Iceland, More Exploring, 12th August 2012

Our exploration of some of the wonders of Iceland continued on our Golden Circle Tour. We visited a special church, found wildflowers (lots, much to my delight) and visited a most fascinating geological site, Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir in Icelandic).

Skálholt Cathedral  (P1000702 © DY of jtdytravels)

The new Skálholt Cathedral was built between 1956 and 1963 to celebrate the millennial celebrations of the episcopal see.  At around 50 m long, it’s quite large compared to most churches in Iceland. It contained a fabulous tapestry and some striking, modern windows.

Interior of Skálholt Cathedral  (P1000689 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Tapestry above the alter  (P1000696 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Modern stained glass window  (P1000690 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Another of the many stained glass windows in the cathedral  (P1000693 © DY of jtdytravels)

Even though it was a rather long driving day, I was pleased that there was time for me to seek out some plants to photograph.

Alpine Lady’s-mantle  [Alchemilla alpina]  (P1000668 © DY of jtdytravels)

Most of the plants I saw were small ground-hugging specimens, due to the shallow soils and severe climate.

Gentianella campestris var. islandica  (P1000669 © DY of jtdytravels)

These unusual looking buds were about 15cm high.

?  (P1000671 © DY of jtdytravels)

Any suggestions as to what this flower is?

Seed heads of Mountain Avens  [Dryas integrifolia]  (P1000744 © DY of jtdytravels)

I think these are probably the seed heads of a clematis species – but not sure.

Bog Bilberry [Vaccinium uliginosum]  (P1000710 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Very small, bright orange mushroom  (P1000726 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Parnassia palustris  (P1000713 © DY of jtdytravels)

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close up of Parnassia palustris  (P1000714 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Silene uniflora  (P1000718 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Downy Birch [Betula pubescens]  (P1000709 © DY of jtdytravels)

The only plant that attained any height at all was this birch which grew to about 2m in height.  Being deciduous, it could survive the wintery conditions.

A mushroom called Brown birch Boletus [Leccinum scabrum](P1000711 © DY of jtdytravels)

Another highlight of our day was a visit to Thingvellir (Þingvellir in Icelandic). This is not just a fascinating geological area but is also one of Iceland’s most important historical sites.  The world’s first Parliament,  the ‘Alpingi’, was founded here in around 930AD.  Icelandic chieftains assembled here each summer to elect leaders, argue cases, and settle disputes – sometimes peacefully, sometimes not. This continued until the end of the Old Commonwealth (of Cheiftains) in the 13th Century.  After that time it functioned as a court of law until 1798.  The information Board added that: “Many crucial events in Iceland’s history took place here, such as the adoption of Christianity around 1000AD and the foundation of the modern Icelandic Republic in 1944.  Thingvellir thus has a special place in the Icelandic consciousness.  Since 1930 Thingvellir has been a National Park, and in 2004 it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.” .

Thingvellir National Park  (P1000773 © DY of jtdytravels)

It’s here in, Thingvellir National Park, that the landscape really shows the geological history of Iceland because here the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates come into contact.  It’s actually recognised as the best place on earth to see this phenomenon. The faults and fissures of the area show up the rifting of the earth’s crust. Regularly, gaps have to be filled in or bridged to overcome the movement of the plates as they pull apart. It’s said that the ecosystem of Lake Þingvallavatn in this Park is a perfect example of species evolution in nature.

Thingvellir National Park  (P1000793 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Lakes within Thingvellir National Park  (P1000800 © DY of jtdytravels)

It had been a truly memorable day full of interest and variety. And we had yet another day of Icelandic explorations to come.   D

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