What a wonderful adventure! Bright and early on Sunday 21st October, 37 students from Year 9, 10 and 11 along with Mrs Corpas, Mrs Ainscough, Mr Guerin, Mr Settle and Mrs Manning set off from Sancton Wood to begin an exciting journey from England to Keflavik airport on the south-western tip of Iceland for 4 days of incredible geography, adventure and fun. Right from our very first visit to the Reykjanes peninsular, where we were greeted by clouds of sulphur-smelling steam and an almost alien landscape of moody black lava I have been overwhelmed by a chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” and a litany of “wow”s as each day seems to be more amazing than the one before. Truly the most magical sounds for any teacher, and proof – if ever any was needed – that nature really is the very best classroom!
Mrs Corpas’ Iceland 2018 diary & photos:
Meeting at the school at 6.45am we were ready to go by 7am and set off on a 2-hour journey to Gatwick airport. Once there we divided into our 4 groups: Mrs Corpas’ “Volcanoes”, Mr Guerin’s “Aurori”, Mrs Ainscough’s “Waterfalls” and Mr Settle’s “Geysers” to make our way through security. After a pleasant flight we landed smack bang into a different world as from every window we were greeted by an almost lunar, alien landscape of wild, untamed grey-black lava fields stretching as far as the eye could see. Within 15 minutes of boarding our coach we had arrived amongst steaming hot springs and boiling mud pools and the strong smell of sulphur as we wound our way amongst the famous geothermal hot springs of the Reykjanes peninsular. The students gazed around them with eyes wide in astonishment that such a different world could be just a few hours away by air from London. In fact, Keflavik is nearer than most parts of Spain and yet geographically it felt like we had almost left the planet entirely and landed in a strange new world.
After the hot springs we braved hail, sleet and pounding rain to make our way down to the rugged, bare coastline for a breathtaking view of sheer basalt cliffs and multiple stacks eroded by enormous waves that sent spray up to the top of some of the cliffs in the distance, their force was so great. As we were leaving the sun came out creating an eerie light and a beautiful rainbow, a welcome relief from the freezing rain.
Back on the coach we made our way to Reykjavik for a city tour by bus, stopping to admire the unusual church of Hallgrímskirkja that is shaped to resemble basalt columns and the city hall and central square. We unpacked at the hostel and took a long walk through the city a Reykjavik Italian restaurant where we ate our fill of pizza and pasta!
Leaving Reykavik in thick cloud that quickly gave way to a clear but snowy pass through the mountains we made our way to Hellisheiði Geothermal Power Station, the largest geothermal power station in Iceland and the 6thlargest in the world. We saw how the raw heat of volcanic zones can be harnessed to provide green energy and free hot water to supply the city of Reykajivk and marveled at the technology employed to make such innovation possible. Back on the coach we began our long journey to the southern shores of Iceland and its impressive lowlands, risen up from the seabed due to isostatic readjustment after the last ice age.
We popped into the Lava centre on our way and then donned our waterproofs for a magical (albeit very damp!) visit to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall which we were able to climb behind to admire its stunning drop and plunge pool. This was followed by an equally damp visit to the mighty Skogafoss waterfall. By the time we had journeyed inland a little to reach the Solheimajokull glacier tongue the rain had stopped and we were blessed with a dry, if icy, trek down to the glacier where we strapped on our helmets and crampons, gawking at the stunning glacial lagoon and immense sheet of ice towering above us. Within minutes of reaching the ice my group were merrily hacking at it with their ice axes, sampling ice cubes and examining the ash deposits from historic eruptions. Everyone was glowing with delight and exertion by the time we got back to the bus and a very tired but happy group of students and staff fell into bed that night!
After an early night we were raring to go and what a treat was in store for us as we drove the short distance down to the Reynishverfi and Dyrhólaey black sand beaches! Towering columns of black basalt and looming stacks, arches, caves and cliffs juxtaposed with the white sleet and snow and the froth of stormy waves to create a surreal, other-worldly atmosphere that was starting to feel like the norm for this amazing country. Gasps of amazement and delight once again abounded to my great delight!
