I’ve dived in one of Iceland’s active volcanoes. It wasn’t erupting at the time, you understand, and no planes were grounded for our dive, but it was most definitely active. There was snow around the edges but the water was warm and clear, chemical blue. I’ve never seen water that colour anwhere else. We swam afterwards in a pool next to the main crater lake and that was steaming yellow and smelt of sulphur, hinting of subterranean goings on. Somehow sulphur sounds better than rotten eggs, doesn’t it? The volcano was Askja, not Eyjafjallojoekull which has reawoken after almost 200 years.
Our dive was one of my highlights of an expedition to Iceland in the early 1980’s. It wasn’t just swimming around in this barren caldera lake that was so memorable. It was two days in a landrover following white stones through a lava field. It was camping in a rocky wilderness and yomping a mile carrying our diving kit, no mean feat. It was diving at an altitude of over 1000m, without any tables for calculating the altitude corrections for decompression. There was some hasty arithmetic going on during that drive! The computers we have these days to do all this sort of thing for us were still confined to science fiction at that time. We survived the exercise without getting bent, or lost, or tipping the landrover upside down and with a buzz and sense of achievement that I can remember to this day. Back in Glasgow I got a rollicking from my PhD supervisor for going on the trip when I should have been working but I have to say that I took far more from that trip than I did from those miserable PhD years.
We also dived in a chasm between two tectonic plates, full of water so clear that from 30m down we could see the expressions on the faces of the people leaning over the bridge to watch us. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen a slice of lemon floating around in the bubbles from the air we were breathing out. There may not have been ice but it was very cold and I was in a wet suit. This was Þingvellir, and it has featured in more than one TV series recently. Every time I see film of divers swimming around in one of these fissures, I think – in fact, I probably bore the children by telling them – “I was there in 1981. In a wet suit.” “We know Mum.” Sigh, and much rolling of eyes.
My other first for that trip was diving north of the Arctic Circle on the island of Grimsey. In a wet suit of course. I don’t remember too much about it apart from the huge wolf fish we saw and the colony of Arctic Skuas we braved along the shore.
I converted to dry suit diving as soon as I got home from Iceland. But that’s another story.