BLTC Press Titles

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

A. Conan Doyle

Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi

Mortal Coils

Aldous Huxley

The Diplomatic Background of the War

Charles Seymour

Peaks, passes, and glaciers

by Alpine Club (London, England)



The screw steamer Arcturus, carrying the English and Danish mails, makes five or six voyages every year between Copenhagen and Reykja-vik, the capital of Iceland. On her way she touches at Grangemouth in the Firth of Forth; and at that place I, in company with my friends Messrs. Bond, Donaldson, and Shepherd, embarked on board of her on Thursday, the 18th July, 1861. The same evening she weighed anchor, and we started for Iceland.

On the morning of Sunday, the 21st, we reached Thorshaven, the chief town of Strom-be, the largest of the Far-oes; and on the 22nd, the daylight of a northern midnight found us nearly out of sight of these islands, steering a N.W. course. On the morning of the 24th we sighted the white summit of the Oroefa Jokull, gleaming in the sun, and though some sixty miles away, looking not one half that distance from us. Then, as we steamed along, the round tops of the Myrdals, and Eya-fjalla Jokulls came into view. As we neared the coast, we came abreast of an extensive flat spit of volcanic sand, thrown out for several miles into the sea by the Kotlu-gja during its recent eruption in 1860. Beyond this we passed within a mile or two of the fine natural arch at Portland Head; and in the afternoon, the weather being very calm, steamed through the rocky group of Westmann Islands, and dropped the mails (consisting of two or three letters and a newspaper) into a boat, which put out for them from Heima-ey, the largest of the group. Early the next morning we were off the low lava rocks of Cape Reykja-nes, battling with a heavy head-wind; and about 2 p. M. on that day we cast anchor in the Bay of Reykja-vik, under the lee of the Esja mountains. Not far from us two French men-of-war were lying at anchor. They had come to look after the French fishermen, who, every year, resort to the Icelandic fishing-grounds in great numbers.

We had plenty to do the next day in making the necessary preparations for our journey into the country. Guides had to be engaged, ponies to be bought and shod, and saddles to be procured, some on hire, and some by purchase, and when procured to be patched, and mended, and stuffed. Bridles, halters, girths, hobbles, had to be obtained; and not least, though last, Icelandic travellingboxes. These are small, but awkward and weighty wooden chests, which are used by the people of Iceland for carrying their luggage when they are travelling, and which, when they are at home, ordinarily serve the double purpose of family wardrobes and seats. A baggage-horse carries a pair of these boxes, one slung on each side of him, suspended by nooses of rope, or iron rings, to two cumbrous wooden straddles, or bearers, that arch over his back; these straddles form the most important part of an Icelandic saddle. The rest of it consists merely of two large flat pads, which serve to protect the horse's flanks from being rubbed by the straddles or his load. In the

common saddles these pads are made of two or three thick layers of turf, kept in their proper place only by the grip of the straddles and the girths; in the better kinds they are made of leather, stuffed with either hair or grass. So long as these saddles are in use, the Icelandic boxes, cumbersome and inconvenient as they are, are the only contrivances that can withstand the wear and tear of an Icelandic journey.

Our preparations were not all completed until the afternoon of the next day (July 27th), but at 3 P.m. on that day we effected a start for Thing-vellir. We had with us two guides, and our cavalcade, which consisted of no less than seventeen horses, must have had rather an imposing appearance in the eyes of the small boys, who watched us as we rode out of the town.

The country between Reykja-vik and the Geysirs, and indeed the whole of that district which lies to the southwest of Hekla, has been so often described by travellers that I shall only take a passing glance at it, and refer those who wish to know more about it to the descriptions given by Henderson, Lord Dufferin, Captain Forbes, and others.

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