THERE are many cruise line operators who have the Northern Isles, Faroe Islands and Iceland among their must-see destinations,. We were fortunate to get the chance hop aboard the German-registered Deutschland when she docked overnight in Shetland, to catch the last leg of a much longer itinerary that had earlier in its passage taken in various UK ports and would later set us back ashore on our home soil in the Firth of Forth.
Iceland is the most other-worldly place…and moving in more ways than one.
After our cruise ship had docked at Reykjavik, and we were ashore and well outside the city, it felt as if we might have landed on the moon.
Crossing a moss-smothered plateau peppered with misshapen dollops of once-molten lava, great gaping chasms appear, caused by shifting tectonic plates on the earth’s crust, and sending jagged peaks shooting skyward.
As the gorge at Thingvellir opens up before us, we discover that some of the fissures which scar the landscape here continue to ease apart at the rate of two centimetres a year.
Our guide, warning visitors to tread carefully, told how a Canadian tourist stepped too close to the edge of one of the narrower cavities, and, losing her balance, dropped feet-first inside.
“Thank goodness,” she recalled, “the woman was blessed with big bosoms which prevented her from disappearing into the bowels of the earth.
“Some boy scouts were nearby and managed to free her with much muscle power and ingenuity.”
Those of us at least who just didn’t measure up chest-wise, heeded her advice and stayed well clear of the edge of the abyss, and thought it might be clever to wear a backpack next time, just in case.
There’s movement of another kind just a short drive further on, past surreal-like fields of wild purple lupins. You hear about hot springs and bubbling sulphur pools but nothing prepares you for the sight of the real thing. They spurt and splutter, occasionally taking onlookers completely by surprise when they send hissing shafts of boiling water shooting hundreds of feet into the air from the deepest, hottest core of the Earth’s internal inferno.
At a spot fiittingly called Geysir we marvel at the burbling blow hole which lets rip. Edgily, folk look around to get their bearings just in case a quick exit is required.
Locals, have used their ingenuity to harness Mother Nature’s idiosyncrasies, tapping hot steam into their glasshouses. At Hveragerdi – the “garden of hot springs” – bemused visitors find fresh carrots and tomatoes gift-wrapped for sale amongst the tourist souvenirs.
Next day our excursion takes us to yet another unworldly place, Vestmannaeyjar or The Westman Islands, where we learn how a third of the fishing port on the biggest island in the archipelago, Heimaey, was wiped out in the space of hours in the middle of the night back in January 1973.
As five thousand souls lay asleep in their beds, the dormant volcano on which they had built their homes burst into furious life. In the space of twelve hours, the entire population was evacuated by fishing boat and small craft.