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Posted 04.07.19

Volcanoes & waterfalls for Pre-degree students trip to Iceland

By Kat Peberdy

Inspiration comes from all around us - from our environment, to our friendships, television, film or a simple conversation.

Our Pre-degree students have the opportunity to travel to some truly inspirational places, just this year they’ve visited New York, Japan, Barcelona and Iceland. They get the opportunity to soak up different cultures as well as gather materials for their upcoming projects, including some incredible photography opportunities - just take a look at the images in this blog, all captured by our Pre-degree students.

We caught up with lecturer Billy Abbott, as he reports back on their latest trip to the home of volcanoes, geysers and hot springs - Iceland.

A trip to Iceland is significantly different to what you might consider a typical educational visit; snow-capped mountains, extreme weather changes, geothermal activity and rugged landscapes provide the backdrop to progressive and alternative culture. As the geologically youngest country in the world, Iceland’s landscape is a wild contrast to temperate Britain. 

Photo by Thomas Mackenzie-Philps

Arriving mid-afternoon on Monday at our hotel just outside the centre of Reykjavik, we marched into the city just in time to enter the observation tower at Hallgrímskirkja - a Lutheran church standing 75 metres tall, we were rewarded with views over the city and mountains in the background. Designed in 1937 by Guðjón Samúelsson, he is said to have focused the design on resembling Iceland’s glacial and mountainous landscape.

Iceland is around two times smaller than the UK, with 64.1 million fewer people. The low population density means outside of the capital and surrounding area, few population centres exist and nature is very much king, in fact, the centre of the country is deemed inhospitable due to weather conditions.

We built the itinerary around some of the key geographical and geological sites of Iceland. It’s safe to say we were all quite big fans of the heated minibus that transported us across the terrain, with our guide educating us on Icelandic history, myths and folk-tales along the way. 

Photo by Thomas Mackenzie-Philps

Our tour encompassed three major natural wonders - Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall and Geysir. At Thingvellir National Park, the Earth’s tectonic plates are moving away from each other at a rate of around 2.5cm every year. Over millions of years, this has created a dramatic valley where you can stand on the Eurasian plate and gaze over the lowered land towards the North American plate. As is a signature trait of Iceland, this creates waterfalls and incredible views. 

Gullfoss, or ‘Golden Falls,’ is one of Iceland’s most beloved waterfalls. After taking in the views, we tucked into a lunch of authentic Icelandic soup to warm our insides ready for exploring around the falls’ multiple viewpoints. We made a short stop to feed some Icelandic horses who are remarkably friendly and tame due to the lack of predators in the country.

Then seeing the Geyser propel water so far into the air is something you can’t really prepare for, and a highlight of mine was seeing the reaction on our students’ faces. The smell of sulphur (imagine rotten eggs) is highly prevalent in the air around geothermal activity, and in Reykjavik, 95% of the capital’s buildings are powered by geothermal energy itself. Even the cold tap water is famous for its taste due to its glacial origins.

The second day saw a much more rugged and real Icelandic experience; this day took us past volcanoes, glaciers and mountains whilst we explored more natural beauty.

Photo by Thomas Mackenzie-Philps

Skogarfoss, a 60m waterfall, soaking anyone that comes even remotely close. The black sand beach at Vik proved a highlight, especially as the sun again peaked through the clouds to illuminate the dark and powerful waves. And the beach itself is flanked by basalt columns and a huge cave, because in Iceland one amazing sight isn’t enough!

Weather permitting, you can walk behind the waterfall Seljalandsfoss, an experience absolutely every bit as thrilling as it sounds. In true Icelandic fashion, as if the stunning falls weren’t enough, we were rewarded with a double rainbow to mark the end of our time in Iceland.

Completely unique and with memories to last us a lifetime, it’s a real pleasure to be able to lead on alternative trips like this with the support of the college.

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