Tag Archives: Iceland

Postcard from Lanzarote

Lanzarote Postcard 1

What now seems an awful long time ago I used to like going on holiday to the Canary Islands, that agreeable part of Spain which is located just off the north-western African coast and in December 1983, before I was even thirty years old, I flew to Lanzarote with a group of friends with the intention of having a pre-Christmas party week in the sun.

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The National Fishing Heritage Centre in Grimsby

Ross Tiger Grimsby Fishing Heritage Museum

“Grimsby is a town that shuns the notion of heritage” – Daily Telegraph

I think this statement by the Daily Telegraph is a little unfair.  No, it is very unfair.  Grimsby is a lot like Hull and bear in mind here that the city of Hull on the opposite side of the Humber Estuary was named UK Capital of Culture for 2017 even though no one in England, except for the awarding judges that is, could really understand why except for the fact that Coventry in the West Midlands came second!

In my last post I was in Hull at the Fishing and Trawler Visitor Centre Today and today my plan was to visit the National Fishing Heritage Centre which is where I take all visitors when they come to see us in Grimsby.

It is a very fine museum run by the local council.  It recreates life in 1960s Grimsby in and around the dock area and then takes visitors on board a trawler to experience life at sea in pursuit of the cod.  It provides an insight to life in Grimsby when it was the biggest and most important fishing port in the World but as I mentioned before in a previous post this has all gone now.

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The Huldufólk of Iceland

“This is a land where everyone is aware that the land is alive, and one can say that the stories of hidden people and the need to work carefully with them reflects an understanding that the land demands respect” –  Terry Gunnell, a folklore professor at the University of Iceland

We have moved on from Wroclaw in Poland and its street dwarfs so I thought you might like some pictures of the Huldufólk. the “hidden folk” of Icelandic folklore who live in a mystical landscape of mountain passes with peaks lost in the clouds, of arctic chill, windswept valleys, gnarled volcanic rock, wild moss and winter scorched meadows.

“It’s sort of a relationship with nature, like with the rocks. (The elves) all live in the rocks, so you have to. It’s all about respect, you know.” – Icelandic Singer Bjork.

In a land like this. of fire and ice, a place that is wild and magical, where the fog-shrouded lava fields provide a spooky landscape in which it is possible that anything out of the ordinary might lurk, stories flourish about the “hidden folk”.

According to Icelanders these are the thousands of elves who make their homes in the wilderness,  supernatural forces that dwell within the hallowed volcanic rubble and coexist alongside the 320,000 or so Icelandic people.

People in Iceland do not throw stones into the wilderness just in case they carelessly injure an Elf!

“It has caused a lot of arguments, as it’s something that’s very difficult to prove. Iceland is full of álagablettir, or enchanted spots, places you don’t touch – just like the fairy forts and peat bogs in Ireland. They’re protected by stories about the bad things that will happen if you do” – Terry Gunnell

If you are wondering where the Huldufólk are in my pictures? Well, according to Icelandic lore they are hidden beings that inhabit a parallel world that is invisible to human eyes, and can only be spotted by psychics and little children, unless they willingly decide to reveal themselves to people.

Sometimes however you can see their houses…

Have you been to Iceland – Have you seen the the Huldufólk?

Grimsby – The Cod Wars and the National Fishing Heritage Centre

Ross Tiger Grimsby Fishing Heritage Museum

Ross Tiger” by Grimsby Artist Carl Paul – www.carlpaulfinearts.co.uk

“Grimsby is a town that shuns the notion of heritage” – Daily Telegraph

I think this statement by the Daily Telegraph is a little unfair.  No, it is a lot unfair.  Grimsby is a lot like Hull and bear in mind here that the city of Hull on the opposite side of the Humber Estuary was named UK Capital of Culture for 2017 and no one in England, except for the awarding judges, can really understand why.  Coventry in the West Midlands came second which is perhaps the reason why.

Today, my plan was to visit the National Fishing Heritage Centre which is where I take all visitors when they come to see us in Grimsby.  It is a very fine museum run by the local council.  It recreates life in 1960s Grimsby in and around the dock area and then takes visitors on board a trawler to experience life at sea in pursuit of the cod.  It provides an insight to life in Grimsby when it was the biggest and most important fishing port in the World but as I mentioned before this has all gone now.

In 1958 Britain went to war – this time with Iceland.  The First Cod War lasted from 1st September until 12th November 1958 and began in response to an unexpected new Icelandic law that tripled the Icelandic fishery zone from four nautical miles to twelve to protect its own fishing industry.

“Rule Brittania, Brittania Rules the Waves”

The British Government declared that their trawlers would fish under protection from Royal Navy warships in three areas, out of the Westfjords, north of Horn and to the southeast of Iceland.  All in all, twenty British trawlers, four warships and a supply vessel operated inside the newly declared zones.

