Lón is a glacial river valley whose 30km-wide estuary is framed by Eystrahorn and Vestrahorn, two prominent spikes of granite to the east and west. The central Jökulsá i Lóni is a typical glacial flow, its broad gravel bed crisscrossed by intertwined streams that are crystal clear and shallow in winter but flow murky and fast with increased snowmelt in summer. A sandbar across the mouth of the bay has silted the estuary up into lagoons – lón in Icelandic – with good trout fishing, thousands of whooper swans nesting on the eastern side below Eystrahorn, and reindeer herds descending from the upper fells in winter.
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Halfway across Lón and just east of the river, a short road off the Ringroad heads inland to Stafafell, comprising a couple of farm buildings, a hostel and an unassuming church, surrounded by birch trees. The site was consecrated a generation after the tenth-century Norwegian missionary Þangbrand – armed with a sword, and a crucifix instead of a shield – killed Stafafell’s pagan owner in a duel and went on to spread the Christian message across Iceland, surviving attacks by sorcery and a berserker in the process. His activities divided the country and finally forced the Alþing to restore unity by accepting Christianity as the national religion in 1000.
The highlands inland from Stafafell are known as Lónsöræfi, the Wilderness of Lón, an unspoiled area of streams, moor and fractured rhyolite hills, capped by Vatnajökull’s eastern edge (though this is invisible from the main road). Now incorporated into a private reserve accessed through Stafafell farm, Lónsöræfi is beautiful hiking country, where you could spend anything from a few hours to several days on remote tracks – or even hike north through to Snæfell, near Egilsstaðir.