Honouring Agnes – the pilgrimage of Burial Rites

I know I’m not alone in the fact that the book Burial Rites and Agnes’s story captivated and moved me. I know this because at least two people recommended the book to me because they were so moved.

And when I planned my return travels to Iceland, I made sure a pilgrimage was factored in.

 

June 22nd 2017, we drove from Akureyi that day after staying two nights in the area, and following vague directions on how to locate some of the places I wanted to honour: The workshop where the murders that Agnes’s was accused of being involved with took place, Agnes’s execution place and her final burial place. The directions I followed led us to a church, which I initially thought was the church at Tjorn in which the grounds Agnes is buried. As I frantically searched the grounds, my friend wandered off to get an unofficial tour of the church after being invited by a local man who had keys to the church. As I was starting to realise that we were at the wrong church, my friend was talking to the man about Agnes after he started telling her about the story upon finding out she was Australian. Turns out he knew exactly where we needed to go and gave us some pretty clear directions to follow.

I kinda felt like Agnes had our backs and wanted us to find her.

Our first stop was Þrístapar, her execution spot which was no more than 800 meters away once we got back onto the main road. An un assuming sign sits parallel to the road and you’d easily miss it driving past. The site is on/near farming ground but a fenced off path leads to these 3 mounds I had heard described so often before. I walk towards them, and a chill starts to run through my body as I realise exactly where I am.

 

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I am here.

 That place.

 The place that haunted me.

The place that made me want to leap into the book and save her.

But I couldn’t, and she died alone and scared.

But I’m here now, albeit almost 200 years later.

“I’m here Agnes” I said under my breath.

 

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All the details from the book came flooding back to me as I ascended to the top of the hills. I wanted to cry but instead I just felt weird. A small plaque, tarnished by the elements and time stood on top of one of the hills. Most of words I didn’t recognise as my Icelandic is still quite basic, but I knew what it said. It explained rather unceremoniously that the last execution took place here on 12th January 1930. It didn’t even mention her name. I felt angry at that for her. I looked around, searching for some flowers, anything, that I could place here to show my respect. All I could see were dandelions, each one covered in half a dozen ants or so.

I observed the surroundings and the location. It was nothing special: bit of farmland with some similar hills to the ones I was standing on. But what I noticed was the mountains. They surrounded the place and I smiled because I thought, it anything, she may have found comfort in their beauty. They looked different now, of course and I hoped that it wasn’t so bleak and covered in too much snow to shield the beauty. I hoped that the beauty in mother nature held her until the final moment.

 

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Next stop was the churn at Tjörn, where Agnes and Fridrik are now buried.

Apparently after they were executed (by beheading), their heads were put on stakes and displayed, most likely as a deterrent to others. Their bodies were disposed of (likely burnt) and their heads buried nearby the execution spot. Then, in 1932, a psychic claimed that she was contacted by Agnes and that Agnes implored her to find her and Fridrik’s buried heads and bury them at the church grounds at Tjörn. Sounds a bit whacky, but the psychic apparently led them to the exact spot and they were able to uncover what they believed to be their heads, and relocate them to the churchyard in Tjörn. This is now their final resting place.

We drove on gravel and dirt roads for what felt like ages, using on a paper map with markings on it. The was rain coming in and out, making the drive even harder, but no less spectacular. The Vatsnes Peninsula was a lot more vast and isolated than what we expected. There was some farmland and farmhouses scattered around, and we mused about how isolated it must have felt in the 17th century with no cars and no modern technology. I started to understand the wretched conditions described so explicitly in the book, especially in winter.

I recognised the church as we approached it, and this time there was a sign with Tjörn on it. I had also seen a picture of the grave and that it was shared with Fridrik so I knew what I was looking for. My first thought was that it was such an unassuming place: a tiny church and a tiny grave yard on the edge of a remote peninsula in the middle of farmland. I forgot that, although the book was vastly popular and Agnes’s story know well known, this is where she lived and died and it was what it was.

 

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I found the grave easily enough. And yes there they were, buried together in what had been described in another blog as seeming like there were sharing a grave like a marriage bed. Which seems strange as they we far from lovers (apparently). The grave is fairly modern, the plaque shiny and easy to read and Fridrik’s name is first at the top. Its one of those graves that is like a box with no lid, with walls around the outside. I found some dandelions (these ones relatively ant free) and placed them there to show my respect. I sat on the edge of the grave and I spoke to her again: I told her that I was sorry. Sorry that she lived her short life misunderstood and underestimated. I was sorry that because she was intelligent that it may have sealed her fate because people judged her, that because she was strong and powerful that people thought she had to be oppressed. I told her sorry that she may have felt so alone in life and in her circumstances and that I will hang on to who she was for as long as I lived. I told her that I would continue advocating for women to be seen for who they really are and to no longer be oppressed, and that I would continue to fight for myself.

