Daniel Bruun

Routes over the Highlands

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(Plate I, II and III)


Outline of Route. From Gilhagi ride S. W. up Gilhagadalur along Gilá, reaching the summer pasture dwelling ("Sel") on the right in 1/2 hour. Continue along valley's south side past the grazing place (Vatnafellsflói). The valley gradually opens out on to the plateau by a hill (Grjóthólar). Now swing more west and ride about 1/2 hour along a hollow, passing two streams, to a poor grazing place at the end of the hollow, up a rise, and Lillisandur is reached. Two hills (Skallhólar) lie immediately on left. (2 hours from Gilhagi). Route lies W. by S. From the middle of the Sands a view out over Kjölur, then a gradual descent, Adalmannsvötn in sight, later Svartd. Steer for middle of lake over a stream which springs out of the Sands (Brunnalækur). After in all 1 1/2 hours ride the sand plain terminates in a slope, down which the stream passes, and 1/2 hour later Svartá is crossed. [The road to Mælifell branches off on the right here]. Continuing over a feeder of Adalmannsvötn (Vopnalækur) and along same to the left in S. W. direction, the Sæluhús at south end of Adalmannsvötn with grazing place is reached. (20 min. from Svartá or 4 1/2 hours from Gilhagi.) Mælifellshnjúkur is descried to N. E., but the southern horizon is curtailed.

Continue south over Haugakvísl, (10 min. from Sæluhús) along same to left for 25 minutes, then turn sharp west (to right) over a bluff, (NB. The bridle paths keep straight on S. along the stream) further over small hills and hollows, sand and stone tracts — called Thingmannaháls — and over Fossadalslækur, (a tributary of Svartá) still S. W. After a good 1 1/2 hrs. ride from Adalmannsvötn a declivity is reached from the foot of which stretches the great plain with Blanda etc. Immediately at foot of declivity flows Galtará (towards Blanda). There is an indifferent grazing place here: Galtará. Drag (5 1/2 à 6 hours from Gilhagi). From here is seen to the south (on the left) a little hill on the plain; this is the most westerly of Vékelshaugar.

The Glaciers, the Kjölur mountains, and Blanda are also discernable from this point. Ride for the most westerly of Vékelshaugar over stone and sand tracts, (now and again numerous old bridle paths), passing 1/2 hour from Galtará, Lambamannastein where travellers in olden days placed stones, and 10 min. later reaching the most westerly of Vékelshaugar. Pasturage and Sæluhús here. The most easterly of Vékelshaugar lies a little to the N. E. Shortly after Haugakvísl, a tributary of Blanda, is crossed, then Lækjarbrot, (also tributary of Blanda), — now and again many old bridle paths — along the lake Mannabeinavatn, then over a stream (branch of Strangakvísl) shortly after reaching Strangakvísl, 800 to 1000 feet broad. Pasturage on south bank (2 hours from Galtará, 8 from Gilhagi). (page 30).

Haugahaun lies between Galtara and Haugakvísl.
Ásgeirstunga — — Haugakvísl — Strangakvísl.
Gudlaugstungur — — Strangakvísl — Svartárkvísl.
Svartártunga — — Svartárkvísl — Blanda.

From Strangakvísl ride in a slight curve towards Blanda, keeping first more to the west on Langjökull and Hrútafell, later south on Dúfufell, before and under which lies Rjúpnafell, — Blanda lies about 500 yards to the right — crossing Herjadalslækur — an old hut from the time of the sheep pest in 1860—61, — to Svartárkvísl, which in spite of its name is fed by glacier water, although formerly it was a mountain stream. (l 1/4 hours from Strangakvísl). In front at an angle to the right is seen an isolated hill, this is Sandkúlufell on Kúluheidi north west of Rjúpnafell. Blanda is reached 1/2 hour from Svartárkvísl; 1 3/4, from Strangakvísl; 9 3/4 hours from Gilhagi. The ford lies above the point where Seydisá joins Blanda, and is from 300 to 400 feet wide. It is rather changeable, the bottom being tolerably good. Steer towards a low steep slope up which the horses must be drag- ged. (page 30). From Blanda ride along Seydisá to the right (many old bridle paths) for 20 minutes to Biskupsthúfa, quite a small knoll only a few feet high which cannot be seen at any distance. Close by is a separating pen for sheep and grazing place.

