Last month I was in Iceland. Mostly it was cold and wet and windy but on the Thursday it cheered up a bit. I spent the day circuiting Snæfellsnes (which, truth be told, is just a bit too much for one day) and rather than drive out to Hverinn where I’d spent the previous night, I continued to Akranes.
I tend to regard Akranes as a suburb of Reykjavik that happens to be over the water, which is what reside were afraid of when the Hvalfjörður tunnel was built in the mid-nineties. Akranes sees itself as very much an independent little town on the west coast. Now, I’ve never been all that taken by Akranes. It’s kind of urban, by non-Reykjavik Icelandic standards. It’s got a spectacular sweep of golden beach but Iceland doesn’t really have a golden beach climate. It’s all a bit squashed in – between the Atlantic and Akrafjall, their own double-peaked mountain so I guess it doesn’t have a whole lot of room to sprawl luxuriously like Reykjavik does.
By the time I arrived at about 8pm it was pretty dark. I parked my van and paid my fees and as I did, I noticed a wifi code up in the office window. My phone cable had burnt out on Monday morning and its replacement did not work. I’d had no contact with the outside world for four days. My own mother wouldn’t know if I was alive or dead. My phone was unchargeable but the Kindle I inherited two years ago has a very good battery – and an Experimental Browser. I ambled over to the office to see what connection I could forge.
The Kindle was happy to connect to the wifi and as it hummed, I glanced up at the world around me. There was a glow in the sky – like when light pollution catches the underside of a streak of cloud. But this was no cloud.
My camera was in my pocket. I pulled it out & shoved the Kindle in instead and found a fence post to sit the camera on. It took a photo while I took in the sky. On the other side of the bay, Snæfellsjökull was visible in front of a band of orange sunset just vanishing behind the horizon. I’d driven the length of that peninsula. I’d driven around that volcano and not once had it peeped out from behind a cloud. And now I had a photo of Northern Lights, sunset & volcano all in one. Northern Lights, incidentally, that looked a lot more green in the photo than in real life.
I’ve been out looking for the Northern Lights a dozen times in four or five different countries, with varied success. I’ve never been out in anything less than heavy frost. I’ve never been out in positive degrees Celsius. I’ve never been out earlier than 10pm. Here I was at 8.30, wearing sandals and a fleece open over a t-shirt. Back in Reykjavik, just a very few miles away over the fjord, Northern Light tour pickups would barely have begun.
The Lights grew more intense. And then they did something I’ve never seen. They pencilled, they danced like someone shaking a velvet ribbon, they were reddish-purple along the bottom edge & they were so close I could have touched them. I thought I’d seen good Lights before. I’ve never seen anything like that. It barely lasted a minute before returning to the dancing pale green glow across the sky, from horizon to zenith to horizon. I continued taking photos and got some interestingly lit campervans in the bottom of them.
Half an hour later it had all but faded. I returned to the Kindle. The Experimental Browser was able to cope, in a way, with Facebook so I was able to leave a message in a bottle: where I was, why I was out of contact – and that I’d just seen the most spectacular Northern Lights ever.