Favourite Places – Jökulsárlón


Jökulsárlón Photo by Michael Ridpath author of the Magnus Iceland Mysteries

If you travel all the way to Iceland, you want to see some ice. And the best place to do this is Jökulsárlón, literally ‘Glacier River Lagoon’, an astoundingly beautiful lake of icebergs in the far southeast of the country.

It’s a long way from Reykjavík, nearly four hundred kilometres along the Ring Road on the south coast, past the Westman Islands, past Hekla and Eyjafjallajökull, past Vík, and on the other side of that great flood-plain desert. 

The lagoon is at the foot of a tongue of the massive Vatnajökull glacier that reaches down towards the sea. It tumbles in extreme slow motion into the lagoon, as large icebergs calve and then drift through the mouth of the lagoon to the Atlantic.

There are tours; there are tourists. But the thing to do is escape them, walk back along the road from the main car park, climb over the high bank and scramble down to the shore of the lagoon. Wear warm clothes, arrange for the sun to be out - not quite sure how you do this - and just sit and watch and listen.

The lake is a bright blue and is crammed with icebergs of all shapes and sizes. They are white, grey, green and in some places blue with varying degrees of translucence, and they drift imperceptibly towards the mouth of the lagoon. Every now and then a loud crack echoes across the water as ice melts, and in the distance, over the mound behind you, you hear the crash of surf on the nearby shore. 

But as you sit, you listen to a gentle song of tinkling and dripping. The water is completely still: black with a blue sheen. I caught sight of a fish slithering between icebergs. Behind the lagoon, the tongue of ice rears high up towards the largest glacier in Europe. Stay. Let your mind wander in one of the most soothing, peaceful places on earth.

The ice squeezes through a channel to the sea, where waves crash onto a beach strewn with sweating icebergs, and wetsuited windsurfers navigate around the blocks of ice. It’s tempting to try to climb onto one of the chunks of floating ice - yet another dumb thing tourists sometimes do in Iceland.

It’s a long way to Jökulsárlón, but it’s worth it.

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