Tuesday, January 21, 2014

21 January 2014

from Mrs. Alec (Ethel Brilliana, née Harley) Tweedie's A Girl's Ride in Iceland, 1894:

As the London season, with its thousand and one engagements, that one tries to cram into the shortest possible time, draws to a close, the question uppermost in every one's mind is, 'Where shall we go this autumn?' And a list of places well trodden by tourists pass through the brain in rapid succession, each in turn rejected as too far, too near, too well known, or not embracing a sufficient change of scene. 

Switzerland? Every one goes to Switzerland: that is no rest, for one meets half London there. Germany? The same answer occurs, and so on ad infinitum. 

'Suppose we make up a party and visit Iceland?' was suggested by me to one of my friends on a hot July day as we sat chatting together discussing this weighty question, fanning ourselves meanwhile under a temperature of ninety degrees; the position of Iceland, with its snow-capped hills and cool temperature seeming positively refreshing and desirable. Mad as the idea seemed when first proposed in mere banter, it ended, as these pages will prove, by our turning the suggestion into a reality, and overcoming the difficulties of a trip which will ever remain engraven on my memory as one of the most agreeable experiences of my life. 

When I ventilated the idea outside my private 'den,' wherein it first arose, it was treated as far too wild a scheme for serious consideration--for 'Iceland,' to Londoners, seems much the same in point of compass as the moon! And there really is some similarity in the volcanic surface of both. Here, however, the similarity ends, for while the luminary is indeed inaccessible, the island can easily be reached without any very insurmountable difficulty. 

The somewhat natural opposition which our plan at first met with, only stimulated our desire the more to carry it into effect. The first step was to gain the permission of our parents, which, after some reluctance, was granted, and the necessary ways and means finally voted; our next was to collect together a suitable party from our numerous friends, and take all necessary measures to secure the success of the undertaking. . . .

Before proceeding any further, it may be well to mention the important subjects of outfit and provisions. As we were not going upon a fashionable tour, it was not necessary to provide ourselves with anything but what was really needed. Intending travellers must recollect that, as all inland journeys are performed on ponies, and the luggage can only be slung across the animals' backs, large boxes or trunks are out of the question, and it is necessary to compress one's outfit into the smallest possible dimensions. The following list will be found quite sufficient for the journey.

A thick serge dress, short and plain for rough wear, with a cloth one in change; a tight-fitting thick jacket, good mackintosh, and very warm fur cloak; one pair of high mackintosh riding boots (like fisherman's waders), necessary for crossing rivers and streams; a yachting cap or small tight-fitting hat, with a projecting peak to protect the eyes from the glare--blue glasses, which are a great comfort; thick gauntlet gloves; a habit skirt is not necessary. 

My brother has given me a list of things he found most useful. Two rough homespun or serge suits: riding breeches, which are absolutely indispensable; riding boots laced up the centre, and large, as they are continually getting wet; flannel shirts; thick worsted stockings; a warm ulster, and mackintosh. 

Instead of trusting to the pack boxes provided by the natives, a soft waterproof 'hold-all,' or mule boxes, would be an additional comfort. . . .

The immediate neighbourhood of the Geysers is not pretty; hills rise on one side, but otherwise they lie in a plain, which, when we saw it on our first arrival, was so thickly covered with sand from the storm that we could hardly discern any separate object. We hastened to examine the great Geyser. Alas! it did not, and would not play; it had done so two days previously, and we were told it was expected to renew the exploit, but, to our great mortification, it failed to do so during our visit. One of the peculiarities of this natural phenomenon is that sometimes at intervals of only a few hours it will eject columns of boiling water to the height of 100 feet, at others it will remain silent for days together. In 1770 it is recorded that this Geyser spouted eleven times in one day. Disappointed at losing the sight we had come so far to see, we turned our attention to the 'Stroker,' which is situated about 90 feet from its bigger neighbour. This also seemed in a quiescent state, but as the 'Stroker' can always be made to play by filling up the opening with earth sods, until there is no hole for the steam to escape, and it vomits the whole mass with a gigantic spout, we requested our guides to arrange for this artificial display. The emetic was consequently administered. 'Stroker' was evidently sulky, for the process had to be gone through no less than four times, whilst we waited the result in patience for at least two hours; but the display was all the better when it came. 

I said we waited in patience, which was hardly true, as we were all on the tiptoe of excitement. Continual false alarms, and we all rushed to the 'Stroker's' side, only to be again disappointed, so we unpacked our goods, and made preparations for our evening meal, examining the Great Geyser and the hot springs meanwhile, grumbled at the smell of sulphur, and nearly despaired of the eruption ever taking place, when a sudden start from our guides, who were standing on the edge of the crater, and a shriek from them, 'He comes!' and a huge column of water ascended straight into the air for about 60 feet, the spray being ejected to a considerable distance. The eruption was accompanied by a rumbling noise and a hissing sound, as the shafts of water ascended. 

We stood and watched the effect a few feet distant merely from this boiling column, feeling the rumbling distinctly under our feet and as the wind blew the steam back, it fell like rain, quite cold, but with sufficient force to wet us uncomfortably.

This great fountain display continued in full force a quarter of an hour; then the column gradually got smaller, though steam and water issued from its mouth for a full half-hour before it quite subsided. It was a splendid spectacle, and one which left a great impression on our minds; the height of the column was fully 60 feet, and even after it had subsided, we remained some time in contemplation of its cause and effect.

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