Page images

holes opening in the clay, like craters, out of which steam will escape. These will become enlarged, and the fluid will be seen agitated in them, whilst crevices form in other portions of the surface from which steam issues. On a small scale you have the operations taking place on this plain.

It is not pleasant walking over the mud; you feel that only a thin crust separates you from the scalding matter below, which is relieving itself at the steaming vents. These vents are in great numbers, but there are, especially, twelve large chaldrons, in which the slime is boiling. In some, the mud is thick as treacle, in others it is simply ink-black water. The thundering and throbbing of these boilers, the thud, thud of the hot waves chafing their barriers, the hissing and spluttering of the smaller fumaroles, the plop-plop of the little mudpools, and above all, the scream of a steam-whistle at the edge of a blue slime-pond, produce an effect truly horrible.

In some of the chaldrons the mud is boiling furiously, sending sundry squirts into the air; in others, bells of black filth rise and explode into scalding sprinklings; in one, a foaming curd forms on the fluid, and the whole mass palpitates gently for a minute, then throbs violently, surges up the well, and bursts into a frenzied roaring pool of slush, squirting, reeling, whirling, in paroxysms, against the crumbling sides, which melt like butter before its fury. One or two of the springs have heaped themselves up mounds around their orifices; others, however, gaps in the surface without warning, and the steam is so dense, and the sulphurous fumes so suffocating, that one becomes bewildered and can hardly pick one's way among them.

But for the readiness of my guide, the son of the Reykjahlith farmer, it would have been all up with me, as I recoiled before a scalding splash in my face, whilst making the accompanying sketch, and nearly slipped into another seething mudpit behind me. The young fellow caught me by the shoulders, with his strong hands, just in time, but I sent an avalanche of sulphur and caked bolus into the abyss. I can assure you, the sensation of my foot slipping through the greasy marl, the thrumming of the hot flood behind me, into which I felt that I was dropping, together with the consciousness that there was no firm rock to which I could cling, disturbed my sleep for many a night, and come over me still in dreams, again and again, so that I awake with a start.

Around and among these chaldrons are small slobbering holes of all sizes, out of which issue steam and slime; some widen in time into large boilers, and the old ones fall in. These changes are continually occurring; Mr. Shepherd, who visited this scene on two consecutive years, assured me that the position of the chaldrons was altered on his second visit; and the farmer of Reykjahlith added confirmation to this statement.

I broke up some of the soil with my whip, and found that it was composed of blue, saffron-yellow, bright red, and white layers; it was impossible to preserve any of it without a tin case, as it fell to the minutest powder on drying.

Krafla (pronounced Krabla), to the north, is an insignificant mountain, far inferior in dignity to Hjorendr or Hlitharfjall. Krafla spoiled his beauty in his outbreak last century, when he tore himself in half.

There are some steam-jets on the side, one of which rushes forth with a whistle, but the Geysir in the crater, seen by Henderson, is extinct; and the pool in which it played is now still and green.

Hrafntinnufjall, close by, is an interesting spectacle to the mineralogist, as it is an obsidian mountain,—it looks like a mountain of broken wine-bottles. A magnificent block, clear as glass, which stood at the bottom, was split by Mr. Shepherd, who brought off half of it to England.

The scene from either of these mountains is very fine. The stately cone of Hjorendr rises to the left, the steaming heaps of Namarfjall to the right, and away, in the "Lava of evil deed,"—a tract like a troubled sea turned to stone, as big as Devonshire, and never crossed by mortal man—rises, massed on rocky flanks, the magnificent snow pile of Bertha-breith, 5,290 feet high, bathed in the tenderest purple and gold. To the east and south-east, is the barren desert of Myvatns Oro3fi, over which lies the track to Vapna-fjord, a small trading station on the coast, distant three long days' journey. The uniformity of the waste is only broken by Mdthrudalsfjall in the south-east.

Enough for one day I To-morrow I am bound for Dettifoss, the mightiest waterfall in Iceland; one, too, which no European has ever visited, and which has been seen by very few natives, and was unknown to the compilers of the great map of Iceland. I heard of it only by accident from the priest at Hals, and, on inquiring at Myvatn, found that the farmer and his son were the only individuals who had been to it, and could guide me: they confirmed the person's opinion, that it was unequalled in Iceland.

Next morning I started in a storm of wind and rain, with the prospect of a long ride; the farmer said it could not be done in less than seventeen hours, but his son, who was to guide me, and who loved a rattling pace as much as myself, promised that we should take less time about it.

