Saturday, June 14, 2003


Rain has stopped. Car washed at the garage. Found shops for everyday purchases like food. Washed clothes. That sort of thing.

Friday, June 13, 2003

HOFN ON THURSDAY EVE Hofn is open in the evenings. The contrast with Lerwick is striking. On a wet Monday evening in Lerwick I really didn’t know what to do with myself. In Hofn there was plenty to do. For starters the restaurant I found (one of the two in the town) served deep fried fish with strawberries, which is a combination that works, and was the sort of place where lingering was possible. The shops are open until 9pm, and the museum until 10pm. For that matter I noticed that sports centre, swimming pool and social club were all open. There were people about. The museum is the Glacier Exhibition, focusing on Vatnajokul. Its prize exhibit is the world’s first snow-cat, built in 1972.

There are tales in the Sagas of people crossing glaciers. In more recent times there was a custom of crossing a few hundred yards of a tongue of Vatnajokul to avoid the crossing of the Jokul River. But the first recorded crossing of Vatnajokul dates from the early years of the twentieth century. As the museum tells the story, it was three men from Hofn who made the trip. It seems they decided that they wanted to do something that would make them famous, and with minimal equipment and little fuss set out from Hofn to cross Vatnajokul. They made it in four days to the dales north of the glacier, getting their place in history. And then, finding themselves without horses to ride around the glacier and without enough food for the ten-day trek back home they decided to cross the glacier again.

A good road from Hofn - which means a road with a surface all the way, and in parts of excellent quality.

Jokulsarlon - Glacier Lake - is the lake between a tongue of Vatnajokul and the sea, and is choc-a-bloc with icebergs. At 9am they were bright blue. The lake is full of chunks of ice of all sizes.The smaller ones wash ashore showing weird and wonderful shapes.

Jokulsarlon this morning was amazingly blue. The light at 9am was not good, but just for a change it was dry. The blues were amazing. It was also rather on the cool side, especially for picking lumps of ice out of the lagoon. The water is salt.

Bird life is profuse. Around Jokulsarlon there are Arctic Terns nesting in the fields, which defend their territory with energy. Skuas are even more aggressive, diving at the car. Saw five Harlequin Ducks (all male) on the lake, as well as Eiders. The Harlequins are pretty much unique to Iceland. My field-guide stresses their colours, though at first glance the bird is dark, and against the brilliance of the lake appeared almost black.

Lupins grow wild – drove through long stretches of countryside covered in blue lupins.

Again a day of superb scenery, which there is no way I can sum up in a line or two.

Total distance driven Seydisfjordur to Reykjavik is 492 miles. This included a diversion on the last few miles into Reykjavik because the police had closed the road. In early settlement times the warmer climate pushed the glaciers back a mile or two from the coast. However from around 1200 the deteriorating climate more or less closed the route. The road that has now been pushed through is built on miles of shifting sand. The pinch-point at Jokulsarlon is about a mile between the glacier and the sea, and that some shifting sand bars, a lake of ice-bergs and a very fast flowing river. Signs report that the road will be swept away in a few years – there are plans to rebuild. A stretch has warnings of sand storms, and the road can be closed when the wind blows. This is a very fragile link.


Thursday, June 12, 2003

Well Im in Iceland! Apostrophe free post as the Icelandic keyboard doesnt seem to be able to manage them! At least I cant see how!

I nearly wasnt! Security at Lerwick was thorough. Not only did they search the boot, but also under the bonnet. The problem they had under the bonnet was that they couldnt see a thing - Mercedes do rather pack the engine into the space so there are no gaps for them to look through. So first they crawled underneath the car, then they decided to take the screen-wash bottle out. Its not designed to come out, but out it came - and with 5 litres of screenwash in it I gather it was heavy and awkward. Then they frisked me. Final problem was that the car wouldnt start. Id left the key in the ignition, when it is supposed to be taken out for servicing. As a result the security system was on with a vengeance, and the car well and truly immobilised by its own security system. It didnt look like I was going anywhere, and somehow I dont think the AA are that quick in Lerwick at 2am. Finally on the umpteenth cycle through I got the car started.

Security was thorough for everyone, and boarding was about 3am, an hour late. The ferry as she arrived looked like the Starship Enterprise - all bright lights and with a shape that has to owe as much to design as function. The 31 hours onboard seemed no time. Mostly Germans and Danes travelling on the first leg (change at Torshavn for Hantsholm). Onwards from there the passengers were mainly Danes, a few Germans and Norwegians, one French family, one group I decided were Hungarian, and as far as I could make out not a single Brit other than me. Went through the materials I had been able to collect on Shetland Norn - what there is is low quality material, and previous interpretations seem mostly to have filled the gaps by guessing. Nonetheless there might be enough to do something.

This photograph shows couchette accommodation on the Noronna, and is the sort of accommodation they don’t show in their brochure or website. The Norrona certainly does have luxury accommodation – this however is not it! British Academy support certainly doesn’t run to a single person cabin – indeed the return trip in a cabin would demolish about a third of my ten-week’s allowance. The couchettes are in groups of nine, and policed, and if approached with a sense of humour are fine. It’s a nice example of what you need to be prepared to accept to make a trip like this work. If I waited until first class was possible I’ld be waiting for a long time!


Seydisfjordur looked spectacular, with the cliffs cloud-topped and a glimpse of snow when the clouds lifted. The run from there to Hofn has been 6 hours of varied spectacle. Im not even going to attempt to describe it - this one youve got to do! Its also been over the worst roads Ive ever seen. There were stretches of good road. But there has also been some truly dismal rutted track, some really nasty gradients, bends, blind summits and a long list of motoring challenges. Also been through a section of very muddy road so theres now mud on every part of my car. My hotel had double booked, so Im now in the Asgardur right by the harbour - I guess the Nordic equivalent of the Meds Hotel Paradiso.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

The most exciting story so far is the one that I slept through!

An uneventful drive to Aberdeen - and at last my new brake-pads seem to have (almost) stopped squeaking. On boarding the ferry I was handed a severe weather warning. Basically this meant that a storm was expected, and in the event of delay, diversion to another port, damage to car or other property, of just about any other eventuality, NorthLink were not liable - passengers were invited to reconsider whether they wanted to travel. I gather that I would be paying the funeral expenses. The ferry - The Hrossey - proved to be superb - a first class evening meal aboard a squeaky clean ship. Lots of passengers apprehensive about the approaching storm. Then I went to the cabin and to sleep, and if there was a storm I slept through it ...

To Sumburgh Head this morning, and had the cliffs to myself. Excellent bird-watching spot, particularly puffins and guillemots. Also apparently a whale-watching spot, though nothing showing this morning. Jarlshof in the rain, followed by Shetland Crofthouse Museum in even more rain.

Also well worth seeing is Shetland Paintings by Ruth Brownlee now exhibiting in Lerwick.

The afternoon has got wetter. I've stocked up on material on Shetlandic Norn from the Shetlands Library, so I'm dry. Ferry out leaves at 2am .... While waiting I ook forward to experiencing the lively night life of Shetland on a Monday!

The Lord's Prayer in Shetlandic Norn:

Fy vor or er i Chimeri. Halaght vara nam dit.
La Konungdum din cumma. La vill din vera guerde
i vrildin sindaeri chimeri.
Gav vus dagh u dagloght brau. Forgive sindorwara
sin vi forgiva gem ao sinda gainst wus.
Lia wus ike o vera tempa, but delivra wus fro adlu idlu.
For do i ir Kongungdum, u puri, u glori, Amen

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