Iceland Road Trip 2016 – Part 2

(Iceland Road Trip 2016 – Part 1)

Even by Icelandic standards (pretty damn high), our Airbnb house was just plain amazing. I woke up fairly early, around 6am, to discover a light dusting of snow outside. Like a ten year old boy I chucked my coat and shoes on (and camera of course!) and ran outside practically giggling to myself in excitement.

Snaefellnes

Snaefellnes

I walked down to the cliffs, the freezing wind in my face, in awe at my surroundings. It was just brilliant! After about half an hour the urgent need for coffee and warmth drove me back to the house. A bit later, after Gil and Nicola has gotten up and we’d all had some breakfast, it was time for some proper exploration. We decided to try the short walk down the coast to Hellnar.

Snaefellnes

Snaefellnes

A superb 5km round-trip along the rugged shoreline gave us a good appetite for lunch. In the afternoon we fancied a drive and explore of the Snaefellsjokull national park. It was a bit snowy and the landscape looked suitably wintry.

Snaefellnes

Snaefellnes

Only certain sections of the park were icy, others seemed almost completely clear and the weather varied from snow to hail to sleet to bright sunshine. This is Iceland.

Snaefellnes

Snaefellnes

We drove all the way round the coast to Grundarfjörður with the intention of scoping out somewhere to stay the next day. When we saw that the town looked out on Kirkjufell (one of the prettiest hills in the world) we knew we’d found a great spot.

Snaefellnes

Just how was the next day going to get any better?

All the photos from the trip on Flickr.

Iceland Road Trip 2016 – Part 1

A week after my walk up Esja, just outside Reykjavik, and after a conference I was attending my Iceland mini-break really started. My lovely work colleagues Gil and Nicola and myself had hired a car (an all-wheel drive Volvo XC70) and had the whole of Iceland (potentially) to explore. Where to go?

Gulfoss,Iceland

Gil and I had been to Iceland before but this was Nicola’s first time but I think it’s fair to say that the place never loses the magic. First up, we headed out to the ‘standard’ tourist stuff near the capitol – The Golden Circle. There is a good reason that this is where all the ‘time limited’ visitors head to – it is pretty damn good.

Gulfoss, Iceland

First up for us was Gullfoss, one of the ‘big’ waterfalls of Iceland (and probably the world). For someone from the uk, Iceland really does set a different benchmark for what constitutes a major waterfall attraction. It was a bit cold and rainy while we were here but that doesn’t matter too much with all this spray.

Geysir, Iceland

Next up is the famous ‘Geysir’. Not the original one (after which all geysers are named) but ‘Strokkur’, one that seems to reliably go off every 5-10 minutes. I feel a little bad that I did the totally tourist thing of wait till it went off once, take my photo and leave. It felt a bit predatory. We did, however, have a lot to see and do today so no time for slacking!

Thingvillir, Iceland

The last bit of the ‘Golden Circle’ is Thingvellir (Þingvellir). It is the site of arguably the first parliament in the world and is also in the valley that marks the divide between the European and North American continents. I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a tacky sign offering visitors to have one foot on each continent that I could disapprove of. Unless there was one and I just missed it.

Snaefellnes, Iceland

Right, Golden Circle done it was time to head north to the Snaefellsnes Peninsular. The road north gave us some wonderful views, especially as the sun was peeking out from behind the clouds. This countryside is fantastically rugged and primal feeling, even with the odd farm and town.

Nicola and Gil, Iceland

We had booked an Airbnb almost at the end of the peninsular and it felt like the ends of the earth. We were in the town/village of Arnarstapi right by the sea and backed by the mountains.

Gil, Iceland

We got there late and rushed to open some wine, get some food on and get the fire going. I do love making a fire.

Fire

All photos from the trip on Flickr.

Read Part 2 >>

Esja, Iceland

I’m a lucky boy in that my work occasionally sends me to nice places. This year it is Iceland.

Reykjavik

Esja
Going to Iceland in April, no one should really expect very good weather. In many ways you should never expect good weather at any time in Iceland, but April is a particularly tricky month. It might still be winter or spring might have arrived. Fortunately, spring was here for most of the first week. Every morning I was greeted with a sunrise over the local mountain, Esja, and blue skies. Gorgeous!

