be. A hypothesised that it might be to let the aromas of the city in – the back streets smelt of generic fairground frying, the Italian restaurant we passed smelt of English Indian restaurants, and the Indian restaurant we passed smelt of English kebab houses. All very curious. I hypothesised that the intention was more likely to be to let the vapours out. These were, perhaps the houses belonging to yesterday’s cigar-puffing men in polar bear skins. They would unquestionably be too warm in a room heated to anything above freezing, whilst their womenfolk and offspring  waged perpetual warfare against cigar fumes. They might also have been attempting to vent bath fumes, as the local tap water has a distinct eau de Volcano, and needs more than a bit of soap to scrub out. 

We soon discovered that, whatever the Icelandic motivation for opening windows, it was stronger than a mere sub-zero gale. 

Popular enough, in fact, for the Tourist Information Centre to blaze a trail for local habits

This open door looks so welcoming that it’s hard to describe *just how bloody awful* the weather was. I was in the process of using a jacket hood in anger for, I reckon, the first time since c.1989. My ears felt like they were about to fall off. For anyone with a conventional understanding of doors, indoors, outdoors and warmth, this embodies a flat-out indecent approach to door opening behaviour. 

Our first mission today was to find cash. So we walked across town to the ATM (rendered inaccessible yesterday by a surprise swarm of zebra hens), past some tremendous morning scenes:

And a number of town centre cats, where N>0. 

Thence to a mini-mart, to buy lunch & admire the Icelandic delicacy that is *not* fermented shark. What else, but boiled, singed, cured half sheep’s head?

Had A not forbidden me from possessing any “sudden lambvasssing”, or opening any within 500m of her, lunch may have held substantially greater quantities of mutton. I’m reminded that Jamie apparently once made a fortune, shipping one-tonne containers of 20,000 pairs of chicken’s feet from Bernard Matthews to China. Maybe Reykjavik helps the world with its surplus half mutton head supplies. 

And then on our way North… Barely half an hour from R, we were beginning to pass some pretty decent mountains. Tbh, the photos I’ve got are a bit “mountains mountains mountains” and risk tending towards increasing mountainyness as the trip goes on. There are only so many ways to make big pieces of rock look ace, presuming you weren’t there (which you werent, unless you’re my wife) so I’ll try to distil them a bit. 

Mountains:

Mountains:

Mountains:

ROBUST HORSES:

Indeed, we past lots of robust horses, almost invariably looking bored and cold, drawn up in uniform ranks in the least windswept part of a given field, arses to the wind. This picture does not do them full justice, as only got my camera out in time to get some non-uniform (though still ROBUST) horses. 

We saw no cats at *any* point in this drive. 

Back on theme, mountains:

Mountains WITH FOREGROUND inactive LAVA FIELD!!!!!:

A suddenly twigged, as we were driving through,  that the heaps of boulders were a bit unusual and lava-y. (Well, more rock / ashfall-y, but the principle stands.) Then a few miles later, we passed what looked like a wee heap of gunpowder: only about 100m tall, but with a top that must’ve been a blown crater.  Excitin’! It must’ve been an enthusiastic tyke when it was active. 

Mountains:

These last mountains are sort of cheating a bit, as we didn’t see them whilst driving. Instead, we pulled into a small village called Borganes (as in boeuf de Borganes, no doubt), and couldn’t resist a floridly mustard-coloured corrugated iron tea house, with a circular saw outside. 

Happens that the exterior was one of the least fruity things about it. After the owners opened it up especially for us, and after we had made our way past the displays of knitting yurts, hand made candles and dream catchers, we discovered that it was a fantastically chintzy gallery with a sideline in semi-erotic tapestry. 

You don’t get many of THEM to the pound in Dorking. 

They also had a bevy of lived-in sofas, several very enthusiastic side tables, and *all* the free Doritos a sane man could eat. And some really good coffee, to my very pleasant surprise.

The gentleman of the house sat at his computer, playing Solitaire on what looked like Windows 98. The lady of the house was absolutely lovely, asked about our travel plans, and expressed some consternation at the condition of the roads. We are pretty sure by now that a full ring might be optimistic.

We headed back to the car, via the town church, which seemed to share something of Reykjavik cathedral’s rocket ship aesthetic…..

 

It would be fair to say that road conditions fell short of universal optimisation. As the weather changed, we saw increasingly beautiful vistas, though. And rarely felt in genuine peril. 

From that point on, it was sort of same old, same old. Mountains mountains road mountains fear of icy road death mountains mountains, until we popped out in a stunningly sunny valley which just happened to be our destination. 

Awesome sauce!

Our lodgings here are adequate stunning beyond measure or comparison [edited, as I’m informed that British understatement does not always survive translation…]. They consist of a self-catering wooden lodge, with geothermal heating:

And a regulated hot pool. Only time will tell whether or not this is the last time I will find myself wearing merino hiking socks and Bermuda shorts. 

A’s (rather more elegant) solution involved a flannel dressing gown, and bobble hat. 

A4.JPG

 

 After a failed attempt to mount a local hill (thwarted by seas of glistening ice), we dined on fine Danish mini-scallops in cream and garlic sauce. A bargain from a small supermarket in a town of c.2,000 souls, coming in (with salad) at just under thirty quid. We briefly considered a small bag of frozen king scallops, but their 5,000ISK (£30) price tag prompted a swift reconsideration…

I am now wallowing, post-Archers, as A prepares for another swim – perhaps (though the forecast suggests it’s unlikely) with a view of the northern lights. 

Akureyri tomorrow, Iceland’s second city (pop. 30,000). The in flight magazine on the way over informed us that a local artist is spending six weeks going through his historic papers, naked and emotional. We hope to arrive in time.   

