Iceland Trip 2019
GCSE Geography trip to Iceland
On Thursday 21 February 2019, whilst the UK braced itself for unseasonal tropical weather, 43 geographers from Year 10 and Year 11 joined Miss Lillington, Miss Bluett, Mr Ferne and Mrs Stubbs on our fourth Icelandic adventure. For our GCSE Geography pupils it was an opportunity to find out more about some of the geographical processes we have studied in class and topics which we will be exploring more of in future modules. The focus of the trip was on geography and the geomorphology of a unique country famous for its volcanoes, lava fields, glaciers, dramatic coastline and spectacular waterfalls. As our guide Balder said "Without the ice it would just be land and nowhere near as exciting". In addition to finding out lots about the physical geography, it also gave us the opportunity to travel to one of the most amazing countries on our planet.
Day One: An introduction to Iceland
The actual adventure began with a coach journey from Deer Park to Heathrow and, after a quick check in and a short delay, we were soon boarding and enjoying our flight with Icelandair and their impressive in-flight entertainment. After a patient wait at Icelandic passport control and collection of bags, we were ready to start exploring this magnificent country. Our first stop was to the Reykjanes Peninsula, driving past the crashing waves towards one of the must-see attractions in Iceland, The Bridge between the Continents. This was a great opportunity to find out about the divergent plate boundary, which Iceland is located on, and gave us the opportunity to stand on two different continents in less than 10 seconds. After lots and lots of photo opportunities and an introduction to Geysir the Goat we got back on the coach and headed to our first accommodation, the Hotel Vellir.
An hour after settling into our very comfortable rooms (including a quick mugshot/hot chocolate thanks to the kettles), we headed out into the very stormy night towards downtown Reykjavik to enjoy an evening of film and food. At Cinema No. 2 we enjoyed a wonderful documentary called Iceland: Fire, Ice and Northern Lights. The documentary provided an excellent introduction to the dramatic landscapes and the geographical processes shaping them. We also had the opportunity to meet the creator of the film and to ask lots of questions about our chances of seeing the Northern Lights! After a much welcomed late dinner of burgers and fries, we headed back to the Hotel Vellir for a night of rest ready for the next day of exploration.
Day Two: Waterfalls, glaciers and wind!
After a good night's sleep, we started our day at 8am with a very tasty breakfast – some pupils even tried the famous local yoghurt, Skyr. On Friday morning we met our Icelandic guide for the week, Balder. Balder’s knowledge of Iceland was phenomenal and over the week he shared stories with us about Icelandic culture, food, wildlife, folklore, music, Yule lads, development, history and geographical processes – he was a phenomenal guide, including his jokes – especially the one about the polar bear.
Once introductions had been made and a brief background given to the rapidly expanding city of Rekyjavik, we crossed what Balder informed us was the biggest mountain in the world (the longest not the highest as we travelled across a section of the Mid Atlantic Ridge). Our first stop of the day as we travelled east was at the Hellisheioi power station, the world’s third largest geothermal power plant, sited in a high temperature area just east of Reykjavik. At the power station we had the opportunity to discover how the power of the planet can be harnessed to make Iceland self-sufficient in terms of electricity and also a key player in the global fight to reduce Carbon Dioxide emmissions.
After the geothermal power station we looked at finding our own source of energy with a quick stop in Hvergerdi to buy our lunch at the bakery and to experience an Icelandic supermarket. We then travelled across the Eyjafjallajokull flood plain, the area affected by the jokulhaup (glacier burst) which was a consequence of the 2010 eruption of the sub glacial eruption.
Our first foss (waterfall) of the trip was the spectacular Gljufrabul, hidden inside a gorge, we carefully negotiated the stepping stones and experienced the power of the waterfall behind us. A short walk along the base of the cliff and we reached Seljalandsfoss, a 60 metre high waterfall which falls over a former sea cliff, now sited far inland due to isostatic rebound (the rising of the land after the lifting of the huge weight of ice sheets during the last glacial period).
Following the visitor centre, we travelled a few kilometres to our second waterfall stop, the magnificent Skogafoss. Skogafoss is a wide waterfall which falls from a height of 60 metres. Pupils were divided on whether the best views of the waterfall were from the top or from the photo, and lots of photographs were taken to try and capture the waterfall’s magnificence. By this time the rain was vertical and we all got soggy and soon realised which bits of our clothing was the most waterproof (turns out my jacket wasn’t that great).
