Vatnajökull and the Northern Lights 2015

This is my entry to the Rohan travel writing competition:

Amid the rugged and sometimes volcanic moonscape of Iceland there is the biggest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull to the locals.  Despite the retreat of glaciers in the face of global warming, it is still unimaginably vast, taking up 13% of the Icelandic landmass. Visitors can only experience the size by trekking across the packed ice.

Alas, arthritis means I can no longer undertake such adventures, but I did drive 220 miles around the Icelandic ringroad to see the southern tip of Vatnajökull.  The drive itself is like a journey through Lord of the Rings, with craggy mountains, glorious pastures grazed by horses and sheep, turbulent rivers raged and soaring waterfalls fell; and then the dead hand of black volcanic lava, on which nothing grows.  I stopped for lunch of Icelandic lamb soup at Vik under the shadow of the mountains, then continued through sunlight, painfully aware that night and rain both fall rapidly.


The glacier is visible from a great distance, but to get close to it you have to travel inland on dirt tracks. There are viewing areas, though even these are some distance from the glacier itself.  At one of these maybe 20 SUVs were gathered and people took photographs.  Thanks to the melting ice, there is a moat of icy water around Vatnajökull, populated by icebergs sculpted by nature into evocative forms.

As I watched, some visitors had walked down to the waterside and were posing alongside icebergs; without them there would be no scale to demonstrate the sheer size and scale of the icebergs, quite apart from the glacier descending between the lip across a mountain gorge.  The glaciatic panorama stretched across the whole horizon, such that it took three conventional photographs to take in the full scene.


And then… from the dramatic sky shafts of sunlight beamed down and the true majesty of
the glacier was revealed.  The ice appeared almost phosphorescent in the amazing light, and no photograph can do it justice.  You simply had to be there!   At length the light faded and an ominous shadow of darkness came over the glacier. I chose this moment to get back into my hired 4WD car (essential here) and make my way back across the Atlantic coastline towards Reykjavik, but the adventure did not end there.


I stopped at the small fishing village of Eyrarbakki to eat succulent langoustines at the excellent Rauða Húsið restaurant (seafood does not get any better.)  After dinner I returned to my car to find the sky irradiated with lights in a rainbow of shimmering hues: green, red, blue, gold, no words can do justice to the wonder of the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights.  For once in my life I was rendered speechless by the sheer joy of seeing first hand nature at its awesome best.


I’ve travelled to many incredible countries, but it would take a mighty experience to compete with the glories of Iceland. 

What was the one item of clothing or equipment you couldn’t have managed without on your trip?

Rohan waterproof jacket – the weather turns on a sixpence in Iceland!

 And what was the single thing you’d wished you brought with you – but didn’t?

Waterproof shoes!

What was the one ‘not so good’ thing about your trip?

Not enough time to explore the whole island

What was the highlight?

Apart from the glacier, the incredible Gulfoss waterfall.




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