Moorlands North Iceland,

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The heaths in the northwest corner of the central highlands, Arnarvatnsheidi and Tvidaegra, are the ultimate paradise for people, who treasure tranquillity, relaxation and angling for brown trout and lake char.  The lakes up there are considered innumerable and many a family has enjoyed spending a part of its vacations in those beautiful surroundings.  Most of the lakes abound in fish and a few of the best salmon rivers of the country originate there.  In earlier times, the farmers fished the lakes the whole year round, as a part of their livelihood and the catch has always been good.  The farmers also collected edible and wholesome lichens and grazed their sheep and horses up there during summer.  They also hunted birds up there and still do.  The area is also highly interesting for the bird watchers.  A few outlaws spent some time in the area in the past and there are several interesting legends about them.  The most famous one was Grettir, whose Saga is like an exiting novel to read.  The area is accessible by jeeps from the western and northern parts of the country and it is possible to continue from up there to join one of the three main roads, Kjolur, crossing the country from south to north.

Storisandur is an undulating, barren area north of the Langjokull Glacier between the Arnarvatn Moorland and the Kjalvegur Route.  It comprises mainly the glacier-eroded remains of an ancient shield volcano, which are relatively easily passable and was frequently travelled by the people of the Skagafiord District (until about 1890), especially when they were transporting dried fish from the southwest.  The Icelandic Mountain Road Society cleared the track and marked it with cairns during the years 183134.  The pinnacle shaped hill “Grettishaed” in the area probably is the “Grettisthufa” mentioned in the Gretti’s Saga, where Thorbjorn ongull buried Gretti’s head after his slaying on the Drangey Island.  Another legend has it, that Grettir fought his enemies there.  Along the edges of the area are rich cold spring areas, which feed the rivers Vatnsdalsa and Vididalsa in the north and River Nordlingafljot in the south.  The most prominent mountain of the area is Mt Krakur (1167m) just north of Glacier Langjokull.  A 4wd mountain track crosses this area between Lake Reykjavatn and the Kjalvegur Route and sidetracks continue to the valleys in the north.

The tracks leading to the lakes on those heaths start from several valleys in Northern Iceland, such as the valleys Vatnsdalur, Blondudalur and Svartardalur in the Huna District and Maelifellsdalur and Vesturdalur valleys in the Skagafjord District.  The routes 751 and 752 through the valley Vatnsdalur turn into a 4x4 track, which continues across an area called Storisandur and connects with the Kjolur route through the Audkulu Moorland.  That route (731, 732 and F37) lies through the valley Blondudalur and is easily accessible by all cars.  If you continue south and are headed for the Eyvindarstada Moorland, you must turn onto a 4x4 track some distance north of a hill called Geirsalda.  On that track you would have to ford the glacial rivers Blanda and Strangakvisl and smaller brooks.  The main route from road no 1 up there (751, 752 and F72) is a 4x4 track and runs through the valley Vesturdalur to the lakes Asbjarnarvotn and the tourist hut by Mt. Laugafell.

These routes and tracks are slow in many places and they pass several mountain huts (mainly used and owned by the farmers, who graze their sheep up there).  Most of those, who have enjoyed travelling through and spending some time by the lakes of those relatively well-vegetated heaths, have wanted to come back time and again.

Moorland Holtavorduheidi (407 m.) lies between Valley Nordurardalur (Mts Trollakirkja/Snjofjoll) and the Hruta Bay.  A memorial cairn was built on the northern part of the moorland to commemorate the visti of the Royal Danish Family in 1936.  The road across was rebuilt during the last three decades of the 20th century.

Pass Stora Vatnsskard (420 m.) lies between Mts Grisafell (782 m.) and Valadalshnjukur (850 m.) from Lake Vatnshlidarvatn in the west.  The main road lies through it from farm Bolstadahlid in Valley Svartardalur in the west to farm Vidimyri in the east.

This pass was among the highest (630 m) of the country and usually blocked by snow for 8-9 months of the year.  It connects the County Fljot in the Skagafiord District with the fishing town Siglufiord.  After the construction of the road around the headland Strakar and the excavation of a road tunnel, the pass is only used by those who want to enjoy the exceptional view up there on a fine day.

Moorland Oxnadalsheidi (540 m.) lies between Valley Nordurardalur (District Skagafiord) and Valley Oxnadalur (District Eyjafiord).  Its narrowest parts are called Skogahlid and Giljareitur.  It widens towards east (Floinn), where the emergency shelter Sesseliubud is located (heaters and telephone).  The winter conditions on the moorland are sometimes very difficult.

Mororland Lagheidi (209 m.) is a summer mountain road between Stifla and Olafsfiord.  It is relatively a low and a well vegetated valley.  The road in the steep slopes of headland Olafsfjardarmuli and later the tunnel through it caused this road to fall into disuse, but the traffic picked up because of the increased tourism in the country.  In 2002, the a law was passed in the Parliament to connect the towns Olafsfiord and Siglufiord by tunnles, but the government postphoned the project in 2003 to the great dismay of the inhabitants of Siglufiord, who protested vehemently.

Moorland Vadlaheidi (600 m.) was the main route and road until Mt Pass Vikurskard took over.  On the highest point of the moorland is a relay station for radio and television broadcasting.  The passage of the moorland on a fine day offers excellent panoramic views.

Nowadays Pass Vikurskard (325 m.) is the main route between the districts Eyjafiord and Southern Thingeyjarsysla.  It is considerably lower than Moorland Vadlaheidi, but sometimes the winter conditions get difficult.

