Iceland – Land of Ice and Fire, now on iPlayer!

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Well, we’ve had our UK transmission over the Bank Holiday weekend, and Im very pleased that it went down so well!

the responses on social media were fantastic and there was a stream of mails coming in from people who enjoyed the show, the wildlife and especially the people were loved by all! so a big thank you to everyone involved!

the good news is that the film is available on BBC iPlayer so if you haven’t seen it and fancy an escape (from politics, this week in the UK especially!) for an hour then have a look here


Iceland – Land of Ice and Fire has a release date!

first off, apologies for the lack of activity on here for so long, many reasons, main one being that its been very time consuming going through the post production process! its not the most dynamic thing to watch either, a computer screen, but I will do a post on all the tech workflow in due course.

Anyway, the good news is that we have our transmission date set!!!!


It will be broadcast in the UK on May 1st, BBC2 at 9pm

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There will of course be a US release in due course on Animal Planet, as soon as I get it I’ll pass it on. in the meantime, here is a link through to The Natural World BBC website


and the BBC Earth website is always a good place to visit


The Natural World is one of the gems in the BBC’s Natural History Unit, its the longest running series from them in fact, making a dozen or so films every year on a huge range of subjects To them variety is the key, its not restricted to looking at one habitat, species or animal. Anything goes really, as long as it makes a decent film! Hopefully our film will live up to the high expectations, only the viewers can decide that, so tell all your friends and make a date for friday night BBC2 9pm!

You’ll meet the fox family, some very cute ducklings being trained by Thor and his family, the iconic and special Icelandic Horses with Halldor and Snorri, and of course the spectacular Bardarbunga eruption in all its nightime glory.

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more details about extra clips coming soon!


The Horse Roundup

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So the big day arrived, it was roundup time!

The morning dawned fine and chilly, overnight snow had dusted the mountain tops, the first snows of the oncoming winter, bringing a timely reminder that summer was over and winters icy grip was just round the corner.




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We’d spent the week preparing for the event, working out exactly how we were going to film 500 wild horses and 200 ridden horses as they thundered from one valley and moved about 4km to the pen where they would be sorted and returned to their owners. There they would spend the winter down on the lowlands around the farm.


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The Icelandic Horse is more than capable of enduring the winters here, but only the fittest would survive, so the youngsters are given the best possible chance of making it through the winter by living in the slightly more comfortable lowlands and away from the harsh extremes of the mountains.

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Hallador and Snorri’s family and friends had all gathered at the farm house, their horses saddled and ready to go, children laughing and playing, there was a great buzz about the place. The roundup is a very big event in the social calendar here in Skagafjordur, this is a very prosperous agricultural area and the only county in Iceland where horses outnumber people so there is a very rich tradtition of horsebreeding and horse training. With such a long history. Its no surprise that to the families that have lived here for centuries, Horsemanship is a highly prized skill, and something that Hallador and his family have running deep and strong in their blood.




The day started for them with a huge pot of lamb stew (one of the farms own lambs, no supermarket imports here) prepared by Maya very early that morning. It was delicious, and was something we’d come back too at the end of the day for the après roundup party, washed down for the riders with a bit of fortifying Brennevin and beer. Then the group (about 30 family and friends) mounted up and set off for the mountains, to join the other riders rounding up the horses.



Much of our time had been spent planning the filming operation. It was turning into a bit of a military operation, with bits of paper, maps and weather reports lying around the place. There’s only the 3 of us, with the option for some fixed cameras (gopro and timelapse), we had no “air support” (though someone did fly a camera drone over the roundup bizarrely, much to the consternation of the horses) so everything had to be done from the ground. With a river crossing, a huge valley, a roundup pen and over 2000 people to work around, we had our work cutout!



Neil drew the short straw (and took time off from his riding lessons, plus he’s the youngest and fittest of us) and hiked up the nearest mountain to set up a timelapse and film into the next valley, whilst Ian and myself stopped filming bullocks and went off down towards the river crossing in the van, buoyant in the hope we could predict exactly where the horses were going to cross. A couple of GoPro’s were placed in likely spots and were ready (sort of!), the wait began.


Now as waiting goes, this has to be one of the most spectacular places to play the game. The snow capped mountains and wild carved valleys are stunning. Time slipped by and we were rewarded with the sight of wild horses coming up the valley towards us and the crossing point.