I hope she heard me somehow.

 

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Last stop was the farm at Illugastaðir. The place where the murders took place. This was a little less tangible as the farm no longer stood and all was left were ruins. There is a information board near the car park explaining that this is the location where the murders took place, but no real direction or explanation of exactly where. Its not a huge place, its full of seaweed and ducks and now the people visiting are just here because its now a good vantage place to spot seals.

I fell in love with Iceland, and believe every part of it is beautiful. But I could imagine how living there, especially in winter, would be a wretched thing. And I felt sad for Agnes. That she ended up here, and what happened happened.

I walked away a little crestfallen and that I had failed because I couldn’t find the exact site or the ruins. But it was the right place and I reasoned with myself that there was nothing left to see anyway. That I had found the execution spot, the grave and that I had made it here in the same location where it all went down. These were the three places I wanted to see and I did it.

With special mention to my patient, and expert map reader travel companion, Bree, I complete my pilgrimage.

It felt very surreal that I was there in all those places that I had read about and that were so far away from home.

I felt honoured that I was able to go there, and have this special experience.

I hoped Agnes knew somehow that she was honoured.

Whoever she was.

 

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Oh Tasmania

This was my first time in Tasmania, and to be honest I had underestimated, or more accurately been ignorant of its beauty.

It only took my best mate and her family moving down there to prompt me to make the trip.

The first of many.

Day One

Touching down at Launceston airport with mountains in view was enough to excite my weary body and mind having  caught a red eye flight from Melbourne.

In fact, there are lots of mountains in Tassie, much to my delight and the car trip to Cradle Mountain was filled with lots of “oh my gods” and “wow’s” and “what the hells” much to the amusement of my friend. The trees too are beautiful, and tall, And fortunately, there are many of them.

Driving into Cradle Mountain National Park was like driving on another planet. It was so ruggedly beautiful that it reminded me of the Icelandic and Scottish landscapes I had explored and the pictures of New Zealand I had studied – yet something completely unique and definitely like nothing on the ‘mainland’. There was moss ground covering, small shrubs, few trees and small wallabies grazing. It was foggy and spectacular but unfortunately, arriving at Dove Lake yielded no clear view of Cradle Mountain.  It was raining lightly, so we chucked on our jackets and headed off for our 7km return hike around Dove lake.

I have to say – Tasmania has some bloody good and well maintained hiking tracks that put most of the Victorian ones I have hiked on to shame. There was some tricky spots, navigating rocks and uneven surfaces, but the track was mostly boardwalk which made the hike a lot smoother. We were convinced we were passing through multiple countries in the duration of the trail; parts felt like Australia, whilst others felt like Slovenia, Wales, New Zealand and even Thailand. There was deep forest sections, small lakeside shores, all surrounded by mountain ranges with lush vegetation.

The hike itself was fairly easy and mostly flat, and we completed it in a couple of hours – stopping to check out the view and take the obligatory photos from glacier rock near the end of the trail.

Slightly damp and cold, we warmed ourselves up at Cradle Lodge over some tea and hot chips before making our way to our cabin for an early night in preparation for an early morning the following day.

Day two

Awaking to the sound of steady rain on our cabin roof was both an audible pleasure and a practical disappointment.

We were attempting to hike up the Cradle Summit today and the rain left us uncertain of our plans. After a small discussion, we decided to carry on with our plans and head back to Dove Lake car park and set out on our hike. I had waterproof gear and my friend had a change of clothes, and with the mention of her father in law’s Tasmanian motto “if you wait for it to not be raining to see Tasmania, you probably won’t see much” (or something to the same effect) we had good reason for us to still head off. It was the low visibility that was the reasoning for us to not attempt to go all the way to the Cradle Summit and to get to Marriot’s Lookout would be our more realistic goal. We rugged up and set off from the car park at just after 8am, noting that the weather at least had deferred the tourists and all that remained were other more determined (or silly) hikers like ourselves.  We headed off on the trail that would take us to Marriott’s Lookout past Lake Lilla and via Wombat Pools and Crater Lake.

Not 10 mins into the trail and it was already pouring rain. The lovely, well maintained trail was quickly becoming a gushing stream and making good progress of leaving no dry parts of our feet. The weather also meant that we really couldn’t see a lot, and that elusive Cradle peak was obscured once again. We stopped as long as we could tolerate being still in the pouring rain at Wombat Pools, the lookout over Lake Lilla and  on the edge of Crater Lake. Once at Crater Lake, and after admiring the two waterfalls coming down the side of the crater that the weather had created, we started our ascent up to Marion’s lookout – the sign stating 25 mins.

The track up to Marion’s was very steep, and in same parts, literally vertical with steps and chains to climb up with which proved both challenging and fun. The further up we climbed, the better the view of Crater Lake and the louder the roar of the waterfalls got. 



