Olive Murry Chapman, near Þingvellír, June, 1929
The Land of Frost and Fire
by Olive Murray Chapman
My summer reading was brightened by this travelogue, written by a young Englishwoman who, with little more than a phrasebook and oilskins and depending on the kindness of strangers, takes a trek across Iceland before there were proper roads and motor-coaches. She manages to hire local guides and horses (and an occasional lift from from a passing lorry) and travels throughout the country, including a sometimes harrowing trip from Snæfellsness to Akureyri and then on to Mývatn and Námaskard on horseback. When traveling in Iceland in the twenties it was necessary to ford numerous rivers, stay in small country houses, and tough it out through days of constant rain. Olive is up to the adventure, taking notes, pictures and sketching; this short book gives a great representation of what must have been a trip of a lifetime. She ends the book with a paragraph which expresses the feelings of so many who have visited Iceland:
...But, surely, she has cast her spell over me, as she invariably does over all wanderers who love the unbroken solitude of Nature, her vast open spaces, and the lure of the unknown—all this and more I found in Iceland, and I trust that, in these pages, I have been able to convey to my readers something, at least, of the indefinable air of mystery and romance I myself felt so keenly while passing through the heart of the Country.
Olive went on to publish more books, documenting her travels through Cyprus, Lapland and Madagascar.
If you'd like to read more from this most charming little book, W. D. Valgardson has been posting excerpts throughout July. Used copies are available, but beware of OCR scanned copies- I'm talking to you Amazon!