The visit to Iceland was undertaken by the Geography Department in March. Cyril Clark and Kerry Thompson took 24 geographers to the island of ‘ice and fire’ to study landforms and processes associated with constructive plate boundaries and glaciation.
The trip was highly successful partly because of the exciting itinerary but mainly because of the fantastic group of students that took a great deal of interest in the geographical landscape.
It was an early start on the first day. All students were up and ready in the hotel reception at
4.45am ready to check in at the airport. All students were wearing their bright red Wyke hoodies and followed all instructions in a military fashion to ensure swift clearance of luggage check and customs. By 11am we were in a very cold snowy Iceland.
Our tour guide, Steffan (also a professional opera singer and huge fan of Wyke students), took us to our first destination, Gunnuhver, where we could walk among mud pools and steam vents generated from the geothermal reservoir beneath the rift valley. We then drove past lava fields and crater rows to the Bridge between Continents, spanning a fissure acknowledged to be the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which runs through Iceland. Crossing this symbolic bridge, we witnessed the effects of continental drift.
Our next stop was Stampar Craters where we could walk among pahoehoe and aa lavas that formed 800 years ago in eruptions known as the “Reykjanes Fires”. These were fissure eruptions along a 4km fault which created the spatter cones called the Stampar crater row. These lava fields are in an active rift zone which is prone to frequent but very small earthquakes.
We then visited Reykjanesviti, Iceland’s oldest lighthouse and Mt. Valahnúkur, composed of tuff layers, pillow lava and breccia. The mountain was formed in a single eruption and shows evidence of the different phases of the eruption. A drive along the coast allowed us to observe relic cliffs formed from the isostatic uplift following the end of the last glaciation.
The highlight of the day was dressing in hard hats and crampons to tunnel underground in a hollowed out lava tube.
We stayed at Snotra Hostel in the foothills of Eyjafjallajökull, where Cyril instructed the students on completion of their fieldwork booklet.
The second day was equally impressive. We started by visiting SKogafoss a wide, thundering curtain of water 60m high and then made our way to Solheimajokull to trek on its frozen glacial snout careful to avoid the deep crevasses. Our experienced glacier guide taught us how to use basic ice equipment, crampons and ice axes.
After lunch, we visited Reynishverfi where we could walk along the black volcanic beach to see magnificent basalt cliffs and caves. Then to Dyrhólaey – the name means ‘door hill island’ – with its 120m high natural rock arch, this prominent headland is likely to have been formed in a submarine eruption similar to that of Surtsey Island in 1963.
After visiting another spectacular waterfall, it was back to the hostel for more fieldwork tasks and quiz night. After the quiz we went to seek the Northern Lights with high hopes from the promising forecast – unfortunately none were to be seen.
The last day was the highlight for some students (me) as we were able to relax in the hot waters of the Secret Lagoon. With the steam rising into the air, the place has a magical feeling. The water stays at 38-40 Celsius all year round and is perfect for bathing. We soon cooled off during our next stop at Gullfoss. These double falls drop around 33m then plunge into a mile-long gorge – one of the coldest moments of my life!
We then went to visit the site of Geysir, a spouting hot spring that gave its name to all the world’s geysers. Although it doesn’t often spout nowadays, its neighbour ‘Strokkur’ erupts every 10-15 minutes reaching a height of around 30m. We then had a quick stop at Efstidalur dairy farm so that everyone could enjoy an ice-cream whilst standing in a blizzard.
We really appreciated the warmth of the coach as it took us to our last stop frequently used in The Game of Thrones for cold locations. This National Park is where Iceland’s parliament was established in 930AD. The site 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.
The last night was spent in Reykjavik, where we came face to face with the storm that was to cause havoc in the UK the next day. A windy walk to the Hard Rock Café for tea and then bed after an exciting and exhausting three days of spectacular geography.
This was an amazing trip and one the students will never forget.