Claire Rhodes, Year 13, recounts a fascinating Geography trip to Iceland, where the icebergs, waterfalls, lava caves and geysers provided a truly memorable landscape.
A short flight from Bristol to Keflavik International Airport brought us to one of the most amazing places on earth. Iceland is famous with geographers, so being an A-Level geography student myself, I could not contain my excitement.
Having been initially taken-aback by the flatness of the land and the freezing cold temperatures we made our way to the Bridge Between Two Continents, spanning the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which runs through Iceland between the Eurasian Plate and the North American Plate. We were quite literally standing on the effects of continental drift.
We then visited the vigorously bubbling Gunnuhver, Iceland’s largest mud pool with a diameter of 20m. The steam vents were huge and bombarded us all with an overwhelming stench of rotten eggs! We also learnt about a mad female ghost called Gunna, who would hang around Reykjanes peninsula mud pools so she could kidnap or kill unsuspecting travellers.
Arriving in the capital, Reykjavik and walking down the streets, we passed street performers playing jazz music, giving the area a magical and Christmassy vibe. It almost felt like Paris, or on some picturesque movie set for an American Christmas film. On the way to dinner we passed Hallgrímskirkja (good luck pronouncing that), a modern cathedral with a breath-taking tower, which is composed of large circular tanks, which hold the city’s naturally heated water reserves.
Even dinner at The Hamburger Factory was interesting, as they had the number of the population of Iceland stuck up on their wall and whenever a new baby was born they would pick a customer to ring the bell and increase the number by one. I asked a waitress what they did when someone died, and she simply replied “We wait till everyone has gone home and then lower the number”.
My personal highlights for day two was walking under two waterfalls, Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss. Fun Fact: You can see it featured in Justin Beiber’s recent music video for ‘I’ll show you’.
At night we stayed in cozy little cabins where we sat out on the balcony and marvelled at the Northern Lights - the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.
Our trip amongst the icebergs on the Jökulsárión Glacial Lagoon was unforgettable. The glacial lake is one of the deepest in Iceland, and scattered with enormous icebergs the size of houses, which were carved off the Breiðamerkurjökull. Just before sunset, we went for a hike on the glacier Svínafellsjökull, where our guide showed us around a wonderland of ice sculptures, ridges and deep crevasses and let us loose with our own ice axes.
Highlights of the final day included a visit to Keriö, a ginormous volcanic crater lake, formed after a volcanic eruption; a trip to the geysers in Geysir; and lava caving where, when we got to the deepest part of the cave, our tour guide told us to switch our lights off. If there is one thing I will remember from this trip it is how dark it was in that cave - the sort where if someone waved their hand right in front of your face, you would have no idea it was there!
Finally, we went to visit Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions and one of the wonders of the world, the Blue Lagoon. It is indescribable how amazing it feels to be floating in the warm water, with a cold slushy in hand and looking up at the stars!
Iceland is a must visit destination. I can truly guarantee to anyone who is planning on visiting Iceland that you will have a magical time and see things that will stay with you for a lifetime.
You may have seen the headline recently: ‘Old painting found in Scotland, last valued at £25, now thought to be worth £25 million’. Prep Headmaster, Andrew Moore, explains the significance of this.
It’s the story of the discovery of a Raphael in a Scottish manor house. It started with the visit of an art historian who noticed the painting high up in a dark corner. It was discoloured by layers of old varnish, “I thought, my goodness, it looks like a Raphael. It was very dirty and slightly yellow. Being an anorak, I go round houses like this with binoculars and torches. If I hadn’t done that, I’d probably have walked past it.” (Mr B. Grosvenor, Smithsonian.com)
The part of the story which amused me was the thought that it could be worth £25million, but maybe not, it could still be worth £25 and how incredible it was that something could be extremely valuable or virtually worthless, no-one really knew for sure. The actual appearance made very little difference, it was the history (or depth) which was important.
It made me think about the value of a really good education. I passionately believe that is something which must not be underestimated. The sort of education which creates life-long learners, people who are kind, generous, adaptable, diligent and thoughtful is essential for every family, community and nation. It is not always possible to judge the value of this aged eleven or even eighteen, but it becomes clearer at twenty-five, forty or seventy. We are all concerned not just with life, but with the quality of life for ourselves and our neighbours throughout the world. There are some massive world issues ahead as the world population continues to grow from 7 billion to nearer 11 billion by the end of the century. Our children will need to engage with all the issues and have the courage, strength and determination to make difficult, and hopefully good, decisions.
What value can you put on education? I would willingly trade a Raphael lying in a dark corner of a Scottish Manor or even in a dark bank vault for an excellent education for my children. Admittedly, we are unlikely to get the windfall of a Raphael in the attic, but what is it worth? It may be more possible than you think.
If you have ever thought about visiting Northern India, then read Geography teacher, Natalie Cordon’s beautifully descriptive account of her 14-day kayak expedition through the remote region of Ladakh, amongst landscapes carved out through the epochs of time.
On arriving in Leh, Ladakh, in Northern India, at 3,500mm above sea level, and the absence of my luggage which was on a holiday of its own somewhere in the Middle East, I found myself having to focus on not passing out from the thin air, but excited at the prospect of beginning my expedition.
