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Land of glaciers: Exploring Iceland

Nigel and Elizabeth Jones were looking for a holiday with a difference; driving round Iceland proved to be a truly memorable journey for them.

As we drove out of Reykjavik on our circumnavigation of Iceland, we left the traffic and the dual carriageway behind us. Travelling along Route 1, which was to be our home for the next week, we started to get a feel for the vistas that lay ahead, with snow-capped mountains on the distant northern horizon.

Having stopped off at Skogafoss, our first waterfall, we entered the area that had been most affected by the Eyjafjallajokull volcanic eruption of 2010. An exhibition hall and film show hosted by one of the families living in the shadow of the volcano really brought home the local devastation to the farmers of the area and the coming together of everyone to sort out the clean-up.

Heading west we had our first sighting of the Vatnajokull glacier - touching the nose of this beast was like experiencing a little bit of your own Ice Age. At Skaftafell, another access point for the glacier, we learned that this lump of ice is melting faster than it is travelling forward, leaving giant valleys carved into the basalt rocks. All this melting ice creates beautiful glacial lagoons; where ghostly icebergs, broken from the mass, meet freezing blue coloured water on their way to the sea.

On Saturday evening we snuggled down in our own original Icelandic wooden house. The following morning, waking in the little fishing village of Seydisfjordur, the low cloud covering the harbour and ferry port (with its weekly ferry service to Denmark, Norway and the Faroe Islands), we headed up and over the mountain to Egilsstadadir. Crossing the snow covered mountain plateau, we stopped in one of the layby’s, where we encountered a mini-bus full of birders with their bins and long lens cameras – unknown to many, Iceland is a haven for so much bird life that any ardent birder should have it on the bucket list.

Heading towards Husavik, we saw small clouds of smoke (or was it steam?) rising above the headland. We were on the eastern end of Myvatn, renowned for its bubbling mud pools and sulphur smoke stacks blown from below the earth’s surface – the air was heavy with the pungent smell of the gas.

The following morning in Husavik, we had to choose between a visit to the pretty Icelandic wooden church that welcomes visitors every day from 9am, or a visit to the world renowned Whaling Museum – my wife won, it was the church. The short journey to Akureyri took us past Godafoss Falls, another favourite with photographers. The town is the second largest in Iceland, with a population of only 17,000 – how do over 40 eating and drinking establishments all manage to survive? Back in Reykjavik the afternoon was spent whale watching and yes, we did see some minke whales. Over the evening meal, with the beautiful Concert Hall in the distance, we reflected on where the time had gone – was it really six days ago that we started this 1500 mile round trip?