Day three… (Varmahlíð, Glaumbær, Siglufjörður, Akureyri)

Today started out with novelty and earache. Earache, because we were daft enough to take our woollies off in the hotpot which, I’m reliably told, invariably leads to earache. Novelty, FIRSTLY because the cloud banks behind us had turned into *even more mountains* overnight:

(Those ^^^ looked excitin’ this morning. Oh, sweet innocence of then!)

And SECONDLY because the Belgian couple in the thingy next to us got engaged overnight. Which seemed pretty cool. We talked to them a bit, and it turned out she’d seen a bit of the northern lights last night. They also both reiterated that the best place to see the lights in recent times has been Essex, on the 27th of last month. They recommended we take a back road past some traditional farmhouses, so we decided to point ourselves that way.

An interlude. We first had to shower. Showering in Hestasport was a very, very eggy experience. Natural hot water -> the very best that even the most fruity of shower gels can hope to do, is lay a couple of horribly dissonant tinkly topnotes across a solid bass layer of blasting, visceral, fuming, rotten eggs.

And then, taking a couple of final photos, we said g’bye to fuglyhouse:

After driving down a 24 degree sheet-ice incline, and past the local swimming pool (more on the Icelandic swimming pool fetish at some point), we turned off the “main” road for the last time until Akureyri. The lady at the checkout had double-checked, and assured us that all onward roads were “open.” LOL! For certain values of open, perhaps.

So, yes. In bag end, there lived a hobbit… This whole country is filled with the seeds of hobbiton. The farm houses we sought were, I swear, located at a place called grumpybear glum bear. They were low to the ground, roofed in grass, and self-evident manifestations of hobbit holes.

The valley they were set in was, predictably, picturesque:

And the still-active graveyard was pretty spectacular, too. Should I convert to Lutheranism before I die, youse all have my full permission to bury me here.


(Tbh, I’d happily be buried here, once dead, irrespective of any antecedent conversions. But suspect local Lutherans may feel otherwise.)

On the off-chance that this leaves you thinking that the Calvinists were a pretty serious bunch, worry not! They had a kick-ass sled. Eryann would, we think, be jealous.

And after that, we basically headed north! North was not a busy road. In fact, North was so not busy that we later met a Saga tour party who’d flown from Reykjavik to Akureyri, and who had THEN driven north, specifically to avoid the road we’d taken. We occasionally saw surprised locals haring past us, though we were never 100% sure if they were amazed to see another car! or amazed to see anyone tame enough to drive at a mere 25kph on ice-covered, precipitous, coastal roads. We saw a snow-blower, too; though not for some time. Here’s a pic of it, anyhoos:

So!!! Yes. Back in temporal order. We drove up the valley, until we hit the sea. It would be about 45 mins til we saw another car, so we stopped in the middle of a single-track bridge, and took pictures of the glacial flow to our right, and the rather less dramatically lit sea to our left.

Turns out it’s really difficult to take an interesting picture of a bridge or flat, evenly-lit ice. So there ^^^ is the one interesting photo, IMO. And here are two from the other side:

The bit in the middle, in the lower pic, is our bridge.

The sea kinda defined the rest of our drive, so I’ll try to avoid being too tedious about it. It began with a lunch picnic of cheese, dwarven iron bread, and peanut m&ms, whilst overlooking local fjordik islands  just past horsesauce:

At this point, we thought we were driving between the sea and the mountains. However, the local mountains were rounded, quite isolated, and exceedingly dull when compared with later mountains. So only one is  included here. It’s in Appendix 1, if you’re REALLY that curious. With a car.

The first excitin’ mountains were the pointy ones, seen from afar.

These were not isolated bubbular mountains. But full-on herds of icy-tops. Things improved even more, when we rounded a corner and saw where the inlet took us:

All these pictures are from the same valley. A lovely bit of Iceland, with some ROBUST HORSES thrown in to boot.

These horses were being well-used. We saw a man galloping hither, thither and yon across this bit of ice / beach:

The far side of the valley also encouraged us to consider a change of plan, for we had noted that ten kilometres of tunnel connected Siglufjorthir and Odinsfjorthur. “Aha!” We thought. “We’ll take the scenic route, via route 802, instead! Straight through the mountains to Odin. No tunnels needed!”

Here is route 802, as it was when we arrived:

The road was so comprehensively knacked, that the Iceland road authority hadn’t even coloured it in. And they’ve got a colour for everything, from avalanches, to sprinkles and sunshine, to  >2m of snow. So we climbed up and around the spiky mountains instead.

The roadside snow drifts were 1-2m for much of the way, with some awesome views of the Atlantic. There weren’t many photo opportunities as, to be fair, there weren’t many places to stop. Single track and icy most of the way, again made easier by the lack of oncoming traffic.  We got one or two shots, though.

It was kinda amazing just how precipitous some human life was, too. We didn’t get any pics of the most amazing farms, because they appeared before we saw them and then had already gone. But a couple of farmers had squeezed themselves into 150 yard stretches between vertiginous mountains and the sea, with triangular fields that could have barely produced a surplus. Even when things were going well.

Here’s one of the larger farms:

Mountain, road, farm, sea, end. That’s it. Incredible.

A few more hairy bends and we encountered a one-car-width tunnel, opening out onto an incredible fjord…

This was the gateway to herring fishery, three-restaurant town and ski resort Siglufjorthir! Fantastic. An incredible place, though IMO people miss out by taking the non-coastal path. We browsed a bit, bought some crisps and ear buds, and sought out a coffee.

On the DOWN side, our coffee (and pancake) was pretty bloody awful. On the UP side, at £12ish, it was just about the cheapest thing we’ve eaten. So that’s a kinda win! YAAAAY. Go, team us!