We were completely soaked and fairly exhausted by the time we made the top of Marion’s and the weather had at this point obscured visibility beyond about 5 meters in front of us – unfortunately yielding no view at all. 


A few photos at the top and time to check our phones – apparently this was the only place in the whole of Northern Tassie with phone reception – and we started out descent down an alternative route which was nothing much other than a goat track. And by goat track I mean a steadily flowing stream. We headed down the stream/track with the occasional chain railing for support in those vertical parts, and bit of trekking and stumbling later, we made it down to Dove Lake and to the shelter of the car.

Next stop Sheffield for some phone reception and refuelling for the long drive back to Hobart. I had the biggest mug of Chai while we dried off a bit and regained our strength.

We stopped in briefly at Liffey Falls, at my friend’s vineyard (a phrase I’m still getting used to) and to observe the beautiful Mount Roland before the long drive back to Hobart.

And if I hadn’t already fallen completely in love with Tasmania, the sight of all the beautiful trees and mountain ranges really sealed the deal.

Tasmania, I love you and your wild rugged beauty – I’ll be back before long.

Why Iceland?

A lot of people asked me before I left, “why are you going to Iceland?”

Umm why the hell not?

“Have you not seen the place?” I replied.

But in all seriousness, why Iceland? Probably had something to do with the fact that it looked like the most amazing place on earth.
Big call I know.
But it absolutely was.

 

These were just some of the many things that I loved about Iceland:


Reykjavik

I was fortunate to be staying a mere 10-15 mins walk from ‘Down town’ Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, and I really liked it as a city. It reminded me of a “cute little version” of my home city, Melbourne Australia.

 
Restaurants, cafes, quirky little home wares and clothing shops, op shops, and the abundance of street art is just a few of its charms. I spent a whole day there and most evenings just wandering the streets in search of food and anything that caught my eye.

 

As a vegan, I was a little concerned about the food options in a place like Iceland but it turned out to be one of my favourite places to eat. I was able to find good tasty meals, gelato and ice cream shops that catered for me, chip shops and health food shops for supplies.

 
I particularly loved the feel of the city and was more than happy to just be there. I don’t know whether it was the knowledge that Iceland is one of the most safe and peaceful places or that it it’s just a pleasant city. Maybe it was a bit of both.

 

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Something I learned when visiting one of the country’s geothermal power plants, is that besides the geothermal energy being pumped from the plant to every home and business in Reykjavik – which in itself is amazing – is that in winter, they pump extra hot water under the streets in Reykjavik to heat the streets and therefore melting ice and providing safe and easy acces for cars and pedestrians in when its icy and snowy. Legends!

 
I have to say tho; my favourite thing about downtown Reykjavik was the fact that you can see mountains from the city. And I mean real close, as in you look down the street and there they are in all their ice capped glory. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

 


The Blue Lagoon

I was almost put off going here because it’s such a tourist attraction and an overpriced one at that.

 
BUT, when I was given the opportunity to go after my ATV/Quad Bike tour I jumped at the chance. And I’m so glad I did.

 
I freakin’ loved it.

 
It is a goddamn beautiful place despite the amount of people there.

 
There is no doubt that the blue water is in fact magical, that the surrounding lava fields make a cool backdrop, that the mist over the surface of the water makes you feel like you are swimming in a place fit for mermaids. The heat of the water is sublime – especially in contrast to the outside temperature and especially if you have been out in the elements which I had.

 
Although I was there on my own and had a few hours in the pool, I did not get bored. In fact it was really hard to leave the water. It was so comforting and as already mentioned, sublime feeling being in there. I went on my last day and it was the last thing I really did before I left, so I used that time to just completely relax, to let go of everything I was holding on to and all the fatigue of the last month of constant adventure and activity. You know that feeling you get when you’re in the bath and just so completely relaxed and not a care in the world? Well x that by 1000000 and that’s how it felt. The ultimate big, blue, magical bath that wraps you up in the biggest hug.

 

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Literal bliss.

Top tip: get your photo taken by the lagoon photographer – it’s free, they email it straight to you, and the photos look more magical than your own. Also, you MUST pre book your tickets as the likelihood of turning up and there still being a spot is slim to none.

 
The only thing I would have done differently – brought a robe or upgraded my entry fee to include one as the walk from the change rooms to the pool is cold, even in the ‘summer’ months.


Videy Island
The island is just a short ferry ride from Reykjavik. And by short ferry ride, I literally mean 5 minutes. And by ferry, they mean a small boat.

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The island itself is pretty small, but a cool little place. It has a few art installations scattered across the island, as well as geese, seagulls, wildflowers and a few small hills to climb.

