Featuring the most desolate terrain found in Iceland, Sprengisandur is the bleak highland desert east between Hofsjökull – the rounded ice cap marking Iceland’s geographical centre – and Vatnajökull’s northwestern front. Although providing something of a corridor in Viking times between Iceland’s northeastern settlements and the summer parliament at Þingvellir, crossing Sprengisandur was always a tough journey, the desert flooded in spring with melting snow and ice, yet too dry in summer to provide any grazing for horses. Indeed, most travellers preferred to take much longer coastal roads, and Sprengisandur was eventually abandoned as a route during the thirteenth century.
Traversed today by the F26, which begins northeast of Hekla and runs some 244km across the desolate, icy plateau between Hofsjökull and Vatnajökull to the Ringroad at Goðafoss, the Sprengisandur route remains a challenging one, whose unbridged rivers and stark scenery provide an insight into medieval Iceland’s harsh living conditions. The enduring image here is of nothingness: the glaciers and mountains that fringe the horizon seem a long way off, and the space in between is filled with mile after mile of grey sand, stones and rocks that have lain untouched for thousands of years.