Continue along Seydisá for 1 hr. in all, then 1/4 hour south to Rjúpnafell. From here view to S over Kjalhraun and the mountains around it. (page 32). In the west (on right) is seen the vapour from Hveravellir, from which a stream (Hveralækur) runs to Seydisá. Hveravellir lies 3/4 hrs. from Rjúpnafell, about 1 1/2 from the ford over Blanda, and 11 1/2 to 12 hours from Gilhagi. Stoppages not included.

In the reverse direction Mælifellshnjúkur forms a good landmark. On the first part of the way from Blanda Ford steer north west with Mælifell on the right, after first ascen- ding the slopes east of Blanda at Galtará Drag. The route from here to Adalmannsvötn is easily found, after which ride N. E. with Mælifellshnjuk to the left.

It may be noted that Gilhagi need not necessarily form the starting point for tours over Kjölur from Skagafjord. The journey may also be commenced from Mælifell or from Svartárdalur but in all cases Adalmannsvötn must first be made for, after which the same route is followed as described above.


Starting point the farm Stóridalur. (The nearest coast sta- tion is Blönduós). Ride S by E along the west side of Blanda, in practically flat country the whole day. Our landmark is Rjupnafell (Dúfufell). Blanda lies a little to the left. On the way we pass first Gilsá a little river or brook from Gilsvatn; one hour later a lake on the right named Fridmundarvötn. Mjófavatn, marked on the maps, is not seen. Thristikla, a lake, lies close on the right. Later Sandá is crossed and finally Seydisá. All three rivers come from the west and fall into Blanda. As soon as Seydisá is crossed the grazing place at Biskupsthúfa is reached. From here to Hveravellir etc.

From Stóridalur to Hveravellir is one days ride.

In the reverse direction exactly the same route is followed along the west side of Blanda, choosing a break between two mountains as a landmark. The mountain to the right having the appearance of a ridge running from Mælifellshnjúkur. Gilsvatn is kept on the left, Blanda on the right.


A short distance south of the innermost farm in Eyjafjardardalur, Tjarnir, we ascend the hill Vatnahjalli on the west side of the valley, the route being marked by cairns, (about 1/2 hour to crest). The little hill Hjallahnúkur on the top of Vatnahjalli lies to the left. At the western extremity of the hill is seen a lake close in front, and two others a little farther off in the same direction. This is Ullarvötn. The way passes south of the nearest lake, and then more west and south west along the below named stony and difficult road to Eystri Pollar (5 hours from Tjarnir), (Route O) Pastu- rage here. A little stream which we follow, on either bank, runs west here to Jökuslá Eystri, only a very short distance. The crossing over Jökuslá is generally bad. After crossing keep on mainly S. W. first among small hills. (Laugafell is seen at an angle behind, and Hofsjökull to the left in the south). After 1 1/2 hours ride from Jökuslá Vestri Pollar grazing place is reached, lying on the right of the route. On the left, close up to Hofsjökull, a row of small summits is seen, Illvidrahnjúkar. The view is as usual boundless. A small brook Bleikálukvísl is crossed. It is often dry. Then come hills again, with two small eminences on the left. Hraunthúfukvísl, which comes from the lake Ásbjarnarvatn on the left and runs to Klaustur in Eystridalur, is crossed. Close by the south west end of the lake lies a little hill on the left. Then follow small eminences to Lambahraun a lava field on the left, with a fair sized hill Ásbjarnarfell close by on the same side. A little farther on, i. e. to the west, at the south end of the lava field lies Sáta, a little hill resembling a hay rick, on the boundary of Hofsjökull. The northern end of the lava field is passed at a narrow spot. After nearly an hours ride S. W. comes Eystri kvísl (the east branch) of Jökuslá Vestri, and again an hour later Vestri kvísl (the west fork) of same. West of the last named river scattered small hills and eminences are again met, then the so called Eyfirdingahólar (on left). Sáta is seen due south from here (to the left). Now bear a little north for Rjúpnafell (Dúfufell) on the north end of Kjalhraun, passing down the south end of a slope, Fossabrekka, along which runs Haugakvísl. Cross this and we are now 3/4 hour from Strangakvísl, which comes from the vicinity of Sáta and runs into Blanda. From here the route passes as described in A.