I don’t think anyone lives on the island, and there is just one building that looks like some sort of restaurant or café but I’m not sure if it operates anymore. I just spent some time there, wandering, exploring, admiring the view of Reykjavik from where I was, and enjoying the presence of not many other humans.

 

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The main reason I went there because this is where the Imagine Peace Tower that Yoko Ono built in John Lennon’s honour is located. And despite the fact that it was summer there, I wouldn’t see it in all its glory (see below for the times it’s lit up throughout the year), I wanted to see it still. As I walked around the base of the tower, I felt moved to tears as I looked at the inscriptions of the words ‘Imagine Peace” in 24 different languages. Even though without the tower being lit up it isn’t much to look at, I felt overwhelming emotion over the intention of peace. That despite all the darkness and destruction in the world, there are many who genuinely want love and peace for all, and that’s a very beautiful thing.

 

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Further info: it is also lit up at additional times of the year:
– On John Lennon’s birthday on Oct 9th and until Dec 8th on the anniversary of his death, from 8pm to midnight.
– On the Winter Solstice (December 21st) until New Year’s Eve (December 31st) until dawn on New Years Day.
– the first week of spring (March 20th -27th), from 8pm to midnight.
– In tribute to Yoko, the City of Reykjavik also lights the tower on her birthday February 18th from 7pm until 9am the following day.

 


Black Beaches

Most beaches in Iceland are black. Black sand, black pebbles and black rock formations. This is due to volcanic activity, and considering when we think of beaches we think yellow or white sand and blue water, the black beaches of Iceland are something to behold and revel.

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The beaches themselves are literally black and white as the water appears clear or white, contrasted against the black sand and rocks. If I’m being completely honest, these beaches, especially Reynisfjara was one of the most incredible natural wonders I have ever seen, again convinced that I was on another planet.

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As well as the beach itself, Reynisfjara has the Reynisdrangar or basalt columns to explore and Djúpalónssandur had ship wreck ruins.

 
As beautiful and incredible these beaches are, the danger of these beaches must be taken seriously. As are all beaches, the black beaches of Iceland can be deadly, particularly Reynisfjara and many have drowned here after being caught off guard. It is strongly advised to stay away from the water and never turn your back on the water as the waves are unpredictable and powerful.

 

 

The Snaefellsness Peninsula
From incredible lava fields, caves, to volcanoes, to wildlife, to ruggedly, painfully beautiful coast lines – this place has it all. I saw some seals here, birds I’d never seen before, one of Iceland’s Black Churches, went into a cave (arghh!), saw some more black beaches and a place where part of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was filmed.

 

 

 

It’s definitely a special place. And considering that Jules Verne wrote ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ after being inspired by this place, that definitely says something.

 

 

Waterfalls
Didn’t TLC advise against going after waterfalls? Well screw that, I want to see them all. And I know you can get waterfalls almost anywhere, but Iceland has some beauties. I saw only a fraction of them:


Seljalandsfoss

 


Skogarfoss



Gullfoss



Glymur

 

Faxi


But don’t just take my word for it, go there and see it for yourself.

Solo hike up Sugarloaf Mountain – Kinglake National Park

I rather like hiking alone.

There is something peaceful and empowering about it, and it gives you space to be alone with just your thoughts and mother nature.

So, when I have a day off and no one to go hiking with I never let that stop me.

I had just looked this hike up recently, and only decided to go while I was driving down the Eastern Freeway instead of going to Lake Mountain to climb that instead – I can be spontaneous sometimes. I guess subconsciously I was in the mood for punishment, because this trail was one of the hardest I have done in terms of endurance.

The trail I followed starts at Mason Falls Picnic Ground, but you could also start at Blackwood Picnic Ground or even the top of Mount Sugarloaf, but I think coming back up Sugarloaf last would be quite challenging as my only relief was the descent back being the last leg.

I took the trail from the picnic ground towards the falls and it’s about 700 meters to the viewing platform for Mason Falls, taking particular notice of the small hills I would need to walk back down on my way out. The falls are pretty nice, but you are pretty far away from them and I like my waterfalls close up.

I took the path with the sign pointing towards Sugarloaf Mountain and started my ascent. The next 8kms is essentially mostly uphill with few places to stops along the way, so I grabbed a chance to rest any opportunity I could. I also found a quiet spot on the left by the creek to sit down and peacefully have some snacks with the company of some Rosella’s.

I won’t mince words; it was a hard slog up to the top, so I just kept going despite the world of pain I was in, having many a rest stop to catch my breath and curse muchly. I have done a fair bit of hiking this year, and are no stranger to hills and summit climbs, but this was a killer for me. That 8kms of constant slow ascending was a huge challenge, and started to doubt my current physical state and level of fitness.

I really thought about turning back because I was hurting and I didn’t think I could make it back, but I’m stubborn and refuse to back down if I’ve set myself a challenge. Plus, I wasn’t dead yet.