The moorlands south of the fishing town Husavik are only passable by 4wd vehicles during summer.  Just a short distance from town, an excellent trout and char lake in beautiful surroundings offers fishing and relaxation.  The road up there is passable by all cars.  The winter conditions in the moorlands are very difficult because of blizzards and snow.  In the year 1700 a traveller died of exposure in a blizzard up there in the middle of summer.  Near the mountain Saeluhusmuli the road forks.  The road to the north leads to the inhabited areas of Kelduhverfi and the other towards southeast to Theistareykir and onwards to the main road on Holssandur much further south.

Moorland Tunguheidi is 15 km long across the Tjornes Mountains between the farms Fjoll in Keldu County and Southern Tunga on the Tjornes Peninsula.  Its eastern slopes are very steep and the highest point on the way, The Bishop’s Hill (532 m), offers great views on a fine day.  This route is 13 km shorter than the Moorland Reykjaheidi Route.  This route was much travelled until the road around the peninsula was opened in 1956.

Fljotsheidi (247 m.) is a vast moorland area to the east of Valley Bardardalur.  It stretches all the way north to Valleys Adaldalur and Reykjadalur.  Moorland Myvatnsheidi continues to the south.  Most of the moorland lies lower than 200 m. and is well vegetated.  All the farms existing there in the 19th century have been abandoned.

The road (335 m.) passes Lake Masvatn between Valley Reykjadalur and the Lake Myvatn Area.  On a fine day, the visibility is excellent, especially towards the interior and the glaciers there.

The road (350-355 m.) crosses this area between Lake Myvatn and River Jokulsa a Fjollum.  The Myvatnsoraefi Area covers most of the Odadahraun Lava Fields.  It is rather flat, but dotted with hyaloclastite mountains, volcanic fissures and craters.  The latest tectonic movements in this area occurred during the period 1975-84.  During prior volcanic episodes, many of the present features of the landscape were created, such as the depression (Graben) between Austari and Vestari Brekka.  The longest volcanic fissure of the area is close to 80 km. long.  This area seems to be totally barren, but upon closer inspection it reveals quite a few well vegetated spots, especially where there is sufficient water.  Its northern part has large vegetated areas showing the signs of the erosion inbetween.  Road # 1 continues over the Jokulsa bridge (built in 1957).

This name refers to the largest lava area of the country (5600 km²).  Its boundaries are:  The Vatnajökull glacier in the south, river Skjalfandafljot in the west, river Jokulsa in the east and in the north they are rather vague.  The northern elevation of the area is about 400 m above sea level but in the south about 800 m.  Quite a few freestanding mountains and a massif rise above this plateau, such as Herdubreid (1682m) and Dyngjufjoll (Askja).  The lava fields are relatively easy to travel if people show foresight and carry water supplies with them, when hiking through the area.  The only problem is the lack of water in the permeable lava fields.  This part of the country had not yet been explored, when the Englishman William Lord Watts was crossing the icecap Vatnajökull in 1875.  When he and his Icelandic companions arrived at the northern edge of the glacier, they witnessed the enormous eruption of Askja and reported it to the people at lake Myvatn.  A few tales and one of the sagas, Hrafnkel's Saga, mention a route through the area in connection with the so-called Sprengisandur route.  People have been searching for the old route through Odadahraun and it has most likely been found.

Holsfjoll, or Fjallasveit, is the name of the area to the east of River Jokulsa a Fjollum to the north of the present road # 1.  It extends east to the mountains Dimmifjallgardur and Haugsoraefi.  The first farm was built there in the 14th century (Holl) and later the southernmost one, which is the only inhabited one nowadays, Grimsstadir.  In the middle of the 19th century quite a few new farms were built in the area and in 1859 approximately 100 people lived in the community.  The quality of the smoked lamb from this area was highly appreciated, but because of overgrazing and the consequent erosion the farming came to an end.  During the last few decades much has been done successfully to reclaim the area and stop the erosion.  During summer the road through this area is much frequented by those who want to see Europe’s mightiest waterfall, Dettifoss.  It is also accessible from the western side of the river, but the road conditions are worse there.  Both roads are closed during winter.

Road #1 passes through Vegaskard from Valley Vididalur in the west to farm Modrudalur or onwards on rd #1 further east.  Mt Vegahnjukur (783 m) and Mt Saudahnjukur (641 m) frame the pass.  During winter it is frequently blocked with snow and some people say that it is haunted after dark by a female vagabond, who died there of exposure.

The so-called Modrudalsoraefi Area lies to the east of farm Grimsstadir, abandoned farm Vididalur and Mt Pass Vegskard.  The main road used to pass through it until at the turn of the last century and reached it s highest point in the mountain ranges Modrudalsfjallgardur (660 m.).  Farm Modrudalur is among the largest estates of the country.  Many topographical names in this area suggest many more farms there in the past.  The Askja Eruption in 1875 devastated a part of it and many farms were abandoned then.  During the last few decades of the 20th century this vast area has been recovering relatively fast, but the signs of the erosion are still very prominent.

This vast highland plateau lies 500-600 m above sea level and it is about 60 km long.  The landscape is rather flat, alternating barren gravel hills, lakes, and vegetated marshlands.  Around the middle of the 19th century poor people, who wanted to lead independent lifes inhabited the plateau.  Properties in the lowlands were too expensive. The ash from the 1875 eruption of the central volcano Askja and the difficult living conditions forced most of the families to abandon their livelihood.  There was no employment to be had elsewhere in the country and most of the people had to emigrate to North America.  Two of the most prominent authors of the country, Halldór Laxness and Gunnar Gunnarsson, based some of their works on the experiences of those people.  The last farm was abandoned just before the middle of the 20th century and one of them has been rebuilt as a museum.

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