The drive from Leh to the put-on of the Tsarap Chu river was far from your usual shuttle. The mountain passes reach over half the height of Everest with Himalayan views of cloud-shrouded mountains to take your breath away. I also enjoyed my highest ever 'loo with a view'!
As we descended the other side of the mountain pass, the nomad tents came into view. These remote Himalayan yurts would be our most spectacular home for the night.
First impressions of the Tsarap River did not disappoint. A series of beautiful box canyons with intimidating horizon lines which at first seemed like the gates to hell but funnelled down into wonderfully clean rapids and brought us to our first camp.
From here, the Tsarap's character changed dramatically as the gradient flattened, the water slowed to a stand-still and the thick soup of sediment settled to the bottom of the lake to reveal azure blue waters and a hair wash opportunity.
After a hard day of paddling we camped on the beach below Phuktal monastery, a remote Himalayan community of monks accessible only by a 14-day hike or a multiday kayak expedition. A warm welcome from the little 'monkies' felt like the perfect end to a most incredible day of beauty and thrilling whitewater.
A short day of paddling followed. Gone were the tight box canyons with intervening sections of fast-flowing flat water and Reru Falls opened up before us. A perfectly flat expanse of river beach at the end of the rapid was a welcome relief and an idyllic camp spot.
The following day, we paddled in to Padum town. Our arrival felt somehow bitter sweet with the prospect of a shower, deliciously sticky walnut cake, a bed and excessive amounts of food very much welcome, yet meant missing the night sky, shooting stars and sunrise over the mountains.
Fully revived, we set off the following morning excited by the prospect of another night under the stars. The confluence of the Tsrarp and the Zanskar rivers felt truly special with the volume increasing and the walls of the world-renowned Zanskar gorge, the Grand Canyon of Asia, closing in - purple and green copper sheer vertical walls with a supremely complex system of faults and folds seemed perfectly preserved from the collision of the Indian subcontinent and the formation of the Himalayas millions of years beforehand.
The human history of the Zanskar is just as astonishing as its physical landscape. Blackened caves high in the sides of the canyon showed evidence of the resilient communities living and working in such a seemingly barren landscape, people who use the Zanskar River as a kind of frozen highway in winter, making multiday expedition at -40 degrees Celsius as an accepted part of life and culture, a commute to work, school and market, not a sport.
The opening out of the Zaskar canyon yielded several big volume and playful rapids before its confluence with the mighty Indus. Whilst our time on the Indus was relatively short, it felt humbling to paddle on one of the world's great rivers that helped to shape the continent, gave life to the earliest of Indian civilisations, continues to support life in the high altitude desert today and indeed gave India its name.
It is with great regret that I had to leave Ladakh and return to life as usual in the UK but I am not sad for I know that I will return and I look forward to sharing this special place with friends and family.
My experience of Canada on exercise with the Combined Cadet Force gave me a summer that I will certainly never forget.
It all began with a hopeful application last November and then a selection weekend in Woolwich in March. When I received the call up a week later I was overjoyed and very much looking forward to a summer like nothing I’d experienced before.
We arrived at the Canadian camp in early July, situated deep in the Rockies and surrounded by dense forest. It became normal to see white-tail deer roaming the camp, small ground squirrels and chipmunks. This contributed to a feeling of being truly removed from our modern comforts and hectic lifestyles.
My first cycle was rock climbing and we spent our week climbing progressively larger mountain faces within the Rockies. I hadn’t done much rock climbing previously but it was the perfect place to start, with unparalleled views. Sadly, we were prevented from progressing onto multi-pitch climbing by the weather, which forced us to finish the cycle inside.
Our next cycle was glacier climbing but before we began that we attended the Calgary Stampede, an internationally famous festival with a Wild West-style rodeo and an awful lot of food including Poutine and deep fried Oreos. I would recommend it to anyone who is in the area at the right time.
Glacier trekking was next and was the standout cycle of my time in Canada; it was probably the greatest physical challenge due to the altitude coupled with the steep terrain that seemed to go on forever. Our instructors were Eric, an extremely experienced Canadian mountaineer, and Cchering, a guide and Sherpa from Nepal who had summited Everest eight times. The sense of achievement and the ridiculous views from the summit were the reason that this activity will stand out in my memory forever.
We followed this with a parade through the streets of Banff, where we later went shopping and enjoyed eating Beaver Tails, a pastry covered in chocolate! The next two cycles were mountain biking and white-water canoeing and each presented very physical challenges.
We ended the run of cycles with Alpine trekking - 47km through the Rocky Mountains along the continental divide. Yet again, the views were spectacular and the side expeditions to summit nearby mountains ensured that morale remained at a high level. I performed well on this cycle and was recognised with a cadet of the week award as a result, which I was very pleased with.
We progressed onto horseback riding, a completely new experience for me, and it was everything I could have hoped for, riding with the most picturesque backdrop imaginable. It was the perfect way to cap off an amazing experience.
The experience of the six weeks in Canada will remain with me forever and I cannot endorse it enough. This is due, in no small part, to the fantastic Canadian cadets, who were welcoming from the very start and made the trip light-hearted, fun and memorable.