The track was really nice in terms of being fairly well maintained, smooth, mostly free of obstacles, and full of lots of lovely lush Australian bush. But a track like that can get pretty boring as I do enjoy a bit of a challenge, lucky there were a few fallen trees to climb over to keep me interested.

Butterflies and finches kept me company most of the way, the butterflies getting real close even and circling around me as I walked.

Finally I saw some gates and a road and when I crossed over I saw the sign for Sugarloaf Ridge Track indicating that it’s just 900m’s to the top of Sugarloaf. Relief! The views along the way as they are quite nice, especially up the left hand site. You can see the surrounding hills and the evidence of the fires still after many years.

The top was kind of unceremonious as it’s practically just a parking lot because its accessible by road which is never what you want to see at a mountain summit. But hey, I made it and I was exhausted to I was going to enjoy the achievement no matter what. And the packed lunch and refuelling was much needed also.

To head back down I took the track to Blackwood Picnic ground, as it appeared shorter and I figured it would be the wise approach considering my present exhaustion level. It’s also nice not to have to take the same trail twice, and it did prove slightly shorter at 15kms instead of 16kms that it was supposed to be (but really, the extra 1km wouldn’t have killed me, or would it?).

I probably won’t do this one again, unless I’m training for something else that’s particularly heinous (yes, I just used a Law and Order: SVU reference).

Safe to say, I would be heading straight to the bath after this.

Journey into the heart of Thórsmörk

Huh? Journey to where?

Well, Thórsmörk is the name given to an area in Iceland which is essentially a huge valley/mountain ridge/nature reserve, located about 2.5 hrs from Reykjavik in the south. If you haven’t already made the connection, its named in reference to the god of thunder, Thor, presumably due to its epic-ness. Understandably, it’s quite a popular hiking area.

I booked a Super Jeep tour to explore a place I had dreamed about for a little while now, and was soooooooo excited. I had been gazing at aerial shots of its endless rivers, and images from its canyons showing vibrant green contrasted with black and dark browns.

As well as it being super fun riding in a super jeep, it also was obviously a practical measure. Many of the roads in Iceland that are off the main roads are incompatible with regular vehicles and some areas it is forbidden to drive into without a suitable vehicle, or at the very least, strongly advised against. This meant that the area was almost deserted and far less people were about, something I adore while exploring nature and the wilderness.

As the jeep made its way through endless valleys, with endless mountain ranges and volcanos, I felt my heart swell and had to pinch myself that this was real life. You see, the thing about Iceland is that it’s so beautiful and other-worldly (this is my favorite and most accurate phrase to describe this country), that you start to doubt how real the things you are seeing actually are. I took particular delight every time the jeep crossed one of the many rivers. It was kind of chaotic, and you got thrown around in your seat a bit, but the sensation of the jeep forging roughly through the water was quite comforting. 

Because this is what adventure felt like, and it was adventure my spirit craved. 

The jeep pulled off the road, and headed towards an area that was all just black and white and greys and what looked like a dirty glacier. And it was. The tour guide shortly informed us we could see the glacier part of the infamous and now dormant volcano Eyjafjallajökull (Ay-yah-fyad-layer-kuh-tel) – try pronouncing that in a hurry, or at all. I’m still working on that. 

Although we couldn’t get close enough to the glacier due to a river that as too unsafe to cross blocked our way, being so close to such a powerful and transient thing was very cool.


 
We next stopped off in Básar for a lunch and toilet break, and then decided to casually climb a small mountain. As you do. Nice view of the valley too.


 
Our last stop was the incredible, and much anticipated Stakkholtsgjá Canyon. 

Oh my freaking god. 

THIS place. 
 

I honestly thought I was walking through another world. A world that doesn’t exist in the world I knew. A place that could only be compared to the landscape fantasy films, or novels. A place I knew changed me the moment I stepped into it. I felt dwarfed by the sheer size of it and insignificant in its gloriousness. My time was limited but I wanted to stay here for hours, forever even.
  

We hiked all the way to a hidden waterfall in a cave, after forging a river that flowed through the canyon (didn’t fall over this time, for those who read my Glymur hike blog). After climbing around inside and exploring the cave for a bit, our guide called us back and gestured to head back to the jeep. I felt instantly almost heartbroken. How was I supposed to leave this place?

 
I reluctantly headed back out of the cave and through the canyon, soaking up its beauty one last time. Walking slower, taking more pictures, breathing in its cool, crisp air.

Once I reached the jeep, I climbed in sadly, and prepared myself for the trip back to Reykjavik.

You see, by journeying into the heart of Thórsmörk, I discovered I was in fact, journeying into my own. 

That one time I hiked the highest waterfall in Iceland

*Well technically it’s the second highest now, as a waterfall was revealed after the eroding of the Morsárjökull Glacier recently. But Glymur stands as the highest consistent waterfall at 198m tall.

