North-west Norfolk is just a 90 minute drive from Rutland so on Saturday we visited the Norfolk coastline. We drove to Hunstanton and then got the local bus to Thornham and walked back along the beach.
The beach was empty, except for the large numbers of birdwatchers. We asked one of them what they were looking for and apparently there had been a big storm at sea, which meant that a wide variety of birds could end up on the beach. We couldn’t see any birds, so we carried on along the beach.
Along the way we saw some cool sand formations… and also some dead starfish and loads of razorshells on the beach
Soon we caught sight of the main chalk cliffs of Hunstanton…
But we also saw many more starfish, snails, crabs and razorshells. There were literally 10s of 1000s starfish on the beach.
After saving a few half alive starfish and snails by putting them in water, and after playing with a few crabs, we headed back to the car in Hunstanton, just before the rains came.
Back at home, I looked up the starfish phenomenon and apparently this happens about once a year when a large storm dislodges sea creatures from the ocean bottom and hurls them all onto the beach.
Since the weather forecast was at last promising at least a small amount of sunshine, we planned a two-day hike over Fimmvorthuhals Pass, from Skogar to Thorsmork and back. The walk passes between two of Iceland’s ice sheets, Myrdalsjokull, and the recently famous (but still unpronouncable) Eyjafjallajokull, source of that ash cloud in 2010. It’s also, supposedly, one of the best hikes in the world.
The walk starts at Skogafoss, a seriously impressive waterfall where the Skogar river plunges over a 62m lava cliff. From there we climbed up beside the river for a couple of hours, passing waterfall after waterfall, as well as some impressive gorges. Happily, the weather forecast had been right, and we got to enjoy sunshine for all of the climb.
We had lunch at the only bridge across the river, at which point the character of the landscape changed, with green mossy tundra giving way to ash, cinders, and rocks. The climb continued past a small shelter, to cross a series of snow fields, at which point it was getting noticeably colder as we’d now climbed over 1000m up the mountain. The weather also started to turn, but it was still clear as we reached the summit of the pass and started our descent.
The 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajokull actually started on the pass, with an impressive lava eruption from a couple of new craters, Mothi and Magni. The lava from these craters has spilled down the far side of the pass, and the path passes right past the two craters and over the brand new lava flow – some of the youngest rocks in the world! In fact, the craters and the lava flows were still steaming in places, and we warmed our hands on the hot rocks!
From the new craters the path descends very steeply to an amazingly flat plateau, Mornisheithi, by which stage it was pouring with rain. Happily that didn’t last too long as the views were amazing, with icefalls, lava falls, and steep grey ashy slopes adorned with vivid green streaks of moss.
We continued to descend along a narrow ridge on the edge of a spectacular canyon, to eventually reach the valley floor at Basar Hut in Gothaland, where we camped for the night. Thorsmork is unusual in Iceland for the fact that it is mostly covered in birch forest, although admittedly most of the trees are less than head height! The forested setting next to a huge braided river makes for a lovely place to camp.
The next day we did it all again in reverse, but the weather was strangely reversed as well, with mostly clear weather on the climb, where it had rained the day before, but rain and bitter cold on the pass and the descent back to Skogafoss. We took a slightly different route over the pass, visiting Fimmvorthuskali Hut and crossing a number of snowfields where the combination of snow, freeze-thaw and ash had produced bizarre landforms.
Sight-seeing around Iceland continued for another day, this time with visits to the Skaftafell National Park and then to Jökulsárlón.
We arrived at Skaftafell to rain and fog and ‘enjoyed’ a very damp meal of sweet and sour noodles with about 50 other people under a very crowded shelter. The next morning we awoke to a brief lull in the persistent rain, so we headed up the hill to get views over the nearby glacier. From here we made our way to Svartifoss, a spectacular waterfall flowing over a wall of fantastic basalt columns.
After our walk, we decided to go in search of sunbeams. Apparently the weather was better to the east, so we drove to Jökulsárlón. Here, a huge glacier descends from the Vatnajokull ice cap into a lake, which is right on the coast. It is a fantastic spectacle and even the sun came out! In addition to visiting the main tourist-trap, we also visited Fjallsárlón, 5 minutes to the west, which was perhaps even more spectacular and less frequented by tourists.
After absorbing enough sunbeams, we headed back west to Vik and spent the evening eating delicious food from the cafe next to the tourist information, and watching literally hundreds of puffins flying around the cliffs.
