Sleipnir was one hell of a horse. Born of the eternally mischievous god Loki (while in the form of a seductive white mare, naturally) and Svaðilfari, the magical stallion of a stonemason-impersonating giant; and not limited to only four legs like others of his breed, this eight-legged beast was as smooth as silk and could transport his rider, Óðin, across land, water, air and even between the lands of the living and the dead. That’s enough to put Mr. Ed to shame.
Then one day, perhaps a little too confident of his fancy-walking abilities, Sleipnir totally dropped the ball and allowed one of his massive hooves to stomp down onto the earth, leaving an imprint a kilometre wide and more than three times as long. Today, the physical proof of this godly tale is the horseshoe shaped canyon Ásbyrgi.
Located in the north of Iceland, in the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, Ásbyrgi is a sight to behold and to experience. While being in a building with a whimsical shape— the penis mall, perhaps—doesn’t necessarily impact on the experience within said construction, hiking within Ásbyrgi truly feels like being miniaturized and wandering around the impression left by a horse in the mud. It’s no typical walk in the park. Meandering along the base of Eyjan, the platform-like island in the centre of Ásbyrgi, the bowl of the impressive canyon stretches on and on and, once the end of the island is reached, continues on and on in the opposite direction, completing the rough semi-circle. It’s as impressive as the horse that created it.
Adding to the mystique, the tall vertical stone faces of the canyon and the island are rumoured to constitute the capital city of the hidden folk. Imagine millions of little hidden eyes peering out at you as you navigate your way among the stretches of berry bushes and lush green trees and prepare to feel slightly creeped out. It doesn’t help matters that the canyon makes for some echoes of epic proportions, transforming the hum of yet-to-be-seen cars into eerie warbling sounds of spacecrafts coming from all directions.
If the fear of a monstrous horse returning, peeping-tom hidden folk and imaginary UFOs get to be too much and impede on your enjoyment of this gem in Iceland’s landscape, maybe forget all that and just look at Ásbyrgi from the scientific perspective: a big canyon carved out by the flooding of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum some 10,000 years ago. A less sensational tale, sure, but Ásbyrgi is sensation enough on its own.