Slightly dazed we settled back on the coach for a long drive back towards Reykavik, stopping to sample tomatoes and admire both geothermal greenhouses and the 5 gaits of the famous Icelandic horses before beginning our Golden Circle tour. The students could not get over the beauty and majesty of Gulfoss, the double waterfalls of Iceland’s greatest falls and even the freezing snow and sleet could not dampen their enthusiasm for their majesty nor their amazement at seeing the geyser Strokkur erupt in front of our eyes or the incredible scale and size of Thingvellir National Park, the giant rift valley that marks the border between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.
After walking through the valley and visiting the site of the world’s oldest outdoor parliament we finished our visit to Thingvellir with students playing hide and seek in lava fissures as the sun set in the background. Truly a magical way to end the day.
Thinking that their trip could not possibly get any more special it was wonderful to see the expressions of delight and incredulity on the faces of all 37 students as they came tumbling out into the cold air from the Blue Lagoon changing rooms and slipped into the steamy hot waters of the geothermal lake. The combination of the lagoon’s sheer size, its milky blue waters, the gentle billows of steam and its rugged lava backdrop made this an unrivalled spa experience and students and staff alike enjoyed a thoroughly relaxing, if surreal, soak in the mineral rich waters before lazily making our way back to the coach.
But the trip was not over yet and an unexpected stop at the Reykjanes coastline blew away the cobwebs as we witnessed the erosive power of the ocean. Giant, crashing waves pounded the unique stepped basalt cliffs, affectionately named the trolls’ baths and the wind tore at our hair and clothes as we looked on in amazement. Our last stop was the “bridge that spans the continents” where we were able to experience the unique chance to stand with one foot on Europe and another on North America as the bridge is said to span the divide between the two. The sun was out and the black lava landscape seemed to glow, its beauty making it hard to leave, but also creating a perfect memory to take with us.
All in all this has been a truly spectacular trip and really the opportunity of a lifetime to experience a landscape like no other. It is a place so heaving with geographical features it was like stepping into an encyclopaedia or our very own episode of Planet Earth! We came back home feeling very lucky indeed and I certainly could not have been more proud of the student’s excellent behaviour and attitude; well done Sancton Wood!
Sancton Wood geography field trip to Iceland, October 2016
On 23rd October 2016, a team of 29 Sancton Wood students, from Years 9,10 and 11, along with Mrs Corpas, Mr Parker and Mr Guerin jetted off to the land of fire and ice for an amazing 5 day field trip! We explored everything about this incredible volcanic island from amazing waterfalls cascading off basalt cliffs onto an old sea bed, its layers of cracked lava protruding from the wild landscape in every direction and its black sand beaches through to volcanoes, waterfalls and the mighty basalt columns of the dramatic southern shores. You can scroll down this page to see Mrs Corpas’ day by day journal of the trip which was written each evening for parents and colleagues.
Iceland is essentially one giant volcano made up of hundreds of smaller volcanoes, some of which are still very active (remember the Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010 that disrupted European air space? … We got to visit the area most affected). The island is still emerging slowly from the Atlantic ocean as the result of the growing divide between the American and European continents and the tectonic plates that they sit upon. As the plates divide, the enormous rift valley (Thingvellir – which we also visited) is still being created and is one of the few places on our planet where you can see diverging plate boundaries on the surface of the earth.
Iceland is in many ways a land of great heat for it relies upon and uses the abundant geothermal energy simmering beneath its surface (underground water being super-heated by its much closer proximity to Earth’s mantle) for all parts of its life. We visited inside a geothermal power station (the 6th largest in the world) and geothermal green houses. We saw (and smelled!) mud pools, hot springs and geysers, and swam in glorious geothermal pools including the iconic Blue Lagoon, fell about in an earthquake simulator and boiled eggs in a geothermal spring in the middle of a tiny town built on a bed of bubbling hot springs (Hveragerdi).
Lastly, but by no means least, Iceland is so named for a reason and we donned our crampons to tackle the last extreme of its southern ice cap on a glacial hike, chasing the retreating glacier Solheimajokull back up the majestic valley it carved thousands of years ago. And then had a go hacking at it with ice picks!