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Things never go quite to plan of course and the horses decided to make a last minute adjustment to their crossing point, leaving Ian with a mad 100 metre dash to get back into position. As the the horses made their way up and out of the valley, Ian and myself got ourselves back to the roundup pens, meting up with a very out of breath Neil who had made his descent from the mountain.





The horses were corralled into a field and the huge crowd got themselves into position to se the horses being sorted. Its done in batches of 50 or so as they wouldn’t all fit in at once.



There was an intense level of excitement around the place, you could feel the adrenaline levels going up. on a blast of a horn from Hallador, the first horses were led into the central arena to be sorted, and then the madness starts as horses rush headlong around the arena, pursued and herded by their owners…its a bit like jumping headlong into a wildebeest migration!












This part of the proceedings is a very ancient custom, it was one of the few times of year when all the farming families were gathered in one place. Inevitably, it was a place where scores and disputes between farms and farmers were settled, in a gentlemanly fashion, with fists, horse trades were made, and the young men were able to prove their worth by wrestling errant horses away from the melee into their pen, much to the admiration of a potential suitor. Nowadays of course, things are a little different, but it’s still a time of great celebration, with singing and large quantities of your favourite tipple being consumed, and of course the girls are still there to be impressed!





Its really quite something to see people boldly going into a throng of wild horses in a confined space, separating them out with great skill (and sometimes brute force – no easy task with a wild horse) and then preparing for the next group.










The love and care lavished on these horses is plain for all to see, and despite the vast quantities of Rum, Beer and Brennevin being consumed, order is maintained throughout by the gentle but firm hands of the roundup King and his lieutenants. No-one mistreated the horses or misbehaved at all, their love of horses is too deeply ingrained and they were enjoying the day far too much




Those that have enjoyed the liquid refreshments a bit too much take advantage of the Icelandic Horses legendary abilty to “go with the flow” of their riders swaying, skillfully predicting their owners unsteady movememnts so they don’t fall off. Its certainly an unusual sight, but an impressive one nonetheless, and a superb way of getting back home when slightly worse for wear!




Music and happiness filled the air here throughout the day, some outstanding singing was done by various groups of men and women, breaking into a traditional song of derring do and legends of old. Its one of those times when you can sense the atmosphere is one of excitement, joy and thanks that a great summer has passed.



Its tinged of course with the mark of winters approach, the knowledge that for them (the farmers) the most difficult part of the year is to come. A time when the tourists have gone, the roads have disappeared under a metre of snow and farm life revolves around surviving through til spring. For the moment though, its about enjoyment. The day came to its end, the sun dipping away and the riders heading back to the farm.


Another huge bowl of Lamb stew fed us (Ive got the recipe by the way if anyone is interested) and evening turned to night with lots of singing and more than a few bottles opened, drunk and discarded. It obviously fell to our little British contingent to sing a song too, but Im not sure that Neil and my rendition of Beatles tracks holds a candle to traditional Icelandic folk songs, even if Hallador and Snorri were perhaps generous with their applause.




For us it was a massive privilege to have been part of this, Ive fallen in love with these horses (my daughter may yet get her wish to own a horse now!) and the warmth and hospitality of Hallador and his family will stay with us for ever, so it was with a smile but a tinge of sadness that we left to continue towards our journeys end….


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The Horse Whisperers…Part 1


I’d start by saying that that no, they don’t whisper to horses here in Iceland, not as a matter of course, that was just to get your attention. But whilst you’re here, you may as well sit down, grab a cup of tea and read the ramblings of three chaps who’ve just spent a most amazing week on a farm called Brimnes in Skagafjörður filming the outstandingly beautiful and charismatic Icelandic Horse.

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Hosts for our week (as they were back in May when we visited at foaling time) were Hallador, his wife Maya, daughter Ragga and son in law to be Snorri. They are a wonderful farming family and typically Icelandic in their hospitality, warmth and generosity – Maya’s baking is superb! She rules the house with kindness and cakes! Their family has farmed this very spot for well over a hundred years now, and you can instantly tell the love and deep knowledge they hold for their land its wildlife and their livestock. It nestles down at the foot of the mountains by the sea in this stunningly beautiful Fjord.


