' Wide ruin spread the element around,
His havoc leagues on leagues may you descry ;
And still the smouldering flame lurks underground,
And tosses boiling fountains to the sky !
IN the summer of 1880, after a pleasant but uneventful voyage in Messrs. Slimons' very comfortable steamer ' Camcens/ I landed at Husavik (a trading port on the north coast of Iceland), in company with a fellow-passenger with whom I had become acquainted during the voyage out, the initial letter of whose name is H. Two days later, the 5th July, we set out for the interior in company with an Icelandic theological student, named Arni, as interpreter and guide-and a very decent fellow he proved. We were each mounted on a sturdy ambling pony, and in the lightest possible marching order, having no baggage whatever save our Macintoshes and a few rounds of ammunition, H. taking his gun with him to provide a duck for dinner upon a pinch, while I took a rifle in case we fell in with the herd of reindeer having its habitat in the Myvatn's Orcefi,, and likewise my fishing-rod. With gun and rod anyone travelling in Iceland need never dread a famine in the camp, feathered game and trout being abundant.
My companion not having been in Iceland before, we did not proceed direct to Askja, but went two days'journey out of our road to visit 'the lions of the north' on the way. These are (1) the Northern Gey-sir (Icl. Uxahver, Oxspring, so named from an ox having once slipped therein), the largest of a group of hot-springs a few hours' ride from Eusavik, which 1 spouts ' a considerable quantity of water to a height of about twelve feet, at intervals of a few minutes; (2) Asbyrgi (Gods'-rock), one of the most wonderful of Icelandic phenomena, an insulated triangular mass of rock, nearly a mile in width at the base, which gradually increases in height towards its apex, where its perpendicular cliffs are at least three hundred feet in height, its summit maintaining the downward slope towards the north of the surrounding country, from which it is cut off by a > shaped chasm, formed undoubtedly by the subsidence of the vast rocky mass that formerly lay between the cliffs of the Gods'-rock and those opposite ; the faces of the cliffs are but little weathered, remaining as clean cut as if the subsidence had taken place less than a century ago, but nevertheless it is prehistoric; (3) the Eljoftaklettar, or Speaking Cliffs, insulated masses of rock and curiously formed craters in the wild valley of the Jokulsd (Glacier-river, so named as it rises amid the Vatna Jokull), which appear like vast ruinous castles, and so perfectly do they echo back sounds, one can fancy them the home of Mocking Genii; and last, though not least, the Dettifoss, the most famous of Iceland's falls-on the whole, the grandest tour that can be made in the island.
This detour entailed two nights' very rough accommodation, the first being passed not over comfortably at As, the farmhouse near the Gods'-rock, and the second still more uncomfortably at an abandoned and ruinous hovel near a lake in the midst of the Orfefi named Eilifsvatn; whence four hours' ride over the desert waste brought us, early on the morning of the third day, in sight of the 1875 lava-flood. Seen from a distance it presents the appearance of a number of vast black heaps, as if some Titanic foundry had here shot its refuse slag and clinkers. Eiding in a south-easterly direction straight towards the lava we, when within a mile or so of it, found our further progress barred by one of the rifts opened by the earthquake on the memorable 4th January. This we had to follow in a southerly direction until we struck the excellent newly-made road, the only thoroughfare across country from east to west, the other routes being round the north and south coasts. By keeping to this we were able to pass the numerous deep narrow cracks and fissures running parallel with the rift whence the lava issued, this new road having been constructed subsequently to the eruption, the old one having been blocked by the flow of lava.
Our route over the pathless Orxfi had been a somewhat difficult and dangerous one, for several times we were compelled to dismount and lead our ponies over lava-flows lying in hollows where subsidences had taken place between old earthquake rifts. When 1 visited the scene of the eruption here in 1878 I learnt what dangerous ground it was to traverse, for my pony placed both his forefeet in a crack in the earth, which my guide's pony had passed in safety, the thin turf above being unbroken, and, as a fire-worshipper should, I lay prostrate upon my face for a short period upon entering the hallowed precincts of this recently-acquired domain of the Fire King. Luckily I was not hurt, neither was my steed, being more fortunate in this respect than the Governor of the island, who, when he visited the scene of the eruption, lost one of his spare ponies. The poor brute fell bodily into one of the rifts, and a man had to be lowered down to cut its throat, it having in its struggles soon jammed itself inextricably fast between the rocky walls of the rift at some depth. A fine buck reindeer also managed the autumn before last to get into a rift, and the peasants, when searching for their sheep, found the animal suspended by his wide branching antlers in a most emaciated condition. He was extricated and led for some distance in the direction of Reykjdhliff, but when he recovered his strength somewhat, he gave his captors so much trouble, that they ultimately killed him.
Approaching the 1875 lava, we see that on the north it lies for some distance in a hollow, similar to the older ones we had passed on our way from Eilifsvatn, formed by a subsidence,* during the eruption, of a tract three to four miles in length between two deep parallel rifts, which run northward for several miles, and that the lava stretches away southward farther than the eye can follow it, when one stands upon the level ground. The depth of the subsidence is greatest near the lava, from which the surface of the sunken tract slopes gradually up to the level of the Orsefi, the rifts decreasing in size as the depth of the subsidence becomes less.