During the Easter Holidays the Geography Department enjoyed taking 34 IV Form and Shell pupils on the biennial expedition to Iceland. The weather was kind to us, and we enjoyed mostly sunny days. The blue skies and relative warmth show the spectacular and dramatic landscapes and experiences off so well.
Our adventures started the moment the Air Iceland flight from Glasgow touched down – we were straight into a coach driving across miles of flat black lava plains and on our way into Reykjavik – the capital city, and to their outdoor municipal swimming pool. Their air temperatures were some -15C, but the water was beautifully warm, being naturally heated by geothermal water coming up from depths in the volcanically active earth below. A few tried the ice-bath (most finding it barely possible to stay in it even for a complete second!), with the bubbling hot intake of geothermal water more popular! From there we went on to our first hotel, where all had great fun sleeping in pine-wood chalets, noting the strong sulphur smell of the hot geothermal water tapped into the bathrooms. The striking Viking theme in the underground restaurant was fun, and the locally caught Icelandic Fish with chips was a success. Everyone slept very well, glowing from the adventures they had already had, and looking forward to the next.
There was more blue sky and sunshine the next morning, when we were shown around the inner working of one of the several geothermal power stations in Iceland, and onto an earthquake simulator (in one of the local shopping centers), before heading out to one of Iceland's main glaciers to don crampons, hard hats, and ice axes. We hiked along the glacier exploring its moraines, crevasses, and surfaces in small groups, each being led by a glacier expert. The scenery was beautiful, as heavy snow showers punctuated the otherwise blue sky and sunshine; and the sights, sounds and smells will stay with us all.
There is no space to explain every adventure enjoyed on this expedition, but I will mention a few more that were main highlights to many. The next few days were spent travelling along the south coast road. Many a lava field was crossed, following the flat risen plains formed from raised lava fields across which many spectacular waterfalls (some with just a trickle, others with vast volumes of water) cascade spectacularly. Many a land-slip was also observed. We arrived at our second destination just in time to enjoy the spectacular black volcanic coastal beaches and landforms at sunset. We rose early in the morning to enjoy them at sun-rise also; and the Northern Lights showed up during the night, although we did find it difficult to rouse the pupils to show them, they were so exhausted from their first two days already!
Next we proceeded further East, through one of my favourite places where at a wide flat fluvial outwash plain there is the sight of four glaciers descending from their valleys on their way to the sea. Our destination was a glacial lagoon where large blocks of glacier ice break off from the snouts of glaciers, fall into the lagoon (one of which caused a mini tidal wave from which spectators had to flee), and begin to float out to sea. The silence of the vast landscape experienced here is impactful. A walk along the estuary to where the lagoon flows into the sea, was met with an amazing site on the beach - large blocks of icebergs are washed back onto the beach by the waves, glistening like diamond jewels in the sunshine, particularly spectacular against the black volcanic lava sand.
The next day, we set off for the ‘golden triangle’, first to the ‘Secret Lagoon’ where we enjoyed swimming in a natural outdoor pool where we had to be careful where we swam as several streams were a constant feed of water to this lagoon, all entering at 100C! It is not surprising that on every horizon we saw glowing greenhouses (all heated by the naturally upwelling hot water), that provide Iceland with a good supply of vegetables, salad crops, and fruit. Other highlights on this day included the spouting geyser, which is due to spout every five or so minutes. Catching this on camera is far from easy, and ensuring none of the pupils accidentally wander too close to the 100C water rising some 30m into the air and being blown laterally by the wind is quite a task! Other highlights included a waterfall that would rival Niagara or the Victoria Falls. And Thingvellir National Park where we walked along the chasm between the Eurasia Plate and the North American Plate where they come together here on land, and one can stand astride, with one foot on each tectonic plate.
That evening we stayed at a rural farmstead, where each year group had a separate lodge, each with a large outdoor hot tub. The pupils so enjoyed this experience both prior to supper as the sun went down, and then in the dark after supper under a starry sky.
We keep all our expeditions active and busy. This can mean waking up the pupils in the middle of the nigh should the Northern Lights show is a big challenge – and this night was no exception. The staff were woken up by the night watchman at about 2am to say the northern lights were showing. First one had to negotiate a roughly ploughed field covered in about a foot of snow to get the other side of the farm buildings to get the best view. Having checked the showing, one then had to navigate back again to wake the pupils. At last one was roused, who roused the others, and some spectacular photos were then obtained, and life-experience had which will be long remembered.
On the final day our plans were thwarted by bad weather such that the ferry was cancelled preventing us from reaching the active volcano of Eldfell on the Island of Hiamaey which last erupted in 1973. We instead travelled beyond the rain storms to enjoy specular waterfalls that we could walk behind, and another hidden in a cave.
As the expedition proceeded I would occasionally ask one or other pupil whether they were enjoying themselves. Responses such as ‘I can hardly believe I am here’, and ‘I am so looking forward to what still has to come', makes all the effort of organizing and running such expeditions well worthwhile. Also the looks of elation on the pupils’ faces when enjoying the novelty of the experience of the hot tubs under the icy cold Icelandic air and starry sky, with the glow of the Northern lights in the background. A big thankyou to the whole team of staff involved in this expedition being such a success: Dr Bower and Major Ewing (joint leaders), and to Rev. Blair, Mrs Darling, and Dr Pettigrew.
Many a memory and photograph will continue to be treasured for many many years to come, by everyone of the expedition team.