We were also a bit surprised when a SAGA tour walked in, half way through our meal. Fair play to them! We had been the only people in there (perhaps because the locals had  tried the coffee before…..)

And them we took the dull road back to Akureyri. Mountains mountains fjord tunnel tunnel settlement tunnel mountains. That kind of thing.

We got to the hotel just after 6 feeling pretty knackered, tbh. The place is extremely well-reviewed, but feels eversoslightly like Cath Kidston got her hands on the hotel that was used in The Shining. The corridors and rooms also feel very institutional. I rather suspect this was an airing hospital for people suffering from consumption, or similar, in its first incarnation.

Dinner proved very Icelandic. £25 per head for two courses of  – admittedly excellent – surprise soup, followed by curious kebabs for me and half a tonne of salmon for A. And a small salad. We have a sneaking suspicion that the salad may be the most exclusive and rarefied bit.

There are undeniable strong points, too. The short, yellow dog likes both cheese and fingers.

Town, shopping, a lie in and – perhaps – skiing or whales tomorrow! But now, sleep….

Appendix One. 

Lesser Mountain plus Car. 

(See? Told you it wasn’t that great.)

(Parenthesis! Sagas, civil war, and locality…)

Ooo. 

All too awake in the later early hours of this morning, I began reading about local history. It turns out there may not be too much I’m the way of vibrant history as, going by wiki:

Permanent settlement at Akureyri started in 1778, and eight years later, the town was granted its municipal charter by the king of Denmark (and at the time Iceland also) along with five other towns in Iceland. The king hoped to improve the living conditions of Icelanders by this action because at the time, Iceland had never had urban areas. As far as the king was concerned Akureyri was unsuccessful, because it did not grow from its population of 12

I also discovered that, in the worst battle in Iceland’s history, in the midst of a brutal and internecine civil war, 2,200 people fought yielding 50 fatalities. That’s none too bad, given that several of the sagas I’ve browsed have documented (for example) 15 people killed in one over-enthusiastic barney. In another, being detained in Norway led to three generations of intergenerational butchery. There’s an In Our Time on this. I probably should’ve listened better. 

Anyhows. Prompted by yesterday’s marginal farms and hobbit holes, I tried to find out if there are any local sagas. And stumbled across this: an (admittedly 1899) map of saga homesteads, on a blog by a Cambridge academic who’s tried to read each of the sagas in its home location. 

Turns out that yesterday, by Odinsfjorthir, I think, we drove past the home of one of Iceland’s less literary sagas. Whilst small enough to have no wiki entry of note (arg), it does have a blog dedicated to its incoherent violence

Svarfdӕla saga is a saga that has been cursed with issues, such as missing sections of its manuscript and unexplainable or unreasonable acts of violence within the storyline. Even for an Icelandic family saga, the violence demonstrated in Svarfdӕla saga can easily overpower the intent of the storyline. The saga’s lack of success among scholars of Old Norse-Icelandic literature has been notable. Svarfdӕla appeared to lack solid themes, purpose and motivation, disallowing its inner mechanisms to come to life. The very text itself appeared unruly and unmanageable, just like the valley and the people it is describing.

I once read a Harlan Coben book, so kinda know how she feels. 

Akureyri is near the homesteads of the Viga-Glums saga, which “…tells of a chieftain who kills several people and tries to cover his guilt. It is believed to have been written in the 13th century” (wiki), and Ljostveninga, which wiki doesn’t even bother to describe. Full texts here and here, though the latter will only be useful to those fluent in Icelandic or Danish. I’ll try to read the former later!

In other news, A has asked me to post this week’s weather. It’s been my experience that, despite the alleged English obsession for talking about the weather, French people look it up far more. 

 

 

I am reliably informed that the numbers mean unglorious conditions ahead!

Day four… (Akureyri)

AS documented way, way down there, today began with sagas and blood feuds, and – after slow awakenings – swiftly progressed to the most ♥️A♥️W♥️E♥️S♥️O♥️M♥️E♥️ breakfast ever. A range of dwarven iron breads and French baguette approximations sat alongside Skyr, chocolate-coated home made granola, spicy salami, locally grown (?!) watermelon, and an assortment of colour-coordinated jams. 

Skyr is what yoghurt should be, if yoghurt had the decency to fill its full potential. Approximate consistency of room temperature butter and, in this instance, sweetened and vanilla-flavoured. It is a phenomenon when spread on milk chocolate coated granola, and I can readily imagine tribes of Arctic coast farmers surviving on little but Skyr throughout the hard winter months. 

Erm, we then got a bit lazy, before finally managing to rouse ourselves in the direction of Akureyri central (actual pop. 17,700) despite the downpour of some Classic Yorkshire weather. 

On the bright side, this allowed A to try out her new rain cape!

A rain cape for all trimesters, if ever there was one. 

Akureyri has a qualified Touristic offering in any month that doesn’t rhyme with tune, robust or, erm, tool-eye. We comsequently found ourselves short of available activities. Here is a dramatic reconstruction of this morning’s event planning list:

 And here, rather quaintly, is a town-centre sign with three arrows showing the direction of museums that are closed for fully three-quarters of the year, very definitely including today:

Necessity being the mother of invention, and with the only open things opening at one, we consequently made best use of our investigative prowess and time. Did you know, for example, that Akureyri has geothermally heated pavements? Witness the miracle!

(The heated pavement begins half way up that shot, fwiw.)

We then browsed the local shops (both of them), and half of us decided that we wouldn’t get anything from them on ethical grounds as, erm, fur played quite a prominent part in their offerings. 

