Page images
PDF
EPUB

pools of hot clear water, and then gurgling between banks of green moss to meet the river. .

I ascended the mound, and looked at the jetting spluttering fountains hard at work below me; the sun flung my shadow on the ascending masses of steam with perfect distinctness, surrounding my head with a bright rainbow.

[graphic][ocr errors]

The spring which Sir G. Mackenzie describes as squirting up about fourteen feet is now choked with stones, which thoughtless travellers have rolled into its bore. It can now only throw up water to the height of three feet, and all signs of alternation have disappeared. Close to it I found a specimen of crimson Alga* growing in the almost scalding spray from the jet, and overflowed by a boiling ripple at every explosion.

* The Rev. M. J. Berkley, to whom I sent the specimen I collected at Tunguhver, writes to me: "Had I received your Icelandic cryptogam without any note as to its habitat, I should have said at once, it is a barren Fusisporium. As, however, it is a production of hot-springs, it must be an Alga, and is nearer to Klltzing'a genus Hypheothrii than anything else that I know. I have not been able, however, to refer it to any species described in his Hpecies Algarum. The most like it is H. Teukeri. It has some resemblance to Leptothrix Kermesina, but if I mistake not, the threads are vaginate, and, if Bo, it is not a Leptothrix."

Having satisfied our curiosity, we remounted our horses, and ascended the valley, crossing the river repeatedly. Ten or twelve steam clouds rose from different sides of the dale. One we noticed in the middle of the river, where the boiling water had heaped up a mound of red, black, and purple deposit about ten feet high. On the top of this are three boiling jets, the largest of which plays to the height of three feet; the others boil briskly, but do not erupt. I rode my horse into the river, and tried to reach the mound, but he reared and snorted in such manifest alarm that I was obliged to conduct him to the bank, and wade through the river myself without shoes and stockings. I found now that the main cause of the horse's alarm had been a line of little hot springs, rising in the bed of the stream; these had undoubtedly scalded his feet as they sank into the mud and gravel through which the hot water rises.

On reaching the heap I was obliged to put on my shoes, as the stone was too hot and too covered with rills of boiling water for the naked foot to rest upon it. The volumes of steam which rose from the three orifices were blinding; however, I was able to mix a glass of hot brandy and water at the main jet, and then I jumped down into the river with my coat, cap, and hair, drenched in the condensed steam.

There are other interesting springs in the valley, which need not be described, as careful accounts of their phenomena have been given by Sir George Mackenzie, Henderson, and Captain Forbes.

At nine o'clock we reached the parsonage of Reykholt, near which are situated Snorro's bath and castle. The former consists of a circular pool enclosed within walls of hewn stone, about fifteen feet in diameter, and cemented with clay; the floor is paved with slabs, and a stone bench runs round the inside of the bath; water is conveyed to it through a stonecoated drain from Skrifla, a furiously boiling spring, about 150 yards distant, which is surrounded by a mud and stone wall. The bath is now used only for washing clothes. the idea of Mffporeal all^lion* being qriile foreign to the Iceknlic mind. The water can be raised to the height of four feet, above ,which there' s an escape pipe, the whole depth of the bath being ten feet. Snorro, who constructed the bath, supplied it tat well with a stream of cold water, so that the temperature could be regulated at pleasure. This conduit has fallen into decay, and in the 500 years which have elapsed since his death no Icelander has arisen of sufficient enterprise to clear out or re-dig the old channel, a labour which might occupy an English workman two or three days.

Hkrifla is about fourteen feet in diameter, and discharges a considerable amount of water. A little north of this fountain is, another boiling spring, into which I amused myself by plunging my shirts. The farm-servants undertook to wash my stockings and the rest of my clothes, and I was obliged to rule next day without a shirt, as it was not dry, but in an unwonted condition of jubilation at being free at last from my tormentors.

The castle of Snorro is simply a large tumulus covered with grass. It is situated in the tun, so that there is no prospect of its being dug into for many a day. The church is interesting, as it contains several relics of antiquity. Over the altar is a triptych, containing a crucifix with M. Mary and John beside it. There are other saints on the doors. These figures are probably old, and are not wanting in spirit, but th(!y have been reset and freshly coloured.

There is a magnificent brass basin serving as font, and a chanddicr of the same metal, of excellent design, but late. A modern chasuble of violet cloth, embroidered with yellow and crimson flowers, is the work of the farmers' daughters in the neighbourhood. Outside the church door is a stone slab, on which are engraved Runes.

This the old man who unlocked the church door for me assured me was the tomb of Snorro Sturlason, the author of tho IldmsJiringla, or World's Circle, a history of Norway, and the compiler of tho Younger Edda, a composition giving an account of ancient Icelandic mythology. I believe, however, that the statement of the old gentleman is not to be relied upon.

[graphic]

Snorro was born in the year 1178 at Hvammr, where we slept last night. He was a fierce, turbulent chieftain, and is accused of having betrayed the independence of his country, and contributed to reduce Iceland to the state of a province of Norway. In 1241 he was murdered by his sons-in-law, at Reykholt, in the sixty-third year of his age. Both the Edda and Heimskringla will make the name of Snorro famous as long as the world lasts. His style is pure and nervous; he introduces episodes with singular discretion, and as a graphic historian will never be surpassed.

[ocr errors]

CHAPTER XX. Ok.

Ascend the Side of Ok—Flowers—Strange Sight — Skogkottr—Meet old Friends—The Skrimsl—Mermaids—Francesco de la Vega—Smoking in the Tent.

On the following morning we started early for Thingvollnm, over the rough mountain pass of Ok. The horse which had been lamed in the bogs of the Middle frith was now unable to proceed, and I was obliged to leave him behind, much to my regret, as he had cost me 31. 10s. However, one must make up one's mind to such losses in Iceland, and it was a matter of daily astonishment to Grimr that we had met with so few accidents.

We toiled for some hours up the steep flank of the Jokull, over soil spangled with golden Marsh Saxifrage (S. hirculus), the flowers one inch and an eighth in diameter, and with the beautiful white Tufted Saxifrage (S. ccespitosa), the large flowers of which, an inch and five-sixteenths in diameter, blossomed on stems four inches high.

On the farther side of Ok we rested at a little patch of turf and low willow, where grows in abundance the sickly flesh-coloured Water Avens (Geum rivale).

We were now approaching the road along which we had come when entering Kaldidalr. In front of us, behind the snowy head of Hlothufell and Blafell rose columns of red sand, high above the mountain tops, and forming dense lurid clouds, which sweeping over Skjaldbreith, tarnished its silver bosom.

« PreviousContinue »