Iceland Ring Road: exploring the south

Vik, the rainiest place in Iceland is in the southern-most region. We had a short walk on the beach just before arriving at our hotel.

The hotel had an installation by Aðalheiður S. Eysteinsdóttir entitled ‘The Ravens’ Parliament’.

Certainly the cliffs and stacks here would be ideal raven nesting places and many birds were circling above us as we left before sunrise the next morning.

We wandered on the beach, having been warned about rogue waves which can occur here. The basalt columns are reminiscent of those on the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

There is even a cavern: Halsanefshellir.

We were on the lower slopes of the Katla volcano which has erupted every 100 years, the last in 1918. As we continued along the Ring Road, the sun rose and by the time we reached Skógafoss we even had a rainbow.


The farmland here is richer than elsewhere in Iceland.

We continued past the rather small icecap on Eyjafjallajökull, the Sejalandsfoss waterfall and then inland to the largest lava field on the planet.

The snow-capped top of Hekla which last erupted in 2000 was visible.

The Gossfull waterfall was pretty busy and in summer it would be best to visit it before 7am or after 11pm to avoid the crowds. The crowds were also in evidence at Geysir as we were now in the Golden Triangle which is often all some visitors see.

An evening on Stromboli

After a very short rest we were due to meet up for the trek to the summit. Our tour leader was a little late and then told us that the guide we would need for the route beyond 400m was going to be late. We set off and passed an old cemetery abandoned in 1903. It was hot and the sun was still well above the horizon. At 270m, those of us not going up to 900m left the main group and walked across the flank of the mountain towards the observatory. It was a pleasure to leave the crowds plodding upwards and enjoy the peace of walking by ourselves. We met four young people from New Zealand who were carrying on uphill and continued to the observatory down what was said to be a mule track but which had not been used by mules for some time. The outside tables at the observatory were at two levels. We sated our thirst on the upper level, watching eruptions on the summit. Eventually we realised that to order a meal, we had to be at the lower level, continuing to watch the display. We enjoyed a meal and good wine before wending our way back to the hotel with our headtorches providing light and hoping that our friends were doing well on their descent. I was quite happy not to be walking off a mountain in the dark and down a dark ash scree.

Stromboli eruption 1 (1 of 1)

Stromboli eruption 2 (1 of 1)

Meeting Stromboli for the first time

A 4am awakening and 5am departure was necessary to get the ferry from Milazzo at 7.20am. Some people can sleep on buses and boats but not me. We found a seat near the front to give James more legroom only to find that a crew member had to climb over him every time we came into a port as he was in charge of the ropes. The sea was calm and the ferry called in at Salinas and Lipari before we caught our first sight of Stromboli ahead.
First view of Stromboli (1 of 1)
Having docked we walked to the office so that those who were climbing to the summit this evening could sign all the documentation (we are not as James strained a muscle on a descent the other day) and then picked up supplies before settling in at our beachside hotel and having lunch. The town is very pretty with narrow lanes and alleys and a black sand beach which we will have time to explore more tomorrow. The volcano towers above it.
Stròmboli from the town (1 of 1)
Now it is time to get ready for the small climb to the 400m viewpoint.

Two days on Mount Etna

Up and out early this morning for an attempt to climb to the summit area of Mount Etna. We took the bus so far and then had to switch to four wheel drive and pick up our guide Franco before heading into the National Park. The aim was to tour the Northeast Crater which is the highest at 3300m, the central crater which is 2000 years old and the Bocca Nova formed after the 1968 eruption. The southeast crater dates from 1971. There are numerous lava flows from the various eruptions. Here is an early view of the mountain on our way up.

Etna view 4 (1 of 1)

We could hear explosions underground and ash clouds and sulphurous smoke came out of numerous fissures and crevices.

Etna view 13 (1 of 1)

The landscape is almost as if you are in another world and I took over a hundred photographs. Here is one of the craters.

Plants on lava flow with cone (1 of 1)

Walking among the lava flows is tiring and it would be so easy to twist an ankle between the rocks so watching where to put your feet is a must. We did a long descent through the ash from one of the eruptions. Scree walking skills are useful but taking care to avoid dislodging a lump of lava and causing it to roll down on one of your friends. When we were traversing the side of one of the ash cones, two people above us were sliding down the side causing lava rocks to come down onto our path and delayed some walking along it. On the lower slopes plants have started to colonise the lava flows.

Today was a slightly later start and we were driven up to 1900m to walk across the 1865 lava flow, up the ash cone and then look down into the crater. There are many interestingly shaped ‘bombs’ of rock and lava and some distorted trees. There are birch and pine forests which we walked through and had a break at Monte Barranco. We crossed three dry river beds and were then nearer the 2002 lava flow. Many dead trees in all sorts of contorted shapes stand in midst of the lava. Eventually it was time for a refreshment at one the bars and then a steep climb up one of the ski runs before descending in a beech forest where our bus was waiting. We had a short wander round Linguaglossa but it was the four hour siesta so most of it was closed. It was then back to our hotel to get ready for tomorrow’s early start.

Heading south to delay autumn

The cherry tree outside my studio is always the first to colour and drop its leaves in early autumn. The days are noticeably shorter and on Tuesday, my last early start for work, I found myself noting that I will need another layer and perhaps even gloves very soon.

Autumn leaves (1 of 1)

We have planned a trip to the volcanoes of Sicily and the Aeolian islands for some time and tomorrow we drive down to Gatwick before flying out to Catania on Saturday morning. It is always interesting to compare the descriptions of places we are visiting in my antiquarian guidebooks with the situation on the ground in the 21st century. Baedeker’s Southern Italy (published in 1912) does say that July to October is the best time of year to visit the area but describes the mule and horse transport to take you up to the hiking departure point on Mount Etna. We will be using vehicles but having a pony train to transport your equipment and support staff is familiar from trekking in Ladakh a few years ago. I ended up going over one of the high passes (4,900m) on horseback as I got central cyanosis a little further down. Fortunately there are many interesting mountains at a lower altitude and on Sunday we will be visiting Mount Etna. The mountain weather forecast is for a clear sky (they had storms earlier this week) and a high of 5 degrees at the summit (chill factor 0 degrees). Sunday looks like the best day for a view as later in the week it looks like cloud will be coming in. So we are packing from temperatures from 0-30 plus degrees.

Baedekkers southern Italy (1 of 1)

Baedekkers 1912 Sicilia map (1 of 1)