We questioned whether we should head to our next stop, whether the rain had got the better of us, but we convinced Balder that Deer Parkers are resilient and up for a challenge and so we headed towards our last stop for the day, Solheimajokull, the sun house glacier. Our resilience was paid off at this next geographical feature, which was argued by most as being the most spectacular. The glacier has been retreating since the end of the 19th century at a rate of around 100m per year. A walk down to the snout of the glacier gave us the chance to appreciate its size, the crevasses and the impact of the 2010 eruption in terms of the piles of ash that can still be seen today. The glacier showed both the power of ice in carving out landscapes, whilst at the same time reflecting the fragility of the landscape due to the impacts of climate change.
As the sun was shining, Balder said we should make the most of the break in the rain and before going to our Friday night accommodation, so we headed towards Dyrholaey for a very windy walk. So, after fire and ice we headed to our last geographical feature of the day, the spectacular Icelandic coastline. The coastline featured many of the coastal landforms recently studied in class including spits, caves, arches, stacks, stumps, destructive waves and even a tombolo! Dyrholaey, meaning door hill island, due to the 120 m high natural rock arch which exists, was created following the erosion of the prominent headland which was created in a submarine eruption similar to that of Surtsey Island. The headland was breathtaking, mainly because the wind was so strong it took our breathe away! The crashing waves, the spray through the blowhole and the spectacular view, really did allow us to feel the power of the natural world – what a phenomenal way to end our first full day in Iceland.
Friday night we stayed at Guesthouse Steig, near Vik. The hotel is located at the base of the very famous volcano, Mt. Ketla, which Balder informed us is seriously overdue for an eruption – but he reassured us that it was closely monitored and that there was no chance of an eruption tonight. After so much walking, fresh air, excitement, games and the Cardboard Box Challenge for some Year 11s, nothing was going to stop us getting a good night of sleep.
Day Three: Vik, the Lava Centre and Hverageroi Geothermal Centre
Saturday started with a bracing walk along the black volcanic sand towards the tiny town of Vik. From the beach we could see the spectacular sea stacks or Reynisdranger. Whilst geologists talk of volcanic plugs, but like more things in Iceland, folklore tells a different version of this stunning natural monument was formed.
Souvenir shopping completed at the ‘mall’ and we braced ourselves for our next stop and the most dangerous beach in Iceland – Reynishverfi. Following detailed instructions on the distance we needed to keep from the waves, with very strong rip tide, we went straight to the basalt columns, created by the fast cooling lava provided a spectacular back drop to the black beaches and also a perfect habitat for Iceland’s national bird, the puffin. After the ubiquitous photographs, we got back on the coach and I could breathe a sigh of relief that no one had got wet feet!
Before the afternoon activity at the Lava Centre we stopped for lunch. We all got off the coach, but only the staff and a handful of pupils braved the turn in the weather and enjoyed the picnic (Mrs Stubbs creating her own Icelandic sandwich of smoked salmon and peanut butter which will be forever affectionately known as a Stubway). After some quick survival skills (how to open a survival sack) and photos we got back on the coach, feeling a little bit smug that we had braved the elements.
Our first activity of the afternoon was to visit the Lava Centre. Opened in 2017, the centre in Hvollsvollur was a great way to find out about the volcanoes of Iceland. The interactive educational tools, including a cinema (with really really comfy beanbags), exhibitions, a sensory room where you could cause an eruption just by pointing (we need one of these up in Humanities) and a giant model of the volcanic plume which sits below the island of Iceland. The centre was a great way to explore the unique volcanology of Iceland, sitting both on a plate boundary and a hot spot.
Our final stop of the day was at Hverageroi Geothermal Centre. The centre is a collection of hot springs and solfataras where we had the opportunity to find out more about the geothermal activity in Iceland. After a tour around the site and a quick foot bath in the geothermal waters, we got to eat boiled eggs cooked in the hot springs and rye bread baked in the hot steam – it was eggcellent.
Saturday night’s accommodation was at the very popular Hjaroarbol Country Guesthouse. Most popular because of the hotel dogs, excellent lasagne, Tom P’s piano playing, Heads Up game, hot tubs or the comedy of watching me and Mr Ferne trying to complete the Cardboard Box Challenge (thanks for the encouragement Year 10 – we appreciated the words of encouragement and coaching); who knows, but everyone slept incredibly well that night, even after some star gazing.
Day Four: The Secret Lagoon and The Golden Circle
Before our arrival at The Secret Lagoon, Balder took us to one of the most spectacular churches in Iceland, made even more spectacular due to the sun rising over the mountains to the west. At Skaholt church Balder told us about the role of religion in Iceland and the changes which had taken place over the centuries.
