Posted on November 13th 2017
Harris Federation Trip to Iceland.
Harris Federation Trip to Iceland
Day 1 - Monday
An early start at Harris Academy South Norwood (not early for us teachers, but definitely for the students) saw us board the coach for the rush-hour journey to Heathrow, and being inevitably stuck on the M25 had some of us looking nervously at our watches. These worries we're unfounded as we arrived to Terminal 5 in plenty of good time, and were able to get all of our students through check-in and security without too much hassle.
For some of our group it was the first time they were travelling by air, and that was telling during the take-off!
The first glimpse of Iceland was one of a desolate landscape, and this theme continued as we made our way from the airport to the first stop, which was the Bridge of Continents. The first thing I noticed was the lack of trees, later explained by our guide that they had all been cut down by the Vikings, and the first thing that most of the students noticed was the smell (Sulphur will do that). And the lack of chicken shops.
The Bridge of Continents was the first glimpse of 'real geography'; we spent so much time talking about the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in lessons, so to see it up close and personal was amazing. After that, it was a short journey to the Gunnuhver mud pool which gave us a first-hand view of the tectonic power that lies underneath, and shapes, Iceland.
From there we headed to the Hotel Vellir, allowing the opportunity to have an extended look at the landscape going by. At this point, I was already enchanted by the rural nature of everything, a completely different scene to the frantic nature of London living.
Exhausted by the long day, we had dinner and then retired to our rooms for the night.
Day 2 - Tuesday
On the second day we awoke to dark skies...at 9am. Just a glimpse into what life in a high-latitude country feels like! After having breakfast and making packed lunches, we were off. The 'variable' Icelandic weather would be a central part of this trip, and on the way to the geothermal power plant the visibility was extremely limited. Pretty much all of Iceland's electricity and heating (99.9% to be exact) is geothermally created, and seeing the inside workings of the station was an interesting insight.
On the way to the second stop the dramatic, moon-like landscape of Keflavik gave way to farmland, and groups of trees! Despite the mist and low cloud, the scenery was still spectacular; if anything, as the first mountains loomed into view, the weather added to the atmosphere.
After a pit-stop for snacks and drinks, our next point of call was Skogafoss waterfall. It offered the unique opportunity to go right up to it, and get very wet as a result! The sheer size of the waterfall was emphasized by the long and winding set of steps to the top, and the view allowed some of the students to catch their breath.
By now I was running out of superlatives to describe what I was seeing, and becoming more obvious why Iceland is a popular filming location. A short distance away from Skogafoss was the Solheimajokull glacier; despite the continuing poor visibility, what we could see was spectacular. It is not every day that that textbook picture comes to life so vividly! The fact that it is retreating was, however, a sombre reminder of the effects of climate change. There was more dramatic scenery to come, as we headed to the coast and to the black sands of Solheimasandur beach. Coastal geography was brought to life in the form of headlands, stacks and caves, with photo opportunities galore. Soon it was time to head to our second hotel, and a much-welcomed escape from the rain. A hearty dinner was followed by a Geography Quiz, which was enjoyed by all. The washout also washed out any chance of seeing the Northern Lights that night; however the skies did clear later on, and the early birds were able to view a simply stunning night sky that was free of any artificial light.
Day 3 - Wednesday
We awoke to a magnificent sunrise, and that was just the start of things to come. The clear skies now revealed a completely different Iceland; towering mountains, endless plains, countless rivers, and grandiose ice sheets. There was a clear view of Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that shut down European airspace during its eruption in 2010. A local farming family affected by the eruption have now set up an education centre, and this was our first port of call. Hopefully it has opened the students' eyes to the devastation that an eruption can cause, and that recovery is always possible.
After this it was a visit to a tomato farm; this being Iceland, it wasn't any ordinary tomato farm though. It was inside a greenhouse, and completely powered by geothermal energy. The country is also able to grow a significant amount of their vegetables inside these greenhouses, which is impressive.
A quick stop at a waterfall followed (as you do), then it was on to what is known as the 'Golden Circle' of Icelandic tourist attractions. The first of these was Geysir, where the frequent yet random eruptions of Strokkur caused the students to shriek with delight. The next was yet another impressive waterfall in the form of Gulfoss, which also provided panoramic views of the Langjökull ice sheet. The last, Pingvellir, is a National Park, and as we walked around the landscape it was obvious why. The setting sun lit up the mountains, and we were in agreement that camera phones were not going to be able to properly capture what we were witnessing. From there, we made our way back to the hotel where we stayed for the first night.
Day 4 - Thursday
The final day started with a trip to the cinema, where we watched a film about the creation of Iceland and the Northern Lights. Sadly we weren't able to see it during our stay, and I guess it is one of the things that people will make return visits for! We then saw the famous Hallgrímskirkja church, and after that the students had a bit of free time to wander around Reykjavik. Our final stop was the sculpture of a Viking longboat down by the bay, where we took a final group photo, before making our way back to Keflavik airport.
Iceland was a fantastic experience, I am very sure that the students had similar feelings. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Teacher of Geography