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WATNSDALR (pronounced Watzdalur) is considered one of the most fertile of northern valleys. It rightly deserves the name of the Water-vale. Through it winds a fine river formed by the confluence of two streams, that along which we had ridden yesterday, and another which sweeps through the Shadowy Dale, meeting below Grimstúnga. Cascades “spill light.” down every mountain scarp, and their waters gurgle through impassable bogs to the main river. At the mouth of the vale are lakes of considerable extent, the resort of countless swans and wild ducks. I rode with Grimr up the Wale of Shadows (Forsaludalr), and visited the site of Thorhall's farm; a few low foundations on a knoll, round which the river sweeps, mark the spot— they are, however, the ruins of a byre more modern than that which Glâmr haunted. The hill on the left of the river is strangely barren, grass scantily covers it, like the skin on the ribs of a lean horse. As we ascended the dale, these terraces became more marked, and the cliffs being bare, showed the formation very distinctly. The mountains are formed of basalt beds overlying layers of sand; evidently the former have been erupted at intervals, allowing sand to accumulate on each successive couch of molten matter before a fresh overflow. This process has been repeated again and again, and finally, the whole mass has been heaved up, forming the vast central heithies and terraced mountains at their skirts.
The vale narrows to a gorge, and the rocks, barred black and red, have a rich umbreous colour effect, which is very striking.
We lost our way, and in following a sheep-track, or what we took to be such, got into a sufficiently perplexing situation. The river boiled a hundred and fifty feet below us, and we were on a ledge canted over the gulf, the rock sheered up some hundred feet above our heads, and a fall of washed shale lay in a slant on the terrace before us. I despaired of getting the pony over this; it was perilous in the extreme scrambling across on hands and knees, and in venturing to do this I set the shingle in motion, so that though I drew quickly back, a shoot of rubble and sand whizzed into the chasm. "We must go on," said Grimr; "it is impossible to turn the horses round." It was so indeed, there was not room even for Grimr to pass to the head of my horse, which was foremost.
Knotting my bridle on the pony's neck lest it should slip and entangle his feet, I crept along the slant, supporting myself on my whip, which I drove at each step into the loose soil. "Bottle-brush," my piebald, put his nose to the ground, and advanced one foot, snuffed out a firm spot, and planted the other; then came a particularly critical slide of shale, which was wet with tricklings from the rock overhead. Bottlebrush pawed the earth away till he had scraped a hole through the rubble to the firm rock, and then fixed his hoof resolutely in it. Slowly and cautiously he advanced. Ah! the crumbling basalt gave way once, he floundered down, was up again, the dislodged rubbish puffed into the indigo abyss, and the little flat slatey fragments of clinkstone tinkled down the slope and leaped into the water.
The Icelandic horses are wonderfully sure-footed, they will climb wherever a goat can clamber, will trot over wastes of angular stone fragments, and tread fearlessly over bogs, supported only by a network of long grass.