Three Wet Days in Iceland

Since we still don’t have a house to move in to, we thought we’d go on holiday for a week or so, and since the weather has been so lovely in Britain, we opted for Iceland, where we figured we’d be bound to get the sort of weather we expect from an English summer!

Day one saw us fly in to Reykjavik and spend a pleasant afternoon visiting the thermal areas and lava flows nearby. We started with Krisuvik, which featured boiling springs and mud pools, and then continued along the south coast to Reykjarnes, which had lots of steaming springs plus an uncapped borehole putting out steam under huge pressure with an ear-splitting roar. We also walked out to the south-easternmost point in Iceland, which had some spectacular cliffs and a bright red old lava flow. From there we headed to Reykjavik to wander around the town.

Hot springs near Krisuvik.
Hot springs near Krisuvik in the rain.

The next morning we began with another walk around Reykjavik, and lunch with my old friend Ari who now works at Reykjavik University. The city itself is lovely – interesting architecture, very friendly, and full of interesting shops. Then we set off to see some more of the countryside. First stop was Thingvellir, originally the place where major gatherings happened, and also where Iceland declared its independence. It also happens to be a spectacular landscape, with dramatic canyons caused by spreading as it is right on the mid-Atlantic ridge. A fantastic place to see geology in action!

Looking up the hill to Reykjavik Cathedral.
Looking up the hill to Reykjavik Cathedral.

After Thingvellir, we drove on to Geysir, the namesake of geysers all over the world. Sadly it doesn’t play any more, but the area features lots of small erupting springs as well as the spectacular Strokkur, a geyser that erupts (quite briefly) every 5 minutes or so. It’s really spectacular as you can look right into the pool it erupts from, so you can see the bubble of steam come up the throat of the geyser and push the water into a great hemisphere before it shoots skywards. Another fine feature of the village of Geysir is that the camp-site is right next to the thermal area so we were lulled to sleep by the sound of mud pools!

Strokkur begins an eruption.
Strokkur begins an eruption.

The next morning, after a brief second visit to Strokkur, we headed on to Gullfoss, one of Iceland’s biggest waterfalls, where a massive river tumbles into a slot canyon, sending spray everywhere. Unfortunately, as with each of the preceding days, the weather wasn’t being kind to us, so we got to see Gullfoss in the pouring rain.

Given the weather forecast, we decided to head East in search of sunshine. After leaving Gullfoss we drove on to Seljalandsfoss, another spectacular waterfall that you can walk behind. A short walk further on was another waterfall, this time falling into a canyon so tight there was just room for the river. Heading in to the canyon was rather like caving with a huge waterfall pouring in through the ceiling!

Seljalandsfoss in the rain.
Seljalandsfoss in the rain.

We continued East to Seljavellir, a beautiful, waterfall-filled valley with a hot spring in the middle of it. The 20 minute walk in the rain from the car, featuring a river-crossing, was made worthwhile by the lovely swimming pool in the middle of nowhere. We spent quite a time in the warm water before reluctantly getting out into the now heavy rain for the walk and wade back to the car. We continued to drive East, camping for the night at the foot of a huge glacier at Skaftafell…

Swimming in the thermal pool at Seljavellir.
Swimming in the thermal pool at Seljavellir in the rain.

Snowy Scotland 2

Day 4. Meall Tionail

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.

Walking up the mountains from Glen Feshie
Walking up the mountains from Glen Feshie

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.

On top of Black Toenail
On top of Black Toenail
Running across the col between Meall Buidhe and Geal-charn
Running across the col between Meall Buidhe and Geal-charn

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!

View from Lochan a Choire
View from Lochan a Choire
A pause at our halfway point
A pause at our halfway point

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 :-).

Tagging the lambs
Tagging the lambs

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.

Chasing deer out the tree plantation
Chasing deer out the tree plantation

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.

On the hill to see the reindeer
On the hill to see the reindeer
One of the swedes
One of the swedes
A calfy
A calfy
:-)
🙂

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.