This was a bad tempered little spat that involved trawler net cutting, mid ocean ramming incidents and collisions.  It was also a bit of an uneven contest because in all fifty-three British warships took part in the operations against seven Icelandic patrol vessels and a single Catalina flying boat.

Eventually Britain and Iceland came to an uneasy settlement, which stipulated that any future disagreement between the two countries in the matter of fishery zones would be sent to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the Icelandic Minister Bjarni Benediktsson hailed the agreement as “Iceland’s biggest ever political victory.

But it wasn’t the end of Cod Wars because there was a second in 1972 and a third in 1975 when on both occasions Iceland without warning and with disregard to the earlier agreement further extended their territorial fishing waters without consultation and continuing to protect these is what keeps Iceland from joining the European Union even today.  Lucky Iceland some would say!

Today Grimsby is dominated by the fish processing sector rather than the catching industry. Processors are mainly supplied by over-landed fish from other UK ports and by a harsh twist of fate containerised white fish from Iceland.

Fishing Heritage Centre

The visit started well enough and after I purchased the tickets we took a look around the first rooms with their displays of ships and fishing and then we carried on to the trawler reconstruction and this is where things started to go wrong.  As we walked through the ship, the wheelhouse, the crew quarters, the galley and the engine room we met a succession of life sized models which, and I hadn’t really noticed this before, are all rather intimidating.  My eldest granddaughter declared them to be monsters and started to hurry us through at a pace that we couldn’t really appreciate the experience.

To be fair to her they are a bit ugly and scary but then I suppose life at sea was like that and what about this picture of the Duchess of Cambridge when she visited the museum, I don’t know if it is just me but that crewman seems to me to be inappropriately leering at her and that’s not right, because she is after all the future Queen of England.

Duchess of Cambridge

We were racing through the museum now until we came to the end, a recreation of a Grimsby street complete with authentic sounds and smells.  My youngest granddaughter rushed through and out into the reception area where some more visitors were buying tickets and she dashed across to them with some advice – “Don’t go in there…” she said, “…it stinks!” and although they found this amusing they carried on regardless.

So, the visit to the National Fishing Heritage Centre was not a huge success and the children were so keen to get away that they didn’t even pester me to look around the shop (there isn’t much in it anyway) and we left with unnecessary haste and went to find a fish and chip shop for lunch.  At the table we ordered Haddock because since the war with Iceland Grimbarians won’t eat Cod and will tell you that Haddock is a superior fish.  To be honest I can’t really taste the difference.

Grimsby Fish & Chips

Weekly Photo Challenge: Ephemeral – Lost Luggage

Reykjavik Iceland Lost Luggage

This was a British Airways flight so there was a level of sophistication to which we have become unaccustomed in our travels with the budget airlines and here are just a few things that British Airways do better than Ryanair; on this flight there were comfortable leather seats, flight attendants in smart uniforms, ample legroom for stretching out, a bag of breakfast and complimentary drinks.

Things changed however when we arrived in Reykjavik and here is something that Ryanair do better than British Airways; they remember to put your luggage on board the same aircraft as you and deliver it to the same airport at the same time.

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Age of Innocence – 1958, The Cod Wars With Iceland

Ross Tiger Grimsby Fishing Heritage Museum

Ross Tiger” by Grimsby Artist Carl Paul – www.carlpaulfinearts.co.uk

In 1958 Britain went to war – this time with Iceland.  The First Cod War lasted from 1st September until 12th November 1958 and began in response to a new Icelandic law that tripled the Icelandic fishery zone from four nautical miles to twelve to protect its own fishing industry.

The British Government declared that their trawlers would fish under protection from Royal Navy warships in three areas, out of the Westfjords, north of Horn and to the southeast of Iceland.  All in all, twenty British trawlers, four warships and a supply vessel operated inside the newly declared zones.  This was a bad tempered little spat that involved trawler net cutting, mid ocean ramming incidents and collisions.  It was also a bit of an uneven contest because in all fifty-three British warships took part in the operations against seven Icelandic patrol vessels and a single Catalina flying boat.

Read the full story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Shadowed

Shadowed in Reykjavik

When I was much younger I was in the Boy Scouts which was genuinely good preparation for later life because it taught discipline, purpose and respect and some truly useful skills like first aid and survival, using an axe and a compass and lighting fires without the aid of a cigarette lighter.

Looking now at the Scout progress card however there is one thing I’m not so sure about and that is stalking.  In the Scouts you got a badge for being good at that but these days that sort of thing is likely to land you in a whole lot of trouble!

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Cover Art

Sólfar Suncraft

Sólfar Suncraft

Beginning of a Voyage…

Iceland is proud of its Viking heritage because the country was first colonised by Norwegians in the ninth century and the story goes that the first permanent settler was a man called Ingólfur Arnarson who landed here in 871 and named the location Reykjavik, which means smoky bay, on account of the comforting plumes of hot steam that were escaping from the nearby hot springs.

