Late Summer 1989 and Winter 2014
Iceland, “Land of Ice and Fire”.
Late Summer 1989
Geologically Iceland is one of the world’s most fascinating countries. At just 15 million years old the country is one of the youngest, it was formed by volcanic action along the North Atlantic fault and where the earth’s crust is very thin; as such 90% of the country is uninhabitable, mainly lava fields, some still active. The country also contains Europe’s largest waterfall and Glacier.
I visited the country in the summer of 1989 when I joined an Explore Worldwide group of 18 adventurous travellers camping and where we travelled round the Island and across the central desert wasteland.
The tour started with a couple of days acclimatisation in Reykjavik giving the tour leader an opportunity to assess the group ensuring there weren’t any weak links.
We then travelled north to an area known as Thingvellir, named after, and site of, the world’s oldest parliament, the Althing, this goes back to when the Vikings first settled in 930 AD. At this point there is a fissure ½ a mile wide where the N Atlantic fault is opening at the rate of 1cm a year. One side of this is a cliff face which the Norse chief would sit facing the cliff, the echo was such that he could be heard by the assembly. Time was spent exploring the dramatic landscape on foot, particularly the large fissures caused by the Tectonic plates drifting apart. We also climbed one of Iceland’s mountains, “Armansfell” giving us amazing views of the terrain across the Fault line.
We then travelled to the North coast where we explored some of the small fishing villages, some with interesting turf roofs before moving on to another large waterfall Godafoss “fall of the Gods”, according to legend, Thorgeir, president of the Althing at the time, threw his idols into the waterfall following his conversion to Christianity about year 1000ad.
Still in the North Lake Myvatn is a region with a variety of natural wonders including “Dettifoss”, at 44m high Europe’s biggest waterfall. Still within the region is Hverfjall a 1Km diameter ash cone and technically known as a Tuff ring, it is relatively low and smooth formed when a volcanic eruption rises to the surface through water. Asbyrgi is a giant horseshoe canyon which, according to Icelandic mythology, was formed by a footprint from Odin’s horse. It is now thought to be the result of a catastrophic glacial flood along the Jokulsa River originating from volcanic action under the Vatnajokull glacier.
The journey from North to South took a day to travel across the lunar landscape of the Central Highlands, a black volcanic desert known as the “Sprengisandur”, like a large part of the island it is only open for 3 months of the year during the summer. We only saw 2 other cars all day. Nearing the end of the crossing we passed a glacial tongue of ice, part of the Vatnajokull, Europe’s largest glacier.
In the south we visited Landmannalaugar a remote region of glacial rivers, waterfalls and hot springs. It is essential that you only swim in springs known to be safe, the temperatures of some can be well above boiling point.
The final stage of the tour back to Reykjavik took us past “Gullfoss”, another of one of Iceland’s biggest Waterfalls. Close by is “Geysir” the geyser from which all others got its name. Although now dormant its younger partner “Stokkur” still erupts about every 10 minutes.
To round off the holiday after an adventurous 2 weeks we had an opportunity for a swim in the Blue Lagoon, a lake formed from the outfall of water from a nearby Geothermic Power Station.

Iceland, winter 2014
Following my trip to Iceland in the summer of 1989 I made a repeat visit in the winter of 2014, this time with my wife Lesley and 4 friends. The difference being that in the winter months 75% of the Island is closed to tourists. Most of the tourist activity therefore tends to be centred on the South East corner around Reykjavik. A number of the activities therefore were duplicates of my 1989 visit. Having said that seeing it in the winter one gets a totally different understanding of the Island.
On our first day we took in the sights of Reykjavik; being one of the smallest capital cities in the world it didn’t take long; it centred on the port which was based on one of it’s main industries, fishing. The highest point, overlooking the city, is Hallgrimskirkja church, a futuristic design somewhat different in style to the traditional corrugated iron constructed buildings.
We hadn’t totally escaped England’s rain; to avoid one storm we went to the cinema, a converted fishing warehouse in the harbour. As we were the only people in there they allowed us to choose what films we saw, all on Iceland. Reykjavik also has a world renowned Phallological museum which contains a unique collection of exhibits. I’ll let you ponder as to whether we went in.
On our second day we repeated some of our 1989 activities and went on a traditionally favourite tour known as the Golden Circle; this included a trip to Geysir, a feature from which all other Geysers took their name. Geysir is now almost dormant but little brother Stokkur close by still erupts about every 10 minutes. The target, photo wise, is to catch it as a bubble as it starts to erupt, I nearly caught it. This trip also included one of Iceland’s biggest waterfalls, Gullfoss; I saw this in the summer of ’89, in winter the characteristics are totally different, the frozen falls were very dramatic. Next came Thingvallir, when I told some of our group that they were going to see the world’s oldest parliament they immediately thought of a building like we have in London; but this goes back to when the Vikings settled in 930 AD. At this point there is a fissure ½ a mile wide where the N Atlantic fault is opening at the rate of 1cm a year. One side of this is a cliff face which the Norse chief would sit facing, the echo was such that he could be heard by the assembly.
Included in this tour was a Tomato growing company. You might think that this is a strange business to have in a cold climate, but there is an abundance of geothermically heated water which heats the green houses. I should also point out that every house in Iceland has geothermically heated hot water pumped straight in.
That evening we had a trip to see the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis, caused by the interaction of particles from the sun with the earth’s upper atmosphere. It was a coach trip to a remote field where we stood for 2 hours. I do appreciate it was luck of the draw, and that what we saw depended on the conditions and that if you go to Iceland specifically to see the Northern Lights there is always a good chance that you might be disappointed. On the coach our guide was very defensive as to what we might or might not see. Admittedly we saw glimmers in the sky but didn’t liven up until it was time to go. I was a little disappointed although we did at least see them. On the coach back our guide went into raptures about what we saw, I can’t help but think the guides were trained in the powers of perception.
The last day was spent at the Blue Lagoon, a bathing pool formed from the water outfall from a geothermic power station. The water contains all sorts of salts which are beneficial for skin care, not that any of our ladies needed that sort of thing of course. Imagine, outside temperature hovering around freezing and swimming in warm water shrouded in mist; a perfect day to end the trip. If anyone is thinking about going to Iceland have a look to see what Icelandair has to offer. When you are there it can be expensive, stick to the basic restaurants where the fish is still fresh and as good as anywhere in the world.

Stafford Steed