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

Iceland, Golden Circle Tour, 12th August 2012

Our all day Golden Circle tour was a drive of around 350km – a long but, what turned out to be, a very interesting day. On this drive we only touched the bottom SE corner of the island of Iceland which has a total area of 103,000 square kilometres – that’s a bit under half the size of the State of Victoria.

Unproductive land, Bláskógabygg, Iceland  (P1000745 © DY of jtdytravels)

The day began with not a lot to see. Much of the land we passed through was totally unproductive – weeds and not much more grow here in the short growing season.

  View in Bláskógabygg area , Iceland  (P1000770 © DY of jtdytravels)

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The original Geyser  (P1000717 © DY of jtdytravels)

My interest level changed quite dramatically when we stopped off to inspect some geysers. The Icelandic word ‘geysir’ has been adopted into English as the word used for ‘a hot spring in which the water intermittently boils, sending a column of water and steam into the air’.

Litli Geysir  (P1000730 © DY of jtdytravels)
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More spectacular is the Geysir Strokkur  (P1000730 © DY of jtdytravels)

The hot springs have been harnessed to provide inexpensive hot water, heating and electricity.

Small waterfall with salmon race  (P1000706 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Gullfoss Waterfall  (P1000733 © DY of jtdytravels)

The Gullfoss waterfall is quite impressive. Some of the rivers and waterfalls are used to provide hydroelectric power.  But this falls was designated a nature reserve in 1979 and so is now a protected the area allowing access to the public.

 Subsistence farming  (P1000705 © DY of jtdytravels)

Harsh conditions make growing anything almost impossible. The soil is poor, the climate is unforgiving and volcanic eruptions have devastated the country on a number of occasions.  Subsistence farming has been the only way this society has survived.

The volcano crater lake, Kerid  (P10006721 © DY of jtdytravels)

As if volcanic activity was not enough to put up with, the weather is a bit daunting as well. During the summer, temperatures can range between 10 to 13ºC.  In the warmer south, a top temperature of 30.5ºC has been recorded.  I don’t want to think about winter when the sun only just rises above the horizon for a matter of minutes during the shortest days.  Temperatures of -25 to -30ºC are normal for winter in the north whilst the coldest temperature ever recorded is -39.7º – and this is in a country where the North Atlantic Current moderates the climate!

Tough Icelandic horses  (P1000804 © DY of jtdytravels)

The Arctic fox was the only mammal on the island when humans first arrived. (The chieftain Ingólfur Arnarson arrived in AD874 and became the first permanent Norse settler.)  Occasionally bats have been seen when they are blown off course by strong winds and polar bears sometimes arrive from Greenland.  Neither have ever been known to breed on the island.

The gentle face belies the tough horse beneath  (P1000812 © DY of jtdytravels)

Both domestic and pest animals now inhabit the island.  The sturdy Icelandic horse, Icelandic sheep and the Icelandic Sheepdog are welcome as are goats, chickens, and cattle. However, as in most countries, mice and rabbits are not so welcome.

Mink and reindeer are hunted and many seabirds make the island home.  Puffins, skuas and kittiwakes are a very important part of the island’s wildlife.

We had much still to see on this long day of exploration – next musings for more.    D