It is warm, though, fur. I mean, really warm. I hadn’t realised just how toasty it must be to be inside a cat. And that’s before you’ve even sat on top of a radiator. 

Yeah. So we got a really nice coffee from a chair design, hat sales, book and coffee shop (?!). Which was ace. And then I bought a snood, because I want something from Iceland, and every man needs a maroon snood. 

And we bought an instructional manual on various novel aspects of Icelandic life, apparently priced at £2.75. Or so we thought!!!! Actual price £15, because of the Icelandic words we’d failed to decode: price for our special book club members, oop. 

Then around town… The cathedral, tbh, was pretty ace. 

The (I guess) Masonic hall looked interesting:

I loved the slightly misplaced aesthetic of the high street curry hut. 

And I was intrigued by one un-named shop’s window display of nothing but unpriced, laval rocks:

But it’d be fair to surmise that Akureyri in clouds, in winter, is not the most breathtaking of places. 

By now it was one. So! To the art museum! 

We liked the art museum. We were the only people there, we think we were allowed to take photos, and there was an extraordinarily friendly woman on the front desk. She was willing to explain anything and everything though, to be fair, most of her explanations seemed to be along the lines of “maybe it’s this, or maybe it’s that. We don’t really know!”

Best bit: the blowtorch man. He had a residency there 2yrs ago, and blowtorched laval rocks to turn them into dribbles do glass. 

 He also harvested some bits of glass to make models (and other things) with. 

There were also some Fijian-themed bamboo flags. 

I’m pretty sure that the photos on the wall imply that they were left to be consumed by the weather:

However, the desk lady told us that they’d probably been left in a box in the attic, where the moths were something awful. Hmmmm. 

The Kettle House was right next door. Tbh, I’d advise that sensitive readers look away now! 

Downstairs was a bit twee. Deserted front desk. Miniature wooden houses behind a reception desk. No one staffing it. We were about to leave, when we heard some slightly… Off-centre… Humming, coming from the stairs. So up we went. 

The faeces-coloured paint adorning the windows was, perhaps, a hint. 

The rows of disfigured barbie dolls nailed to the walls, the word MAMMA scrawled in six-foot shit-brown letters on the wall, and the conveyor belt pinning down taped and clingfilmed rows of disfigured dolls as they ground their inevitable way towards a bucket of – what else but – shit, certainly gave a certain je ne sais quoi de malheureusementness. 

Perhaps showing a bit of a nod to Damien Hirst, we enjoyed several lumps of rotting meat in Perspex cases. Not all of them were carved into resemblances of genitalia before being left to decompose. Or, at least, not any variety of mainstream genitalia that we were collectively able to identify. 

Upstairs, we realised that the humming noise came from a video of the artist, mouth taped over, humming the same lullaby repeatedly whilst looking distressed. The tv it was played on was in front of two very comfortable, nostalgic, seventies-style sofas. 

So, all in all, we were pretty staggered to discover that we’d been completely mistaken in our assumption that the exhibition was about childhood trauma. In fact, it was railing about consumerism. 

This, at least, made sense of the rotting food, suspended between glass sheets above a glistening and sequinned carpet. 

This was one of the more off-centre exhibitions I’ve been to but, tbh, it did make for a properly curious hour or so. The meat and food particularly left me thinking that the artiste must have involved someone who was very, very good at rigorous grouting.

We THEN had lunch at a cafe in town – ranked second on trip advisor, with a buffet on offer. Astoundingly nice staff, great vegan soup AND lasagne, lovely atmosphere, and all under £15! 

The weather had begun to clear up, so we went down to the harbour…

Adding to the harbours appeal, all the local seagulls had discovered that mini ice bergs presented perfect perches. So they sat there, just off-shore, calling for bits of sandwich. Apart from crows, I think they might be the only birds we’ve seen…

Then out of town, to pick up some supermarket dinner. The shopping malls here are big and empty! And so must be the men! One of the curiosities of Iceland – to my eyes – is that every single supermarket we’ve been in, even in Siglufjorthir, has had a massive display of weightlifting supplements and super-expensive protein shake powders. Like, there’s more weightlifting powders than there is fruit, or fish. Fascinating!

As a last stop before heading home, we drove up to Akureyri’s main ski resort. This was great fun. Ice covered roads, and increasingly beautiful looming mountains. By the time we got there, it was late in the day, and ski passes and skis would’ve cost north of £60 for about an hour. So we headed home, for a dip in the hotel’s concrete, rectangular hotpot. White on white, unfortunately, does not an awesome photo make. So the remainder of these pics are the salvageable mountain shots, plus our evening in the hotel…

 

There’s apparently a very good chance of seeing very weak northern lights tonight, so we’re staying up towards midnight. 

Myvatn tomorrow! After a midnight attempt at the northern lights. We’ve provisionally cancelled all hotels to the South and East, but there are indications that the roads may reopen… We’ll see!

Day five… (Akureyri, Goðafoss, Lake Mývatn, natural hotpot pools (‘Jarðböðin við Mývatn’))

TODAY started out with the northern lights!

Well. Sort of.

They were visible from Akureyri, intensity 1 (on a scale of 0-9), at midnight. And we went outside and saw them, and if you squinted a bit and used your imagination, then they really were quite cool. Whispy milky circular overlays, on a clear starry ski. With one bit that might have been a bit green.

Things were due to pick up to intensity 2 at 6 this morning, so we set an alarm to get up.

Or, well. I thought A set an alarm. A thought I set an alarm. So we woke up, beautifully relaxed, at eight. The sun was blazing through the windows, giving us a sight of the hotel’s valley for the first time:

After a repeat of yesterday’s tremendous breakfast, we settled the bill and pointed our way towards Myvatn. Given “Myvatn” translates as “valley of midges,” shoulder season definitely seemed like the best time to be going.

