Shortly before midday on 9th September 2008, I stood and watched the Atlantic surf crashing onto the black volcanic sands of Kötlutangi, the most southerly point of Iceland. It had taken me 27 days and approximately 700 kilometres to complete this, the first solo crossing between the extreme north and extreme south points of this remote and wild island. I was cold, wet, tired and hungry; my entire body was in pain and I was a long way from home. I was also a very, very happy man. My overwhelming feeling was one of elation at having reached my destination. The feeling of happiness was nevertheless tempered by the knowledge that my journey had finally come to an end.
Many people have walked over Iceland but none have previously taken this rout. Most, perhaps rather sensibly, opt for shorter routes - so in reaching my destination I became the first person to complete a crossing between the extreme north and south points. However, this small achievement meant far less to me than the knowledge that I had at last realised a long standing and highly personal ambition
I had started out from Rifstangi in the north, heading to Kötlutangi in the south: a route that had taken me coast to coast via the central highlands and across the completely deserted interior. Between these two points I had walked over desolate moorland and through thousands of square miles of sand and stone desert; I had waded glacial rivers and tackled rivers of razor sharp lava. I had climbed mountains of ash and cinder and negotiated a route around Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe. I had been in a place that was totally inhospitable to life; a truly other-worldly place; one that can in the same moment threaten one¡¯s very existence whilst being so utterly beautiful to invoke tears of admiration.
In doing this, my aim has been to draw attention to the plight of the servicemen from the Parachute Regiment currently on active operations in Afghanistan by raising money for THE AFGHANISTAN TRUST, a very worthy cause with which I am very honoured to be associated. I am exceptionally grateful to those of you who have already demonstrated your support of this cause. The Trust was formed on 15 March 2007 to help support the families and soldiers serving with the Parachute Regiment in Afghanistan who have been wounded or killed as a consequence. All 4 Parachute Regiment infantry battalions together with other specialist airborne units are currently serving in Afghanistan. No one needs to be reminded that these are the units at the front line of combat who are daily taking the brunt of combat casualties.
A bit about Iceland
Iceland is a country of approximately 103,000 square kilometres. Geologically, it is a relatively ¡®new¡¯ land mass and is largely volcanic. 79 per cent of Iceland's land area consists of glaciers, lakes and lava fields. It is one of the world's most volcanically active regions with more than 200 volcanoes. Over the past 500 years Iceland has thrown up a third of the earth's total lava flow. Today, the ice that once covered the whole of the country has largely retreated; however much of the land still remains permanently covered by glaciers. Icelanders enjoy a per capita income amongst the highest in Europe. The Icelandic economy is largely based on fishing, tourism and increasingly IT services. The country is incredibly rich in energy resources and there are many geothermal plants. 90 per cent of the population have their heating and power supplied from hydro-electric and geothermal sources.
There are some 320,000 Icelanders in the world. Of these, about 210,000 live in Iceland and the majority of these¨C about 180,000 - live in the capital Reykjavik. The rest live on the coastal strip in small farms and fishing communities. As a result, the countryside is largely deserted and unspoiled.
Icelanders have many unusual traditions. One of these involves cutting off a sheep¡¯s head which they char over a fire before piddling on it and burying it for the winter. They dig up the rotting remains in the following year and find it highly amusing to make foreigners eat this national ¡®delicacy¡¯. I suspect they take bets on how long it will take for someone to throw up. Other Icelandic delicacies include rams' testicles pickled in whey, putrefied shark and Sl¨¢tur ¨C a concoction made from sheep's blood and intestines. They also eat lots of seabirds and there is a rumour that the takeaway menu at MacDonald¡¯s in Reykjavik occasionally offers ¡®Puffin McMuffin¡¯
When they are not playing tricks on foreigners, Icelanders drive monster trucks and carry heavy things. Icelandic men can drink a barrel of vodka without falling over and all the women are supermodels. They mainly communicate by shouting at each other. If you ask an Icelander a question, they normally start by shouting at you, then threatening you with physical violence before slapping you on the back with a big smile�.and that’s just the Icelandair check-in girls!
As always, there are so many people to whom I owe thanks. If I have failed to mention them all, I can only apologise; in no way does it diminish the value of their contribution.
- Ben Saunders and Mark Wood for their support and advice and the incredibly generous loan of communications equipment giving me the appearance of a hi-tech tramp; also to Phil Hayday Smith.
- Colonel John Handford, Colonel Stuart Tootal.
- Major Steve Napier for acting as safety officer, general all-round source of invaluable advice and support and intermittently as court jester.
- Falke, Icelandair, Scarpa, and Nutri for all their commercial support.
- Duncan Michael MacGregor for putting this website together and for managing the updates
- Michael Potter for the near impossible challenge of making me a competent photographer in less than two days
- Ástþ¨®r J¨®hannsson, my old Icelandic friend, for all his local knowledge.
- Finally, I remain as ever grateful to my constantly bewildered family and friends for their apparent willingness to accommodate what they consider to be eccentricity but what I can consider to be normality.