Sunshine and Reine

Despite the persistent rain over the Lofoten Islands, there were places to explore, so with just enough gear for an overnight camp, we took the ferry from Reine to Vinstad. All the mountains were in cloud and views were very limited as we made our way up the fjord from Reine. The conditions were only slightly better on the other site of the island. From the ferry dock, we walked through Vinstad Village to Bunes Beach. This is quite an amazing place. The beach is around 400 m wide, with one side bound by a mountain comprising one huge slab of rock.

View up Reine Fjord from Vinstad

On arrival we pitched the tent and then explored the beach. We found this huge bone… we think it’s the back of a whale’s skull! It was much to heavy to pick up. Later in the day, numerous other campers arrived, but it remained a quiet, spectacular place.

The whale skull on Bunes Beach

We packed up early in the morning and caught the 10.15 ferry back to Reine. During this journey, the promised sun started to appear and by the time we reached Reine it was almost clear except, that is, for the mountain we had planned to climb. We decided to climb it anyway, and we’re very glad we did, because by the time we reached the top, the mist had gone and the views were spectacular. We sat on the summit for about an hour just watching the clouds clearing off the other mountains, and a pod of killer whales in the sea below.

Richard looking over Reine Fjord
Reine from the top of the mountain

After our walk we headed back to Moskenes, determined to have fresh fish for dinner. After a lot of messing around, visiting the docks in different villages, we eventually managed to obtain a haddock that had literally come off the boat that minute. We took it back to the camp-ground and had a lovely fish dinner, despite the fact that the only tool we had to prepare it was the saw from our pocketknife!

Bifurcation Lake

The OS map of Glenshee contains the following curiosity:

Loch Nan Eun map.
Loch Nan Eun map.

Yes, a lake (apparently) with two outlets! The Southern one flows into Glenshee and eventually to the sea at Dundee, while the Eastern one flows towards Braemar and eventually to the sea at Aberdeen. Geeky hydrologists (my wife) get excited about this sort of thing because it’s impossible to determine where the watershed is: it’s somewhere in the middle of the lake! So naturally, we had to go and have a look for ourselves.

Happily it was a much better (colder) day than yesterday, when we only managed to brave the horizontal sleet for a couple of hours before retreating to the hotel and spending the afternoon exploring the charms of Blairgowrie. Today started cold and frosty but dry. We headed up the glen from our hotel, before discovering that there was a small problem with our plan: a series of very cold streams to ford. Every time our feet warmed up from one, we seemed to arrive at the next, and in combination with the dusting of snow on the ground, warming up our feet took quite a while!

Climbing the hill to the lake. It wasn't this snowy when we started!
Climbing the hill to the lake. It wasn't this snowy when we started!

After a bit we ended up on a steep wet trail beside the river, and in a driving snowstorm. Visibility was zero in the stronger gusts, but we pressed on regardless, excited (no, not really) by the thought of the hydrological marvel ahead. The snow got deeper, our feet got colder, and the blizzard got worse, but eventually we hauled ourselves up the last slope and reached the edge of the lake, at which point the snow miraculously stopped and we had a break in the cloud with our first view of blue sky all day. Timing!

The lake - an interesting mix of frozen and open water.
The lake - an interesting mix of frozen and open water.
The true outflow of the lake.
The true outflow of the lake.

Since we’d arrived close to the southern outlet, we knew that one flowed in the right direction, so we set off around the edge of the lake to the Eastern outlet. The lake was beautiful, with open water in the centre and ice around the edges except where small streams flowed in. After floundering around in peat hags for a bit, we reached the Eastern shore to discover that sadly there isn’t normally a bifurcation there. The “outlet” was actually an inlet for perhaps 25 metres before turning into a stream flowing in the opposite direction. I suspect the lake would need to be about three metres higher than it was to flow in both directions. What a disappointment! Rachel’s inner hydrologist was inconsolable, but after bribing her with jelly babies we soon continued (it was too cold to hang around).

The watershed. Sadly not in the lake.
The watershed. Sadly not in the lake.
Rachel on the lake shore. Brrr!
Rachel on the lake shore. Sorry, no cute penguins in the background.

