Updated: Jul 6, 2022
Life in Iceland was harsh in the mid-to-late 1800s. At the time, Iceland was part of the Kingdom of Denmark, and Denmark had largely neglected Iceland’s economy. Winters were challenging, and then in January 1875, Mount Askja, a volcano in northeastern Iceland, began erupting, spewing millions of tons of debris into the air. Over the next few weeks, dozens of eruptions occurred, filling the sky with lethal smoke and ash that rained down upon settlements across Iceland, poisoning the farm fields. Iceland’s agriculture, which had been struggling before the eruption, could no longer support the approximately 76,000 inhabitants, and an estimated 20% to 25% of the population emigrated, primarily to North America. The largest number of these emigrants had roots in the devastated East Iceland area.
Here is the video recording of the webinar from March 27, 2022.
Egilsstaðir, with nearly 2,600 inhabitants, serves as the cultural, economic and administrative hub of the area. The community is one of several settlements that lie on the banks of the Lagarfljót river, part of a larger district known as Fljótsdalshérað (river valley district). This river widens out into a large, thin lake Lagarfljót, which rumor has it is host to its very own monster, Lagarfljótsormur!
Three local organizations, the Fljótsdalshérað Touring Club, the municipality of Fljótsdalshérað and Vopnafjörður's cultural and educational center, Kaupvangur, have worked together to highlight exploration of this area by creating organized hiking trails for a variety of enthusiasts and their abilities. Two booklets detail the hikes, their destinations, and the histories of each location. These brochures are the abandoned Highland Farms of Jökuldalsheiði and the Hiking Pearls, both of which may be viewed at www.ferdaf.is, along with much more information related to hiking in Iceland.
The webinar will share the Vatnajökull National Park, which contains the largest glacier in Europe outside of the Arctic, as well as the highest mountain in Iceland. The park covers approximately 14% of Iceland and we will be highlighting only the portion found in the Eastern Territory.
Heavily-wooded Hallormsstaðaskogur National Forest is located in an area of the Lagarfljót river that is actually referred to as a lake. Managed by the Iceland Forest Service since 1905, Hallormsstaðaskogur National Forest is considered to be Iceland's first and largest protected forest. It contains primarily the native birch, though some 85 species of trees are represented within the forest. The Forest provides many hiking and camping opportunities as well as a hotel, restaurants and other amenities.
Though there are many waterfalls located in the Egilsstaðir area, the webinar will highlight three, Hengifoss, considered to be part of Hallormsstaðaskogur, the two-tiered Strútsfoss, and Fardagafoss with its hidden cave and mysterious troll legend.
One may hike to all three waterfalls though caution is always advised as the paths are usually a form of gravel and can be close to canyons or gorges. There are often additional falls to be viewed along each hike. Hengifoss and Strútsfoss contain what is described as “red strata from overlying cliffs.”
This part of Iceland is also the home to many diverse landforms and provides countless opportunities to explore both indoors and out! Two of the more well-known canyons are the magnificent hexagonal basalt columns of Stuðlagil and the dark canyon, Dimmugljúfur.
The unique ruins of a 16th-century medieval monastery, Skriðuklaustur, were discovered during archaeological excavations between 2002 and 2012. Located on the same site is a mansion built in 1939 by the Icelandic writer, Gunnar Gunnarsson (1889–1975 - IR# I160778). The home is now a cultural and historical center, providing tours and exhibitions and also houses a restaurant, Klausturkaffi.
Hot pools abound in this area, including Vök Baths and Laugarfell. While both sites take advantage of naturally occurring geothermally heated water, these are two very different types of hot pools. The sleek, modern Vök Baths opened in 2019 and is both on the shores of Lake Urriðavatn, as well as actually in the lake! Contrasting that is Laugarfell, which is built using traditional natural stone and is part of the Wilderness Center providing various activities such as hiking, horseback riding, exhibitions, group and individual tours, as well as accommodations, a restaurant, and even reindeer!
Egilsstaðir can easily be reached from Reykjavik by car on Route 1, the Ring Road, either by heading north first (a little over 8 hours of driving) or heading east first (about 9 hours of driving). Flights take about an hour each way between Reykjavik and Egilsstaðir and there are a number during each day, departing from the domestic Reykjavik City Airport.
Here is the video recording of the webinar: https://youtu.be/GwFosdHSnx8