I love to plan and, when we finally decided on Iceland as our next travel destination, I began researching things to do. High on the list, from both guidebooks and traveller recommendations, was the Blue Lagoon, situated on the main road between Keflavik International Airport and Reykjavik. I was tipped off that it was necessary to book in advance and visited the website to buy tickets. This is when I found out that, for our chosen day and time, a trip for two would cost a total of £115, and that was for the basic option without the use of a towel or provision of a ‘complimentary’ drink. This seemed an awfully large amount of money to sit in a hot pool of water with hundreds of other tourists in an area, I had been told on the official site, was undergoing some construction work.
Fortunately, Mr S and I are of an equally penny watching persuasion and mutually decided that the Blue Lagoon was not for us. It was then time to find an alternative. This was far easier, and cheaper, than you might imagine.
Rather than completing the Golden Circle in the traditional manner, and returning in a loop via Selfoss to Reykjavik, our plan was to head along the south-east coast. This brought us passed Flúðir and the not entirely correctly named ‘Secret Lagoon’. Flúðir is a small township built in an area of geothermal activity. Down a poorly signed gravel side road, amidst incongruous greenhouses of tomatoes, lies the hot pool. Built in 1891, with the claim to be the oldest swimming pool in Iceland, it was designed to teach the local populace to swim. Iceland is a nation of fisherman and great efforts have been made over the last century to safeguard as many lives as possible in a dangerous profession. Today, modern Icelandic schoolchildren will not graduate without first demonstrating proficiency at swimming.
The pool in its current incarnation was refurbished in 2014 and boasts clean changing rooms and lockers, together with a small café bar and free provision of pool noodles. Although there were other visitors, there were significantly less than to be expected at the Blue Lagoon and for a fraction of the price (a total of £30 for the two of us). What felt particularly special about the Secret Lagoon was that it is fed by active geysers and it is possible to walk around these as part of your visit, with one spouting roughly every 10 minutes. With the heat source so near the pool the water is upwards of 40 degrees Celsius and hotter in places, with a black gravel bottom adding to the natural feel. We left feeling both relaxed and invigorated, and not too out of pocket.
Our second hot pot experience also styles itself as secret but that ship too has sailed. Seljavallalaug, reached via a bumpy gravel track just west of Skogarfoss waterfall on Road 1, the main ring road around the island, is a free hot pool, built in to the mountainside in 1923. The setting is spectacular; after a good 10 to 15 minutes hike from the end of the track, a simple stone changing hut and unsettling murky green waters appear from around a rocky outcrop to greet the intrepid traveller.
We ran a marathon the Sunday before out trip and I was little worried about exposing my wounded feet to the pool which is apparently only cleaned once a year. After some deliberation I decided that I did not want to miss out on the experience and took the plunge. To my amazement, the next morning my cuts and blisters were significantly improved. Perhaps there’s something else hidden in the water than my imagined lurking monsters. Come early enough in the morning and you will have the place to yourself, otherwise be prepared, the secret is out.
The third pool on my list is not one you can bathe in, at least I didn’t want to chance being told off for entering what claims to be the oldest man-made structure in Iceland. With stones dating from the 10th century, Snorralaug or Snorri’s Pool is part of the historic farmstead of Snorri Sturluson, one of the authors of the Sagas, in the tiny settlement of Reykholt. If you are headed west or north from Reykjavik it is worth a detour from the ring road. As well as the pool the site includes the stone walls of Snorri’s farmhouse and a pretty 19th century church built over the much older remains of a metal working forge.
After visiting Reykholt we spent the night at Hverinn campsite in nearby Kleppjarnsreykjum. There we continued our watery adventures with a visit to the municipal outdoor swimming pool, which cost less than £4 each. The pool is heated by the local hot spring and admission included access to a hot tub and use of some well worn goggles. We were the only people there. Such facilities can be found for a similar price throughout Iceland, a pleasing demonstration of the continued importance of swimming to this island nation.