Somewhere during our eight days of searching Iceland for natural hot springs, Jen and I came across one of the most beautiful places I’ve had the privilege to enjoy. I intentionally left it out of the blog so I wouldn’t disclose its location while sharing this magical little place. It deserves to be sought out by a few people who will respect and care for it while enjoying it, not handed up to the masses on a silver platter.
It was a tiny, out-of-the-way hole in the ground…literally. It was rustic. It was a little dirty. In actuality, it wasn’t so much the beauty of the place that struck me, as it was the feelings I had about Iceland when I was there.
Sadly, it’s being a little abused and overrun. The landowner came down to the spring while we were there to comment on how much litter had been left behind and how people weren’t taking care of the spring. We found lots of trash, beer bottles, cigarette butts, abandoned clothes and muddy tracks wearing an obvious path to the spring from what was supposed to be an unmarked trail to a hidden hot pot. The path had worn away grass and plants exposing the soil, leading to erosion of the land around it, and making it an obvious place that people stopped to explore despite this being private land. That’s such a shame.
It was a good reminder for me. I hope wherever I go in this world that I try to respect the land, the owner, other visitors and all of nature around me. While Iceland is an exceptionally beautiful place, all of our planet deserves this.
A few simple tips:
Please be sure to pack out what you pack in along with whatever someone else who came before you left behind. Use a “no trace left behind” philosophy. Be mindful of trail conditions and overuse that can lead to erosion and other issues which can permanently damage the landscape and ecosystem. Be respectful of land owners. Don’t advertise coordinates and locations all over social media so that dozens or hundreds of people descend on a hidden gem destroying it with overuse.
Jen and I spent a couple of hours at this place after having hiked to get there. Our visit started under clouds but our daily rainbow appeared a few minutes later which seemed like an auspicious beginning to this mini adventure.
First glance at the spring from a small hill didn’t impress me as much out of the ordinary (as far as natural hot springs in Iceland go, I mean – although I have nothing like them near my home and think they are all unique and special). But as we walked closer, it started to reveal itself to us.
A small changing hut was roofed with sod (serving as both natural shelter and camouflage) and turned broadside against the trail. At first it was hard to see. When I walked closer I could see the small wooden door with script carved in the beams overhead. The spring itself bubbled up from the ground inside the hut. Some of the hot water was diverted into a small two-tiered pool built on one side of the hut while the rest ran across the floor of the hut (heating it in the process) and out the open air back creating a little stream that disappeared across the rolling prairie somewhere in the distance.
We changed in the hut and left our clothes hanging on pegs nailed into the rafters to keep them dry as light showers moved through the area, after which we made our way to the pool.
The shallow pool near the hut was the hottest because it was closer to the spring, but wasn’t intolerably hot. A longer, deeper pool extended from it into the hillside. Water there was still very warm. The walls of the pool were lined with stacked stone and the floor was covered with small lava rock and large stones to use as seats. Moss and tiny flowering plants cascaded down the stone walls.
I was impressed with the engineering behind it and the smart use of nature to create something that wasn’t intrusive, but was a gorgeous little retreat in the middle of nowhere.
When we first arrived there was a couple silently soaking in the shallow hot pool. They were so quiet that I didn’t notice them until after having taken a couple of photos and changed cloths when I went to step into the water. They had been completely silent, each person sitting with closed eyes in quiet meditation enjoying the warmth and peace of the soak. I felt badly for having intruded upon them.
I knelt down and carefully held the stone wall as I slipped silently into the water and glided toward the far corner of the pool around a slight bend and out of sight of the couple. Jen did the same. We each found a large stone to use as a seat which placed the water surface at our respective chins.
Not wanting to disturb the original visitors, Jen and I communicated our mutual happiness and awe about this place by means of enormous grins and mouthing words like “wow” to each other. The pool was perfectly still, and I naturally closed my eyes and relaxed into the moment. The only sounds were those of the trickling water from the spring and the chirping of birds in the distance. I’m not sure how long I sat there observing the utter peace of the place. After a while I opened my eyes and looked up, and noticed dark clouds slowly rolling by overhead while breaking open occasionally to reveal a bright blue sky above.
After perhaps 20 minutes the other couple quietly rose and smiled at us and turned toward the hut. They dressed and left with only a wave, having never spoken a word to us. With Iceland’s ability to attract visitors from all over the world, I doubt we spoke the same language anyway, but I was struck by how completely we had communicated even without talking. They had loved the place. We had respected that and tried not to disturb them. They appreciated it and went on enjoying it even while we were there and then they left us to enjoy it ourselves. We wished each other well at the end by way of a smile and wave.
A tiny spider worked at building a web between four stones in the corner of the pool while I observed tiny droplets of water collecting on the silk threads of his home. Small pea-sized flowers prepared to bloom in coming days on soft tendrils of micro vines inching down down the rock walls.
Jen and I kept the silence began by the people who’d visited before us, even while moving around to visit each small corner of the pool. It was too sweet a spell to break.
Time stopped. All thoughts and worries of past or future left me, and I concentrated on soaking in all the senses this place was gifting to me hoping to preserve them for return trips in my mind for years to come: the smell of newly fallen rain dampening sweetgrass nearby, the cool fresh air in contrast with the rising warmth and steam of the spring, the gently rough feel of rolling marble-sized black lava rock under my feet, the way my body seemed to become part of the complete warmth of the perfect water temperature, the texture of the ever-changing sky overhead, and the utterly serene sounds of trickling water, a gentle breeze and soft birdsongs in the distance.
Jen slipped out of the pool, went back to the changing hut and out the open end of it, and stepped down into a 4-foot cube concrete well to soak. Water overflowed from it like a tiny infinity pool into the stream that led into the grassland.
Neither of us wanted to leave. But eventually we did, each in turn silently stepping out of the water and going to dress, never needing to say a word.
Maybe it was the combination of the moment, the place, the day….but this became my favorite place in all of Iceland…and that’s saying something.