Tjarnir— Vestri Pollar ......... 7 hours
Vestri Pollar—Hveravellir...... 11 „

Taken in the reverse direction from S. W. to N. E. the starting point is Kjalvegur. Blanda is crossed at the Ford before described, just east of the junction of Seydisá. From here use as a landmark the hill Sata, crossing several small tributaries of Blanda. On approaching Sáta a considerable gravel bank is perceived, stretching out westwards from it. Ride due N. E. passing close by the foot of this bank. A small river runs along its lower side. From here the course is due N. E. where Illvidrahnjukar (Ásbjarnarfell is the most westerly of the differents hills, named Illvidrahnjukar.) soon is discerned. (In clear weather it may already be visible from Rjúpnafell on Kjalvegur). The course is north of this and passes at no great distance from the glacier itself. Here Jökuslá Vestri, which is not very deep, is crossed. Over the whole of this distance the route is fairly good and passable, but the soil is completely barren and bare. From Ásbjarnarfell do not bear too much to the north to reach Vestri Pollar.

When Mr. Fr. Howell in 1898 traversed Vatnahjallavegur he went from Ásbjarnarfell too much to the N. E. and after a long ride came to a river where there was pasturage, and where he spent the night. It was discovered later that this river had its source at Vestri Pollar. It took him 10 hours slow riding from Hveravellir to this spot. Jökuslá Vestri lay about midway between the two above mentioned points. According to Mr. Howell the distance between the two Jökuslá is shown on the maps of this district as much too short, while the distance from Jökuslá down to Eyjafjördur is shown too great. The writer can confirm the latter fact, and on the accompanying map (Plate II) this discrepancy is partially rectified, but the map of this district will not be good until accurate surveys are made.

The next day he continued N. E. passing the northern brow of a mountain, and after 2 hours ride reached Jökuslá Eystri at a spot where it lay between high rock walls. They were then probably some 4 miles north of the proper route. S. E. of the above named mountain brow lay a large lake. Mr. Howell says they should have passed to the south side of the mountain brow and lake, and then first struck the river where it forks. At this point there was a ford over the river, which was marked on both banks with cairns. Several other places on the way were marked with cairns, but as he is shown to have held too much to the north, these must be considered as misleading. A short distance east of the ford lay Eystri Pollar and the route from here is as described below over the waste (Orsefl) to the N. E., afterwards passing south of Ullarvötn (see under Sprengi- sandur, Route 0). Five and a half hours to Tjarnir over a fear- fully bad road from Eystri Pollar.

Vatnahjalli can be seen from Ásbjarnarfell, like a round mountain summit, somewhat larger than the other hills that lie to the E. and NE.

From Ásbjarnarfell a rocky valley can also be seen which appears to lie N- W. and S. E., but the route is not towards this, but E. N. E.


Another mountain road, now no longer used, connects Eystridalur in the innermost extremities af Skagafjördur and Eyjafjördur valleys. From the district south of the farm Ábær a very stony and bad ascent rises over Nýjabæjarfjall in a north easterly direction, and over the waste uplands in the direction of Villingadalur. There is no grass for the horses on this route.


There is a choice of two routes, either equally easy to follow (page 32).

1. East of Kjalhraun. The shortest and most generally used. Starting from Hveravellir in a curve round the Hraun to Dúfufell (1 hour), thence across the Hraun to east side of Kjalfell (1 hour), and so S. to Gránanes, which lies in the fork of the two tributaries which form Svartá (1 hour). The westerly of these tributaries rises in Kjalfell, one can therefore follow its course to Gránanes, where there is good pasturage (page 37, 40-41). From Gránanes the course is S. W towards Hvítárnes (the tongue between Hvítá and Jökulkvísl).

The two mountain ridges Skútar are passed one after the other (to the west), between them by Svartá lies the grazing place Svartdrbugar and a hut. Reaching Hvítárnes the river Hvitd is crossed by boats, if they are in order, and one of them is to be found on the north bank; otherwise Skagfirdingavad (Ford) must be attempted as described page 49.

Hveravellir—Hvítárnes 7—8 hours.

