Looking for the Lagarfljot worm
To kick off our month of adventures in Iceland we set off on a biking expedition in search of a mythical worm. Having only just landed in Iceland, after seven days of ‘packaged’ fun in Europe, we’re not quite sure what to expect from the biking, the long days, the camping or the deep waters of the murky grey Lagarfljot….
Let’s all go on a worm hunt
Everyone happily buys into the three day expedition around Lake Lagerfljòt because it has a monster in its depths. And this monster; Lagerfljòtsormurinn, has all the drama of Loch Ness but without any of the midges. It’s a great fairytale for Hannah as it contains sparkly stuff and a beast, and Cameron is fired up by it too. He keeps returning to the information boards to recheck the details of the woman, who like Gollum, acquired a precious gold ring…
“I don’t know how she ‘acquired it’ but she definitely hid it. In a box under a snail. Because she thought it was the best way to increase gold. I’d quite like a snail farm for my bedroom..” He pauses for thought. . “…Anyway, the snail grew and grew in a week until it nearly bust the box. The girl got really scared and she chucked the box into the lake. The huge monster grew and grew in the lake and soon it was famous everywhere. The farmers got scared about how dangerous it was and called some sorcerers from Finland. I don’t know why Finland…” He pauses for thought. “…Anyway, they pinned its head and tail to the bottom of the lake so it couldn’t attack anyone, even though it’s 50 metres deep. But people have carried on seeing it. The last sighting was in 1987… ” He pauses for thought. “So we might be lucky. But strangely, no one who has seen it can agree on what it looks like. I don’t know whether we are looking for a scary worm or a 20 kilometre long coiled giant! That’s half a day’s bike ride!”
In a land of myths what do you believe?
There are so many myths, legends and sagas in Iceland, you never know quite what to believe. Is the weather really as changeable as they say? Can you really have snow and hot sun in the same day? Are there really elves and trolls living here and did the Icelandic people really build their roads around the legendary creatures houses? It’s only our second day in the country so we haven’t yet worked out fact from fiction. But we do know the day is just right for biking a 30 kilometre chunk of the 56 kilometre lake just south of Egilsstadir. Last night we rode in to camp by the lake at Attlavik, shivering in our new jackets, with rain threatening our tails. We warmed ourselves collecting firewood and burnt it on a barbecue; an unusual practice in Iceland. It doesn’t take long here before you notice the lack of trees; the stark mountainsides are often balder than a middle aged man. But on the east side of this lake is Hallormsstadaskógur; Iceland’s biggest forest. It’s still shall we say ‘immature’ compared to leafier parts of the world; the birch and fir trees aren’t much bigger than the kids; and the Lonely Planet guide jokes that if you get lost in an Icelandic forest all you have to do is stand up. But there’s enough birch twigs to light a fire and warm us up before bed.
A great introduction to biking in Iceland
In the morning, the cold is banished to glacial grey waters under a burning blue sky and we fly around the lake monster hunting. It’s hungry work. But this is an ideal family bike ride, and a gentle introduction to Icelandic roads. There’s hardly any traffic, and lots of small, friendly attractions. If you are hungry you can enjoy a cake buffet or a cultural experience at Skriðuklaustur, the former home of writer Gunnar Gunnarson, said to have written Iceland’s first crime novel. You can visit the site of a 15th century monastery, call in at the stylish and educational Vatnajokull National Park Centre or pop into the visitor centre for the Kárahnjùkar Hydroelectric Project. Or if you are up for a much more strenuous ride, you can ride up onto the highland plateau and visit the dam itself.
The afternoon sunlight casts longer shadows as the children jump hay bales and swing on ropes in the grounds surrounding the late writer’s grass roofed house. Despite this being a home of Icelandic fiction, we still haven’t seen the monster. For Cameron it’s all a bit of a puzzle. Is the worm real or is it just a story. Should he believe it? His suspicion that it’s all folklore is muddied by real life; only a few days before leaving home Stuart sent him links to a CNN news video investigating recent claims of sightings of the Lagerfljòt worm.
The worm that goes deep
“What’s it like?” asks Cameron. And he’s not just taking about whether it’s slimy or scaled. He’s wondering what it can be compared to in life? “I mean it’s a bit like God, the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas. You kind of believe it but you’re never quite sure.” His analysis saddens me; marking the passing of innocent acceptance. It won’t be long before he’s wondering about the consequences of not believing.
Iceland may be a land of elves, trolls and fairies, but much of our surroundings today are unarguable and definite. The mountains are all encompassing and it’s hard to take your eyes off them. We are surrounded by the biggest forest in the country, the second biggest waterfall, the third biggest lake. A legendary worm chained by Finnish wizards to the bottom of a cloudy lake, with a varying body size depending who sees it, is a less tangible prospect.
The rest of us aren’t even sure we want to meet it any more. If the weather here is as unpredictable as the monster, while we deal with one perhaps it’s better that the other stays hidden. The lake looks darker and less inviting; it’s grey waters churning and turning as we put on our coats and pedal hard back the way we came, the wind blasting in our faces. Our legs are tired, and despite the late hour we still plan to climb a gorge to see the wild Hengifoss waterfall. As he looks out onto the brown and red striped rock and contemplates going to the top, Cameron returns to wondering how the girl in the story acquired the ring. “Did she steal it, find it, swap something for it?” he asks before pausing for thought. “Maybe life is like the Lagarfljot worm,” he finally announced. “You know, it could all just be a dream.” Well, couldn’t it?
This post is part of our 2012 Adventure Islands Season. We spent summer 2012 exploring Iceland and The Faroes, researching what’s on offer for adventure seeking families. We’re grateful to Smyril Line for help with transport, and to Berghaus and Thule who helped equip us for the journey. The experience, all views and opinions are as ever our own. You can see a map of our journey on The Family Adventure Project Punkt! and view some exclusive behind the scenes photos and video of what we got up to.