A Romantic Scotsman Falls in Love With Iceland
Roses are red
Violets are blue
So is the icelandic Flag
Mmm… ‘k bye…
Valentine’s day came around again as fast as ever and once again, I – the lone Scotsman – was left with no plans. There was only one solution: a solo trip to the beautifully romantic island of Iceland, ‘The land of fire and ice’. And also, it would seem, rain, as I discovered on this cold, lonely Valen-tine’s evening. Yet as tragic as this story begins, it would quickly become the unforgettable trip of a lifetime, spent with great people in one of the most incredible countries in the world.
Arriving late, my plan was to spend Valentine’s evening getting my camper van organised, laying out my sleeping bag, laying out my clothes and generally being organised. Ok, being boring. But being a very sociable wee backpacker, upon meeting some very friendly locals at the bag collection at the airport, I was invited to set aside my tidying and enjoy a night of Icelandic hospitality. The very smelly (but surprisingly tasty!) dried fish was washed down by a healthy amount of Gull beer. There was even a hot-tub! How romantic. I quickly became the star attraction of the local entertainment: several games of ‘get-the-Scotsman-to-try-and-pronounce-Icelandic-places’ before I eventually re-tired to my very cozy camper van in the early hours.
The Golden Circle
The next day, already in love with the country and the friendly hospitality, I decided an early start was in order to make the most of my short time here. With my love for water and the great oudoors, I headed east to Þingvellir National Park. This stunning natural wonder is perhaps most famous for its geological history and the very evident split between the North American and Euarsian tectonic plates. Upon seeing the pristine dive site at Silfra, and sticking my toe in the ice cold (glacier filtered!) water, I knew there was only one thing for it…I had to strip down to my brussel-sprouts Christmas boxers shorts (thanks, mum), squeeze into a wet suit, and get in among it!
A tad chillier than last night’s hot-tub, the internationally famous ‘Silfra’ dive site was like nothing I had ever experienced. Being a keen swimmer and diver I had experienced what I thought was ‘great visibility’ of between 15m and 20m across Asia and Central America, but at Silfra visibility between 100m and 150m isn’t uncommon. Diving in the turquoise, crystal clear water is too mind-blowing for words, and photographs simply cannot do it justice.
Gullfoss & Geysir
Having spent only a few hours in the country I was head-over-heels. After my dive, I decided to head further east to Geysir and then onto Gullfoss. Geysir (as the name would suggest) gives the opportunity to visit a geyser. Staring down into a cloudy blue section of water, we wait. The water bubbles and boils, bubbles and boils, bubbles and boils before huge beautifully clear, bright blue bubbles arises from the ground and shoot boiling water high into the air!
Close to Geysir, Gullfoss is a huge tear in the land where a powerful double-drop, waterfall tumbles thirty-two meters into a narrow gorge: a true icon of Iceland. With great arial views to gawp and gaze at the water, I spent some time here, mind blown all over again. I met a few fellow backpackers who were keen to share some tricks and tips with my camper and suggested I head South to the ring road, via the Flúðir Secret Lagoon. Secret Lagoon? Sounds good to me.
Heading south towards Selfoss and the Ring road, the Secret Lagoon, in spite of its name, is surprisingly well signposted, in the middle of the small town of Flúðir. This geo-thermal gem was an ideal way to warm up my weary, wee Scottish body after a tough day exploring the Icelandic out-back and my ice cold dip! The steam rose and the sun set…some day!
The next day, after a quick breakfast of porridge and coffee, I zipped around the ring road to Seljalandsfoss (my Valentine’s day companions would have loved me to try pronouncing it!) before the crowds arrived. The waterfall is a good bit higher than Gullfoss and a very cool path allows the brave visitor to go behind the jets of water falling from the cliff! A short walk leads to the waterfall of Gljúfrafoss, which plummets down into a self carved gulley behind the main section of cliff. Alt-hough not as well known, and perhaps not quite as visible, it’s worth a wee trek for sure!
Read more: Waterfalls in Iceland
Heading east on the ring road, I arrived at Skógafoss just as the tourist trail was heating up. All of us armed with cameras, tripods and colourful waterproofs we braved the spray from the 60m curtain of water gushing over the cliff, crashing onto the rocks and black lava sand below. The magnitude and power of the fall was enough to send a shiver down my spine- and not just from the cold!
The next adventure took the form of a huge glacier pouring from the Vatnajökull icecap, a little fur-ther around the southern coast at Skaftafell. I immediately jumped at the opportunity, grabbed my crampons, helmet and ice axe and took the last spot on a glacier trek. We hiked to the base of the bright blue glacier and all clambered on up to an actual ice cave! Buzzing from the icy blue heights of the glacier I spent the evening driving around the coast to Jökulsárlón in the hazy Icelandic dusk. Not bad, Iceland, not bad!
