Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Hidden


It had been a tiring day, leaving Reykjavik early, heading through the snow eastwards along the south coast of the island. The further eastwards we got the deeper the snow was. Past Skógar we stopped at a few places, taking sideroads through the virgin snow and also went up Solheimajökull glacier, not with the expected cramp-ons, but with snow shoes so as to deal with all the fresh snow. It had been the best of snow of the season they said. After catching our breath, we headed to Skógafoss and as the heavens closed there was still the need to visit to hot spring.

The hot spring of Seljavallalaug is up a valley heading towards the  Eyjafjallajökull mountain.  From Iceland's highway 1, it's an easy 5 kms up side road 242. Continue as far as possible to where there's a small car park. From here it's a 15 minute walk upstream to Seljavallalaug, which is hidden from those heading there, behind a cliff.

Where art thou? 
The path is obscured by the now slowly falling snow. There are still a few persons returning, but we seem to be the only ones heading the other way and  intending a real winter soak. The path scrambles over some flat scree (?) and past a rock strewn side valley which also entails a jump or two over a small stream to reach the other side.

After this crossing, one skirts a big rock cliff and wanders along the pool and can feel the heat from the source at this end. At the far end, the changing rooms are empty save for some refuse. A quick strip and a jump into Seljavallalaug.

Looking south, from the changing rooms, the hot spring is at the far end.

What I hadn't read was that the waters were just 30 degrees, meaning a lot cooler than expected! A quick length is made to the heat source at the other end, but Seljavallalaug is something more to be savoured in summer ...

Lessons learnt
Originally the bassin at Seljavallalaug was constructed so as to afford swimming lessons. Snaeland & Sigurbjörnsdóttir (2010) add that construction took place in 1923 and the pool size is 28 by 10m. 
If one follows the link to this photo of those first swimming lesson days group shot. 

More history:
'A local man, Björn J. Andrésson, had been appointed to teach sports and swimming. He decided that a swimming pool should be built above the farm of Seljavellir, where geothermal springs flowed from the rock. He gained the support of local farmers, promising them free swimming lessons when the pool was completed. Twenty-five men took part in the task.
The original Seljavellir pool was built of traditional Icelandic construction materials, rock and turf, in 1922.  Nine metres long and 4-5 metres wide, the original pool took two days to build. Swimming lessons were due to commence three days later. Twenty-five people were registered for the first swimming/sports course, during which they camped at the swimming pool in tents.
The swimming pool was such a resounding success that the following year a larger concrete pool was built on the site, inventively constructed using the rock face as one side of the pool. It was the largest swimming pool in Iceland at the time'.
The changing rooms: a little tired?

Since the nineties it's role of catering to summer guests swimming needs has been take over by a more recent construction, downstream. Volunteers though have been maintaining the facilities, but there is only so much they can do. Once a year the whole pool is scrubbed down, so it's hoped that the current users have the sensibility to not pollute the waters. Or the changing rooms.

As Seljavallalaug lies at the foot of Eyjafjallajökull, after the 2010 eruption, these volunteers took great efforts to empty the pool (photo).

Privilege
Once more Seljavallalaug is also rated as one of Iceland's best hot springs (source). Britain's Guardian (20 July 2013) also rates Seljavallalaug in it's 10 of the world's best swimming pools:
'At the bottom end of the valley, the amazing Seljavallalaug geothermal pool was built in 1923, making it the oldest in Iceland; and it was its largest until 1936. It is now partially filled in with the ash of the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull but the scenery is fantastic and the water naturally nice and warm'.

Seljavallalaug gets four and a half stars from Tripadvisor which is not too bad for a natural attraction with only the visiting public needing to maintain the site itself.

 

A good blog entry on Seljavallalaug comes from the wonderful unknown:
'I've been having doubts about sharing the Seljavallalaug swimming pool. Although it's very close to the Ring Road where thousands of tourists pass every day towards the nearby Skógarfoss waterfall, nobody seems to know it. Except the locals and a few foreigners. And that's a good thing because the atmosphere around this pool is created by it's solitude. We've had the privilege to enjoy it all by ourselves with the surrounding mountains as our only companion and it wouldn't be the same when crowded.' 
Another nice entry comes from iheartreykjavik which also has more background on the need for swimming instructions back then.

Finally, here's a video of Seljavallalaug.

Note:
Snaeland, J.G. & Þ. Sigurbjörnsdóttir (2010) Thermal pools in Iceland. Skrudda, Reykjavik, Iceland


  
The return journey

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