Clear skies meant better views of Akureyri’s mountain nestle on the beautiful drive in…

And we had only a couple of surprises. The schoolchildren we passed were all in fancy dress, for reasons unknown – though potentially related to the HUMUNGOUS snowman that had appeared:

This may also better reflect our ignorance of Icelandic driving customs than it does this driver’s eccentricity, but we were surprised to find tractors using pedestrian crossings. In this picture, he’s driving along the pavement on the other side.

Our final morning surprise: the Satnav ordered us to turn right, into what looked very much like the sea. Turned out there was a land bridge of a kind that’d only be possible in an area with no waves – 2m off the sea, without barriers for much of the way. Great views of the bay, though!

The road took us up along the far side of the bay…

…before banking right at the end of all these squiggles, feeding into a mountain pass…

Erm. The mountains, again, were sublime. There’s quite a bit of similarity between a fair few of the shots, though, so I’ll post a potted version and (for our later perusal) bung a wedge of others in an appendix. As you do.

With the exception of one lorry, the road (Iceland’s Route 1 in every sense) was deserted. And ice coated a fair bit of the way.

As these pics may suggest, the first leg of the mountain tour was basically mountains, mountains, mountains, sun, sun.

And half way over, we came to a site of central importance to Icelandic history. Shortly before 1000AD, the Norwegian king was trying to convince Icelanders to convert to Christianity. Unfortunately, horse sacrifice had been central to Germanic pagan worship, so Pope Gregory III had insisted that all missionaries forbid horse meat eating whilst about their work. Icelanders really liked horse meat, and this was presented as one of the main reasons they refused to convert. Until the Norwegian king trapped a tonne of Icelandic nobles in his ports, and refused them permission to leave until the nation converted.

Iceland being unusually democratic, the Althing ledt the decision to a single trusted arbiter  – a pagan priest. Happens that, after 24hrs contemplation, he came down on the side of Xnty. And, on his way to announce his decision, threw all his pagan idols down a waterfall. 

The Waterfall of the Gods (Gothafoss) was half way down the deserted mountain road, so we pulled off for a butchers.

Bingo! Silent, ice-coated roads…

But then, sigh, we rounded the corner, and instantly happened upon more blooming cars and coaches than we’d seen in the last two hours of driving combined.

Tripods were everywhere. Elderly Americans were hoofing German pilgrims out the way, whilst two Japanese film crews battled with massive piles of camera equipment, attempting to reach the other side for the one unique shot. Crisp packets littered the snow. And, what’s worse, the waterfall was throwing up a substantial spray which began to coat us from a couple of hundred yards off.

Grim, freezing, wet, cramped. A bit pretty.

A shame!

That being HALF WAY THROUGH the mountains, you can probably guess what comes next. If it starts with M and rhymes with Fountains, then you’re probably half way there!!!  There was a bit of a shift in feel, though. From lumpy, peaky, bumpy things, we began to enter terrain that was far more desolate moonscape. Barren areas of troughs, runnels and occasional scree and boulders…

And then, before we knew it, we’d arrived in Myvatn. Myvatn is a volcanic area, surrounded by plenty of pseudocraters and a fair bit of active volcanis, too. Wiki says it is home to 15 species of duck, of which we saw zero. (I did see a cold looking moorhen, though)

As we drove round, I began by snapping the smaller volcanic cones. Then, suddenly, we both shared a bit of an OMFG as a still-quite-little-but-still-pretty-chuffing-big welded tuff crater hove into view:

Mindful that we couldn’t check in for another couple of hours, we decided to make best use of our time by going for a potter round the lake. This turned out to be an awesome idea, as it initially led to some really ace views of the lake:

Swiftly followed by an ascent of a mini-volcano:

Having completed our tour of the lake, we checked in.

Best bit: the hotel restaurant has viewing cows! You can view them (and inhale their cowy aroma) whilst you eat.

I bought a bar of chocolate from reception. Which, tbh, proved a bit of a mistake. I’m guessing Iceland doesn’t have too great an annual cacao harvest, ay. Moving swiftly on, our room looked pretty nice…

…but the underfloor heating didn’t seem to be working… Very, very late at night – OH so very late (our fault!)! – the owners very kindly moved us to another room

So, then, yes. More things. We went to climb the BIG volcano, after driving the wrong way past some ground steaming vents. The views were properly awesome, but exhaustion set in and we decided to head down for dinner after a wee bit too much ice scrambling…

The only thing that could’ve improved dinner would’ve been in-bed service. As it was, peeling myself up proved challenging – though arguably worthwhile. I had raw smoked lamb with blueberry jam, gingerbread (or molasses bread, tbf) and cream cheese. Followed by lamb and veg consommé. Blooming amazing. A had Arctic char, caught from the lake itself, followed by home made bread ice cream.

A campaign then began to visit the outdoor baths. I must say, I’m arguably not the best of candidates for outdoor baths. I dislike sitting still, feel nauseous at the smell of boiled egg, and struggle to fathom why anyone would bathe when God made showers for a reason. Add in the small fact that it was howling a gale, and MINUS BLOODY FIVE and this was not an overtly propitious proposition. It was pitch black night, too. Thereby obviating the alleged benefits of the scenery.

So, yeah, we stayed for a bit. I stayed in the hot tub with my ears vigorously shivering, repeating a mantra over and over: “it’s boiling spaghetti, not eggs, spaghetti not eggs, spaghetti not eggs, spa…..” A attempted to swim somewhere, but got hoiked back by several gale force 17 subzero winds, which were busily creating surf-worthy waves in a corner of the larger pool.