The thing is, I actually almost cancelled this hike.

I thought I couldn’t do it. I had been sick in the UK before I came to Iceland and was still feeling its effects on my body. I also felt that I was out of my depth with my physical fitness being relatively new to hiking.

But I didn’t cancel it.

I learned, while I was in the UK that I am capable of more than I thought I was, and that I had surprised myself physically. So I told myself “just get out there and do it”

The day started with a pick up at my hostel by my guide Bjorn, a German born Icelandic resident with a love of hiking, and another member of the group Brian, who was a photographer over from Lebanon. The pickup itself felt like we were going on a top secret mission: I eyed the van suspiciously as it pulled up and I said “I think you’re here for me”, to which Bjorn replied “well are you here for a day of adventure and to hike the highest waterfall in Iceland?

To which I replied “shit yeah”.

We arrived at the site and after determining that the other two members of the group were a no-show, we set off.

I was literally challenged with my fear of heights within minutes on the trail when I had to cross a very narrow part in a rock formation to get the first vantage point that gives us a view up and down the gorge with the Botsnà river rushing below us. Bjorn was aware of my fear and helped me across but I was very quietly wigging out at that point already. But as always, the views outweigh the fear.


After passing through a semi-enclosed cave, the next challenge was crossing a river on a log that was suspended above it, using a rope to keep your balance as you crossed it. It wasn’t super hard to do, but if you lost your balance you would fall and the rope wasn’t going to stop that happening. I made it across and didn’t fall into the river…this time.


After we all successfully crossed the river without incident, we started our ascent up the side of Glymur. The track is a combination of dirt/mud tracks and rocky uneven surfaces, sometimes along high drop off’s and near vertical surfaces.

The beauty of this waterfall is that it is essentially hidden in a valley and the view of the waterfall changes constantly depending on where you are, and there are a few vantage points along the way, some of them allowing an unobstructed view down the valley in the direction we came from and of the full waterfall. All views allowed us this glorious 360 view of the surrounding valley and mountains whilst also being acutely aware of how high up we were. We had many stops to take advantage of the views and so Brian could set up his tripod and take some pictures, Bjorn and myself either snacking or goofing around taking selfies with epic views behind us while we waited for him.


Fun fact: Glymur is nestled in the isolated Hvalfjordur fjord which is considered is one of Iceland’s deepest, and during WW2 it acted as shelter for those heading east.

The hike not only took us up the right side of the waterfall but then up over the top so that we could descend down the left side of the waterfall. This part involved forging the river that turns into the waterfall.


Now just so set this scene: the river here ranges from being about 10-20 meters wide, at its deepest it would be up to your knees, and it’s cold as heck. It also flows pretty fast as you could imagine and the river bed is full of rocks of various shapes and sizes that prove to be quite the obstacle. I was wearing Haviana thongs, so therefore both repping Australian fashion and providing what I thought was adequate river forging footwear in one go. Not exactly – Aussie pride, check – river forging safety attire, fail. The current of the river proved so strong that it pulled at my thongs in such a way that it threatened to take them off my feet and subsequently led to me falling down in the river, or “pulling a stunt” as my guide would like to call it. The only thing hurt in this event was my pride and I managed to get myself completely soaked by the ice cold water from the waist down. The worst part was that Bjorn who was entrusted with photographing both Brian and I’s journey across the river failed to capture this moment. You’d hope, if you are going to fall over in a river in Iceland, the least your guide can do if not help you is to capture it photographically.

But he did help. Once I got to other side (with no more tumbles) he fitted me with his outer waterproof pants so that I stayed warm for the duration of the rest of the hike. Now forgiven for not getting a picture of me falling, I decided he was a bit of a champ.

After drying our frozen feet and getting our boots back on, we made out descent back down to Earth.


The way back down is in a sense easier and quicker, but there was a few treacherous trails with loose rocks, pieces of slate and mud that we had to carefully navigate. This just made it all the more fun and adventurous.

We had been facing rain and wind most of the way, so when the rain ceased momentarily, we grabbed that opportunity to sit down and have some lunch which consisted of the packed food we had brought and some of the wild edible blueberries that are found almost everywhere in Iceland. We sat there, chatted about life and reminisced about “the incident” i.e. my river crossing fail.

The last part of the trail took us through some forest which was a nice change and a rarity in Iceland as Iceland really doesn’t have much in the way of trees, and its every Icelander’s favourite joke to say “what do you do if you get lost in the forest?… just stand up.” Oh that Icelandic humour.