Ireland, The Ring of Dingle, Famine, Immigration and Music

Ireland Dingle

“At the very edge of Europe, as far west as you can go in Ireland…. once described by National Geographic as the most beautiful place on earth… a place where the mountains roll into the ocean.

The plan now was to get back to the car and drive to the most westerly point of the Dingle peninsula which is called the Ring of Dingle or the Dingle Way depending on whether you are driving or walking.

We weren’t going very far so the flashing dashboard and the prospect of blowing up the engine didn’t worry me to any great degree and we left the hotel car park, negotiated our way out of Dingle and picked up the scenic road to what seemed like the ragged edge of the World with a coastline of jagged cliffs and inhospitable rocky inlets.

The road climbed high above the sea, sometimes close to the ocean and sometimes heading off inland and soon we came to a succession of small tourist stop off points advertising historic attractions and we pulled into a car park promising an Irish famine cottage and we purchased tickets from an old lady in a ticket shed in a bizarre transaction that took place through a half inch gap in a window as though she was highly suspicious of visitors or thought we were bandits who would steal the days takings which by mid-afternoon must have been worth all of about €15.

There was a strenuous walk to the cottage and a farm and behind us there were some wonderful views over the south of the peninsular, Dingle Bay and the Kerry Mountains on the opposite side which made it easy to understand why Hollywood film makers have chosen this place as a location for films such as Far and Away and Ryan’s Daughter.

Famine Cottage Dingle Ireland

Inside the cottage there was a recreation of a typical mid-nineteenth century family home and information boards about the famine and the consequences.  It seems that at that time Irish people lived almost entirely on potatoes and that a working man would eat as much as fourteen pounds a day – that is a lot of potatoes, roughly equivalent to two hundred and fifty bags of potato crisps!

Now, I know potatoes are versatile – boiled, baked, mashed, fried, hash browns, dauphinoise, gnocchi but I imagine this sort of diet can become awfully monotonous!  Unfortunately not only did the Irish rely completely on the potato they specialised in just one variety.  The Arran Banner was a heavy cropper but also particularly susceptible to the potato blight virus and a succession of harvest failures in the late 1840s led to starvation, death, farm failure, cruel and vexatious evictions by English absentee landlords and eventually mass emigration to the United States.

Interestingly it is most likely that the virus came from the United States in the first place (just like the phylloxera virus that infected French vine crops at about the same time) but regardless of this they blamed the English and five million Irish (80% of the total population at the time) chose to go there anyway.  Today nearly sixty million people in the USA, almost 20% of the population, claim Irish roots and twenty-two out of forty-four of US Presidents (including Barack Abama!) have claimed Irish ancestry.

For only €4 (senior rate) it was a good reconstruction and there was a curious ancient burial mound with an information board but a path blocked by a barbed wire fence and no real sign of where the ancient monument actually was so confused by that we returned to the car and carried on.

A little further along the road there were signs to fifth century beehive stone houses but I don’t think they were original and we had had enough excitement for one day at the famine cottage and the ancient burial site and any more and my head might have exploded before the car engine so we drove straight by.

Europe

Very soon we were at the most westerly point of the peninsula and could go no further and we were staring out at two thousand miles of water and next stop Canada and the USA.  At 10°27’ longitude Dingle claims to the most westerly town (as opposed to city – this is important) in Europe but whilst this may be true there are lots of other ‘most westerly’ claims to take into consideration.

The Blasket Islands (10°39’) at the end of the Dingle Peninsula are the most westerly point in the British Isles but these have been uninhabited since 1953, Iceland is the most westerly country in Europe and Reykjavik is the most westerly capital city (21°93’); Lisbon (9°14’) is the most westerly city on mainland Europe and furthest west than anywhere else are the Azores at 31°30.

When someone tells you that something is the biggest or the longest or the highest or the heaviest it is always worth checking up I find.  The most westerly point in Asia is Cape Baba in Turkey and in the United States it is Alaska which is also the most easterly as well because it stretches so far that it crosses right into the eastern hemisphere (a good pub quiz question that).

Another interesting fact about this place is that is was more or less the place where Charles Lindbergh crossed the Irish coast in 1927 in the Spirit of St. Louis in the first successful flight from New York to Paris.  I like this extract from his journals:

“I have carried on short conversations with people on the ground by flying low with throttled engine, and shouting a question, and receiving the answer by some signal. When I saw this fisherman I decided to try to get him to point towards land. I had no sooner made the decision than the futility of the effort became apparent. In all likelihood he could not speak English, and even if he could he would undoubtedly be far too astounded to answer. However, I circled again and closing the throttle as the plane passed within a few feet of the boat I shouted, “Which way is Ireland?” Of course the attempt was useless, and I continued on my course.”

