Bagley’s Iceland by road, air and sea

Desmond Bagley's Running Blind route map © HarperCollins Publishers.

A unique annotated map of Iceland, sent by Desmond Bagley to his editor in March 1970, has recently been discovered in the archives of HarperCollins Publishers. The map identifies locations mentioned in Bagley’s seventh published novel Running Blind and marks the protagonists journey around the island.

A week after Bagley submitted the final draft of Running Blind to his publishers, he wrote to his editor, Robert Knittel, enclosing an annotated map of Iceland, which detailed the locations mentioned in the text of the novel. He envisaged that a map would be published with the novel and also wrote some explanatory notes for the benefit of the Collins cartographer.

Desmond Bagley's Running Blind route map © HarperCollins Publishers.

Notes to go with Map of Iceland

1. In all words ‘Þ’ to be transliterated as ‘th’
2. Similarly ‘Ð’ to be transliterated as ‘D’ and ‘ð’ as ‘d’.
3. All words ending in ‘vatn’ indicates a lake and the lake is to be shown. The sole exception is Laugarvatn.
4. All names ending in ‘jokull’ indicates an ice field and the extent of the glaciated area should be shown as indicated on the map.
5. All place names mentioned in the text are ringed in green; these should be shown. Important to the story are Asbyrgi, Budarhals, Geysir, Laugarvatn, Vík, Keflavík, Reykjavík, Akureyri and the lake of Thingvallavatn. While the green ringed names are the only ones mentioned in the text, for the sake of completeness it would be desirable for the artist to put in other placements and geographical features insofar as this does not clutter things up too much.
6. The route taken by the protagonist is marked in green and, generally, goes clockwise around Iceland as indicated. [1]

In the event, a map wasn’t published with the first edition, though a location map drawn by the illustrator and author David Yeadon, was included in the American edition of the novel and the Danish edition of the novel also included a map of Iceland.

Desmond Bagley Running Blind Iceland USA Edition Map © HarperCollins Publishers.


The map Bagley sent to his editor was a 2nd revised edition of the ‘Shell Ísland vegakort / Iceland touring’ road map published in 1964, and was most likely acquired by the author for his 1969 research trip to the country. During that period three fuel companies provided Icelandic road maps as marketing material: Esso; BP; and Shell, the latter being licensed by the Icelandic company Skeljungur HF.

As Bagley indicated in his notes, the route taken by his protagonist, Alan Stewart, was marked in green and generally ran in a clockwise direction around the country. To some extent this would have been the actual route that Bagley himself took with his wife Joan when they visited on that initial research trip from Tuesday 22nd July until Saturday 16th August 1969. What follows is a navigation record of the route in more detail.

The journey starts at Keflavík, the site of Iceland’s international airport, and places ringed in green by Bagley on his map are marked in green in the below text.

Leaving Keflavík by highway 41 turning south on highway 43 Víkurbraut to Grindavík where the route goes east on highway 427, Austurvegur / Suðurstrandarvegur. The route then follows highway 42 north to Krísuvík and onwards to the lake of Kleifarvatn, doubling back to highway 427. The route continues east along highway 427 Suðurstrandarvegur until Herdísarvík where the route then follows the unpaved 380 Hlíðarendavegur around the lake of Hlíðarvatn all the way until its junction with highway 39 Þrengslavegur.

Desmond Bagley's Running Blind route map - Kleifarvatn extract © HarperCollins Publishers.

The route follows highway 39 north and then takes an off-road [now illegal] detour across Bláfjöll, (the location of a popular Ski resort) to the junction of the 417 and 407, the 407 being the access road to the Ski centre. The craters of Leiti and Syðri Eldborg are just to the north-east of Bláfjöll (Syðri Eldborg sounds most likely as the location which Bagley describes for the disposal of Lindholm’s body), continuing  north on the 417 joining the main ring road, highway 1, where the route continues west on highway 49 to Reykjavík, finishing at the Hotel Saga. Circled on the map near Reykjavík are the towns of both Kopavogur and Hafnarfjörður.

From Reykjavík arrows marked BY AIR – REYKJAVÍK TO AKUREYRI, show the air route, which passes over the glacier of Langjökull and further north, the town of Hvammstangi.

