Iceland Trip 2017

This February saw the inaugural geography department visit to Iceland. 20 sixth formers and 2 staff set off, with great expectations, to explore the ‘land of fire & ice’. Thankfully, this amazing country did not disappoint.

On arrival in Reijavik we were straight into exploration mode.

First stop the Reykjanes Peninsula. We drove past lava fields and crater rows to the Bridge between Continents, spanning a fissure acknowledged to be the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Crossing this symbolic bridge, students witnessed the effects of continental drift.  Much fun was had standing between two gigantic tectonic plates and exploring the moon like landscapes in the area. From here we headed out to Reykjanesviti, Iceland’s oldest lighthouse, standing in the shadow of Mt. Valahnukur. Built in 1878 it overlooks a magical stretch of coastline where we marvelled at the indented cliff sides at crashing waves. As the sea mist lifted the full extent of the variety of coastal features were revealed allowing us to see the striking, near-cylindrical island Eldey, wave cut platforms, stacks and stumps. Our final visit of the day was to Gunnuhver Geothermal Reserve. Here we walked amongst mud pools and steam vents, inhaling the unique aromas accompanying the other worldly landscapes. That evening we decided to sample the delights of the small harbour town of Hafnarfjörður where we were staying. After a lovely, bracing walk to the harbour we took in the sights before settling down for an interesting meal in a local eatery.

 Iceland     Iceland

An early start to day 2 saw use head to the ‘Secret Lagoon’, a naturally heated pool where the temperature is heated to 30 – 400 C. Here we were able to enjoy some welcome R&R before the busy day ahead. The famous ‘Golden Circle’ was our destination. After taking in the awe and power of Gulfoss, a double drop waterfall that plunges 33m into a mile long gorge, we headed to Geysir. The impressive ‘Strokkur’ geyser wowed us with its regular displays before we headed off to Þingvellir. This National Park, where Iceland’s parliament was established in 930AD, straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, its rift valley forming where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates pull apart at an average of 3cm a year. It is only one of two places in the world where such a phenomenon can be seen on land. Our last tectonic landform of the day was Kerid. A near cylindrical crater lake formed by an impressive volcanic eruption. Our accommodation on this evening was a rustic local guesthouse, equipped with hot tubs. For the students sitting in an outdoor hot tub with snow falling was certainly something they won’t forget!

 Iceland   Iceland  Iceland

Water was the subject matter for day 3. Whether that be fresh, salt or frozen – we experienced it all. A fresh covering of snow enticed some playful antics before heading off towards the south coast. Driving through the Eyjafjallajökull flood plain that was affected by the famous 2010 eruption we headed towards the relic cliffs that are home to waterfalls of Gljúfrabúi and Seljalandsfoss. Hidden inside a gorge the former provided much entertainment as students had to hop over stepping stones to reach its base. Seljalandfoss was easier to reach and walking behind the waterfall allowed us to appreciate the sheer power that was evident. The last waterfall of the day was Skogafoss. The top of one of Iceland’s iconic waterfalls is reached by an epic climb up some rather wobbly steps. This coupled with the blowy conditions made it a slightly nervy trip but everyone made it up and marvelled at the views from the top. Next stop the Sólheimajökull Glacier. Impressive in both size and beauty students were able to clamber over moraines and go right up to the snout. For many this was the first time they had seen or touched a glacier, let alone appreciated the enormity of such powerful entities. The final destructive force we encountered was the awesome power of the sea. At Reynishverfi we walked along the black volcanic beach to see the magnificent basalt cliffs, columns and caves. The waves were almost as hypnotic as they can be deadly and for a long time we just watched them crashing against the beach and cliffs listening to the deafening noise as each one broke with such force, taking care to ensure we were a safe distance away from the ‘deadly sneaker waves’!

 Iceland   Iceland

By the end of the third day we were already under Iceland’s spell. We had chosen to stay in the countryside to enhance our chances of seeing the Northern Lights, however we all knew the chances were slim. Although the skies were due to be clear that night, activity was reported to be low. Despite this we remained hopeful. At around 11pm we decided to have a last look outside before we called it a night, just in case! Staring at the northern horizon we saw what looked, to the untrained eye, like car headlights. Were we watching the Northern Lights? We weren’t sure but we weren’t going anywhere, just in case! After what seemed like an age the lights appeared to be moving, not in contact with the ground but up above, dancing around just like the stories we had heard, these were the real thing. They weren’t as coloured as the photos show but they were still captivating, luring the hotel guests out one by one. The display lasted about an hour before they faded away. Tired but content we turned in for the night.

 Iceland   Iceland

Day 4, our last full day had a lot to live up to. Dyrhólaey, known also as ‘door hill island’ has a 120m high natural rock arch, alongside more mesmerising waves and sea stacks. The bright sunny morning afforded us spectacular views over the volcano Eyjafjallajökull and icecap Mýrdalsjökull that covers the volcano Katla, which we were reliably informed is a name to listen out over the next few years as it’s over due to erupt. From here we headed through every kind of weather back towards Reykjavik, stopping in the town of Hveragerði to see its abundant geothermal activity and fissures. Here we experienced the force of a magnitude 6 earthquake (fortunately it was through the local simulator and not the real thing), before heading back to Reykjavik to explore the capital. To finish off the visit we couldn’t resist the temptation to visit the local swimming pool. Heated from geothermal power the students made themselves at home in the hot tubs before heading back to the hotel in falling snow, thinking that all the adventure was over as all that remained was the flight home.

 Iceland   Iceland

How wrong we were! When we boarded the plane for the last leg of what had been a spectacular adventure little did we know that Storm Doris was causing havoc in the UK and was about to give us a flight that we will never forget! Filled with school groups and tourists the Icelandair flight took off and made its journey towards the UK. On our approach to Manchester we experienced some rather unnerving turbulence, even experienced flyers were beginning to look anxious. We started our descent but at around 300m off the ground the plane suddenly started to head upwards again, back through the turbulence. Crosswinds making it impossible to land. Across the tannoy came the decision that we would therefore land in Liverpool. Back through the turbulence and a second failed landing. By this point the atmosphere in the cabin was palpable – what was going on? Radio silence ensued until after a third attempt at landing, we finally touched down after the mother of white knuckle rides. Safely on the ground and luckily back at Manchester. Thankfully we only found out about the low fuel emergency that had been declared as we negotiated the journey back to Sheffield, through the carnage that Storm Doris was creating over the Pennines! If you happened to be watching the news that day, maybe you saw the footage of planes trying to land at Manchester – that was us! Another memory to add to the list from a fantastic trip with fantastic students, thank you!

Mrs Cook

Please go to the Gallery page and see lots more amazing photos of the trip!

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