It's twenty one years since I visited Iceland - and I'm not talking about the frozen food store of that name! I took a flight from Glasgow to Kevlavik and then travelled by airport shuttle into Reykjavik where I headed to the youth hostel near the big open air public swimming pool to the north of the capital. It was a Saturday afternoon and as I walked through the little city with its wide open spaces and Arctic wind, I noticed homeowners in one suburban garden tending their rocks - yes - rocks - not plants because so little grows successfully there and even trees are a rarity.
That evening at the steaming thermal pool, staff insisted that visitors stripped naked and showered properly before entering the water. There was a blonde female attendant on duty to enforce this regulation in the men's changing area Naturally, her Icelandic jaw dropped when she observed my manly Yorkshire physique.
The next morning I set off on a round-Iceland bus journey using public bus services. I hoped to get to the country's second largest town - Akureyri by nightfall. However, halfway there the bus driver informed us that the road ahead had been swept away by a glacial river and we would probably have to return to the capital. Instead, I chose to get off the bus and headed for an isolated country youth hostel just off the main road. I was the only guest that night and I remember sitting in the outdoor "pottar" - a thermal pool - drinking a mug of tea while watching a skein of geese advancing up the adjacent fjord.
The next morning I hitched a lift to Akureyri. Soldiers had fixed a temporary bridge over the angry river during the night. An old couple picked me up after half an hour though I had hardly seen any other vehicles. Although it was mid-June, I remember the chill of the wind blowing down from the Arctic Circle as I waited on that exposed roadside. Stupidly, I left my Hull City ski-hat in the old couple's car as I sought the Akureyri youth hostel but - revealing admirable kindness - that evening the old couple came to find me in order to return said hat.
Scans of a few of my snaps:-
|Typical view from the bus across a volcanic plain|
|The glacial lake where ice from the glacier was trapped|
|Old Icelandic cottage - turf is used for insulation|
|Bubbling sulphur pool near "Viti" (Hell)|
I visited a volcanic crater called "Viti" which means "Hell". A blizzard was blowing and on the geothermal plain close by sulphurous mud pools bubbled in the horizontal blizzard. Iceland is often referred to as "The Land of Ice and Fire". It's a tourism strapline but I doubt that there's anywhere else on Earth that is more worthy of such a label.
When I was there it was mid-summer and there was twenty four hour daylight though at two or three in the morning the light was murky. Even so seabirds continued to fly, to feed and to nest all through the "night". In some dunes near Hofn some nesting gulls tried to attack me.
I must have travelled three or four hundred miles that week, across bleak moonscapes on black lava roads. Occasionally I was the only passenger on the bus - sometimes just a minibus. I recall that on the south of the island near Europe's biggest glacier - Vattnajokull, the bus suffered a puncture and as the driver waited for assistance I was able to wander round a glacial overflow lake where huge chunks of ice floated - sculpted by wind, time and sunshine.
Raging waterfalls, boiling lakes in glacial faults, geysirs, vast plains and mountain ranges, lichens, dark clouds and isolated settlements. Iceland seemed like a place that was still being born. Elemental and raw. I loved it and I am pleased that it's there in the section of my memory bank marked "places I have seen".
Iceland - population 320,000 of which 200,000 live in Reykjavik. The island was first settled in the ninth century.