Due to unemployment and a new job occupying a good chunk of the first half of this year, I haven’t been anywhere since January when I had the foresight to actually use some of the holiday I was owed from work before leaving that job. I’ve done a sailing course, been walking on Dartmoor for the weekend and been to Alton Towers but I haven’t been travelling and I miss it.
But now I’m just about settled enough in my job to take some holiday and my birthday is rapidly approaching and you know, I do like to spend it in Iceland. I booked flights last week and this week, between Brownies, Rangers, Guides and pottery with my former colleagues, I’ve been thinking about where I’d like to go and what I’d like to do.
I thought about the Westfjords, but they’re a bit intimidating. Too many miles of bad gravel roads with very little other than eye-wateringly spectacular scenery. Another week in and around Borgarnes? Do the Laugarvegur trail?
I thought seriously about the trail, the 34 mile hike across some of Iceland’s most interesting scenery over four days from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk. I’m more or less ok with the distance, the longest day is only about 12km and there are huts to sleep in. I’m more or less ok with the navigation – take the map and follow the marker pegs. But I’m not ok with the navigation if the weather turns bad, as it might very well do. And I don’t have anyone to go with, so I’m definitely not ok trying to navigate volcanic landscapes on my own in thick fog and driving rain and howling gales. I thought about joining a guided hike – that sounded good. Except it costs nearly three times what I’m paying for return flights from London to Iceland in the first place. That’s a lot of money for a couple of bus trips, a long walk and three or four nights in huts.
And then I realised what I really want to do. I want to go to Holuhraun.
This time last year, Iceland was preparing itself for a volcanic eruption in Bárðarbunga, a volcano near the northern edge of the Vatnajökull glacier. I had the monitoring page set as my homepage at work, so every time I logged into the bank or read the news, I’d check what the volcano was up to. I read obsessively about it at home. It was the first thing I’d look at every morning and the first thing I’d look at when I got home and I continued this into my trip to Switzerland with Girlguiding in late August.
Imagine my surprise when we got back from a day out and I found the eruption had started. The middle-aged-to-elderly ladies in our group were not quite as excited as I was but this was a momentous occasion for me – I’d been monitoring this eruption for months and now we were off!
It wasn’t quite Bárðarbunga but it was an offshoot of its system, a fissure eruption which poured out lava, fire fountains and poisonous gases from late August 2014 to 27th February 2015. The resulting lava field was the biggest since the 1783 Laki eruption, which was itself the third biggest lava field in human history.
Well, what follows an eruption like that? A desperate desire to visit the site. Now, Holuhraun is in the middle of nowhere, and by Icelandic standards, the middle of nowhere really is the middle of nowhere. There was nothing for the eruption to harm except the older pre-existing lava field. There’s not so much as a mountain hut for a very long way. This was right up in the Highlands, where the snow can begin in late August and stay until mid June. This is an area that’s barely accessible even when there isn’t a volcano making a fuss.
So at first, visiting Holuhraun was out of the question. It’s just not a place you can go. But you can go there now. People want to and so tours have begin to spring up, ranging from simple (but expensive!) trips by plane to see it from the sky to superjeep tours to overnight camping trips. It’s made its own new outdoors natural hot tub and I’ve seen enough pictures from there to desperately want to go.
So that’s my plan. This one I’m willing to spend money on – this is my desperate desire, this is my once-in-a-lifetime, this is meeting a volcano that was erupting fire fountains eighteen months ago. I need to go. And so my quest begins to find the optimum way of doing it.