EU Referendum

Iceland: a (baker's) dozen of the best


I didn't have much opportunity for photography during the week, although I did get time off for good behaviour, enough to do the famous Golden Circle tour on the Friday.

Such are one's unthinking perceptions that I had visions of this being a tour of the island. In terms of land area, though, Iceland (39,770 sq miles) is not so very much smaller than England (50,345 sq miles). Thus, the idea of a one-day tour covering the whole country is preposterous. You get to see a tiny corner of the south-west.

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We start off the tour in darkness. Into the interior, one becomes aware of pools of yellow light, which turn out to be huge greenhouses, taking advantage of the cheap electricity and geothermal heat. We get to visit one of these, where tomatoes and cucumbers are grown. The big-bales in the foreground, though, give a hint of Iceland's major crop – grass. This keeps the livestock (including the horses) fed during the winter. 

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That's what it looks like inside – with the proud owner explaining how his operation works. The boxes on the platform behind him are bees, imported from Holland, employed to do the pollination. They are female worker drones, but a queen is included. Unfortunately, the queen's offspring are mainly males, who are not particularly interested in work. New batches of females have to be imported every eight weeks or so.

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Then it is of to the Gullfoss waterfall, where this picture shows the scale of the falls. Click the link and you see it in the late spring when the snow is gone. This shot is taken in the teeth of a howling wind, with the sleet coming at you horizontally.

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From above the lower falls, where very few of the tourists ventured, having long retreated to the souvenir shop and restaurant, one can see down the two-mile canyon through which the Hvítá river then runs. You can see the normal tourist viewing platform at the top right of the picture. Some of the more hardy ones venture down the path that you can see below it.

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This is the top of the Hvítá, before it plunges down into the canyon. By now one has lost the will to live. The only thought is of that nice warm bus - via, of course, the souvenir shop where I bought three chunks of volcano.  Tourism is said to be growing industry, and Easyjet are to launch flights in the summer.  There are no winter flights though ... I can see why.

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On to Geysir, one gets to see geothermal activity in the raw – and the first splash of colour, even if it is brown. The soil, though, is ochre red. Everywhere, there is steam venting from the ground, with the geysers roped off. Boiling water erupting from the ground tends to be a life-shortening experience if you are too close.

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There are big geysers and little geysers. This is a little one, up close ... as close as you want to get, that is boiling water you are looking at. In common with many foreigners, though, you will see that the Icelanders are not very good at spelling.

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The road out of town en route the National Park. Unaccountably, this area is clear of snow, although by now we have had several hours of intermittent rainfall. This allows one to see the hay pastures, although in some areas, wheat, barley and even oilseed rape is grown. During the summer, sheep are put on the hills to graze.

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And now for the really cold bit. We were taken to the Thingvellir National Park, site of the former parliament, before it was moved to Reykjavik after an earthquake. Sessions were held in the open air, so they tended to be fairly short. In between, they made use of a drowning pool for women, and made a habit of beheading bishops.

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This, believe it or not, is a forest ... an Icelandic one. The original cover is birch, but they only grow to 3-4ft high. There is a saying - if you get lost in an Icelandic forest, all you have to do is stand up.

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Now we walk along the wall of the rift valley – the junction between the American and the Eurasian tectonic plates. Iceland is quite literally at the junction between America and Europe, tearing the island apart, forming these dramatic cliffs in the lava field, with the land in between subsiding by more than 100ft.  I find this an interesting political metaphor.

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Looking back the way we had come, I could quiet easily take this to be a scene from the Lord of the Rings … remove Japanese tourists and insert Goblins. This is the reality of being stuck mid-between America and Europe … but only in a geological sense.

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This is the view from the top, the viewing point overlooking the Þingvellir lake. This, in the centre of the rift, is the largest lake in Iceland. Fortunately, the wind does not show up in the picture, which was taken one-handed, aiming in the approximate direction of the lake, hanging on for grim death to the railing to stop being blown over.

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And that's what it was all about. Two days earlier, I'd been here at the Parliament (which still bears the Danish crown, as a symbol of occupation), talking to MPs about the EU and EEA. Now, the political divide is about as great as the Thingvellir rift.