Friday, 19 September 2014

Sex For the Disabled

I fancied a walk up Arthur's Seat this morning. In my mind's eye there would be a beautiful sunrise, maybe even some people on top. Instead it was foggy with drizzle. I was alone with the wind, some discarded roses and a crawing hoodie.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

TGO Magazine October 2014

A big day today! No, not the referendum. I refer of course to the appearance of my first article in the latest issue of The Great Outdoors, Britain's biggest-selling hillwalking magazine...



You can get it in newsagents or get a copy for your tablet here:

http://www.tgomagazine.co.uk/magazine/

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Snaefellsnes

WIth just one more day in Reykjavik before flying home, we wanted to see some of Iceland. Snaefellsnes - a 200km drive from Reykjavik - fits the bill nicely. The scenery on the way is typically volcanic. There are similar landforms in places like Skye and Mull but these volcanic rocks, although the youngest in Scotland, are millions of years old. In Iceland, they are still being born.

Trap country:


Snaefellsnes is the 60 mile long peninsula of Snaefell, a glacier-capped volcano that inspired Jules Verne (it was his entrance point to the centre of the earth). There's a Snaefell on Man (from which the six kingdoms of Man, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, and Heaven can be seen). The one on Man is 620m high and has a funicular railway station and cafe at the top. The one in Iceland is over twice as high, is capped by a glacier, and is considered by those who consider these things to be one of the seven major energy centres of the earth. Thanks to the clear Arctic light it can be clearly seen from Reykjavik despite being 80  miles distant.

Distant Snaefell:


We set off early, picking up a couple of young American hitchhikers who had been sleeping in caves near the road. It was a beautiful day. The sun felt dangerously bright, and the air very dry, but the temperatures stayed in the mid teens and despite expecting sunburn, none happened. Eventually we arrived in Stykkishólmur and stretched our legs. The Americans had just missed a ferry to the Westfjords, a particularly remote and scenic part of Iceland. We had a look around the harbour.

Lighthouse:


Brightly-painted wood and corrugated iron houses bring a cheerful note to a grand and empty landscape.

Stykkishólmur harbour:


Continuing west we passed Berserkerjarun. The sagas describe a road through this lava field as an 'impossible task' set by a farmer to two berserkers as the price for his daughter's hand in marriage to one of them. To his consternation, they successfully cut a road through the flows, and returned to claim their prize. However whilst they were relaxed and unarmed in a sauna, the farmer and his neighbour burst in and killed them. As any Boer could tell you, 'the farmer has a plan'.

Northern Snaefellsnes:


The sauna is a peculiarly Scandanavian institution, but in Iceland it is possible to bathe in hot spring water all year round. We saw smoke near a road and wandered over to it, to come across a steaming vent hole, water running out of it into the sea. These must have made life in an Icelandic winter slightly more bearable to those who lived nearby.

And then we saw it. One of Iceland's most photogenic hills. The 463m high Kirkjufell.



Kirkjufell rises next to the village of Grundarfjörður which has a beautiful red-roofed church and a saga museum. We ate lunch and the local school came out, the children gathered small groups, talking unhurriedly. I've never seen such a quiet group of school kids. Is there something about the place that breeds, if not reverence, then stillness? I should point out that none of these photos have been photoshopped in any way. It really is this uncannily bright and clear in the high north sunshine.

Grundarfjörður main street:


Kirkjufell provides amazing photo opportunities, especially around a roadside waterfall. We met a young Norwegian who was taking photos on an impressive camera. He had spent a few days camping in the village and a local had told him about the northern lights that had been on display lately. "In summer?" I was surprised. As had he been, but he showed us the incredible evidence on his camera's display. Unfortunately I have lost his business card, so you will have to make do with my own photos.

Kirkjufell:


As we travelled along the peninsula towards Olafsvik, the scenery just got better and better but... that is a post for another time...

South Snaefellsnes, return journey:


"Autumn is on its way," said the woman in the cafe in Borgarnes on our way back. I scoffed but on our return to Scotland, the leaves were already turning and falling, the brambles ripe. It was still August. An early end to summer - but what a way to end it, with a short trip to Iceland.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Gullfoss

People avoid Iceland. It is Nordic, therefore must be extortionately expensive. Foul beer at £10 a pint and a mortgage to afford dinner. That is probably why so few people visit Iceland. Yet "I am so glad you are going to Iceland!" a friend said. "People travel halfway round the world to visit New Zealand, when you can see the same things a two hour flight away in Iceland."

"I've always wanted to visit Norway," I said.

"Iceland's better," he replied.

And he is right. Iceland is exotic in a way more distant places are not. It is a land of dark volcanic rocks, and buildings of white corrugated iron and concrete. In Reykjavik these even have white roofs, which makes the city look modern, clean, a bit clinical. The countryside has few old buildings, turf-roofed hovels abandoned as soon as people could afford modern convenience. But some of the old traditions remain. There's hákarl, rotten shark meat (served in a sealed jar), smoked puffin - and bitarfiskur, a pleasant if pungent biltong-style snack made of dried, salted fish.

Bitarfiskur:


Fly with a budget airline and camp, and Iceland is cheap. The beer is no more expensive than in central Edinburgh and - to my astonishment - some of it is quite good.

And another thing about Iceland. I like the way random geographical features have proper names. This volcanic crater is called Kerið.



Each geyser also has its own name. This is Strokkur.



Another in in the park around Geysir is Konungshver. Another Blesi. The largest (and most famous) is Geysir, which gave its name to the whole class of hot spring fountains. Unfortunately it is not a frequent spurter. Strokkur is, and every five minutes or so provides entertainment as unwary tourists downwind are sprayed with hot sulphurous water.

Pressure welling in Strokkur:


Iceland is a land of abundant rivers and, on a wet day, what could be better than going to see a major waterfall like Gullfoss? You are going to get wet anyway...

Gullfoss:


At first sight, only the 11m top fall on the River Hvita is revealed. But get closer, and the lower 20m fall comes into view, thundering into a narrow slot gorge and sending wet clouds of spray high into the air.



The story of Gullfoss is one of local farmer Sigríður Tómasdóttir, who campaigned to have it preserved for the nation and saved from being dammed for electricity. There is a bust of Sigríður by the waterfall to preserve her memory. I like the way ordinary people in Iceland are recognised as heroes. Perhaps it comes from the tradition of the sagas. Perhaps it is because this is a country of ordinary people, whose infertile land repelled aristocrats and feudal landowners, leaving the inhabitants to make the best of what they had. And in the last 100 years, they've made quite a bit of it. What other country generates 100% of its power requirements from renewable sources, has a proportion of 1 in 10 of the population as published writers, or puts supposedly untouchable international financiers in jail for negligence?