By Contributing Author Abigail Prowse
I had long dreamed of Iceland in the winter, and of seeing the Northern Lights. I’d heard of its soft pastel skies, its long, starry nights, and its bold, otherworldly scenery; I’d yearned to feel the crisp Arctic air against my skin as I wandered the streets of Reykjavik, gazing out at the snow-capped mountains which frame the tiny city. Upon landing at Keflavik airport in January this year, I was informed by an excited stewardess that a volcano on the country’s south-western peninsula was showing signs of movement. Nature pulses through Icelandic culture in this way, living side-by-side with the 300,000 people of the island. It is unlike anywhere else in the world.
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But I came to Iceland with a mission: I was going to chase the world-famous Northern Lights. Armed with my thermals, my tripod and camera, and an app named Aurora, which tracks the direction and strength of the Northern Lights, I believed I was ready. I knew that, to best experience this spectacle, I needed to be as far from the city as possible, with almost no artificial light surrounding me. So I trekked to the Grotta Island Lighthouse, located on a remote peninsula to the west of Reykjavik. The cold was biting, my eyes were stinging, but I didn’t care: I was finally going to watch the Northern Lights. Except, I didn’t. As I later discovered, chasing this elusive display of nature requires often a great deal of patience, almost complete darkness and, unfortunately, luck – that night, I had none of those things. So I trudged the 5km back to the city centre – after a brief stop in a local bar to bring the feeling back into my corpse-like fingers – and vowed to myself that I wouldn’t give up.
The next night, after laughing over my sorry tale from the previous evening, I boarded a 9pm bus headed for the southern Reykjanes peninsula. Surrounded by other keen stargazers, and wearing significantly more layers, I felt prepared. We pulled into an expanse of gravel, surrounded by stretches of barren stones, blanketed in snow. The darkness was all-consuming and total; then, I looked up. Never had I realised just how many stars there are above us. They were like icing sugar, sprinkled across the blackness, winking and multiplying as my eyes adjusted.
I waited. An hour passed, then two. Just as I had resigned myself to packing up my tripod, there was a faint movement on the horizon, like a stream trickling through the stars. It gradually grew clearer and clearer, until the skies were suddenly dancing, beams of light looping and intertwining, creating waves that pulsated around me. I stood there, enchanted, as the show continued, the light morphing and twisting, fading and growing, before beginning to dwindle, snaking along the horizon to cast its spell over the rest of the island. As quickly as it had begun, it was over. But that feeling of wonder, of marvel at the beauty of nature, has never left. I had seen the Northern Lights; and I would never forget them.
Would you visit Iceland? Leave your answers in the comments below!
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