If one says “Rock Festival” to the average teenager images of a vile cacophony spring to mind. However in this case an infinitely more cerebral event was planned for Long Leave. A mixed party of eighteen geographers and geologists of all shapes and ages set of from School for a five day adventure to Iceland, aiming to taste some of the amazing volcanic and glacial scenery.
Our arrival at Keflavik airport was sufficiently late to leave little time to do more than be impressed with “The Tank”, an amazing four-wheel drive monster, which was to be our transport for the trip, and to meet our driver, the redoubtable Luli, who efficiently took us to our hotel base in Reykjavik.
Thursday dawned sometime after breakfast, by which time we were well on our way down the south coast, getting very excited about lava flows, geothermally heated greenhouses, and shopping centres with earthquake simulators and glassed-over fault fissures in the floor (The Friary will never seem the same!). Sophia, our guide, was a constant source of background information on all aspects of Geography, Geology, Natural History and local culture, making a perfect foil to the rather over-excited beards in the front of the bus. The weather was kind, giving us great views of the inland volcanoes such as Hekla and the Westmann Islands out to sea. We walked behind the amazing Seljalandsfoss waterfall, climbed up to the top of the stunning Stori-Dimon volcano, were soaked by Skogafoss falls and got very excited up on the snout of the Solheimajokull glacier. This was all rounded off with a very comfortable stay at Vik, where we were able to review the day’s wonders while sitting outside in rather sulphurous hot tubs, filled by local hot springs.
Friday was a coastal day looking at the black beaches, amazing basalt columns, stacks, arches, washed-out bridges and a scramble over a once-submarine eruption. We then headed back inland to visit a most inventive bit of agricultural diversification – a visitor centre run by a farm in the lee of the infamous Eyjafjallajokull volcano (which at least half the party can now pronounce) which caused so much chaos when it erupted in 2010. The real life stories told helped put a human face on things, making a pointed contrast to the more scientific view we had been holding up to that point. The day’s formal activities concluded with a tour round Reykjavik and a consideration of Iceland’s economic and political situation. However, after supper a selection of hearty souls set off in the chill evening air to explore the delights of the municipal swimming pool. This proved to be a great treat – with hot pools, splash areas, floating chess boards and slides in addition to steam rooms and a conventional lane-swimming area – all outside and wonderfully misty in the sub-zero temperatures.
Saturday took us inland along the famous Golden Circle to þingvellir, the seat of Europe’s oldest parliament and, to us, more importantly, the only place on Earth where a mid-ocean ridge can be seen at the surface. North America and Eurasia are being pulled inexorably apart, resulting in the formation of an amazing series of fault scarps bounding either side of a rift valley. As if this were not enough we went on to visit Geysir, the home of the eponymous gushing water jets, and Gullfoss, a stunningly majestic double waterfall. The day finished with a tour round the geothermal power plant where excellent interactive displays showed how Iceland is able to generate clean electricity from its natural resources producing a minimal carbon foot-print. The day concluded with farewells to Sophia and a very civilized meal in the old part of Reykjavik.
Unfortunately our last day on Iceland dawned decidedly damp and dreich. However, enthusiasm for the planned activities had everyone packed up (the odd rock, may have found its way into our baggage) and on the bus ahead of time and we set off through the rain for a tour round what turned out to be one of the most malodorous corners of the planet – Reykjanes. Just outside town, on the edge of an extensive lava desert, we stopped (briefly) at a set of evil smelling fish drying racks, before brief pauses at various geological honey-pots including decidedly primeval bubbling mud pools. Our final treat was a visit to the spa complex and tourist trap of the Blue Lagoon, for a long soak, steam and scrub before heading back to the prosaic realities of life in Surrey.
This was an amazingly successful trip in which everyone involved seemed to gain hugely from the experience – the memories of which will last forever. Many thanks are due to the group for being such keen and enthusiastic company, to RL for his expert guidance and organization and to AMY for keeping us all in order.
Gangi þér vel!