The North Coast of Iceland

By Barnett, Muriel | Contemporary Review, August 1992 | Go to article overview

The North Coast of Iceland

Barnett, Muriel, Contemporary Review

SINCE my teens I have dreamed of Iceland. And to my regret always let other considerations come in my way. It would cost too much in the |hungry thirties'. Friends questioned my sanity in yearning to holiday in the Arctic! My husband preferred to relax in warmer climates. I let myself be persuaded. But not that summer of 1983. No. I was determined to visit Iceland at last -- aged 74.

With a like-minded friend I sailed by a Danish boat from Scrabster in the north of Scotland through the Faroes to the east coast of Iceland disembarking at Seydisfjordur.

Customs procedures were minimal and soon we found the road-coach waiting on the quayside, narrow like the dirt road ahead of it, and sturdy to defy its rough surface. Some of the private cars that had travelled on the same boat as us charged ahead to shake us off -- in vain. Others crawled apprehensively behind us into the forbidding grey-and-white landscape on a road banked high above raging snow-melt torrents. Most of Iceland's main roads are unmetalled -- as a policy. That way the country more easily qualified for development loans from the UN. Reindeer stared.

We stared back. Rain pelted, but three hours later we made it into Egilstaddir in brilliant sunshine. Weather unpredictability is a feature of Iceland. Sunshine persisted too until well after I had gone to bed at 10.30 at night with the final whistle of the football match played outside my window still ringing in my ears.

Egilstaddir looked a prosperous little settlement. It began as late as 1944 with 100 people. Now it boasts a knitting factory, a printing works, and two flourishing building firms. The bus set us down at our hotel. It didn't look like one. A large square barn-like edifice. Plain wooden door. No name displayed. No bright fights. My companion, a botanist, rapturised over a cushion of lavender-pink Moss Campion on a bank of black volcanic dust near the entrance while I wondered if it really was where we had booked in.

Finally we pushed our way in, and found an inviting Reception Area, and were each allotted a comfortable bedroom with its own bathroom. Afternoon coffee -- not tea -- was dispensed from a kona machine and there was no limit set to our consumption of it.

Next day, after a visit to the Supermarket -- yes, a supermarket almost on the Arctic Circle -- we made for the tiny airport. A small Icelandair plane landed on the run-way, followed by a pint-sized scarlet mail-plane, which we made fun of -- and Judgment followed.

We checked the luggage we could see being trundled out on wagons towards the Icelandair machine. Horror of horrors, ours was missing. A second later I spotted it on a wheel-barrow heading for the bright-red |dinkie toy' plane.

|Akureyri, Akureyri,' I wailed rushing out on to the tarmac waving our air-tickets. Amused smiles from the baggage-handler.

|You will enjoy,' he assured us grinning, and slung our |traps' on to the back passenger seat. Three teenage girls, munching their way through bags of fish crisps -- the equivalent of our potato crisps -- were already aboard. Our arrival with our luggage filled all available seats.

For the next hour we skimmed, bumped and wheeled over a cold grey desert where we were told Armstrong had practised his moon-walk. Here and there we espied an ice-cap in the distance, or a not-so-long-extinct volcanic crater beneath us. An occasional jet of steam from some underground inferno startled us. At last we banked steeply and flew low along a mountainside to land gently as a moth on the Akureyri airstrip built on ground reclaimed from the Eyafjordur on which the town stands. On the free taxiphone we contacted an English-speaking voice, who gave us the number of his hire-car and promised to be with us in a few minutes. And he was. Soon we were being driven through heavy rain to No. 5 Scholastigur, (School Road), where we had booked in on a bed-and-breakfast basis. …

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