This is a typical Icelandic farm with a mixture of sheep, horses and dairy cattle, the milk they produce is a mainstay of their income and jolly tasty it is too! Nothing beats the taste of fresh milk straight from the cow to my mnd.



Of course in order for the cows to give milk, they have to give birth, so there is a small herd of young calves being brought on for beef, freely roaming the fields that stretch down to the sea.


Halldor has won awards from the government for his work on this land, recovering many hectares of useless rocky rubble fields (leftovers of centuries old lava flows) to become prime grazing land by the simple and farsighted method of spreading old hay and muck over many years. A brilliantly simple method that just accelerates what mother nature would do on her own.



Snorri spends much of his time dealing with the cattle, (which incidentally are left with their horns intact because they like the look of them), getting up every morning to do the milking and tend to any problems the cows may have by hand, like any farm with livestock, there is always an animal that needs care.



It is apparent that Iceland has relatively little in the way of serious issues like TB, F&M etc. but then they don’t go in for very much in the way of intensive rearing, and of course they don’t have a badger problem either. This is no heavily mechanized animal husbandry here, just a deeply rooted personal care for their animals and the products and income that they bring.


Its not just medical care of course, as any farmer knows there are hundreds of jobs that need doing on a working farm. For the horses there is the shoeing. A horse needs its hooves maintained on a regular basis to cope with the rough surfaces of tracks and roads, so it has to be shod on a regular basis. Back home that would mean getting the farrier in normally, but not here. Snorri and Halldor do their own farrier work, and extremely sklilled they are at it too. Old shoe removed and new shoe fitted and on in just a few minutes.


They cold shoe by the way, recycling and refitting older shoes from a massive collection they keep – very little gets thrown away here, very effective recycling the old way!


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The cattle and sheep are both distinctively Icelandic breeds, built for the harsh winters here. interestingly the sheep don’t provide as much income as you would think, they pay their way in wool and meat of course, but if you were thinking of getting rich on sheep farming in Iceland, think again. That’s not to say that sheep don’t figure highly on the farmland, they are hardy, with good wool and their meat is delicious, but even though they take care of themselves in the highlands for much of the year, there is an awful lot of work involved in rounding them up and of course at lambing time! Not a profitable exercise…


The same goes for the main attraction of our visit, The Icelandic Horse, no-one breeds them to make money, but to an Icelandic farmer, the thought of not having some of these unique animals on your land is simply unthinkable.

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So a bit of background to this wonderful animal.


They weigh between 330 and 380 kilograms (a bit more than our lens then) and stand an average of 13 and 14 hands (132 to 142 cm) high, They are tough, sturdy looking animals with typically long manes and a wide variety of coat colourings, (its actually a double coat for extra insulation in the extreme climate here

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The horses tend to not be easily spooked, probably the result of not having any natural predators, they tend to be friendly, docile and easy to handle and as a result of their isolation from other horses, disease in the breed is pretty much unknown. Any horse that leaves Iceland is not allowed to return, by law!. As a result, native horses have no acquired immunity to disease, so any outbreak would be devastating to the population.

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The Icelandic is a “five-gaited” breed, as well as the typical gaits of walk, trot and canter or gallop, the breed is noted for its ability to perform two additional gaits.


The first is a gait known as the tölt. This is known for its explosive acceleration and speed; it is also comfortable and ground-covering and is a natural gait present from birth.

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The breed also performs a gait called pace (skeið, flugskeið or “flying pace”) It is used in pacing races, and is fast and smooth with some horses able to reach up to 30 miles per hour. Not all Icelandic horses can perform this gait; animals that perform both the tölt and the flying pace in addition to the traditional gaits are considered the best of all. needless to say we all had a try out on the horses, and as we were total beginners to the game, as I have to say the horses were very kind to us funny englishmen and their camera things.



Developed from the horses (they are distinctly horses NOT ponies, even though relatively small,) taken to Iceland by the Vikings in the 9th and 10th centuries, and they are mentioned frequently in the rich literary of Icelandic history.

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Horses were often considered the most prized possession of a medieval Icelander. War horses were sometimes buried alongside their fallen riders and bloody fights were arranged between chosen stallions, these were for entertainment and to pick the best animals for breeding. Frequently going to the death, stallion fights were an important part of Icelandic culture, and drunken brawls among the spectators were common.

