The Prettiest Volcano

Fagradalfjall volcano photo by Lee-Anne Fox


During 2021, Reykjavik was entertained by a small, pretty volcano at Fagradalsfjall, between the capital and Keflavík international airport. It tossed fire safely into the sky like an overgrown firework, grew a new little mountain and spilled black spongeous lava down a mountainside.

It should have been tourist gold, but COVID-related lockdowns made it difficult to reach. I managed to get there in June of 2021. At that stage, the eruption had calmed down, and sadly the day I visited, the new volcano was covered in cloud. I did manage to hike to the foot of the lava flow: black foamy rock in the process of freezing, with red glowing through its cracks, and sulphurous smoke leaking out.

Lava at Fagradalsfjall photo by Michael Ridpath author of the Magnus Iceland Mysteries


The volcano took a little nap and then reawakened in August 2022 at the nearby Meradalir. Once again, Icelanders and hardy tourists were entertained by spumes of bright red lava (see photo above taken by Lee-Anne Fox). This time, it was a five-hour round-trip hike from the road to see the eruption. 

It's a difficult hike and many tourists kept the search and rescue teams busy with their poor choice of clothing and footwear. Also, they had to be told not to walk on the lava, on account of the chance of a fiery, excruciating death. Somehow nobody died, but the Icelanders’ suspicion of the woeful lack of intelligence of the rest of the world's tourists was only confirmed.

After a couple of grumpy weeks, the volcano has now fallen asleep again, whether for months or for centuries, no one knows.

Valur Grettisson of the Reykjavík Grapevine did some excellent reporting from the eruptions in his Reykjavík Grapevine newscasts. He gets a little overexcited in this episode right after the eruption of the second volcano.

While researching a forthcoming book about Iceland during the Second World War, I came across an interesting fact about Fagradalsfjall. Apparently, in May 1943, a US Air Force Liberator called Hot Stuff, which had completed 25 missions bombing in Europe, was returning to America with General Andrews on board when it crashed into Fagradalsfjall in bad weather, with the loss of everyone on board. Andrews was one of the USAF’s most important generals – it is he whom Andrews Air Force Base near Washington is named after.

I've seen the lava, but I have yet to witness an actual volcanic eruption myself.  I am sure Iceland will oblige before long.

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