Iceland Adventure – A Visit to The Land of Fire and Ice
The Geography team have recently returned from an amazing fieldtrip to Iceland to start off their Summer holiday. Thirty two girls from the Lower Fifth and Upper Fifth GCSE Geography groups accompanied Mrs Buckley, Mrs Hamilton and Mrs Wallis on what has to be the experience of a lifetime. We all saw Iceland at its best with the sunshine bringing the beauty of the stark landscape to life and volcanoes and glaciers underpinning all our adventures.
We arrived early in the morning of July 10th just after 8:00 am and our route took us over fields of hardened lava and ash that created a lunar-type landscape. The contrast to our green fields of home was immediate and eventually we arrived at Gunnuhver hot springs. Here a geothermal area of bubbling mud hollows and steaming pools with their sulphurous smell made us all realise just how exciting and volcanically active this island is. Like all our investigations over the week there were lots of photo opportunities and without a doubt each stop created a real ‘wow’ factor.
The deserted port of Grindavik and miles of empty roads confirmed just how small the population of Iceland is even compared the Greater Manchester but we managed to find the pizza restaurant booked for our lunch. The afternoon was more leisurely as we relaxed at the well-known spa, the Blue Lagoon. This amazing mineral-rich lake formed from geothermal sea water reaches 37 Celsius and many of our party used the white silica mud as a face mask to benefit from its rich source of minerals. The sky slightly darkened and rain fell as we lazed in the milky aquamarine water, but cooled by rain water and warmed by a hot geothermal lake was a perfect combination.
Our first accommodation was Eldehestar a beautifully designed eco-friendly hotel. It was cosy inside considering it was surrounded by a rural wilderness and meadows of Icelandic flowers and grazing Icelandic horses. All windows were huge and the landscape and sky seemed to stretch forever, with wooden balconies and hot tubs outside it was easy to feel we were close to nature. The food had to be the best ever experienced on a fieldtrip and everyone enjoyed the luxury of this well designed hotel especially in the evening as daylight lasted into the small hours.
Our next day was themed ‘Ice, Waves and Waterfalls’ and it lived up to all its expectations. A high point of the holiday had to be putting on our crampons and clutching our ice picks as we went on our glacier walk across Solheimajokul glacier that flows from the Myrdalsjokull icecap. Icelandic and New Zealand guides led us through a wonderland of ice sculptures, ridges and deep crevasses. This was active geography at its best and no one could miss all the evidence that this glacier is retreating especially as water was flowing under the ice and cascading down cliffs of ice. It was a spectacular ice-carved landscape above but the cones of black ash covering sections of the ice constantly reminded us it was sitting on an active volcanic base.
Lunch was at the tiny southern coastal settlement of Vik, here Geographers experienced a true erosional coast with black basalt cliffs and impressively pointed stacks and the Dyrholaey arch. The black shingle beaches added to the drama and Mrs Buckley encouraged some serious field sketching of these physical features all exposed to the powerful onslaught of the Atlantic breakers. We also embraced some Human Geography and everyone went off to discover a few key buildings in the village to practice their map work and observational skills. We needed to know why such a remote wind-swept location should have attracted a relatively substantial settlement. Many Icelanders have second homes in Vik, and most of us could not imagine what it was like to survive here in in Winter especially with limited daylight hours.
The waterfalls we saw on our way back to Eldehestar were both impressive and challenging. Skogafoss saw the majority of us drenched in spray as the curtain of water thundered in to a deep plunge pool whilst clambering up all the steps to the top of this 60m high thundering force of water was also exhausting but worth the view. The coastal plain we had travelled along stretched far and wide below us and we could better appreciate it was originally the seabed. Our living classroom brought it all into perspective and helped us appreciate the steep escarpment we had climbed was the old fossil cliff line. The second waterfall Selandsfoss, spilled over 40 metre high cliffs and although a smaller fall was equally impressive as we all experienced the footpath that took us behind the cascade of water. We arrived back at the hotel exhausted and many ready to relax and play in the hot tubs against a sky streaked with gold and orange.
Day three saw us all enjoying an hour’s horse trek across Icelandic meadows around the hotel. Eldhestar is one of the leading horse-trekking companies in Iceland so even the beginners amongst us were supported by several Icelandic trainers encouraging us all the way. We all experienced the famous Icelandic tolting which is not quite a canter because the horses seem to glide and we just had to sit deep in our saddles. For many this was the most exciting moment taking some of us out of our comfort zone but most could not help falling in love with the beautiful horses and their sandy and tawny coats and bleached or tinted mains.
The rest of our time in the countryside had the theme of ‘Volcanic and Thermal landscapes’. We started by walking round the Keria Crater which dates back 6000 years and is huge at 170 metres wide and 270 metres across. An unplanned route through the Thingvellir National Park brought us close to the most beautiful expansive lake that mirrored the sky whilst icecaps glistened above the volcanic mountain range beyond. As Geographers, our memorable experience had to be our walk along the Mid Atlantic Ridge where the Eurasian and American plates are pulling apart a few centimetres a year and explaining so much about the Physical Geography of Iceland. The Gullfoss (Golden) waterfall is the most impressive of all waterfalls on Iceland and not to be missed. The enormous white glacial cascade drops 32 metres into a narrow canyon but we were particularly privileged because the fine spray from the cascade hangs in the air like drizzle and with the sun shining it formed a beautiful rainbow that crossed the falls. The adventure ended at the geyser centre where great fun was had waiting for Strokkur to erupt its forceful plume of steam skyward 15 metres. It happened every 8 minutes but still managed to saturate many of us aiming for that special shot.
We arrived at the Reykjavik City Hostel tired and excited for the next two nights of our stay. Alongside a campsite and city pool this was a much busier location, but relaxed and clean. Our first meal was at a new cool city venue ‘The Hambergershed’ and then we all walked back along the front promenade we could appreciate the spectacular setting for the Capital city.
Our final full day was spent on foot in the city of Reykjavik. Our aim was to appreciate its spacious layout of old pretty pastel buildings and modern clean glass and steel structures, the array of quality services and the growing importance of tourism. The 3 D model of Iceland at the City Hall was a good starting point, impressive in scale it helped us all realise we had only explored a small Southern section of this amazing island. Armed with questionnaires all the group interviewed tourists, carried out a price check to compare with more modest prices in the UK and captured the sense of place with an ethnography study where they recorded all their sensory reactions to their surroundings. Although more formal fieldwork activities did not dominate they helped the girls to understand the location beyond its buildings especially talking to over ten different nationalities in their visitor questionnaire. An impressive film about the Eyjafjallajokull eruption of 2011 allowed us all time to relax and witness second hand the impact this Icelandic volcano had had not only impacted locally but on the whole Northern hemisphere when so many airlines were grounded. Lunch and shopping gave everyone a window of welcome freedom in the City before ascending the basalt bell tower of the striking Church, Hallgrinmkirkja. Here we captured a birds-eye view of what appeared to us to be a small town but was in fact a very exciting Capital. The visit ended with fun in the geothermally heated Laugardalslaug Pool alongside our Hostel before a real Icelandic meal at the Grillhus restaurant.
We had not wasted any opportunity during our adventure and all the girls returned tired but with a wonderful overview of Iceland’s Geography and memories of this unique island that will last them a lifetime. They were a wonderful group to take, so positive and full of awe and wonder for the sights they beheld and the activities they experienced. It was a real privilege to share this with them. There really can be no other trip that involves such fun whilst learning so much about a truly spectacular environment!
Mrs J Buckley
Head of Geography