In more recent times before motorized transport became common in Iceland, you were readily judged by your horse. It was a sign of your social standing, far more so even than the number of sheep or the size of you land. Of course, it also helped to have a fine horse if you had your eye on a pretty girl (ed note. For the single man (and some women) Iceland has a stupidly high proportion of very, very good looking girls, but that’s for another post). Icelandic horses still play a large part in Icelandic life, many races are still held throughout the country from April through June, as well as performance classes showcasing the breed’s unique gaits. Winter events are often held too, including races on frozen bodies of waterline Lake Myvatn in the North.


In the summer, those Horses not being used directly around the farm are turned out to high pasture up in the mountains. Mares and their foals are left to their own devices to feed on the fresh mountain grass.

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It’s a time for the new foals to learn about being a real horse, experiencing the difficult terrain, the changeable and sometimes extreme summer weather up there.

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I have to say that Im no horse expert, but the Icelandic Horse has a confidence and happiness about it that you don’t often see elsewhere, whether that’s down to it being able to live pretty much a wild existence for large chunks of its life I don’t know, but it pays off with these guys that’s for sure.

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Anyway, as the summer turns to autumn, its time for the farmers to think about getting their livestock prepared for the harsh winter ahead. First to come down from the hills are the sheep. Its hard, hard work climbing endless mountains to bring them down and its no surprise to see stooped, exhausted farmers spending 18 hrs a day trying to get the last ones in.



Last to be rounded up from the high pastures come the horses, this is where the fun comes in, and what we mainly came to film, but that will have to wait until next time….

For Fox Sake!

Filming wildlife is rarely easy.


Once again it would be nice to leave it at that but it would make a very boring blog post. So with that in mind, here we go, let us delve into the utter frustrations, grumblings, mumblings, reflections, magical moments, wins and losses of a fairly typical wildlife shoot.

Where to start….

I may or may not be alone in saying I have a love – hate relationship with filming wildlife. It is one of the best jobs in the world if you like travel, photography and the natural world. However in my humble opinion it is often offset by frustration and the feeling that somehow everything from the wildlife, the elements and even the viewfinder is secretly conspiring against you. There is a lot to live up to if you are a wildlife cameraman/woman there are some legends in the game! Between them they have filmed the worlds most iconic and beautiful films, sequences and stand alone shots. Big shoes to fill and a lot to live up to. Although this does not directly impact on a shoot, there is a certain expectation to maintain the level of craftsmanship and skill these guys have spent years perfecting. I only started filming a few years back, so I still have a lot to learn and I have a lot of respect for what wildlife camera folks and film makers have done before I showed up and snuck in the back door. I suppose it is an added pressure or perhaps just one that only I feel. Who knows.


I’ve recently spent a month filming Arctic foxes at Hornstrandir nature reserve in the Westfjords of Iceland. Arctic foxes have a fascinating history in Iceland and are an incredible animal one which I have really come to admire far more than I expected. We have been lucky enough to be working under the guidance of Ester Rut Unesteinsdottir from the arctic fox center in Sudavik arcticfoxcenter.com (their website is full of interesting facts and historical information on the Icelandic fox). Ester is more like an arctic fox than she would like to admit, fit as a fiddle, feisty, determined and highly intelligent. Esters knowledge of the valleys, foxes, secret spots and the trolls of this beautiful nature reserve is second to none.983A8073
A month may seem a long time to film a sequence but if you have been to Iceland and know what the weather can be like, and if you have filmed Icelandic foxes before then you will know (unless you have been very lucky) that both can be rather difficult!

I should mention at this point that Neil and Andy had gone to film Salmon and I need to introduce a new character to the equasion for this blog post! Ben (The Viking) York. Ben is from Films@59, a very well respected post production and camera kit hire company from Bristol (www.filmsat59.com) The boys and girls who run the hire department are a fantastic bunch of people and really know their stuff when it come to banter, cameras and glass and making cups of tea. I digress, poor old Ben is constantly sending out kit 24-7 to wildlife and drama film crews, all happily filming in some far flung corner of this wonderful earth while he and his colleagues work their nuts off in the office in Bristol, so we thought it only fair to get the old boy out of the technical warehouse and into the Icelandic wilds for a baptism of fire and also so he could see what it is like on the other side of the televisual fence.

