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Trip report: ICELAND – Fiona’s Icelandic adventure

February 2012

"Have you ever seen a waterfall being blown upwards by the force of the wind? Or tried to stand upright in the teeth of an icy gale, and literally been nearly swept off your feet? It’s just some of what to expect from a winter visit to Iceland, a trip for the true adventurer!…”

Fiona Iceland2"It was still dark as we slipped quietly out of the city and headed north west on a visit to the starkly beautiful Snaefellsnes Peninsula some two hours’ drive from Reykjavik. It’s a national park, the coast a juxtaposition of wild rugged beaches with crashing waves and calm colourful harbours – a scenic retreat for the local fishing fleets. The black pebble beaches, snowy scapes and approach through a lava field did well to remind me that I wasn’t on a Cornish beach – as in all other respects, the jagged rock and crashing waves could have been the Lizard Peninsula on a wintry day!

Basalt cliffs with extraordinary rock formations, birds nesting on perilous ledges, blow holes and stone arches weathered by centuries of pounding surf and even a lone harbour seal, all are magic ingredients for a fantastic day out. After hot Icelandic meat soup in a café overlooked by the brooding Snaefellsnes Volcano, we made the long drive back to the city and I prepared for my next adventure. This was the so called ‘Golden Circle’ – a full day from Reykjavik out to the spectacular Gullfoss waterfalls – which make a passable impression of Victoria Falls (on a much smaller scale of course) and the geothermal area where boiling mud pools and spurting jet streams are the order of the day. I ended that day in Thingvellir National Park.  Even the weather couldn’t dampenmy enthusiasm for the place – a dramatic escarpment overlooking the rift valley where the first Icelandic Parliament was held in 930 AD.

Heading to the south, I walked to the snout of the Myrdalsjokull Glacier – here more tangible evidence of global warming when you see how far it has retreated in the last ten years. The route continued through glorious farmland dotted with Icelandic horses with a backdrop of boulder-strewn hills to the dramatic south shore – vast black sand beaches dominated by ferocious looking seas – you can see why no fishing fleet operates out of here.

To the east I explored the land of the puffins where the harbour at Borgafjordur Eystri comes alive with thousands of breeding pairs in summer and I looked longingly at the glorious mountain trails for which the area is so renowned. Sadly I’ll have to save those for a longer visit.

On my last day I did, however, manage to indulge my love of riding with a half day trek on horseback through the lava fields close to Reykjavik. I will carry with me the memory of my sturdy Icelandic horse and its peculiar gait or tolt (half walk/half trot as comfortable as an armchair) for which the breed is famous, not to mention the hailstorm we braved on the ride home!

I like to think of Iceland like a giant iced cake:  Visit bite-sized chunks around the outside or carve a slice with a trip into the interior. There are many options for getting about, from budget to luxury. We can offer the full range from small group bus tours to self-drive.  Use the numerous daily bus excursions (for those who want to keep costs down) or book a tailor-made tour for two.
It’s a fascinating country:  In summer you’ll have almost constant daylight, the green of the National Parks, and the joy of a little warmth. June to August is puffin season and great for whale watching. In winter the long dark days are compensated by the anticipation of maybe catching the Northern Lights. Always there is superb seafood as well as chilled beers, boutique hotels in Reykjavik and the elation of a thrilling landscape just around the next corner. Whenever you come, at some point along the journey will be one of those priceless moments that money can’t buy – like when I wandered into the soaring church at Skalholti and found the organist practising – raising the roof with Widor’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Now you don’t get that every day. Nor do you get the Northern Lights which evade me still. Well, I have to have a reason to return!”