Near the end we had to cross an area with some tall grass, the kind you can get lost in and I had to remind myself that I was in Iceland, not Australia and that I wasn’t going to be eaten alive by snakes. This tall grass did prove an opportunity for me to pull another stunt: about 1/4 of the way through, Bjorn shouts back to us to be careful as the ground is uneven with big holes in the earth… not 5 seconds later my foot hits one of those holes and I fall sideways into the grass, apparently rather comically as laughter erupts from Brian behind me. It was then that I realised my part in this hike was to provide comedy relief, and clearly my life purpose too.


High fives and praises greeted us from Bjorn at the end of the trail and upon return to the van, and we were assured that we had done really well. This is definitely my kind of way to finish a challenging hike and despite this, I was already proud of myself for what I had accomplished.

This was one of the most challenging hikes I have done to date, and it’s something that I really questioned if I could actually do it. As mentioned earlier, my body was recovering from an illness, I’m not actually that fit or experienced, and the hike itself was a challenging in potential weather conditions that I had not been previously exposed to. I’m not going to pretend it was easy, or that I didn’t want to turn back at many points, but I actually did it, and without any injury, and that all that matters.

After taking our boots and extra gear off and taking a bit of a breather which included a chat with another hiking team, we set off on the journey back to Reykjavik – with my head resting against the window, a weary smile and my heart open wide, all I could think about was a shower, warm clothes, a nice hot meal and a reallllly big sleep.

The best UK road trip ever – Part III

Day Six – The Road to Skye

I had been dreaming of the Isle of Skye and it’s wonders for awhile now and the treasure that it held made the 5hr drive seem not so daunting. But really, 5 hrs of driving (well passenger-ing) with wonderful company and some of the most beautiful landscape I have ever seem could never be tiresome.

As we left the comforts and confines of the city, heather and mountains for days started to fill our views.

We intermittently stopped off to admiringly gaze at lochs, mountains, climb rock formations with ease (that would have been my companion, not me), explore these roadside waterfalls and streams that seemed to be everywhere – apparently in Scotland, most mountains have their own private waterfall too as well. We even found a little graveyard on the hills dedicated mostly to one particular clan with headstones dating back to at least the late 1700’s.

We managed to find some decent vegan snacks actually marked ‘vegan’ in a tiny little petrol station seemingly in the middle of nowhere, where the attendant shared a local joke with us that I didn’t exactly understand.

We made it to Portree, Isle of Skye around lunchtime and after utilising the tourist centre’s courtesy wifi we had a game plan: The Old Man of Storr and The Fairy Pools. I had these places in mind all along and all it took was for me to show my companion a picture of each and he was sold too.

As we approached The Old Man, we could only partially see it sticking out through thick rolling mist. After we parked and walked towards it, it disappeared completely, and our hearts sank a little. I was still recovering from my horrid ‘english flu’ at this stage and thought we were only going to walk up to the first viewing area and see if we could get a better look at it, and that in itself was proving taxing on my body. But the closer we got to it, the less it revealed itself. All we could see was the mountain that supported the rock formations, disappearing into the fog. So we walked higher, and higher and higher again until we found ourselves at the base of the big tear drop part of the structure after climbing on our hands and knees on a diagonal rocky incline for what seemed like ages. I found a rock big enough to sit on and promptly did so, turning around to face the direction from where I’d just climbed up. Thats when the fear grabbed me by the throat – I couldn’t see more than 10 meters in front of me, just a very steep rocky slope disappearing into whiteness. I was exhausted, covered in rain and sweat and now terrified as to how I would actually get down from here. My companion, not surprisingly kept climbing and exploring and I think I shouted something like “can you not die please” with some profanities mixed in for good measure. After a few minutes of him being gone and me quietly loosing my shit, he appeared and announced that he found an easier way down. I told him I didn’t believe him, and he assured me again that it was easier. And you know what, he wasn’t wrong. It seemed we had picked the hard way to get up and the other way was a gentle sloping well worn track back down. My fear melted away and left me exhausted, elated and proud of myself for getting up there.

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With smiles on our faces and in our hearts, we headed off to find The Fairy Pools.

The Fairy Pools are a series of mini waterfalls and rock pools hidden in a valley and surrounded by mountains. The info and signs at the site really don’t give you enough information and we found ourselves walking forever to find them. The path takes you alongside a rocky stream and also occasionally through it (hello wet feet), eventually presenting these small waterfalls and pools. Now because there wasn’t really any info available to tell us exactly where the pools are, we walked, and walked, and walked til the mist rolled down off the mountains and into the valley and threatened enough to bring rain with it, that we turned back. We felt a bit defeated that we had come all this way and walked so far without finding them. Our future selves would find out that we did in fact see them and just didn’t realise it as they aren’t signposted and are more of a series of pools as opposed to one site.