So he hopped on a plane, met me in Isafjordur, and we made our way to Hornstrandir nature reserve.
After a smooth boat journey of about three hours we arrived safe and sound with no signs of sea sickness.

All Ben and I had to do now was start filming! Ohhh no wait… I need the toilet. See you in half an hour? The “Toblerone” as it is affectionately known is the only toilet in Hornstrandir and is a stiff 30 minute walk from the scientists camp site, if you leave the door open you get a wonderful view, so it is worth the walk. Now all we had to do was set the camp up, put up 5 tents carry the fuel, generator, tripods, lenses, cameras, food and stuff, stuff and more stuff. Why is there always so much stuff, how is it possible to have so much stuff? I blame Ben. Luckily we had some help from the team researching the foxes under the guidance of Ester and also another film crew from Iceland attempting to film the foxes.

After an extensive recce of the Hornstrandir valleys which takes a good day to hike Ester found a few dens in the research area around Hornvik but only one sighting of a cub and a few glimpses of a very skittish adult male in the far off distance. Not the start I’d hoped for.

Over the coming days, with support from Ester, we made the decision to film at a den which, thanks to Esters confidence it could work, we had a good feeling about….sometimes you have to go with your instincts and trust those in the know. A surprising but rapidly encroaching problem was the vegetation that was growing at an alarming rate. Because the foxes had denned slightly later it meant that if new fox cubs popped out to see the world the chances are you would not even see them let alone get juicy shots for the telly box. Just that one thing is enough to make your shoot really difficult. You can’t go in and chop down the vegetation or disturb the den. In reality there is not much you can do, foxes do not like any type of interference around the den and it is very easy to disturb them, forcing the adults to move the cubs, which is not how we like to roll.

Luckily we had foreseen the vegetation problem in the highly technical (that’s going to F *** us up radar) and had chosen an area which was slightly behind in growth terms giving us a fighting chance. The foxes at Hornstrandir appeared to be denning slightly later than previous years possibly due to the very heavy snow fall during the winter so in the typical fashion of most things conspiring against you, the first obstacle to overcome was the fact that no cubs are showing at the dens.

Getting to the den site is a good hike, Ben loved it! for the first day. The hike is fairly easy without kit, but with everything you need for a day and evening filming is a different matter, luckily Ben turned Viking pretty quickly and was a great help lugging the kit and working as an assistant, he also made a mean hot chocolate and chicken tikka packet meal….

I may or may not be alone in saying you enter into a strange time vortex on a shoot like this, days and weeks roll into one, and a single hour takes six to pass, the five days you have left to finish the shoot seems to take a year or two. You give up shaving or caring what you look like, you eat like a caveman, drink from the glacial rivers and all in all become a slightly odd creature (maybe thats just me). The drive or determination to nail the sequence is something all wildlife cameramen/women understand very well and it is a highly important characteristic needed for this type of filming. Wildlife camera folks have been doggedly chasing these sequences for years and only by this determination do you get to see all the beautiful footage on wildlife television series and films. Hats off to all those men and women working so hard to showcase the natural world.

Ben and I got to know our foxes pretty well over the coming weeks and started to gain some trust mainly with the female but not so much with the wily old male who always kept distance and a beedy eye on our movements. Observing how the foxes behave to see if any patterns emerge always helps with planning a days filming but just like the weather in Iceland, soon as you think it is sunny it clouds up and starts raining, snowing and blowing a gale, then the northern lights pop out and a volcano erupts! It is a crazy place. The foxes are the same as the weather, they change behaviour like the wind, I suppose that is what makes them so unique but also so difficult to film, they are very unpredictable just as you think you have a pattern it changes. That is wildlife for you.


