Thingvellir National Park is not far from Reykjavik, Iceland. It features the country’s largest natural lake and more views [see last week’s post] of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge continental rift. Here too you can see where the island “came apart at the seams.” At one point, there is a bridge where the trail gave way, but I believe it is over a sinkhole; lava is not about to bubble up.
Our tour next took us to see Strokkur, an area of thermal pools, bubbling mud pots and geysers, one of which spouted about every 8 to 10 minutes.
Gullfoss is a wide triple-layered waterfall that plunges 104 feet and creates its own rainbows.
Our final stop was at Friđheimar, a family-owned farm and nursery that supplements its income demonstrating Icelandic Horses — they are small, but Icelanders prefer you call them horses, not ponies.
For some reason, possibly to avoid disease, since 982 Iceland has prohibited the importation of horses, and if Icelandic Horses are exported, they can not me brought back to the country. This resulted in a particularly pure breed with a very narrow genetic background. The most famous characteristic of the horse is its gaits. All horses have three natural gaits, the walk, trot and gallop. Some canter naturally. The Icelandic Horse has five natural gaits: walk; trot; canter; tölt; and flying pace. The walk is slow with four beats; the trot is faster with two beats; the canter has three beats and the feet are off the ground in an odd numbered sequence; the tölt is similar to the walk with one foot always on the ground but much faster – up to 20 mph; and the flying pace can equal the pace of a full gallop taking all four feet off the ground at times.
The tölt is extraordinarily smooth and allows the rider an almost bounce-free ride even at full speed. The owner and his daughter each rode around the ring carrying a pint of beer without spilling a drop; the owner took an occasional sip to prove it was not trick.
There is a joke in Iceland: “what to do when lost in an Icelandic forest — stand up.” On our 2014 visit to Reykjavik [click here], I observed “For the most part, there were only very low trees.” It is believed that twenty-five to forty percent of Iceland was covered with forest when the island was settled in the 9th century. A fellow called “Ari the Wise” wrote in the late 12th century that it was “forested from mountain to sea shore.” The volcanic soils are thin. It is cold in Iceland, and in the 13th century, it got colder. Trees were cut for firewood and timber. Trees were cleared for farms. Sheep cropped new plants close to the ground.
Today, it is estimated that three-quarters of the island is seriously affected by soil erosion. Now there is a concentrated effort to plant new trees. I observed in 2014 that people planted “pines” near their vacation homes. Now the government is involved and encourages planting trees. Sitka spruce have been imported from Alaska because the species does well in the Icelandic climate.
Click on photos to enlarge.
Date of our visit: 1 September 19
Did you know that now barren Greece once had forests of oak, pine, cedar and cypress? For whatever reason, I have always loved trees – I planted an oak as a boy more than sixty years ago and still visit it when I am in the area.