The route continues overland from Akureyri across the other side of Eyjafjörður on highway 829 Eyjafjarðarbraut eystri, which from the town would have been reached by the 821 Eyjafjarðarbraut vestri, crossing the river near Kaupangur. The route then follows highways 828 and 832 Vaðlaheiðarvegur to Skógar. When the route reaches the 833 the track cuts directly across to highway 836 Vaglaskógarvegur to Háls and then on to highway 1 Þjóðvegur.

Desmond Bagley's Running Blind route map Myvatn extract © HarperCollins Publishers.

Travelling east past Ljósavatn before turning north on highway 85 (old 870) Norðausturvegur. Highway 85 turns sharply right, left and then right again in an S shape, crossing the Skjálfandafljot, where it then meets the junction of highway 845 at Tjörn. The route then goes north along highway 85 through the town of Húsavík. (Circled at the top of the map is the island of Grímsey).

The route continues along highway 85 following the coast around the headland of Tjörnes heading south to the inlet of Lónsós, taking the southern route around the inlet and rejoining highway 85. The route then reaches Ásbyrgi after the junction of highway 862 via the 861.

From Ásbyrgi the route heads south along highway F862, circled along this route are the waterfalls of Dettifoss and Selfoss. From Selfoss the route heads south towards highway 1 on the older Noröurfjöll [F862] highway to the west of highway 862. At highway 1 the route heads east, away from Mývatn which is circled on the map, and then south along highway F88 alongside the Jökulsá á Fjöllum, with Möðrudalur circled on the map to the east, towards the mountain of Herðubreið, which is also circled on the map, as is the area of the central highlands known as the Ódáðahraun.

Desmond Bagley's Running Blind route map - Askja extract © HarperCollins Publishers.

From Herðubreið the route continues along highway F88 with Dyngjufjöll, to the west approaching the mountain hut at Drekagil, joining the F910. Between Askja and Dyngjujökull (the outlet glacier of the Vatnajökull glacier, circled on the map) the route diverts [see important note below] from the F910 south-west across the rivers of Holuhraun joining with the track passing Urðarháls with Trölladyngja circled to the north and Hofsjökull circled to the west.

The journey continues along the Vonarskarð tracks to the south of the F910, with both Bárðarbunga (the Stratovolcano) and Köldukvíslarjökull (another outlet glacier of Vatnajökull) to the south-east. Joining the F26 Sprengisandsleið the route passes the hut at Versalir (a guesthouse and restaurant since 1987) where it continues past Þórisvatn along the F26 Sprengisandsleið with Búðarháls and Tungnaá circled along the route. Continuing along the F26 as far as Martenstunga the route diverts to take in the lakes of Gíslholtsvötn, before heading southwest on highway 284 to join highway 1.

Desmond Bagley's Running Blind route map Buderhals extract © HarperCollins Publishers.

The route follows highway 1 through the town of Selfoss and then follows highway 35, with the town of Hveragerði to the west, circled on the map. Turning left on highway 37 the route stops at the town of Laugarvatn also circled on the map.

From Laugarvatn the route heads north on highway 37 to Geysir. The waterfall of Gullfoss, north-east of Geysir, is mentioned in passing in the novel but does not feature in the protagonists journey and is therefore not shown on the map. The route then heads back down towards Laugarvatn before turning onto highway 365 towards Þingvellir. Both the lake of Þingvallavatn and Þingvellir, the site of the Alþingi (the Icelandic Parliament) are circled on the map.

Desmond Bagley's Running Blind route map - Geysir extract © HarperCollins Publishers.

The route joins highway 36 Þingvallavegur following an anti-clockwise direction around the lake of Þingvallavatn, joining highway 360 Grafningsvegur Efri heading towards the southern side of the lake. At the junction with highway 36 the route heads south and then follows highway 351 east past Búrfell to the junction of highway 35. The route then follows highway 35 Biskupstungnabraut north returning to the town of Laugarvatn via highway 37.

