Some 50km northwest of Kirkjubæjarklaustur via a rugged jeep track, Lakagígar –
the Laki Craters – are evidence of the most catastrophic volcanic event in Iceland’s recorded history. In June 1783, the earth here split into a 25km-long fissure that, over the next seven months, poured out a continuous thick blanket of poisonous ash and smoke, and enough lava to cover six hundred square kilometres. So thick were the ash clouds that they reached as far as northern Europe, where they caused poor harvests; in Iceland, however, there were no harvests at all, and livestock dropped dead, poisoned by eating fluorine-tainted grass. Over the next three years Iceland’s population plummeted by a quarter – through starvation, earthquakes and an outbreak of smallpox – to just 38,000 people, at which point the Danish government considered evacuating the survivors to Jutland.
Over two hundred years later, Lakagígar forms a succession of low, black craters surrounded by a still-sterile landscape, though the flows themselves are largely covered in a carpet of thick, spongy green moss. Pick of the scenery is on the journey in at Fagrifoss, the Beautiful Falls, and the view from atop Laki itself (818m), which takes
in the incomprehensible expanse of lava.