A Hardy People Linda Lashford, Inntravel photographer | Posted: 09 January 2014
One of many spectacular waterfalls you encounter while exploring as part of our self-guided walking holidays in Iceland
Learn about Icelandic sagas on a self guided walking holiday in Iceland
Learn about Icelandic sagas on a self guided walking holiday in Iceland

Strikingly beautiful and dramatic, Iceland is a remarkable land inhabited by a remarkable people. 

Imagine an enormous bowler hat, about the size of England. This is Iceland. On the crown are volcanoes and an ice cap, with glaciers oozing down the sides. The brim of the hat is where the lava has spread out thinly into the ocean, and this is where the ring-road runs around. It’s about the only road there is in Iceland, optimistically named the N1, as if one day there will be an N2 or N3.

The interior Highlands, a Tolkein-like landscape of glaciers, steaming hot lakes, smouldering volcanoes and deep canyons, are almost inaccessible, except by 4-wheel drive. But not quite ... our job (when we visited in 2012) was to find walks which would give our customers a taste of this inner world.

Iceland is a land of changing landscapes. As you circle it on the ring-road, it’s as if someone keeps changing the back-drop. After a couple of hours the fjords give way to a wall of high, bare, twisted rocks with spiky pinnacles. This is then replaced by a landscape of glaciers fed by the melting giant ice cap. Icebergs float down the rivers and lie stranded on the black sands of the coast. We stood on the beach and watched the North Atlantic waves crash against the gently rocking powder-blue icebergs.

We reached a point where a long black peninsula stretches out into the sea, ending in a high cliff. Below lie wet sands that strikingly reflect the entire mountain opposite with its ice cap. This is where the first Viking settler, Ingólfur, landed. He and his brother-in-law, Hjörleifur, had got into some Viking-style trouble in Norway and been run out of town. They’d heard about an empty land to the west and decided to check out Iceland as a new home. Like me with the camper-van, Ingólfur had stocked up his boat – except that instead of my big bags of muesli from Lidl, he’d brought sheep, cattle, horses and slaves as well as his extended family. He and Hjörleifur came in separate boats and landed at different places.

Related Holidays

Iceland’s Dramatic South

Learn more about the history and culture of this remarkably beautiful land on a rewarding walking holiday on the country's dramatic south coast – with the opportunity to spot puffins and other birdlife.

More about our walking holiday in southern Iceland >

Iceland’s Highlights

For a thrilling longer adventure, add an extra week on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula on Iceland's striking west coast with a couple of nights in Reykjavík in between.

More about our two-week walking holiday in Iceland >

When they arrived, Iceland was deserted except for a bunch of Irish monks, who’d sought Iceland out as a quiet place to meditate. What a long way to come! I could have told them about a nice quiet spot in Galway with only one pub and a Spar shop. Anyhow, the monks took one look at the Vikings and left.

You can visit the spot where Ingólfur first landed, with its lovely reflecting sands, by taking a ride on a tractor-drawn trailer with an enterprising farmer’s wife, followed by a guided walk up onto the promontory, where she explains to you all sorts of interesting facts about the Icelandic way of life and Iceland’s history. An excellent visit which we recommend to Inntravellers.

We reached Skogar and set off on a walk up into the interior, which the Icelanders call the Highlands. We did one walk each. David’s took him up the side of one of Southern Iceland’s most spectacular waterfalls, Skogarfoss (foss means waterfall), and then he took a walk on the wild side, following a whole series of cascades. Mine began at a charming family-run, working farmstead called Anna’s (after a lady who also used to roam the hills). I met absolutely no-one on my walk except the small wiry terrier from Anna’s who appeared from nowhere about half way up and did the whole 12km walk with me. Cascading streams and mossy moorland led us up to a wilder, rocky area, where we suddenly had great views of deep canyons and high, crashing waterfalls.

Back down in Skogar, I visited the excellent folk museum. While you browse over artefacts from the last few centuries of Icelandic everyday life, texts in various languages fill you in with fascinating facts: this is a land whose people spent 1000 years without eating bread (the climate being inhospitable to cereals), without being able to make pottery utensils (no clay), reduced to building entire houses and boats out of driftwood (the woods having been cleared by the first settlers), cooking on peat and even roofing their houses with turf. On top of this, volcanic eruptions have caused widespread deposits of ash and huge floods from the resulting melt-down of glaciers, wiping out many farmsteads on the coastal rim. They’re a tough lot, these Icelanders…

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