We had good days and bad days in terms of filming. It was not unusual to sit in the rain for 13 hours with only one sighting of a fox. That is just the way it goes, some days we saw very little, but stuck it out till then evening when you would be rewarded with a fleeting glimpse. Wildlife cameramen/woman have a ridiculous amount of patience, or like our mate Charlie Hamilton-James said “we are just very good at being bored”

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We filmed some lovely stuff at the den over the coming weeks but its was really hard work to get footage. We filmed some very tender moments of life at the den, and watched as the male and female struggled at times to keep it all going. I must say at this point that I do admire the Icelandic arctic fox so very much, it is hard to put into words just how tough, adaptable and durable these fascinating little animals really are. A remarkable animal which is able to survive and prosper in the wildest of places in Iceland. Hornstrandir is one of those wild places, wild in spirit, but what I really mean is wild in the sense of it’s unpredictability, unable to be tamed, the elements are in control and not people.

After a “groundhog day” lifestyle two and a half weeks went past and it was time for another change. Andy and Neil had finished filming with the Atlantic salmon, Andy returned to the U.K to edit a film on Asiatic lions and Neil arrived with much needed refreshments and support for the tired and weary fox crew. A few days later Ben looking more like a Viking than a Viking did left on the boat to head back to the U.K after a real adventure in the wilds of Iceland. The sea had started to pick up and white horses had arrived pounding the huge stone beaches, we waved Ben off as he sailed into the distance and Neil and I carried on filming the fox family.


The weather had been continuing to build and became steadily worse towards the last week of the shoot, huge sea fogs began rolling in and high winds started to pick up making filming the fox more difficult and more dangerous. The sea cliffs around Hornstrandir are huge well over 300m and the landscape is not to be taken lightly, it is a beautiful place, but also volatile and the weather can snap in an instant. The Fog can be so thick it is not possible to see the ground or the small pathways to navigate back to the campsite. Many travellers head to Hornstrandir to enjoy the landscape and hike the mountains and most of the time they are rewarded with clear skies and spectacular views of this remote nature reserve. Most of the adventurous tourists are prepared and experienced hikers and usually led by highly knowledgable Icelandic guides, some tourists arrive woefully underprepared wearing jeans and t-shirts which is not advisable.


We had carried on filming the foxes until the wind, rain and fog prevented us from hiking to the den site, we heard news from a small house on the reserve and from the park ranger that some very bad weather was heading towards Hornstrandir. There is no phone signal or internet at the nature reserve and most information comes from radio or from the park ranger so we sat out the first few day of the worsening wether huddled in tents mopping up the drips and battening down the hatches.


I am not sure any of us expected the weather to be quite so bad, but with warnings from the Icelanders not to venture into the mountains we stayed put and trusted their judgement, they know best, it is their home and they know it better than anyone. Gradually the wind and rain increased and started to batter the coast and our campsite, one by one, the tents started to blow away! The now one-man Icelandic film crew which had also been filming foxes were having a bad run of luck and struggled to film any material at another den site on the nature reserve. Then things got worse, Buppy the Icelandic cameraman’s tent blew down, when I say blew down, it literally snapped the carbon fibre poles all the way down the tent. It was lashing with rain and the wind was gusting at gale force speeds. It was chaos, Neil and I rushed out of our own battered tents to help him secure his film kit and possessions. The tent was a right off.

Buppy trekked to one of two houses at the nature reserve to ask for help whilst Neil and I made do sheltering in our leaking and damaged tents and securing our tents with what ever we could find. Every time the wind picked up from the sea and forced a gust into the valley the tents shook with a thundering crack and bent sideways under the strain, water was now pouring in and everything was getting soaked including our dry clothes. Sleeping was impossible. Buppy returned late, to inform us he could stay with a family at the house for the night. Neil and I sat it out in some mildly faint hope it would die down and and we would wake up to a beautiful summers day….


That did not happen, one by one, our tents blew away and broke down until we had nothing left. The generator was soaked and stopped working and we could not charge any equipment.

The weather was getting worse and we had no choice but to ask for help from the family staying the their holiday home on the reserve. We arrived completely wet, cold and very tired. We met up with Buppy who introduced us to Stigur one of the owners from the house. Stigur is a top man, very kind, welcoming and genuinle decent guy and more than happy to help out. His house was full, eleven adults and children all of which had come to holiday as they do every year, however they had arrived the day before the storm hit and had been stuck inside ever since. Stigur only had one place we could sleep – an old but sturdy boat shed down on the beach. He made us a fire and allowed us to get our clothes dry and let us use the shower, first shower in almost four weeks for Ian.


Over the course of the day and night we took down what was remaining of the camp and moved all our kit to the boat shed under gale force conditions.