Some of the brilliant geographical themes our students explored (but this time for real and in person!) included volcanoes, earthquakes and plate tectonics, coastal and marine processes, glacial erosion, geothermal power, geology, tourism, ecosystems and waterfalls and many more.
Please see below for photos of our exciting trip.
Mrs Corpas’ Iceland journal
ICELAND DAY 1
After a slight delay to our flight we arrived safely at Keflavik international airport and found our way to meet our guide and coach driver, all the while marvelling at the bleak but beautiful volcanic landscape around us. Students loved visiting the bridge that spans the continents and the hot springs and taking in the breathtaking coastal scenery before a long coach journey to our hotel and a rather late dinner. Tomorrow we are looking forward to walking behind a waterfall, cooking in a hot spring, visiting a geothermal power station and trying out the earthquake simulator…
Iceland DAY 2
We’re on our way back to the hotel after a very busy and fun day with a strong geothermal theme! We began with a fascinating visit to the Eyjafjallakokull visitor centre followed by a very wet visit to Seljalandsfoss waterfall where everyone braced sleet, hail and spray to climb behind the waterfall and enjoy the spectacular scenery. After lunch we began our geothermal tour, beginning with an exploration of the geothermal gardens of Hverageroi where the students boiled an egg in a geothermal stream and enjoyed eating them with geothermally steamed rye bread! We finished our day with a tour of the Hellosheiol geothermal power station but not before everyone thoroughly enjoyed a thought-provoking visit to the Hveragerdi earthquake simulator. There is no doubt all will be sleeping well tonight. We have to… we’re on a glacier hike tomorrow!
Evening update: great excitement! We have just been for a very icy walk out of town and were treated to an incredible display of the northern lights! The students are absolutely thrilled, their delight exceeded only by Mr Guerin’s, who has fulfilled a life-long dream tonight…
Iceland Day 3:
Today has been truly wet with strong winds and driving rain intermingled with a determined drizzle. Undeterred however, Sancton Wood students pulled on their crampons and tackled icy crevasses and steep slopes as we hiked along a huge glacier tongue. Views were magnificent in spite of the rain and the students discovered that there is something deeply satisfying in getting to hack at 700 year old ice with an ice axe! After lunch we were left breathless by the basalt beaches and textbook arches, stacks and stumps of the stormy beaches of Vik on the south coast. We finished the day on a high with a walk up to the mighty Skogafoss waterfall. The coach is abuzz with excited chatter as we make our way back to our hotel…
Iceland Day 4:
What a day! Starting with a glorious soak in a 38 degree geothermally heated swimming pool was truly relaxing and everyone braved the freezing air to visit a mini geyser by the side of the pool, partly to enjoy sinking back into the warm waters in order to defrost afterwards! We then made our way to visit the inside of a geothermal tomato greenhouse and see how tomatoes are pollinated by Dutch bees and grown all year round thanks to everlasting lights and a renewable energy source. We sampled tomatoes and tomato juice and learnt how the process works. Next we popped to the stables next door to stroke Icelandic horses and watch a charming display of their 5 gaits.
Next we began our Golden Circle tour where we marvelled at the majestic Gulfoss falls and visited Geysir to see a geyser erupt 3 times during our visit. Incredible!
Lastly we made our way to the world heritage site of Thingvellir, seat of the oldest outdoor parliament in the world and a stunning rift valley created by the constructive plate boundary of 2 tectonic plates drifting apart. Now we are sleepily making our way back to our last night’s hotel ready for the Blue Lagoon and our journey home tomorrow…
Iceland Day 5- last day!:
We’ve landed! After a slight delay to provide some first aid for a cut lip (all well now!) we are sitting in a traffic jam on M25 waiting to enter the Dartford tunnel (as one tunnel is closed) but all the students are chatting happily as we look forward to getting home.
This morning we drove around Reykjavik to get a feel for the colourful capital of Iceland and see the cathedral, parish church, the observatory and municipal buildings. We finished our fabulous trip with a glorious soak in the iconic Blue Lagoon so that we arrived at Keflavik airport rested and rejuvenated for our long journey home…