There are no pictures of the baths. As I’m sure you can imagine, though, it was simply divine. Hmmmmmmmyeah.

Road reports are looking variable. Yesterday, for the first time in about a month, it was possible to make it past the east. But tonight, roads are logged as dangerous or dodgy – one step below closed. Our car has proven a trooper to date, but we’ll have to see how things are looking tomorrow morning….

Appendix 2…

To

Nadgers.

After an enticing interlude yesterday, when Route 1 Eastbound was briefly opened, all routes East are closed again. 

Our hosts called up the road authority, who confirmed that roads are closed due to wind speeds – only (?!) 35-40mph, but this is more than enough to make things a bit lethal when combined with sheet ice roads and hairy mountain passes. I’ve previously felt our car being blown sideways whilst driving through slush / ice – not nice, and that was without the vertiginitude. There’s zero chance of the East opening up today. 

So we’re looking North West instead. Back to the phenomenal Hestasport this evening, then up to the Westfjords for seaside hotpots, puffins and northern lights. And – perhaps – geysir before home…..

Day six… (Mývatn, weather, boiling mud pools, Varmahlíð via Akureyri)

IT IS a truth universally acknowledged that a country must be pretty darned awesome if the total banjaxing of one’s travel plans can lead to joy, excitement and renewed curiosity. So it was when we looked at the live road conditions this morning and discovered that the East of Iceland is closed. Oh no! Oh well! And “Ooo,” A added, “does this mean we can spend another night in Hestasport…? 

So we sat down with serious intent and a phenomenal breakfast, looked at the local volcano, and worked out a plan.

Instead of girding the whole nation, we’d dither through Hestasport to the Westerfjords (the top-left peninsula), before making an attempt on Geysir – the eponymous original, after which all lesser geysers are known.

One last bit of volcanic business to conclude – the boiling mud pits, which lay a short distance past the EAST OF ICELAND CLOSED sign. 

(Those of you fluent in static LCD screenshots will, I’m sure, appreciate that that is the lowest seventh of the word CLOSED). 

We paused in a questionable car park in a shoulder in the mountain for one last glance over Myvatn…

Before pushing onwards and upwards, feeling nought but the most fleeting terror at entering a mountain pass that was so ruined that not even Icelanders would attempt it. 

Turned out we needn’t have worried! Just over the hill, we were greeted by what I can only describe as a chuffing incredible, blasted, moonscape plain. Volcanoes to the right, nothing – nothing – over vast swathes of blasted lava plains. It’s rare that you’ll hear me utter treasonous words, but this was even better than Yorkshire. 

Quite a bit of the way, I was thinking that this must be about as close as you can get to driving across the Arctic (whilst still within reasonable distance of a decent pot of tea, and raw smoked slices of lamb, mmmmmmmmmmmmMMM). 

And them we were at the mud pits! A genteel sign politely explained that these were fissures in the earth her water, which had fallen onto magma, escaped in the form of steam. And how the sulphuric aromas highlighted the presence of boiling acid water, which is the reason that the rocks dissolved into mud. Hence, boiling mud flats. 

I prefer the local version:

Krafla [by Myvatn] includes one of the two best-known Víti craters of Iceland (the other is in Askja). The Icelandic word “víti” means “hell”. In former times, people often believed hell to be under volcanoes. 

Basically, “holy sh*$, these are the chuffing gates of hell, that is where evil people go when they die, and they’re right beneath us AAAAA.”

And the local version seems more pertinent still, when eg the hotelier tells you that the most recent area-changing eruptions were in 1979-1984 and, yes, the magma chamber has fully refilled since then. So another eruption is imminent. 

Life in Iceland: precarious. 

Enough blah blah blah! Boiling mud:

The weather perhaps merits another note here. It was, literally, breathtaking. Minus five, with 40mph (17 metre per second) winds. I sorely regretted having a touch screen camera as, in the 3-10 seconds it took me to remove my gloves, whip out my phone, take a pic, repocket it, and put on my gloves, my hands were already stinging with real pain. 3 or 4 pics, and I was losing feeling in my fingers. Amazing! And suboptimal survival conditions, no doubt. 

Speaking of survival, on our way out we passed a car that’d driven off road. No ice, no sketchy conditions – but she’d driven across two lanes and into a drainage ditch filled knee-high with snow. Being manly and all that, I pushed them out with nothing more than the help of two other men, a tow rope, and a massive 4×4. We then got moderate entertainment from driving behind them as, bless, they drove back to town at a firm 15kph, never one deviating from the very very middle of the road. 

After the pass, we did one last half-wheel of Myvatn in the sunshine…

And then headed back up route one towards Akureyri, thence Varmahlid. 

Road conditions started out utterly beautiful. As in OH MY GOODNESS THIS WEATHER IS INSANELY BEAUTIFUL beautiful. With sunglasses against sunblindness, and so on, and so forth. 

Then suddenly, and really quite unexpectedly, driving conditions turned questionable, where questionable means OH MY CHUFFING GOODNESS WHERE THE HELL IS THE ROAD WHAT THE HECK HOW THE HECK ARE WE GONNA GET OUT OF HERE AAAAAAS. You see those little poles at the side of the road?

We discovered that they’re there so that people can work out where the road is when it’s covered in up to two feet of snow. In places, they’re three feet tall. Which begs quite concrete questions about WHO ON EARTH IS DRIVING IN THREE FEET OF SOLID ROAD SNOW. 

The answer may be the snow ploughs, and snow funnel lorries. We had one of the latter behind us near Godfoss. At the time, we were experiencing foot-high drifts in the road, and occasional uncertainty about where the road was. Then this lorry came blazing through at about 90kph with a scoopy funnel on the front which hammered all the drifts out to one side. Looked great fun! And made our drive more pleasant. 