This visit concludes our ‘tourist visits’; adventure comes next…
On day 4, we went fellrunning from Glen Feshie with Katy and Jamie. It was Jamie’s first ever fell run and the 2 hour run quadrupled the amount of time that Jamie had ever spent running! From Glen Feshie we ran up to Meall Tionail, affectionately renamed ‘Black Toenail’ by Richard.
At the top it was rather windy, so we hurriedly made our way through the col between Meall Buidhe and Geal-charn, and then around the back of Geal-charn. The footpath along this stretch was rather good fun as it was covered in snow of differing thicknesses. We then descended down Allt nan Cuileach and ran back to the car through the forest. A great time was had by all and we even spied a load of ptarmigans and a herd of deer from the top.
Day 5 Lochan a Choire
On day 5, we walked from Aberarder, near Laggan, up to Lochan a Choire. We were going to try and summit Creag Meagaidh, but the snow was deep and we were all feeling a bit knackered!
Day 6 On the farm
On day 6 we visited our friends, Tilly and Alan, who run the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. We visited them at their farm where they keep red deer, fallow deer, wild boar, belted galloway cows, highland cattle, various sheep including soays and chickens, turkeys and ducks! We stayed over in their wonderful old farmhouse and so were ready to report for work on the farm at 8.30 sharp. First, we headed off on the quadbike to feed the deer, pigs and cows. The deer were amazing; they’re really tame and having a deer running next to the moving quadbike was fantastic. The pigs were less angelic, but once Alex (Tilly and Alan’s son) had got the big pig’s attention with food, we crept across the field to see the piglets :-).
Once the feeding at the farm was complete, we headed off to herd the sheep in nearby fields. The task of the day was to tag all the lambs. We soon learnt how high sheep can jump and the advice not to bend down was useful! Wrangling the sheep was energetic to say the least, but their horns were nice and warm :-).
Once the lamb tagging was complete, our next task was to chase some wild roe deer out of the newly planted plantation. This area was surrounded by deer fence, but somehow the deer had entered and not been able to escape. Meanwhile they were nibbling the tops off all the young trees. So, we traipsed through the rough plantation through bogs and streams and forced the deer to think about finding a way out. This didn’t work, so we opened a gate at one end of the enclosure and chased the deer in that direction. Unfortunately this only partially went to plan. Deer aren’t very bright and so when one was almost at the gate, it decided to change it’s mind and run back through the plantation. Everyone tried to scare it to turn around, but instead of turning around, it decided to jump in the pond and then swim to the other side to avoid us. Second time around, we managed to chase all the deer out of the enclosure.
After delicious wildboar sandwiches, Alan provided us with the treat of the day by taking us up to see the reindeer in the hills. This entailed another quadbike ride, which was considerably bumpier on the moorland, and rather steep at times. The front-wheels did come off the floor a couple of times, but Alan reassuringly said “things happen relatively slowly on the quadbike, so there will be time to jump off if anything happens”. Eventually we made it to the top of the hill and from there we spied the reindeer on the other side of the glen. Alan called them over and 10 minutes later we were surrounded by velvet noses, clicking back legs and big feet. They really are wonderful wonderful creatures and it was great to be re-acquainted with the fantastic summer I spent as a reindeer herder :-). Just before it got really dark, we set off back down the hill on the bike, although Richard decided that running in wellies would be faster, so he ran.
And that was the end of our Scottish adventure, but not the end of our holiday. There was one more day left and so we spent that running the Cannock Trigs fell race. Richard won a barley wine and I was fairly slow, but it was fun and a great way to end the Christmas break.
The Lake District is one of the most beautiful places in our country, if not the world, and an environment enjoyed by many millions of people every year. Sellafield nuclear site, on the west coast, has been part of the Cumbrian economy for decades and nobody wants to harm that industry and the jobs it brings. However, the decision to explore the development of an underground store under the fells could be a disaster for tourism and the District. The government and local councils are pressing ahead with these plans, incentivised by a “community benefits package” for the area, against significant evidence [Nirex’s 1997 Refused Plans, Friends of the Earth, Cumbria’a unsuitability, Save our Lake District, Radiation Free Cumbria] about the areas unsuitability.
Stand up and be counted: sign the e-petition, and contact your MP! :angry: