We had lunch at the Foss Hotel, overlooking the beautiful Lake Myvatn. It looks beautiful, but the name means ‘Midge Lake’ in Icelandic. The guide books mostly advise drastic ‘midgie counter-measures’; fortunately, on this late June day, it didn’t live up to its name!
It was only a short bus ride to Namafjall Hverir, an extensive field of steam vents. It’s a surreal, desolate ‘other-worldly’ sort of location; someone said some episodes of ‘Game of Thrones’ were filmed here. We could smell the vents long before we saw them. I thought at first someone had ‘let Polly out of prison’. As we drew closer, I recognised the characteristic ‘rotten egg ‘ smell of a volcanic fumarole … I’ve smelled it before, on Nea Kamini, Santorini’s volcano. The ‘rotten egg’ smell of the stink-bombs of youth … which the scientists call sulphur dioxide.
A fumarole is a vent in the surface of the earth from which volcanic gases and steam issue. The steam comes from underground water, heated by magma lying relatively close to the surface. In Iceland, in common with several other countries where this kind of geothermal activity is common, the power is often harnessed, as a source of domestic heating and hot water; it’s even sometimes used to generate electricity,
The existence of a fumarole is not necessarily an indicator of an upcoming eruption. That was told to us by a guide on Santorini, who said:
‘If it was, the nearest person to our boat would be the second person into it!’
If this was Britain, they would have the area fenced off, a Visitor Centre set up and charge a tenner a throw to get in. But, here, there’s just a rudimentary car park and an information board … and tape around the fumaroles and pools of boiling mud … which you go beyond at your peril.