Still, we were both massively relieves when Akureyri hove into view…

LITTLE DOD WE KNOW that the excitement was to continue. For as A checked the road conditions, she saw that the road from Akureyri to Hestasport – and our nights accommodation – was closed. Blizzard, said conditions. “Oh noes!” We thought. The coastal road was open, in theory. But had been upgraded to puce – “dangerous driving” – with three little “horrible quantities of snow” symbols. It’s a road that’s lined by precipitous drops, and which we found sketchy when in decent order. So this was none too appealing a prospect. 

We lived in terror of a night spent stranded in a city, whose website advertised only one activity we had not yet undertaken: bowling. Don’t get me wrong, bowling is fine in its place, but it’s place is Guildford sports centre c.1996 with a portion of curly fries and so much diet coke that you don’t stop weeing for three weeks. Contrastingly, the place for bowling is NOT instead of the westerfjords!

As we pulled in for a leisurely town-centre lunch, A checked the website – and the blizzard had cleared. So we decided to make a dash for it, have a supermarket lunch, and sprint for the hills before they could bloody well blizzard again. 

[Parenthesis: at the supermarket, I lived out a particular excitement – shopping for dinner! When you don’t speak Icelandic, every meat is mystery meat! Splúrtjúrnukl could be any one of a number of quadrupeds, and likewise nautagulla. All I know is that I picked up a half kilo of something very red, which definitely wasn’t pork, and which very definitely be cooked with garlic, carrots and onions. Adding to the excitement, even Google Translate was at a loss. Woo! Go Akureyri Netto! Bringing the excitement back into adventurous carnivores’ cuisine. I am not allowed to tell A what it was, as if it turns out to have been horse then the smell if it cooking will have turned out to have nauseated her]

The mountain pass was breathtaking. Yeah. Sorry. I know you’ve read that before. We should probably come up with a ranking scale of breathtakingness. An awesomemometer, or some such. 

 

As may be deduced from some of these shots, road conditions were once more varying in their degrees of optimability. We were both quite glad when we began to arrive in a valley, attended by roads with Tarmac that was not only visible beneath the snow but which was, on occasions, entirely snow free. 

We checked into our hut at about 4:30, and went for a walk in search of mudbaths, waterfalls and horses before sundown. 

Strictly enter nouse, we had expected the waterfall to be a bit “local.” As in, a bit crap and trickly, but very agreeable nonetheless, and perhaps all the more so because of its parochial charm. So imagine our surprise when it turned out to be a kick-ass mummajammer of a beast:

A also assures me that the natural hotpot felt warm. This seemed not to be great weather to try it, though. Not without towels, multiple bathrobes, and a full, heated caravan on hand, at least. 

 Then via MOUNTAINS and HORSES to HOME. 

we suspect you may agree that the horses’ eighties rock star type semi-Hasselhof windblown were particularly aces. 

AND at home, mystery meat was cooked with onions, garlic, butter and carrots. And the wind lashed against the windows, but it was lovely, snug, secure and warm inside. And the wolves that probably lurk by the hotpot after nightfall DEFINITELY can’t get in. Oh no! 

 

Day seven… (Varmahlíð, sort of Blönduós, Hólmavík, opposite Reykjarfjörður, Drangsnes)

OH our very good grief! What an inordinately long day. Vast swathes of driving, and bucketloads of +/- excitement in between! It began with a mystery meat breakfast, plus soaking in a hot tub in Varmahlid’s mountain surroundings, before dropping off the keys at Hestasport. Hestasport had a visitor!

“He’s not ours and we don’t know where he comes from,” they said, “but he’s visiting one of our lady dogs and he seems alright, so we let him stay around.” And very alright he was, too. It was sore difficult to keep him out of the car, and more than a little tempting to let him in. 

Then goodbye to the valley…

And on to the road! LOTS of road, for I had ballsed up google maps, and we had 5hrs of driving instead of three. Oop. Isafjordur was more like 7hrs, so looking ever more evanescent. 

A also forbade me from posting too many pics with the sun in shot today, so I tried some other things. Not least, taking pictures of buildings:

There were also “horse”phases, and a couple of pictures dedicated to pylons. 

The main attraction, again, though, was the mountains. We’d already passed through this way, but it had not yet snowed. And passing through the stretch of land between Varmahlid and Blondius BACKWARDS also felt kinda different. 

There were some striking differences in landscape. The roads from Varmahlid remained pretty filthy, but far more grass was visible all round. (Even if it was usuallyknobbled, knurled, and clearly covering a lava field). Valleys were broader. The landscape more open. Mountains smaller, fewer, and further between. 

The road rolled on, and on, and on, until we stopped at Blondius for petrol, photos of their fantastic church, and gender-appropriate kinder eggs. 

I won a dune buggy. A won a my little pony bracelet. Hell yeah! Go, team me!

We had a long, straight haul over the next hour or so, with some spots of interest. I wondered if I was seeing some “shield” volcanos, identifiable by their long low dome shapes, caused by low-silica low-viscosity lava. (I read that on wiki. I will *never* have a chance to wrangle it into conversation. So obv needed to state it here.)

That ^^^ is a terrible example. I think I was trying to photograph the houses. 

A was awestruck by a frozen mountain. 

And we passed more grass-coated horse-holding lava fields than you could shake a stick at. 

Mostly we were passing distant mountains and long, low bays, though. 

If I remember correctly, it was a bit more awe inspiring before we saw the windblasted, crater-raddled lava plains!