After a restless night of peeking out the window for a glimpse of the Aurora, I awoke to the sound of waves crashing upon the black, lava sand of Diamond Beach. The beach was literally shimmering with icebergs, the morning sun shining through the clear ice and illuminating the denser turquoise blue blocks. Today was clearly going to be a good day. But for a while I was happy simply to sit and watch the waves and think about how lucky I am to be here! Later, I explored the lagoon, where the glacier tries to break out towards the sea, enormous icebergs creak and groan, as the cute sealpups splash in the water below them.
When I was almost all iced out, I drove further around the coast through the incredible landscape to the fishing town of Höfn, known for good reason as ‘Iceland’s Lobster Capital’. I joined a few hungry seagulls to watch the fish being unloaded from the trawlers, and watched as they were quickly loaded into what I assume was an international export ship to distribute around the world. There were still a few available at the harbourside restaurant for a hungry, Scottish tourist to try though. Delicious! Full to the brim, I slowly worked my way back west around the coast towards Vik for another night hoping to see the Aurora.
With a good Aurora forecast I was very hopeful, but day five arrived with still no glimpse of the lights. I spent the morning soaking in hot springs of Seljavellir, located of the road between Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss. After a while of bathing in my pinky-white birthday suit (not even my Brussel Sprouts boxer shorts), and with the whole pool to myself I looked up at the peaks and thought to myself ‘I wonder what the world looks like from up there?!’. And, with that thought, I scampered for my shorts, got dried, hit the road and hit the mountains!
Just around the corner I spied a shallower gradient of grass, moss and then scree (don’t tell my mother), and climbed up towards what looked like a perfect view point over the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Like a little mountain goat, I made good time, and, with the Polar sun beating down from above and the geothermal water below, made it like a summer’s day. I didn’t spend much time at the top, just a quick ten minute drink and crispy dried fish snack (!), looking out north across the two huge icecaps and the flat barren land south towards the sea.
By the time I had made my decent I was drenched in sweat from head to toe and knew there was only one thing to do…hot springs! Back in Seljavellir, this time I shared the pool with a few others (I kept my shorts on this time) and it became a much more social affair. An invitation to a pub crawl in Reykjavik that night was very tempting but somewhere deep inside I knew that my adventure wasn’t quite fulfilled enough to head back to the city lights! I still had other lights in mind…
Read more: Top ten swimming pools in Iceland
Once more the sun slowly set and eventually darkness descended, and we went for some food at the ‘Suður Vik’ restaurant and had some really delicious food. It was tough to say goodbye and head back into the darkness of the Icelandic countryside but we made sure to exchange numbers to keep in touch for future travels. I set up camp for my last night in Iceland and prayed for the Aurora to come and wish me farewell.
Northern Lights – Aurora Borealis
But by 9pm, still no lights. As the gentle but ice cold polar wind came around I jumped into the van to keep warm, looking out the window every minute to double check I wasn’t missing the show. Nothing. With the heater on full-blast, it doesn’t take long to warm up the van and it wasn’t long until I was back outside staring at the sky. At 11.30pm I began to notice a huge ark of white cloud forming just above me, but dismissed it as slightly crazy wishful thinking. But the clouds got gradually brighter and brighter and I realized, this is it! The cloud slowly turned green and the sky behind opened up, shimmering green, blue, white and purple, and dancing across the sky! I couldn’t help but burst into laughter and stare in awe, still not quite able to believe my luck. Trip complete!
With not much sleep and literally stars in my eyes, I headed round to Reykjavik, up to the eyeballs with coffee. I took part in the ‘free city walking tour’ which took me around the centre of Iceland’s capital, highlighting some of the history and local landmarks of this hip and trendy city. Conscious of the time and not wanting to miss my flight, I headed around toward Keflavik via the famous blue lagoon- it really did look special! But unfortunately, my luck had finally run out: ‘Sorry, sir, if you haven’t booked, you can’t come in. We’re already at capacity!’ I thanked them, and went to head off, only to be interrupted: ‘My friend’s broken her arm and I have a spare [premium!] ticket if you’d like?’
Once more the Scotsman lands on his feet! I gave the woman whatever I had left of my Icelandic krona and headed to the milky, blue waters, mud mask on, beer in my hand, explaining to two Cali-fornian girls my Northern lights story. The perfect end to a perfect trip. On the plane home, I sat, quite content at my window seat, trying to take in everything that I had seen with a big smile on my face.
I did fall in love this Valentine’s Day. With a land of hospitality, and waterfalls, and ice-caps, and geysers, and mountains, and crystal beaches, and northern skies lit up with lights. Iceland, you beauty. See you again soon!
Read more: An Iceland roadtrip in January
Happy Camping! #CamperStories
Iceland Travel Guides
If you like what you see, please subscribe to our YouTube channel!