‘A few feathery flakes are scattered widely through the air, and hover downward with uncertain flight, now almost alighting on the earth, now whirled again aloft into remote regions of the atmosphere.’
― Nathaniel Hawthorne
Has it snowed near you over the past few days? A dusting here, or a slick of frost there? In Somerset, sleet was forecast to fall on Friday – but if there was any, it certainly sneaked past me. Snow-spotting is such a national obsession, because you never know if you’ll get so much as a snowflake from one year to the next.
Iceland, though, is a country almost entirely blanketed by snow and enveloped in ice throughout winter’s months. They don’t need betting shops to place odds on whether there will be a White Christmas.
And if you’ve been to Iceland in midwinter you will know that it is a world of vanishing white horizons, of soft and newly-settled dazzling meringue peaks daubed over the landscape. Banks of thick slush, crystals glinting and grey on pathways. Threatful black ice lying in wait around car parks and geysers. For which sometimes there is no such thing as bad conditions, just bad shoes.
This postcard from snowy Iceland could have narrowed in on so many memories of our week-long escape to the land of Thor, ice, fire and aurora. They remain so vivid.
Early on in our trip, our hours of padding along the sloped edges of the famous Eyjafjallajökull glacier, finding volcanic ash souvenirs, picking up lost sunglasses, discovering remote hot spring swimming pools.
An impressive (and exhausting) day driving over tundra-vast landscapes, enveloped by mists as the mountains poked up in the distance, draped in snowfall; as we drove to our remote farmhouse in the north rather than flew. The pale orb of the sun growing stronger as the day wore on, carrying us along the seclusion of the Tröllaskagi Peninsula. The way the sun set into a world of rosy pinks, watery greens, melting mauve and faraway smudges of orange as we stopped the car to get out and look over at the beginnings of the Arctic Circle.
The half-frozen thundering of waterfalls and the deep blue and turquoise of ice floes as they escaped from underneath. The views from clifftop roofs out onto Iceland’s vast valleys and along basalt-studded beaches.
Or a jewel in our memories, one I recounted in a post written in 2017: the swishing mystery and awesome dance of the northern lights. Opening up around us as we walked up almost blindly (at last) to our isolated farmhouse, the roadway rammed with so much snow that our car couldn’t pass. A night spent as angels in the snow and the staring out from the front door in the morning at the jagged peaks of mountains that had absorbed the display from hours earlier.
Instead – pictured above is a place called Thingvellir.
It’s a historic national park so close to Reykjavik that you can drive there in 45 minutes. It is 1/3 of the attractions that are collectively called ‘The Golden Circle’,significant because it was the outdoor site of the world’s first democratic parliament, set up by the Vikings in 930AD.
It looms in my mind when I think about Iceland’s snowscapes, not because no-one ever visited but because we could feel so left alone in our explorations, despite everyone else who visited.
We encountered people as we rounded our way around a lake to Thingvallabaer, the historic remains of a farmhouse. As we entered Thingvallakirkja, one of Iceland’s oldest churches, we entered with strangers. We passed other people as we trundled down the epic passage of tectonic plates that forms the giant Almannagja fault line. Fewer people, but they were still other people.
Then at some point we took a turning, following a concealed trail that nobody else seemed to have used for some time.
We found ourselves in an entirely quiet, poetic wonderland. Whose sorbet snow was untrodden and whose columns of rocks and trees muffled our voices even from ourselves. We kept walking and chatting until we could each sense ourselves drifting away into thought. Eventually, even our thoughts meandered away like flurries of snowflakes. We were walking so deeply away from where we had been, and we felt so hidden in this ethereal panorama. Our tracks melted away behind us, until even birds might not have followed.
I will never forget how it felt to be so peacefully apart from everybody and everything else. So concentrated on the present that all we could hear was the snow and all we could see was the silence.