So, yes. We turned up route 62 along a bit of coast that looks remarkably like the Scottish highlands. Properly squiggly, and about the right shape, too. Roads began to get a wee bit fruity as we progressed – they’d completely given up paving most of it, and the gravel was covered in really quite substantial fields of fresh snow and compacted ice. As always, Icelandic 4x4s, hatchbacks and school buses hurtled past us on blind corners with cheerful abandon, wondering what on earth these daft foreigners were driving so slowly for.

We stopped after a while, to consume bananas by a Lutheran church. 

As we later discovered, Icelanders have a real thing for positioning these identikit churches in spectacular places. 

Their graveyards were in some curios places too – often nowhere near human habitation, or any visible churches. And houses and farms occupied some tiny wee spurs of land (in case you can’t find the house in the next pic, it’s at the end of the TINY spit of land in the middle).

I’m guessing the westerfjords must be tsunami proof, as even a large wave could cause national devastation. The whole of isafjorthur looks as if it’s built inches above the sea. 

The road seemed to wobble through a temperate zone, with patches of south-facing good roads, and north-facing ice roads on either side of several small bays…

But eventually, we got sight of what we’d been waiting for – the promontories, which held our journey’s pause and eventual end. We’d be pausing just after the second of these:

Holmavik was now less than an hour’s drive away, but some of the conditions before then were both beautiful, and awful

The bays began to develop increasing character, with mountains beginning to reappear, single track bridges at every bend, and piles of driftwood heaped up on the shore…

Most of the settlements we passed looked a bit dilapidated, and very quiet indeed. (One did boast an active Labrador, though. WOUF WOUF.)

My arse was beginning to ache, and A was verbally knackered, but this did feel like a proper little bit of adventuring. Still, aching arses need tendering. There was a real let-up in grumbling from my leftmost quarter when Holmavik hove into view. 

Holmavik is awesome. Utterly awesome, in a way that many teenage kids would gladly kill to avoid. The views are chuffing amazing. There is one shop, which sells three kinds of ham, tepid broiled sandwiches, two varieties of chocolate, and extremely small punnets of the worlds saddest strawberries. The state alcohol shop is in there, too. It’s a booth, about 2m by 2m. No discounts allowed. Someone’s mum probably staffs it. No other villages for a good hour’s drive in any one direction. Roads surprisingly open from March onwards, but a good chance of total isolation for much of the year. I’d imagine most local kids grow up to be extraordinarily good at something, be it chess, music, sex or origami. 

Speaking as post-teenagers, we found Holmavim *stunning* in sunshine. 

All local restaurants were closed, so we picnicked. I dined on rolled smoked lamb fat with vanilla skyr, A on bananas and cheese. And then we sought out the local piece de resistance – the museum of sorcery and witchcraft which, on arrangement by email, was to be specially opened for us!

Siggi met us at the door, gave us English language leaflets, and then went outside for a fag or seven, leaving us to escort ourselves around. The exhibition is absolute gold, enhanced by the superb English descriptions. 

Constructing necromancy seemed to require a remarkable degree of imagination, determination and commitment to wealth:

Whoever had constructed their necropants seemed to have had fun. 

For the female sorceress (of which Iceland had few), there were Tilburis on offer instead. 

The whole exhibition was presented with humour and gusto, and I really wish I’d bought something from their shop. They deserved far more than our £9ish combined entrance fee. (I did, though, donate £5isb towards a fund for hippopotamus – a single stray local cat. This may have been more useful to them than buying a £5 mug!)

After leaving, I coaxed A into letting us drive over the closest mountain pass, so that we could see the opposite side of Reykjarfjordur. We’re within spitting distance of the Westerfjords, but know we won’t get to them – so this seemed to be a nod, at least, in their direction. A quietly questioned my judgment, and perhaps rightly so! The mountain pass was… Passable… But had begun to accumulate weighty snow drifts. 

By the time we got there, clouds had begun to set in. Moreover, a quick look at contour lines on A’s map indicated that this was never going to be the most glamorous of Westerfjords – a good 5-600m lower than the peaks surrounding Isafjordur, another 150km west. 

Still. I’m glad we had a look. 

Conditions on the return leg were less favourable. It’s always reassuring, though, to know that the Icelandic road authority really is shit hot at what they do, and if they say a road is open, then in some form or other, it will be open. And almost certainly navigable, with a sensible attitude and decent car. Still, a white-out is never pleasant. And we really came to appreciate the sticks marking the sides of the roads. 

It got a fair bit whiter after that but, for contrast, here’s a closed road off to one side:

Very definitely closed!

Down the other side, and on to find our bed for tonight, at Drangsnes. Google maps has a slightly odd take on where we are:

Whilst we’re drier than ^^^ that might imply! the conditions here are tremendous.

We’re metres from the sea, in a wooden but that is being hammered by wind, and a passably robust snowstorm. Lights out, A snoring quietly, and blogging away, the sound is visceral and raw. And not a little bit scary, in a safe kinda scary way. 

Our few hours here have been incredible. The couple who run the place opened up the restaurant, just for us. They speak little English,and our Icelandic is pitiful – so we communicated through gestures and a few shared words. Like chocolate. My dinner contained more beef than I’ve seen on a single plate in years. Big, huge, hearty food, and supremely well-cooked. A drowned under the weight of fish she had on her plate. And they’re re-opening for our breakfast, too. 

Drangsnes also offers seafront hotpots – dents in an elevated piece of the seafront, bare feet from the crashing sea, filled with geothermal spring water. We went out to investigate, despite the snow. And saw our first glimpse of the aurora borealis instead – a huge, blue, neon streak across the sky. I only had my iPad on me, so have bit the sketchiest of pictures. A has better pics, to follow. 

Am extraordinary end to a day that was, despite a massive amount of driving, a little bit experimental but utterly worthwhile.