Words By Charlie Batten
Sailing to and then trekking round Iceland was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but in the end, it was easily the best thing I will ever do.
To give context, it was the summer of 2019, I had just finished my A-levels and had 4 months to wait until I could start uni. So, I decided to sail on a tall ship to Iceland and then spend a fortnight trekking the island. You know, a perfectly normal thing to do.
It was a teacher at my 6th form who told me about the British Exploring Society and how they let 16–23-year-olds go on these expeditions and I kind of just thought “well I’ve got nothing else going on in the summer.”
My journey took two parts, sailing from Edinburgh to Reykjavik and then hiking around the north eastern part of the country.
The boat was incredibly similar to going on holiday with your mates except there were no clubs, no alcohol and every now and then you had pull a 20×20 foot mast from facing port to starboard. Even though I went onto the ship knowing only a few of the 50-odd crew, it is genuinely amazing how quickly you bond with people when you’re quite literally stuck with them. Other than spending a few hours everyday “on watch”, which simply means to watch the sea for other ships, I got to hang out with people from across the country either playing cards, climbing up the rigging of the ship or just chatting to one another. The best moment from my time there would have to be jumping into the freezing Icelandic ocean from the deck and watching as my bunkmate Wil was too chicken to get in.
It was whilst on early morning “watches” that I really began to appreciate the beauty of sunrises and sunsets and now whilst in Brighton I make an effort to get to the beach a few times a week to see the sun rise and set.
Once we docked, I was able to get to spend a day exploring Reykjavik and the only way I can describe it is like a whole city just like the Brighton Lanes. Other than the outskirts and the odd main road, the whole city has the same thin, almost claustrophobic streets as well as the same colour and vibrancy as the Lanes. Other than witnessing my mate introduce cheesy chips to the locals, I found myself wondering round the back allies and small markets of the Nordic city and simply enjoying getting lost in it.
After this I travelled 8 hours on a coach to a base camp in the north-east of the country in order to begin trekking. For someone who had camped once before this it was a pretty tough experience. For me, the physical aspect was never really a challenge but the mental side of it was incredibly difficult. To wake up every morning at 6, pack up all the camping equipment, walk for up to 10 hours in the cold and rain, then reassemble the camping equipment, it was easily the most mentally challenging thing I’ve ever done. But what made it all worth it were some of the natural beauties I got to see.
One of the reasons I decided to go to Iceland was because as a geography student I’m fascinated by the natural wonders that it has to offer. Whilst there I got to see volcanoes, hot springs, lava fields and waterfalls. There is definitely something peaceful and humbling about watching a waterfall whilst sitting 10 feet away from it eating a freeze-dried chilli con carne for your dinner.
Looking back on my month travelling I think I would have to describe it as life changing, and not in a pretentious way that private school kids say when they come back from a gap year in Bali, but in a way that it definitely allowed me to appreciate the natural world around me. I think it’s impossible to spend at least 4 hours a day staring at the ocean to then not see the simple beauties in nature. I often find myself sitting on Brighton beach watching as the waves amble in and out, remembering my journey and missing Iceland.