Film crews never travel light! and moving a whole camp with filming kit, kitchen, expedition kit was no easy feet. Finally we were holed up in a boat shed in the most remote part of Iceland in a storm Neil, Buppy and Ian. Just enough room for three sleeping bags and a mountain of kit. Looking back now it was quite funny, apart from Buppy snoring! I am not sure we had more than a few hours sleep that week, the wind was shaking and battering the boat shed to the point where we all though it was going to take the roof off. But Icelanders know how to build a boat shed! Super shed took all the wind and rain and shrugged it off. We spent four days and nights all going slightly mad and sheltering in the boat shed waiting for the storm to drop. Search and rescue helicopters had been flying looking for stranded tourists in terrible conditions, again we tip our hats to the men and women out doing this work it is truly incredible and very brave.

Neil and I took a bottle of whisky to the house to say thank you to Stigur and his family for helping us out. At first he said “no you don’t need to give me anything, this is what we do, Icelanders always help people, it is just what we do” Then he gave a wry smile and said ok come in. We met all the family and sat in a warm house surrounded by lovely people and drank whisky and ate some very tasty dried fisk with butter. The guitar came out, songs were sung, voices were raised and whilst the weather raged outside Neil and I felt very happy and safe. Until the morning when we woke up with a massive headaches.

We heard news the next day from the captain of the boat they were going to attempt to sail out to pick up the family depending on how bad the sea was looking. We waited all day and into the evening without word. Around midnight we heard from Stigur the boat was coming. We lugged all our kit to beach in the pouring rain and wind and waited with the family to be picked up. The guys who sail the boat are amazing, trying to get people and kit into a zodiac in crashing waves is very difficult, Neil did a great job helping the boat guys standing in crashing waves pushing the zodiac out from the shore full of kit and people. We did maybe ten runs in the zodiac before all were safely on board.

The journey back was rough to say the least. Nearly everyone on board was sea sick apart from the old hardened Icelanders and Neil and Ian! we must have the old celtic sea fairing genes!

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Well, thats all I have to say about that right now, apart from a big thank you again to all the Icelanders for looking after us, Stigur, Ester, Thor, all the guys and girls in the office back at H.Q

Left to right: Ian, Ester, Ben and Neil.


next time, we catch up with the horse at their annual roundup…quite a spectacle I can assure you!


Gunnhuver’s new Geysir – the waking witch?


Well we’ve just about recovered from the awesome experience that was filming the eruption! We’ve got some fantastic footage from the ground, the night footage is unbelievable…but…you’ll have to wait until it airs (BBC2 and Animal Planet, next spring) to see it, sorry to those of you who have asked! So again a hearty thankyou to Thor and True North for getting us there and the SAR teams who are doing such a great job in keeping everyone safe out there.

We’ve had a great time over the past 10 days or so, all a bit varied and involving lots of dashing around the island, north, south, east and west we’ve done a whistlestop tour.





We started off doing some work in Reykjavik, and as usual we stayed at our favourite spot in town, the 1912 Guesthouse (http://www.1912guesthouse.is) It’s a lovely place, right next to the Parliament building. Clean, comfortable and reasonably priced The owner is quite a character too, full of good stories and extremely helpful, it’s a definite top recommendation from us!


We were after filming some nightlife, clubs and urban material, largely to cut into a sequence on how Icelanders use the power that they generate (in a very green fashion) from the rich Geothermal sources under the ground.

(ED note – It also gave a us a great excuse to sample some of the nightlife for which Reykjavik is gathering a worldwide reputation).


Many timelapses later, we got some great shots around the town so should make a dynamic little sequence! And of course it gave Ian a chance to express his monochrome skills as only he can, it never ceases to amaze me the talents of this man.




We returned to the Big Laxa river as a guest again of Orri Vigfusson. As Ian was in Hornstrandir with the foxes when we came here last time (he hasn’t forgotten the fox blog btw, it is coming soon!) and he had the high speed camera with him, we needed to do some pick up shots of casting.


