Iceland Geography Tour 2017
Day 1: Friday 31st March. There was an air of excitement as 32 students and staff assembled outside Senior School early in the morning, ready to set off on 5 days of adventure in Iceland. Passports checked and bags loaded we departed for Heathrow and our first day of activities. After a smooth flight we landed at Keflavik and unpacked our full waterproofs in preparation for a few hours underground. Despite a few nerves and claustrophobic tendencies everyone successfully negotiated the narrow lava tubes hidden beneath the Reykjanes peninsula, created during previous volcanic eruptions. We walked, crouched and eventually crawled on our stomachs through the frozen labyrinth marveling in the extraordinary rock formations created by the cooling lava flows. We eventually emerged back into the snow-dusted landscape in bright, late afternoon sunshine. Invigorated by the experience we set off for Reykjavik and the Hotel Cabin for some much needed food and an early night...
Day 2: Saturday 1st April. We were joined by our wonderful guide Simon, who was soon captivating everyone on the trip with his geographical facts, "troll-related" stories and Icelandic charm! It was set to be a day filled with impressive landscapes: soon we were enveloped by towering volcanoes, glaciers and spectacular waterfalls, where we attempted to get the best "rainbow" photos and avoid a complete drenching. The Eyjafjalljökull visitor centre provided us with a quick top-up of geography in the form of a film, where the husband and wife who owned the farm told us about their experiences of just 7 years ago during the dramatic eruption which stopped global air traffic. The realisation that we were setting beneath a very active and dangerous volcano dawned as we emerged from the centre and continued on our way to towering waterfalls (in excess of 60m) of Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. Their impressive nature is down to changing sea levels and the fact that they both plunge over what were once the sea cliffs of Iceland's south coast. Most of our group chose to make the 7 storey climb up the side of Skogafoss and waterproofs were given their first proper testing when we ventured behind Seljalandsfoss (recently made famous in a Justin Bieber video!) Astoundingly it was only just after lunch time when we set off for the biggest challenge of the day - our glacier walk, on the toe of the Solheimajokull glacier. Once we had listened to our safety briefing, donned our crampons and picked up our ice axes we set off into the unknown. Passing signs which stated "danger of death beyond this point" certainly heightened the sense of adventure and it was truly impressive to witness how attentive everyone became to our wonderful mountain guides. Having trekked for an hour up onto the blackened glacier (ash from both recent Katla and Eyjafjalljökull eruptions dusted the glacier), we enjoyed using our axes to chip away pristine chunks of ice to suck as refreshment. Finally it was time to head back to our coach and off into the wilds of the South Coast and our hotel at Dyrholaey. Could it really only be the end of day 2? There was much excitement during the evening as we waited and hoped for a glimpse of the northern lights. At around 11pm we were greeted with a glimmer of green across the darkened skies, but alas the cloud cover was too great for much more.
Day 3: Sunday 2nd April. We awoke to discover that today we would be testing the Icelandic saying that "there is no bad weather in Iceland, only bad clothing!" Undaunted by the storm raging outside we set off for the black, volcanic beaches of Reynishverfi. It would appear that it takes more than torrential rain and storm force winds to stop TH girls from having fun. We still posed for photos next to the hexagonal basaltic columns and in the sea caves and could just about make out the impressive sea stacks and rock arches of the Dyrholaey Door. It was good to stop off at Vik for some retail therapy and we left the gift shops having done our bit to boost the Icelandic economy. Our next adventure was to be equine-based and involved a stop at Eldhestar to ride the "volcano horses". Unfortunately due to the continuing damp conditions we modelled a rather unfaltering set of orange-waterproofs for this activity. Following our tolting we headed westwards towards the town of Hveragerdi better known as 'Herdi Gerdi'. This thermal town provided us with a taste of the power of Iceland's seismic shaking with its earthquake simulator, which captures the Olfus quake of 2008 which registered at 6.6 on the Richter scale. There was much nervous squealing as groups of 4 squeezed into the shed-like simulator, but this quickly turned into fits of laughter. Having arrived back at Hotel Cabin, we decided not to let tiredness win and took a quick stroll down to the harbour side but alas, still the northern lights we evading us!
Day 4: Monday 3rd April. Early weather forecasts suggested that snow was on its way as we went across the mountain pass to Kerid, the strato-volcano that erupted 3,500 years ago. Then it was on to the awe-inspiring power of Gullfoss, followed by videoing and capturing pictures of "the bubble" of the geysir, Strokkur, which erupts every 5-7 mins. Next it was a surprise stop at a dairy farm where we indulged in delicious ice-cream, whilst being able to see the cows through glass windows – definitely an good example of how to reduce your food miles! Finally it was Thingvellir and its plate tectonics; being able to stand with one foot either side of the continental rift – literally standing on both the Eurasian and North American plates at the same time, so it was goose bumps for those that really appreciated the enormity of this. Deep gorges, the first parliament meeting place in 930AD, crystal clear cold waters and more troll stories. On returning to our hotel we spent a little time reviewing our adventures and there was a presentation of Geography certificates. Staff were able to congratulate every student on their exemplary behaviour and students kindly showed their appreciation towards the staff for organising and accompanying the trip. We concluded our final evening with a stroll along Reykjavik’s harbourside to watch the sunset and go in search of warming hot chocolates.
Day 5: Tuesday 4th April. We departed Reykjavik with a little sadness, having said goodbye to our wonderful and truly entertaining guide Simon. It was a whirlwind sightseeing tour of a few key landmarks which included the impressive basalt columned designed Hallgrimskirkja Church to see the huge array of organ pipes, it's window at the alter which looked out to the flat table topped mountains and the beautiful simplistic Lutheran style of interior. Finally we popped into Perlan. It is a hot water storage building which comprises of cylinder tanks with a glass dome perched on top. We were able to walk around the outside of the hemisphere dome and see stunning views of Reykjavik and the surrounding scenery through the falling snowflakes. At last this meant we were on our way to the Blue Lagoon – technically the cooling water from a geothermal power station but now the much acclaimed thermal spa. Girls and staff were able to soak away the rigors of the last 5 days, reminisce and generally relax.
What a fantastic trip to end my time as Head of Geography at Talbot Heath. The girls were fabulous and a real credit to school; but I must also thank their parents for giving them the opportunity to participate and the staff who gave up part of their holiday to accompany the trip – Mrs Atkins, Mrs Milward and Mrs McDonald. We eagerly await what Mrs Atkins will put in place for our next Geography Tour in 2019 – one thing is for sure – you don’t want to miss out!