The route then retraces the journey from Laugarvatn to Selfoss via highways 37 and 35, where it rejoins highway 1 Suðurlandsvegur. Following highway 1 south-east through the town of Hella, which is circled on the map, the route continues onto the town of Hvolsvöllur. To the east of Hvolsvöllur the location of Hlíðarendi is circled (Fljótshlíð in Hlíðarendi was the home of Gunnar Hámundarson, one of the most memorable characters in the Icelandic Saga Njál’s Saga), though circled the route does not take in this location and instead continues south along highway 1 
before branching off south-west on highway 255 Akureyjarvegur to Bergþórshvoll. Bergþórshvoll, also circled, is an important setting in Njál’s Saga, the home
 and scene of the final burning of Njáll Þorgeirsson and his entire family.

Desmond Bagley's Running Blind route map Hella extract © HarperCollins Publishers.

Following highway 252 Landeyjavegur the route heads south-east on highway 253 to the junction of the 251, then north-east on highway 251. The route continues north-east crossing the current highway 1 onto highway 250 Dímonarvegur. Along the 250 (approximately half way between highways 1 and 261) the route crosses the Markarfljót river north of Storidalaur in the area of the old highway 248. The route then follows highway 249 south past Gljúfrafoss to highway 1 where it continues to Vík í Mýrdal.

From Vík arrows marked BY SEA – VÍK TO KEFLAVÍK, show the sea route, which passes the Vestmannaeyjar (Westmann Islands) and the island of Surtsey. The sea route finishes at Keflavík where the journey started.

Important Notes

For those intrepid travellers thinking of visiting Iceland and contemplating following this route, it is crucial they understand that this map was produced in 1964 and annotated in 1970. Parts of the route mentioned are now considered off-road, and all off-road driving and driving outside of marked tracks is prohibited by law in Iceland. The diverse nature of Iceland is one of the principal attractions for travellers, however the land is fragile in many places. Reckless driving can cause so much harm to the natural environment that it could take years and even decades to reverse the damage, as the soil in Iceland is volcanic and therefore very loose. Consequently, the wheels of vehicles and other means of transport easily leave deep tracks in the soil. These tracks disfigure the appearance of the land and can also become channels for water, thus advancing soil erosion and the denudation of vegetation. Off-road tyre tracks also attract the attention of other travellers and can encourage others to drive off-road. Failure to comply with this law can attract personal fines of up to ISK 500 000 (roughly equivalent to £3,100 at the time of writing) and in some cases imprisonment.

A 4×4 vehicle is essential for driving in the highlands, where you might encounter rough terrain and unbridged waters, and car rental insurance will not cover any damage to the vehicle caused by crossing rivers or any body of water. Highland roads are closed during winter, with poor weather conditions sometimes causing these roads to be closed during other seasons as well. For some mountain tracks it is strongly advised that two or more cars travel together. The old Gæsavatnaleið route through the Ódáðahraun has changed due to lava flows from the 2014/15 Holuhraun eruption, which produced a new lava field of more than 85 km2. It is essential that you remain on marked roads and use up to date road maps to organise your trip before starting.

Before attempting a similar journey it is essential that you read the following advice from the Icelandic Transport Authority and Safe Travel Iceland. Drivers should also check to see if highland roads are likely to be open or closed prior to starting their journey. Information about road conditions can be obtained by phoning 1777, whilst in the country, or by visiting the website of the Icelandic Road Administration.

When Bagley visited Iceland in 1969 visiting tourists numbered approximately 40,000. Official tourist figures recorded 2,224,600 visitors during 2017, growing at an average yearly rate of 24.3% since 2010. The Icelanders love guests coming to their country and believe that the tourism industry must grow in accordance with both the society and nature. Inspired by Iceland promote the Icelandic Pledge, which are good thoughts to have in mind when visiting the country.

The Icelandic Pledge

I pledge to be a responsible tourist.

When I explore new places,
I will leave them as I found them.

I will take photos to die for,
Without dying for them.

I will follow the road into the unknown,
But never venture off the road.

And I will only park where I am supposed to.

When I sleep out under the stars,
I’ll stay within a campsite.

And when nature calls,
I won’t answer the call on nature.

I will be prepared for all weathers,
All possibilities and all adventures.

Discover more about the various locations mentioned in the novel and those locations used during the filming of the BBC Scotland tv adaptation.


Map Images © & courtesy of David Brawn and Dawn Sinclair, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

[1] Bagley, D. Personal correspondence to Robert Knittel, Collins Publishers, London dated 23rd March 1970 from the Desmond Bagley Collection, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University: Unpublished.