 

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It was now about 7:30pm and with only a couple hours of daylight left, we decided to head for John O’ Groats, the most Northernly part of the UK but not before we went back to see if we could lay eyes on a non-mist shrouded Old Man of Storr before we left. Sadly, we couldn’t as the fog proved even thicker. We both seemed really hesitant to leave that place and I think it moved us in some way. It was very hard to leave and I know that place will remain special to us both through time.

One thing I really need to say here. The Isle of Skye is incredible, but there is one thing that I hated. The annoying as heck highland midge. They are these super tiny flying insects that will attack you relentlessly, and they are unfortunately rife there. It means you cant stand still too long and will find yourself constantly swatting them and feebly trying to avoid being bitten. I’m not saying don’t explore The Isle of Skye, definitely do it, just be aware.

This next part of the journey was by far the craziest. We drove through the night, further and further north. I remember being incredibly tired and forcing myself to stay awake with every fibre of my being, because although I wasn’t driving, I knew my companion  was incredibly tired too. After coffee and toilet stops in small petrol stations, impromptu star gazing on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere and driving almost endlessly on the darkest roads I had ever seen, we pulled into a car park at John O’ Groats and finally stopped driving.

 

Day Seven

The coldness and voices outside the car woke me promptly and I was surprised to see how bright it was outside when it had been so dark before.

After freshening up the best we could, we headed out to the cold to explore. Obligatory posing with the John O’Groats sign photos were taken, and a video of my companion doing a spoken word rendition of The Proclaimers “500 Miles” was recorded and we were free to explore the shore. To be honest, there really isn’t much here – but we made it and that in itself was pretty amazing.

Being so acutely aware of how far north we were, we weren’t looking forward to the long drive back. Although the daylight gave us an opportunity to see things on either side of the road that were previously hidden under the cover of night, the drive back down was almost as tiresome as the drive up. And I started to feel the first pangs of sadness with the reminder that the adventure and my time with my companion had an expiry date. I kept this to myself, my companion not aware of these feelings that were coming to the surface for me.

In between now and when we would arrive at our next overnight location, we stopped off on the side of the road to explore a mysterious collection of stones in a field called ‘Hill O’ Many Stanes’, a waterfall near Loch Ness the name of which I have forgotten, a forest known to inhabit the elusive red squirrel, Loch Ness itself and coincidentally the same petrol station we stopped at in the wee hours of the morning on our way up to the North.  We actually almost drove the diameter of Loch Ness, searching for this fibreglass Nessie that my companion assured me existed. I was starting to think it didn’t exist anymore than the fabled creature itself existed. But we found it, and goofed around with it and took obligatory comical pics with it.

Loch Ness itself is eerie. Its very still and quiet and you almost feel that something unexplainable is there, enough to make you fearful of its depths.

 

Day eight

I tell you what, waking up in a car at the most northernly part of the UK is fun and adventurous, but waking up in a spacious and comfortable Travelodge the day after is pretty good too. I mean their slogan does say ” a great day starts from a Travelodge dreamer bed”, how could that be wrong?

We were in Newcastle, after crossing the border back into England the day before, and only hours away from the end of the road trip. But it wasn’t over before another day of adventuring was to be had.

First stop, the little town of Whitby. There wasn’t a lot here besides the Abbey and shop after shop sporting some of the tackiest wares you would every see. This town’s claim for fame was the fact that it was mentioned in Bram Stoker’s Dracula as the first place that Dracula came ashore after his journey from Transylvania. So now you can just picture the kind of gift shops lined the streets, hence my use of the word ‘tacky’.

The Abbey was interesting, there was an old graveyard near by, a museum section with old artefacts and history, and a labyrinth to explore.

Next stop was Sherwood Forest, of Robin Hood lore. There was coincidently a Robin Hood festival going on at the forest which made it all the more interesting to explore. The was stalls with Alchemist’s, flowered head crowns, bow and arrows and we counted 3 falconry locations. One particular falconer took it upon himself to tell us and a small confused family about his break up with his wife in his 30’s, it’s was very informative in terms of life events but we were just standing there forcing smiles and thinking “just tell us more about the goddamn birds”. As awkward as it was, it made us laugh at least.

The last two stops of this trip were surprises that I didn’t know about. The small town of Melbourne, so I could pose with the sign, and the equally small town of Gotham for novelty’s sake.

We arrived back at my companion’s home early that evening for a home cooked meal and some well deserved rest before I made the journey to Iceland in a couple of days. As sad as I was being at the end of our adventure, it was nice to be still for a bit, to get grounded and to gain my strength back for my next adventure.

. . . . . 

So here, I have put into words my version of the experience in the hope that it will be understood and enjoyed by those who weren’t there, but there really isn’t enough words to really do it all justice. It stands today as one of the most incredible experiences of my life, one that will stay with me forever. And although I have already expressed to my companion what this meant to me and how grateful I am for him sharing this with me and making it happen – there really isn’t enough or the right words for that either.

Fin