During the journey we also reflected on the wisdom of trolls and the folklore surrounding the Icelandic Hidden People. We all created our own annotated version of a troll, hidden person or monster – being a Geography trip it was all about the quality of the annotations.
Following 30 minutes on the coach, and a quick stop to say hello to some of the famous of Icelandic Horses, we arrived at The Secret Lagoon natural hot springs and bathing pool, in the small village of Fluoir on the Golden Circle route. Balder briefed us on lagoon etiquette and the importance of showering and having our towel with us at all times. The water stays at 38-40 degrees Celsius throughout the year and so on a cold winter day the steam added to the atmosphere and experience of swimming in geothermal waters.
We then followed the route of most tourists that visit Iceland and visited the wonderful features along the Golden Circle. On the drive to Gullfoss Balder explained to us the role of hydro electric power in Iceland and how 80% of the energy of the country is produced by the rivers which are fed by the glaciers across the island. Balder provided an excellent insight into how green energy is not always without costs and some of the implications across the island.
Gullfoss is my favourite foss or waterfall. I think it is because of the force of the double falls as they fall 33 metres into the mile-long gorge which has been created as the waterfall retreats. Despite it being freezing cold at this stop, probably the coldest we had experienced all trip, we all took the opportunity to take lots of photographs and to marvel at the natural beauty – it was gorge-ous!
Anyone that followed us on @geografun on Instagram or Twitter will be aware of our trip mascot Geysir the Goat. The next stop took him to his namesake, the spectacular Geysir, the world famous spouting hot spring that gave its name to all of the world’s geysers. Although Geysir hasn’t spouted for a number of years, we did get to see its neighbour Stokkur erupt a number of times, reaching a height of around 30 metres.
Our final stop on the Golden Circle, and a much needed power nap on the coach, was the Thingvellir National Park. This National Park is where Iceland’s parliament was established in 930AD and has been a significant location for Icelanders since this time. In addition to its political significance, the site straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge with a rift valley forming where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates pull apart at an average of 3cm per year.
Our last night and time to say goodbye to the wonderful Balder – he was such a great guide and really added to the overall experience. On the last night we walked from the Hostel to the Hamburger Factory for a delicious meal of burgers and chips or salads!
Day Five: Swimming, hot dogs and Rekyjavik
On our last morning we took part in the very popular Icelandic past time of visiting the public swimming pool. The pool was amazing with slides, water polo, hot tubs and some people even braving the freezing plunge pool (some more than once). The best way to warm up after the pool and to refuel is with the famous Icelandic hot dog with all the works – onions, dried onions, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise - yum.
Before heading to the airport we had the chance to quickly explore the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. This was an opportunity to experience the northernmost capital city in the world and to buy lunch and last minute souvenirs, including lava bars!
So we didn’t see the Northern Lights, but I think we can safely say that we all returned home seeing a whole range of spectacular and simply awesome geographical features! It was a pleasure and privilege to travel with the 42 pupils and three other members of staff. Everywhere we went we received comments on the politeness and positivity of the group, they were a true credit to us, themselves and Cirencester Deer Park.
Miss Lillington, March 2019
Chloe W (Year 10) "Iceland is the most incredible place I have ever been to and experiencing it is something that I will never forget. In my opinion the best part was Gullfoss waterfall because it was just so beautiful; and also playing games in the evening was so fun."
Mrs Stubbs "There is nowhere quite like Iceland! The scenery and geographical landmarks are unique and beautiful. Our pupils were impeccably behaved and they were praised for their conduct and punctuality the whole trip. Every day was packed with informative details about this amazing country and it's impressive history."
Parent "Our son had a fab time! Thank you to all the teachers who have worked so hard and made it such a special trip!"
Esme "Thank you so much for your planning and dedication to making this trip awesome!! You deserve an amazing teacher award just for your commitment to #geografun alone. On behalf of Year 11, we had the most amazing and memorable time."
Miss Bluett "The Iceland trip was the perfect example that Geography is everywhere. In only 5 days our pupils immersed themselves in a different climate and culture, journeyed between 2 tectonic plates, swam in pools heated by the Earth's inner core, soaked in the sights and spray from many waterfalls and learnt phrases in a new language. I hope that the experiences they had on this trip will give them a deeper understanding of the processes we study in class as well as wonderful memories for years to come."