From this most westerly point that we could go today we drove back inland along the north side of the peninsular which was not so scenic or dramatic and eventually the road returned us to Dingle and the hotel.

The weather was a real surprise.  I was expecting continuous rain and slate grey skies but it was warm and sunny and in the late afternoon we sat in the garden of the hotel with a glass of wine and watched the boats slipping in and out of the harbour in pursuit of Funghi the dolphin and enjoyed the peace and serenity of the verdant emerald countryside and the unexpectedly indolent ocean.

Later we walked along the coastal path back into Dingle to eat at a sea food restaurant next to the harbour and after an exceptional sea food platter we followed that with a visit to a gaily coloured pub where there was lively Irish music entertainment which went on way past normal closing time.

With no sign of the pub closing or the music stopping we called our own personal time and walked in the moonlight back along the coastal path to the hotel.  It was our last night in Ireland and while we walked along the moonlit path I wished that it had been our first!

Dingle Ireland Murphys Pub

Iceland, The Assessment

Iceland Cover

This was a second visit to Iceland and the first since the crash of 2008  so there were some significant changes – mostly financial.

In 2008 the economy bombed, the krona has lost more than half its value.  GDP dropped by 10% in under a year and unemployment hit a forty year high.  Following negotiations with the IMF a massive rescue package of $4.6bn was agreed by a combination of loans and currency swaps from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.  In addition the little Faroe Islands offered 300m Danish kroner, which was roughly the equivalent of the United Kingdom lending 300 billion Danish krona or 35 billion pounds!  How generous was that.

Six years previously I had found the country horrendously expensive but immediately after the crash the krona lost fifty percent of its value against the euro and even taking into account six years of relatively high inflation, which even now remains high at over 5%, I was rather hoping for cheaper prices this time and I was not disappointed because I estimate that the tourist cost of living was only about 65% of the costs of 2007.

Iceland Postcard

The smugness of 2007 had been completely wiped away and coffee shops, bars and restaurants were now all eager for business and visitors’ money, beer was cheaper, wine was cheaper and food was cheaper.  Hotels were no more expensive than anywhere else in Europe and local businesses were keen to accommodate visitors.

One place that wasn’t cheaper was the ludicrously overpriced Blue Lagoon’ and I would recommend visitors to Iceland to definitely give this overrated attraction a miss. Since our last visit to Iceland in 2007 the cost of everything seemed to have become more reasonable but the entrance fee to the Blue Lagoon had rocketed from €20 to €34 and that was only for the standard winter entrance which rises to €40 in the summer and which includes no more than an hour or so in the water.  At the premium end of the scale of charges is the luxury experience which costs a whopping €430 – EACH!  The Blue Lagoon boasts about four hundred thousand visitors a year so this place is making serious money.

Iceland Keflavik The Blue Lagoon

And talking of rip-offs visitors should also beware of car hire scams.  Unfortunately hiring a car on line is as big a financial minefield as booking a low cost flight with a range of confusing add ons and exclusions all designed to generate additional revenue.  Sixt have come up with a brilliant wheeze.  I thought that I had purchased fully comprehensive insurance but the desk clerk told me that the cars suffered so many stone chips because of the gravel roads in Iceland that this had now been excluded and could be purchased at an additional cost of €9 a day under the description ‘gravel damage’.

Then it became almost surreal when he explained that further cover was available at €10 a day for volcano damage.  Volcano damage  – WTF? Upon enquiry he told me that if a volcano explodes it can generate enough heat to strip the paint off the car and that this was not covered either.  Well, I considered this for a moment and came to the conclusion that if I was close enough to an exploding volcano for it to strip the paint off the car that I was likely to be in a lot of trouble and great personal danger and the last thing that I was going to be worried about as I was surely burnt to a cinder and my flesh was stripped from my blackened bones was the condition of the paintwork on the hire car, so I declined the offer to purchase the additional cover.

Reyjkavik Iceland Northern Lights

As a postscript to this point I would like to point out to Sixt car hire that as we drove around over the next few days I didn’t see a single car stripped down to bare metal so I have come to the inescapable conclusion that volcano damage insurance is a complete con.

But I/we did enjoy Iceland, we had a nice hotel, found an excellent restaurant (Harry’s Bar), drove the Golden Circle  and on the final night got to see the Northern Lights just as we had given up all hope of seeing the spectacular light show.

I am tempted now to return to Iceland, maybe in June and experience the midnight sun but this time I would miss Reykjavik because I have been there twice now and seen all that there is to see but I think I would hire a car (perhaps not from Sixt) and circumnavigate the island, that would be about one thousand, five hundred kilometres but I am guessing that this would be a wonderful experience.

Iceland Volcano

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