2. West of Kjalhraun in the hollow between the Hraun and Langjökulls Foothills (the socalled Thjófadalsfjöll), where there is a small water course. After 2 hours ride from Hveravellir we reach Thjófadalur, a valley which stretches in to the right between the foothills of Langjökull, among which Thjófahnjúkur is the most conspicuous. There is pasturage in the valley; it is a little off the route but may be reached by crossing a low ridge before reaching the valley mouth, or through this.

From Langjökull comes the glacier river Fúlakvísl, which runs along the foot of the beautiful Hrútafell with its three glaciers, down towards Hvítárvatn, and the route follows the river southwest to this lake; or the Kjalvegur main route above described may be followed south from Gránanes.

This route west of Kjalhraun is somewhat longer than that described above east of same, but it is exceptionally interesting and should absolutely be chosen by the tourist. Passing Hrútafell its three glaciers seem to hang over ones head on the one side, while on the other lies Kjalhraun with the great crater Strytur.

Hveravellir — Hvítárnes 8—9 hours.

The district between Gránanes and Hvítárnes is called Biskupstúngna Afrjettir.

Pasturage at Biskupsthiifa, Hveravellir, Thjófadalur, Gránanes, Svartárbugar and the north east side of Hvítárvatn.


From Gránanes ride in a curve towards the centre part of Kerlingarfjöll, where the hot springs are located. Immediately ofter crossing the east fork of Svartá ride N. E. later on E. over hilly and stony country, keeping well to the course. Two eminences are crossed, later Blákvísl; then bear a shade to the S. E. towards a small isolated hill, passing east of same, and from here steer straight for middle of Kerlingarfjöll, where the vapour from the hot springs can be seen. We now traverse a little hilly district just north of Jökuslá. The river may be swollen and a crossing not without danger. Cross below the hill and immediately after ride over a small ridge, leading into a dale through which Áskardsá flows out to Jökuslá. There is a poor grazing place here and a little hut. An hours ride up the cleft along Áskardsá brings us to the hot springs.

Gránanes—Áskardsá 3 hours.

Kerlingarfjöll can also be reached from the south without passing either Hvítá or Jökulkvísl. In this case the tour starts from Hruni or Tungufell in Hrunamannahrepp, riding N. E. to Svínárnes grazing place, and from there N E. to a pasturage south of Kerlingarfjöll at Leppistungur where there is a Sæluhús.


From Skagfirdingavad follow Hvítá southward, but to begin with at some distance from it along the foot of Bláfell (One may also go west of Bláfell over its neck), where the country is somewhat marshy, later Hvítá may be re-approached following it all the way to Gullfoss and then going west to Haukadal and Geysir over Tungufljot, which is now spanned by a wooden bridge — or a more direct route without going to Gullfoss may be chosen straight to Haukadal Geysir, also passing over Tungufljót.

Skagfirdingavad— Geysir about 10 hours.


If Hrunamannahreppur is to be visited, we must cross from Hvítárnes over Jökulkvísl by a ford near where the river joins Hvítá. Continue along east side of Hvítá, not too close to the river, but so that it now and again is in sight. The country is now deserted here, but in olden days there lay a whole settlement here in Hrunamanna-Afrjettir. Here and there are ruins of long since deserted farms now lying waste. Grjótá is passed; then comes a tract of country covered with sand, stones, and mud, through which stream, and river beds cut their way; and after crossing Sandá Svínárnes is reached lying in the fork of Svíná and Sandá. Pasturage and a hut here. Now follows Hardivöllur a very rough stone plain, and then the deserted farms diminish in number in the undulating landscape where here and there willow is seen. Opposite Gullfoss lie the ruins of the farm Hamarsholt, and now we approach the farm Tungufell through a birch spinny in a hollow, after first having passed a distant sheep pen belonging to the farm. This is the first farm east of Hvítá. From here to Hruni parsonage, when we are again in inhabited parts.

Hvítárnes—Tungufell ca. 8 hours.

Beside the already named pasturages in Hrunamanna-Afrjettir at Leppistungur and Svínárnes, and at Áskardsá in Kerlingarfjöll, there are also grazing places at Fosslækur south of Svínárnes, and at Búdará north of Tungufell.

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