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The Plains of the Council—The Almanna-gja—The Hill of Laws—History of Althing — Lava Broth — Icelandic Food — Butter — Card —Lichen— Sunday—The Burning of the Hostel: a Saga.
Thingvellib,* or the Plains of the Council, have been already described fifteen times, and, if it were not that my journal would be incomplete without some account of this remarkable spot, I should decline giving one. As it is, I shall only put the leading characteristics of the scene before the reader, as briefly and concisely as possible.
The plain forms. a rough parallelogram, eight miles long by six broad; two of the opposite sides being determined by the parallel Allmen and Raven rifts. On the south-west, the plain dips into the Thingvalla lake, and on the north-east, terminates at the base of some low hills, between which open glens lead to the glacier volcano Skjaldbreith.
The Almanna-gja (pronounce gig like gee-ow), or Allmen's rift, is a split in the lava extending nearly four miles, to the roots of Armanns fell: the river Oxera shoots over the northwest verge, and flows for a quarter of a mile through the chasm, then breaks through a gap on the other side, rolls down to the plain, and pours into the lake close to Thingvalla church. The Hrafnagja (pronounce the f like p), or Raven rift, bounds the plain on the south-east. This is less remarkable than the other chasm, as the height of the walls is less considerable, though the length is somewhat greater. These chasms have been formed by the great plain between them having suddenly sunk, leaving sharp edges in lines at the sides, between which it has been depressed. The plain itself is full of fissures of great depth, half-full of clear water. The sketch on page 69 was taken in one of these after a somewhat difficult descent to a turfy ledge above the water. The bed of the lake is full of similar rents. The greatest height of the north-west side of the Allmen's rift is 130 feet; this is just above the lake; as the rent nears the mountains, the walls are less lofty. The edge is splintered into chimneys, windows, and mushrooms of rock. At the base of the wall runs a belt of sward, forty feet wide, to the point where the river occupies the bed of the chasm. The wall on the south-east side is less elevated than the other, and seldom reaches the height of fifty feet; it is not perpendicular like the other, but stands backward towards the plain.
* Thingvellir is the nominative, the genitive Thingvalla, the dative Thingvbllum. The word is pronounced as though the II were written dl.
One of the quaint pillars on the north-west side is called the hanging rock, as culprits were wont to be, tied to it and flung over into the horrible abyss.
Below the second fall of the Oxera, where it tears through the south-east wall, is a pool of blue foaming water, in which women convicted of child-murder were drowned in ancient days. The little island in the river on which duels used to be fought, till they were abolished in 1006, has disappeared, and its site is marked by a patch of mud. The spot is shown where witches were burned; the last who suffered for this crime was Halldorr Finnbogason, in 1685. The last burned in England were Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles and Susannah Edwards, at Exeter, in 1682.*
The scenery around Thingvellir is beautiful, but tinged with melancholy, from the deficiency of life and vegetation. Standing on the spot from which I described the landscape
* Probably the last execution of this kind in Greenland was that of Kolgrim in 1407.