Favourite Places – Selatangar


Selatangar in the snow photo by Michael Ridpath author of the Magnus Iceland Mysteries

There are two ways to get to the Blue Lagoon from Reykjavík – the Blue Lagoon is the large geothermal pool-spa next to a power station, and is well worth visiting, although it is expensive. One way is to take the main highway to the airport and turn left on a well-paved road following the tourist buses.

The other way is by the back roads, turning off the main road just past Hafnarfjördur and following signs to Krýsuvík. The small road passes Seltún, a geothermal area of vents, mud pots, hot springs and sulphurous ponds that simmer and burp amid hillsides of red, yellow and orange, and water of an other-worldly green-blue. Just south of these is the ‘draining lake’, Kleifarvatn, which sprang a leak in its floor in 2000, revealing a hundred metres of black volcanic sand and rock around the shore (Arnaldur Indridason wrote a great novel set here). All around here, you are very aware that something in the ground beneath you is unsettled. The place is spooky, especially when the mist moves in.

Even spookier is Selatangar. When you reach the coast, head west towards the fishing village of Grindavík, which is near the Blue Lagoon. Just before the town, keep your eyes out for a turn off to the left to the car park for Selatangar.

At first Selatangar looks like nothing more than a typical Icelandic lava field of rocks, rubble and twisted black stone, some of which tumbles into the sea. As you walk to the east, threading your way through the rock on a narrow footpath, the rubble begins to take on form. There is a man-made breakwater, and then the contours of black circular walls take shape from the surrounding stone. As you come closer you realize that these are dwellings, or former dwellings. For centuries from the Middle Ages until the 1880s men used to come here to fish for a few months every spring. Spring in Iceland is a season of storms and occasional snow. It is hard to imagine a place more bleak or inhospitable than these black rock booths blending into the black lavascape.

Yet the place has an ethereal, lonely beauty. On one side the sea ripples and rages, on the other, steep mountain slopes rise, and in between the lava field guards the ghosts of those fishermen. I visited on a day when snow streaked the lava, and fog curled in from the sea to smother the ruined huts. Eider ducks bobbed in the current just a few yards offshore. Driftwood lined the black stone beach bleached wood from trees that had once grown in Canada or Siberia. There was no green to be seen anywhere.

One ghost in particular survives, Tanga-Tómas, who has been seen in the area many times. At Selatangar it’s hard not to believe in ghosts.

By the way, just a few kilometres to the west of Selatangar is Iceland's brand-new volcano, variously called Fagradalsfjall or Geldingadalir, which has been erupting prettily for much of 2021, and has become, understandably, a tourist honeypot. 

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