Reykjavik

I managed to find half a day and made the effort to give Esja a go. Two buses later I was at the hiking centre at its base. I wasn’t alone in wanting to make the most of the lovely weather – quite a number of people were streaming up and down.

Esja

Seeing all the snow on top, i’d packed more or less all of my warm gear. It goes without saying that very soon i’d stripped off all my outer layers and was getting quite a sweat on as I climbed. The path was clearly defined, though very muddy and with snow patches in places. This was also my first try at using walking poles. I’m not sure how you are supposed to use them but they seemed to help, particularly downhill.

Esja

Near the top the path becomes very steep and turns into a snowfield. A number of previous walkers had kicked steps and made a path of sorts. I was very concerned about making my knee injury worse but thought I should at least try and get to the top. I got with about 50 metres of the top but after slipping and nearly twisting my leg a few times I decided to call it a day.

Esja

I reckoned that the quickest and easiest way down was a (controlled) slide on my bum. This did get me down but I did then have a soaking wet seat of my trousers. It WAS fun though!

I then walked down in plenty of time to catch the bus back to Reykjavik. Fun times!

Esja

Microadventure: Beachy Head Awesome Campout

Dawn at Beachy Head

Since I did my first microadventure last year with my daughter I’ve been longing to do another on a clifftop. With the days getting that little bit lighter and there being a whiff of spring in the air this was the time to give it another go.

I picked a Saturday for this one so that we would be able to get to the coast in time to find a camp spot while it was light and maybe even catch a sunset. Things went pretty well to plan and my hopes were not dashed.

Beachy Head Microadventure

Beachy Head Microadventure

I’d not made any firm plans on a specific camping spot while planning the trip, just knowing that there were a few possibles. In the end the six of us settled on a flat area on the lower cliff tops just beyond Whitebread Hole (a football pitch) and before Beachy Head itself. This had the advantages of being on level ground, not too far from Eastbourne and easy for a ‘straggler’ to find us later.

Mulled wine and adventure chat
Photo by Matt McDonald

Beds made (I always love that this takes a minute) it was time for the serious business of making mulled wine and talking adventure and cracking jokes. Spike was ‘the man’ cooking up batch after batch of wonderful spiced warm wine ‘enriched’ with a few tots of rum or whiskey. The wine, along with the odd snack was the perfect accompaniment to gazing up at the moon and stars.

Our final camper, Leah, braved the path from Eastbourne on her own in the dark at 10pm. It was fabulous to see a headtorch approach and a small relief for me that she arrived safe. We were now the seven campers to go with the seven sisters!

Beachy Head Microadventure

Beachy Head Microadventure

It was a cold cold night, and i’d be lying if I said I ‘slept well’ but that is the price paid for stargazing this time of year. The morning was initially a bit grey and hazy but soon improved into a glorious but still chilly day. With a bit of coffee inside us we admired the amazing views and made our way into Eastbourne on the hunt for a slap-up breakfast.

Beachy Head Microadventure

Beachy Head Microadventure

A fantastic night out with my six fellow campers and I can’t wait till the next one!

All photos from the trip here. My 4th campout out of #16in16 this year. Thanks to Pip, Leah, Matt, Andy, John and Spike!

Beachy head Microadventure

Microadventure: Hassocks, South Downs

After my own campout plans fell through last week I thought I’d enjoy tagging along on someone else’s trip and be a follower. My dreams of being just a ‘follower’, however, were dashed when the ‘leader’ Andy had to pull out due to a horrendous cold and chest infection.

Hassocks Microadventure

Andy had sorted a great location on the South Downs about an hours walk from Hassocks and all I had to do was find it in the dark. No problem. Well, a couple of tiny wrong turns, but we got there without too many dramas. It does add a little bit of ‘adventure’ when you have to navigate in the dark to place you’ve never been to before. The camping spot, however, was perfect – a little clearing, mostly flat with lovely soft grass.

I can’t tell you how much it fills my heart with joy to be out in the wild (kind of) on a really cold night, enjoying the outdoors with such lovely positive people. I don’t remember anyone being anything less than totally fun. The snacks came out and were passed round and beer, wine and gin and tonic was drunk. It seemed pretty amusing that the gin and tonics were labelled ‘ready to drink’. The beer was not labelled thus (is it not ‘ready’?).

