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En route from Akureyrie to Myvatn, we took a little time out for what I might just start to call Fossicking. Exploring waterfalls. A Foss (or Force in English) is obviously a waterfall, and I wonder if the rush of water is where the original mining term fossick originated?
But I digress…
A thousand years ago, Thorgeir, Chieftain of the Ljosavatn district and Lawspeaker of the Althing had to decide whether Icelanders would adopt the Christian faith.
They were under a certain amount of pressure to do so by their Norwegian overlords, so he may not have had that free a choice in the matter. When his decision was ratified however, he knew that a grand gesture was called for to reinforce all that it meant. Or maybe he'd secretly hoped the vote would go against him and was just having a bit of a strop. Either way he went home, took out the wooden statues of his pagan gods and threw them in the nearest waterfall. And so the 12 metre high fall on the Skjalfandafljot river acquired the name: Godafoss (Fall of the Gods).
By no means the largest, widest, highest or in any other quantifiable way most impressive fall in Iceland, Godafoss is nevertheless often credited with being the most beautiful.
The main fall is a 30 metre arc, a split horse-shoe with twin towers breaking the mid-point, themselves torn by a central cleft. The waters are still above the drop, and quickly calm below it, before immediately regaining turbulence as they head towards the narrower, less appreciated Geitafoss a few metres downstream.
Looking upstream Godafoss displays its virginal curtains against a backdrop of brooding moor and low-lying hills. Even on a gloomy day, it's easy to see what a cloud break, a Jacob's ladder or rainbow would do to the scene. Oh, to see it frozen at midwinter!
We made do with artistic moodiness however.
If you read any of the psychology of human well-being, you will quickly discover the importance of water in our spiritual (or if you prefer, emotional) health. We need to see water, be close to it, hear its movements in streams or waves or rainfall. Many theories are put forward to explain why this should be, most of them centring around the basic survival requirements of our physiology. We cannot survive more than a day or two without water, therefore being close to it is comforting.
For me it's more powerful than that. In fact, it is the sheer POWER of water that entrances and intrigues me. I can watch water falling over a weir for hours on end, hypnotised by the changing light, fascinated by thoughts of the tiny changes being wrought in the rocks below. Scale that up to a full force… and, well, let's just say I'm a tad biased about waterfalls.
Clearly I'm not the only one though. A large car-park serves the falls, together with a café/shop with the usual facilities, giving the clear impression that this is a regular tourist stop. A camp site suggests that I may be wrong in my suspicion that most visitors spend as little time here as we did – less than an hour or so.
As an independent traveller, I could easily spend a day or two on these banks. There is easy access both above and below the falls on both banks with the road and a footbridge crossing the river.
On a dry day, it is a stunning spot for a day's picnicking and poetry, or photography, or painting. It is a place to ramble about, walk up river and back again. Then do the same on the other bank. On a moody or wet day, the walking might take precedence over stiller pursuits, but it is impossible not to be inspired to some form of creativity by the place.
Tourist trap or not, you can feel its isolation. The rush of water diminishes any notion we might have of man's ability to control the planet. Wash-cut caverns form natural mini-cathedrals under the banks. Volcanic rock shines deeply black against the white rush, the ancients holding strong against the transient. With the occasional interlope of luminous green moss.
If you analyse it, there is actually nothing here. Just a few rocks and a river.
And it is still enough to make many of us follow Henry Davies' exhortation to take the time "to stand and stare".
Where is it?
Impossible to miss, Godafoss lies directly adjacent to Route 1 (the island's ring road) about half way between Akureyrie and Myvatn (about 50km from either). It's well sign-posted.
Buses do serve the area, but on a very restricted schedule – private car hire or taxi will give you more flexibility. Like many places in Iceland, forward-planning is essential. Check out the tourist information in Akureyrie for best options.
Not worth going all the way to Iceland to see... but if you're in the neighbourhood...!