We crossed the sulphur range, and then turned north, skirting a lava stream which has flowed in serpentine windings from Leirhnukr, below a hill purpled with the wood-crane's bill (Geranium sylvaticum), growing in the greatest profusion, on account of the warmth of the soil.

We passed a sandy ridge above Hjorendr, in a dense fall of snow, which prevented me from seeing much of the surrounding mountains; but I observed that the wash from their sides was yellow with sulphur. We then descended to a plain covered with volcanic sand, extending, apparently, to the horizon. I noticed that the cinders erupted from Krafla diminished in size, with the greatest regularity, as we got farther from the mountain. Our course was north-east, I believe, but I found that my compass would not act over the igneous rock; the needle was violently agitated, quivering on its pivot, and vibrating from side to side; it finally settled with its austral pole resting on the dial, pointing nearly west.

After a tedious ride of some hours, through snow, sleet, and drizzle, we drew rein in an oasis, beside a lake, beneath the mountain called Eylifr. This is the region of reindeer, and we saw traces of them in several places. A fine pair of horns lay on the roof of a farm just established in this doleful spot; and I was told that there was a herd ranging the mountains behind the lake.

The farm where we rested had no fun ; it was nothing but a heap of turf, grubbed out into holes for rooms. These had not even windows, and the light was admitted in a somewhat novel manner. A pole had been driven between wall and roof at their junction, then forced downwards, and made fast with a stone. This lever tilted the portion of the roof against which it bore, so that light and air were admitted; but, as soon as the stone was removed, the pole flew up, and the turfs slid into their places again, leaving the room in obscurity.

I purchased some stockings and gloves of the farmer's wife, a woman with bright eyes and dimpled cheeks. After allowing the horses to graze for half an hour, we remounted, and struck between north and north-east, over soil as barren as that we had passed before reaching Eylifr. After a while we came to a tract of lava, not marked in Olsen's map. It seemed to have issued from some red cones, rising about forty feet above the lava, complete miniature volcanoes.

Presently a white column on the horizon, reaching to the low trailing clouds, came in sight as we topped a swell in the waste. My guide pointed to it, and said, "Dettifoss!" We had three or four miles to ride before reaching a spot near the falls where our horses were to be left; a patch of dead sodden wild corn, our common sea-reed, or marram (Psamma arenaria), of the size of a drawing-room table. No grass anywhere within sight!

The young man led me to the upper cascade, which is disappointing, an inferior Gothafoss. The river Jokulsa breaks over a ledge, in a horse-shoe fall of no great height. The walls on either side are of columnar basalt. It is difficult to obtain a good view, without leaping over some of the rills, into which the stream breaks; and, as the stone is very slippery, one is pretty sure of soaking one's feet in the milky water.

The Jokulsa is the longest, and probably the largest river in Iceland; it rises in the extensive Vatna Jokull, and, after receiving tributaries from Trolladyngja and Herthubreith, empties itself into the Axarfjord after a course of about a hundred and twenty-five miles, having passed scarcely a human habitation on its way to the sea.

The lad conducted me next to the second fall. The sight was so overwhelming as I came out above it, through a natural door in the dislocated trap-wall on the side of the river, that I could only stand lost in amazement. I have never felt so thoroughly the helplessness of man, when nature puts forth her strength, as at that moment when standing amidst the wreck of creation, in a waste and howling wilderness, where no grass can find root, nor flower blossom, above an awful chasm, into which the mighty stream plunges, with a roar like a discharge of artillery.

In some of old earth's convulsions, the crust of rock has been rent, and a frightful fissure formed in the basalt, about 200 feet deep, with the sides columnar and perpendicular.

The gash terminates abruptly at an acute angle, and at this spot the great river rolls in. The bottom of the abyss is invisible from the point at which I am standing, and I have to move a couple of hundred yards down the edge, before I can see to the bottom of the gulf, and make a sketch.

The wreaths of water sweeping down, the frenzy of the confined streams, where they meet, shooting into each other from either side at the apex of an angle; the wild rebound when they strike a head of rock, lurching out half-way down; the fitful gleam of battling torrents obtained through a veil of eddying vapour; the Geysir spouts which blow up about seventy feet from holes whence basaltic columns have been shot by the force of the descending water; the blasts of spray which rush upwards and burst into fierce showers on the brink, feeding rills which plunge over the edge as soon as they are

« PreviousContinue »