Sadly it was overcast so no actual stars to gaze adoringly at but there was no rain or any meaningful wind so I think we can call it a ‘win’ on the weather front.

Hassocks Microadventure

I slept like a baby, by which I mean that I woke up every 90 minutes and maybe not even that long. I was never ‘freezing’ cold but neither was I ever really toasty warm either. Also one or more of my lovely companions were snoring. I was actually quite glad that someone got some quality shut-eye.

Hassocks Microadventure

Despite the lack of sleep I woke pretty damn happy in the morning, piled on what layers I had and brewed up some water so that we could all get a hot drink inside us before heading back.

Hassocks Microadventure

What a fabulous outing, some new campout friends made (some who were out for the first time), a new campout spot discovered and a superb start to my weekend. I can’t wait till the next one!

That was No. 3 in my #16in16 awesome campouts of the year.

All photos from the trip.

Hassocks Microadventure

Hassocks Microadventure

Injury update (Feb 16)

So I busted my knee on December 7th (a date that will live in infamy) doing something as innocuous as turning round. As an aside I always think of some injuries being ‘noble’ if you were doing something especially cool or adventurous. Busting my knee base jumping from the top of The Shard or climbing the north face of the Eiger are the type of thing i’d rather say what did it.

Anyway, after a month or so of carrying a limp and another month of modest levels of discomfort I finally got an appointment with a knee specialist at the Hospital. He was not able to be very specific, it still seems to be a toss-up between a meniscal tear and a anterior ligament injury. The following week I had an MRI (that i fell asleep in) but i’ll have to wait till my next appointment in mid-March to find out the results. It goes without saying that this is quite frustrating!

On the plus side, I walk almost entirely without pain now and only get the odd twinge. Over the last few weeks i’ve been introducing the lightest of mini-runs into my fitness sessions. I’m not quite sure how much to push things and i’ll be honest, i’m terrified of having a relapse. Despite this i’m starting to feel that light is at the end of the tunnel and all this will be over at some point.

Being surrounded, as I am often these days, by fantastically adventurous souls doing amazing things, it does get me down a bit not being able to join in.

Looking to get properly stuck in soon!

Microadventure: Box Hill Awesome Campout

Encouraged by all the super feedback that I got from the pre-christmas microadventure at Coombe Hill I had to do more. An Awesome January Campout just had to happen. I made a Facebook event and advertised it on the “Project Awesome’ and ‘Yes Tribe’ groups and waited to see the response. Well blow me if the numbers weren’t fairly amazing, and to be very honest, a bit scary. At one point I had 73 ‘interested’ and 35 ‘Going’ for a bivvy out in WINTER! [Note: The reality of what folk mean by ‘interested’ and ‘going’ on Facebook would make an interesting study].

Awesome January campout

The meet-up on this one was a bit more chaotic than I would have hoped. I met some folk at Waterloo, others were joining us at Box Hill station and yet more were going to join us on the hill. I was able to lead the main group from the station and then up the steep and muddy path until we got to the clearing behind the Solomon Memorial. It was a cold (5C) night but beautifully clear with superb views of the stars and moon. How cool!

Box hill campout

With a few late arrivals we ultimately had 27 campers out which is incredible for January. I know I’m a nutter, but this many crazies in one place is surely not good? What I mean is that it was amazing to meet such a brilliant bunch of adventurers. With this many folks, there were quite a few groups talking and more than one stove used to mull some wine. I did my best to stay up and talk but I’m not a late nighter and retreated to my bivvy fairly early on.

Box Hill awesome campout

Despite it being actually warmer than last week, I felt colder and didn’t sleep as well. It was more than worth it though to see a shooting star in the night and to experience the most amazing dawn.

Box hill

Box Hill awesome campout

I’ve only seen a couple of cloud inversions so to get one here in Surrey seems quite special. We didn’t wait too long before packing up (never takes too long when bivving) and headed down the hill in search of breakfast.

Box Hill awesome campout

Fortyfied with egg, bacon or sausage baps it was time to head off back to our homes. A good number were straight off to the Adventure Travel Show in Olympia, literally smelling of ‘adventure’. What more authentic way to go.

A terrific microadventure and the first of many ‘Awesome Campouts’ this year!