The way back mostly involved sliding down the newly fallen snow, and enjoying the view down the valley that came and went as the snow showers blew through. Despite our disappointment, it was a lovely walk with some spectacular views, and a reminder of something we learned from our Estonian friends Juhan and Eneken: There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing choices!

Ecton and Edale

Mining
Many months ago Bill asked the question: “Did mining take place at Ecton in the bronze age?”. As is often the case with Bill’s nonsequiturs, we had no idea. One thing led to another and a trip was suggested; Bill wanted to learn about early mining, Clive wanted to see what he remembered of Ecton Mine from 30 years earlier and Richard and I were pleased to go along because we haven’t explored many mines. In preparation, we, along with Clive, went to a talk on the Ecton Engine, the Boulton-Watt beam engine that had been installed in 1788 to haul ore out of the mine.

John, of the Ecton Mine Educational Trust, was our leader for the day and he was accompanied by a number of mine experts. Throughout the trip they provided commentary on the mine and hence we learnt about lots of things including the mine’s history, the geology of the mine, the mineralisation on the walls and the questions that remain unanswered.

In the morning we went into Ecton Mine. The majority of the passage at Ecton is flooded, however we were pleasantly surprised by how much mine there was on the level we entered. At the end of the entrance passage we got to the main shafts, which meet the surface some ~300 feet above and reach the bottom of the mine about 1000 ft below. Nearby we visited the ‘pipe’ which once contained the chalcopyrite-rich ore deposits that were mined here. This pipe is quite interesting as it twists and turns to the surface. Around this area we saw our first examples of malachite and azurite.

Malachite and azurite in Ecton Mine

We were allowed into the pipe via ladders that were replicas of the ones that would have been there originally:

Descending the pipe in Ecton Mine

In the afternoon we explored Clayton Mine, the entrance of which is about 100 m away from Ecton. The geology in Clayton was fabulous – lots of folded and synclined rocks – here is Bill modelling such a syncline:

A syncline in Clayton Mine

In another part of the cave we came across these cave pearls. They have formed since the mine closed in the late 1800s.

Cave Pearls in Clayton Mine

and these cool floating rafts!

Floating deposits in Clayton Mine

We all had a great time. Bill got his question answered in the first 5 minutes, yes the mine was active in the bronze age, and Clive did remember parts of the cave, but a second visit was worthwhile to refresh the memories.

The Edale Skyline
We entered the Edale Skyline ages ago when I was actually running well. Since then, running has been sporadic for about 5 months, but given that I survived a flattish 15 miles around Cannock Chase last weekend, we figured that 21 miles of the Edale Skyline with 4500 ft of climb wouldn’t be that different. We were joined by Mark (Peel Road Runners) who ran the event for the first time last year – this meant we couldn’t drop out before the event! The key thing about this race is the halfway cut-off; runners need to reach Mam Nick in 2 hrs 30, otherwise they are stopped from going any further. I wasn’t entirely sure that I could complete the race at the outset. Anything could happen … I could feel rubbish, I could be absolutely knackered as a result of the hills, my calf might decide to protest…. so I decided to focus on reaching the halfway point. A few hills before, Mark caught me up and spurred me on … so much so that I made the cut-off with 10 mins to spare. “Damn it”, I thought, “there’s no excuse not to finish now”. So, 4 hrs 40 after setting off, Mark and I finished the Edale Skyline. My legs ache.

Richard didn’t have a good start, his neck was causing him pain and then his knee started to protest on Win Hill, but he managed to finish in 3 hrs 50, which is extremely good given that his training has also been reduced over the past few months, and by the end he couldn’t bend his right knee.

A great weekend

Nearly there.....
Almost at the end!

Aurora

Things to do before you die; see an aurora? Perhaps…

I’m not sure how long the 24 hour daylight lasts at Haley 6 and if there will be any darkness before Ian returns from Antartica? If so, I wonder if we’ll get any aurora shots from his trip to Antarctica?

Aurora Borealis
Aurora Borealis
United States Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Strang, via Wikimedia Commons
Aurora Australis
Photo © Samuel Blanc