Bablake School in Coventry finally got to spend their £1,500 prize money after head teacher Andy Wright won the School Trip Champion Award in 2019 - here’s what they did.
A total of 23 pupils from Years 10-12 went on the adventure to Iceland along with four members of staff.
The school chose Iceland because “it’s the perfect place to introduce students to an environment that most of them have never experienced and encapsulates the very best of Geography, from its geothermal activity and spectacular landscapes to its unique culture.”
Student Jayden Obisesan, one of the pupils on the trip, reports back about the experience:
Arriving in Iceland we were greeted by an environment that looked uninhabitable. The weather was misty, cold and very wet, and Iceland looked like a barren wasteland - the kind that you would only see in movies! Perhaps this is why there are only 370,000 inhabitants, we pondered.
We drove for what seemed like many miles, not seeing a single tree, or even any forms of civilization from the coach window. As we travelled, our guide was telling us how fantastic Iceland was, and how we would enjoy our stay, but at this stage we weren’t completely convinced.
Without warning we made a stop, in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere, but we soon learned that we were actually standing on the actual Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet, which felt incredible.
Just a short trip down the road to the Seltún hot springs and we exited the coach to the strong and disconcerting smell of rotten eggs, but were soon distracted by the huge white clouds emerging from the ground. This phenomenal sight was very dramatic, surrounded by bubbling mud pools and colourful minerals. The sulphurous fumes were continuously being pumped out of the ground, engulfing the entire area.
“A fantastic life-enhancing trip, viewing the incredible landscape Iceland has to offer.”
Student Josh Pilling
Our final destination for the day was a viewpoint of the Fagradalsfjall lava flow, which was active in August 2022. It was not only the sheer size of the lava flow that took us by surprise, but it was the fact that this cooled lava was still steaming many months later. Iceland had started to deliver some amazing surprises and we were only on our first afternoon of the trip.
Visiting Heimaey in the Westman Isles of Iceland and no showers
The following morning, we were told to prepare for a day that may involve swimming and geothermally heated pools. This had us all excited until we heard about the showering rules. The location of the swimming pool was on Heimaey Island, in the Westman Isles. We boarded a ferry and set sail towards the island. None of us had quite anticipated what an adventure this would be.
We climbed the stairs to access the front of the ferry and found ourselves standing at 70° just to keep from being blown away, and it was freezing. The views of towering cliffs and nesting puffins, as we approached the island, were amazing.
One of the most fascinating and shocking parts of our experience here was visiting the Eldheimar interactive volcano exhibition, which immersed us in how terrifying the 1973 volcanic eruption was for the community and how they coped with rebuilding and recovery.
The next day we set off on a long journey to Vik, where we headed straight for the black sand beach and views of the stacks and caves on the headland, which were magnificent in the glorious sunshine. The beach was formed by lava reaching the water, then cooling down rapidly and shattering into many small fragments. Just the sight of the sand was remarkable, but the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore were strangely relaxing.
“My favourite part was visiting the lava tubes and seeing the puffins. It was an amazing place and a trip I will never forget.”
Pupil Isabella Trevor
After our remarkable time at the beach, we ventured on to hike to the Svartifoss waterfall, which is surrounded by stunning basalt columns. We found it difficult to believe that these hexagonal columns are completely natural and form when lava cools down and contracts.
The hike was pretty strenuous, muddy and even snowy in parts, but was well worth the reward, as was the fantastic sight of the Skaftafellsjökull glacier nearby. This was undoubtedly an experience where you have to actually be there to truly feel how remarkable the landscape is, a photo on the internet could never have made us feel the same about these natural wonders.
Blown away by Vik’s Lava Show
The next day, after marvelling at the seals and wild reindeer along the way and capturing a quick glimpse of the icebergs glistening through the rain on the ‘Diamond Beach’, we were completely blown away by the Icelandic Lava Show, in Vik. This is one of the only opportunities in the world to see active flowing lava right in front of you, in a perfectly safe situation.
“A once in a lifetime opportunity and we had an amazing time seeing so many different things!”
We were introduced to the volcanically active context of Vik and the effects of past eruptions on the community. Then, slightly disconcertingly, we were briefed about the actual evacuation plan we would have to follow if Katla (just to the north of the town) erupted, and apparently it is overdue for an eruption.
The biggest danger is glacial meltwater, as there is an ice sheet directly on top of the volcano. We were then required to wear protective glasses, as they released the lava. The room immediately heated up significantly and we watched in awe as the lava cooled, forming amazing lava tubes, and we saw incredibly fragile bubbles formed as gasses escape, making it particularly dangerous to walk on the lava for many months after an eruption. We were delighted to receive a small piece of obsidian to take away and treasure.
Secret Lagoon and Fridheimar Greenhouses
The next day we were super excited, as we were visiting the Secret Lagoon. It was a great place to peacefully relax, even during the gentle rain shower, as this whole area is a naturally heated hot spring that stays around 38-40˚C.
Just around the corner we visited the Friðheimar Greenhouses, whose primary purpose is growing tomatoes (vertically) all year round, supplying Iceland with 70% of their tomatoes, and powered by geothermal energy. The smell of the tomatoes was so delicious. We had a tour around the greenhouse and got to learn about how the tomatoes are pollinated by bees from the Netherlands. After this we went to the dining area to eat the tastiest tomato soup, accompanied by the freshest bread.
“Amazing to see such beautiful landscapes, which are so different to the UK. The Secret Lagoon was amazing and very hard to believe it is all naturally heated.”
Pupil Lucy Watson
We ventured on to Geyser, which really was a highlight of the trip and a memory that will last forever. The hot pool of steaming water first expanded like a bubble multiple times and then it erupted silently and dramatically, in a steaming column of water about 30 metres high.
We saw it happen several times, but it was really hard to walk away and leave such a remarkable sight.
Our last activity of the trip was exploration of a lava tunnel called Raufarhólshellir, which is one of the longest and largest in Iceland. Our guide helped us put on crampons and helmets before leading us into the magnificent tunnel. It was absolutely an experience that everyone should have the chance to try.
The tunnel was filled with huge piles of snow (where parts of the roof had caved in) and the floor was covered in ice stalagmites – something most of us had never even heard of, let alone witnessed before. We even had an opportunity to experience pure darkness and absolute silence, when we turned off our head torches!
This trip was an opportunity to experience things that could never have been truly felt by watching videos or searching the internet. Being immersed in this in the stunning scenery and learning about how and why the landscape was formed, whilst actually standing in it, was an educational experience every single one of us will never forget. We will all tell everyone we meet to visit Iceland, if they get the chance.
Andy Wright, headteacher of Bablake School, Coventry, was crowned School Trip Champion during the School Travel Awards ceremony in 2021.
Click here for information about the School Travel Awards including the schools and teachers in the running for the 2023 categories.