Orri had arranged for David L. Goodman to be our casting star, and what a star he was! Not only was he a superb fisherman he was also a supremely elegant double handed caster. He is a devotee of the underhand cast (ed note this is a revolutionary method of fly casting, pioneered by the great Swedish angler Goran Andersson http://www.salmonfishing-norway.com/goran%20andersson%20biographie.htm)



To see David put this cast into practice was a wonderful experience, its such an elegant and precise way to fish and he was quite simply brilliant at it. As an added bonus, we caught and returned a lovely 20lb cock salmon and laughed….a lot. I have to say that David is one of the funniest and most entertaining contributors I have had the pleasure of working with. I wont repeat the stories told for lots of different reasons but I think its safe to say that we all learnt a few things! Of course you’ll have to wait and see the film to see him and Goran Andersson’ technique in action, but here is a shot of Ian giving it his best. A good job he did of it too, his usual dogged persistence paid dividend


After a few more days back in town, some more interviews beckoned. Ester, Our fox scientist was kind enough to invite her to our lab and show us some of the new research she has been doing into the Arctic fox. Ester has been brilliant for the whole of this project, we couldn’t have done the filming in Hornstarndir without her.


We also met a nice lady called Inga-Lisa and her daughter Asta, who were kind enough to talk to us about trolls and elves, and what they represent to everyday Icelanders.

We filmed them down to the sea stacks (or trolls petrified in the light of dawn) at Reykjanes, which we had recced back in May, a lovely spot down by the sea on this dramatic coastline.


Very close by are the hot srings of Gunnhuver that we wrote about back in May (https://footstepsofgiantsblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/10/an-icelandic-ghost-story/) where according to local legend, the witch Gunn met her end by being tricked into a boiling mud pool, leaving her ghost to haunt this area to this day.


In geological terms, these boiling, spitting mud pools are down to water coming into contact with hot rocks deep below, boiling and liquefying mud, then forcing its way to the surface as mud springs. (ed note, there is actually one such example, a cool one, at Wooton Bassett in Wiltshire). Here at Gunnhuver they have been active for many years and the whole area is dotted with vents, drifting steam covers the area and creates quite an atmosphere. In the past few weeks there has been a marked increase in activity here, (perhaps related to the 20,000 earthquakes that have happened in Iceland in the last month!) with old mud springs becoming more vigourous and others dying down.

Im not sure anyone expected a new Geyser to form though!


Now a geyser is a peculiar phenomenon that need very specific conditions to occur. Its basically a funnel going down through the ground to an area where water (and/or mud) meets the magma. When this water reaches boiling point (its held there under pressure from the water above, becoming superheated) a bubble of steam surges up through the funnel forcing the water and mud ahead of it to be shot up into the air (in the case of Icelands famous Geysir, about 30m up in the air, and 80m for Old Faithful in Yellowstone US) the cooler liquid then falls back into the chamber to be boiled and the process repeats on a regular, timeable basis. It’s a bit like boiling a kettle really.



Though Iceland has a handful of active geysers, (including the most famous one at Geysir, its where the name came from funnily enough) most are very small, and they are pretty rare worldwide (roughgly 1000)


The biggest ever recorded was in New Zealand, the Waimangu Geyser, which got to heights of an incredible 460m , but that died out in 1904 http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/6497/waimangu-geyser-the-worlds-largest

Old faithful gets to 70m, and Strokkur (the active one next to Geysir) gets up to about 20 m. So any new geyser forming is a welcome addition to the list, particularly if it gets to any height.


News broke on Tuesday 16th Sept that a geyser had been spotted out amongst the vents at Gunnhuver. We got staright in the trusty bus and got back out there on the Wednesday morning. Despite the rain it was pretty spectacular, a freshly formed mud hole some 6m across and 2m deep, surrounded by copious quantities of mud spatter, was bubbling away merrily. After a few minutes, the bubbling increased and with a roaring and hissing, great gouts of mud, steam and water shot up 8-10m into the air. The eruption only lasted about 20-30 seconds before dying away again, leaving the water pouring back down the hole to start the kettle boiling again. Now obviously a kettle needs time to boil, and as the saying goes “a watched pot never boils” but sure enough 10 mins later, off she went again! It seems that the witch Gunn has woken up, whether shes been dallying with her friends at Bardabunga we’ll have to leave to the spirits to decide, but its certainly a spectacle worth watching. One point to bear in mind here of course is that you must take great care when walking in this area. There are countless vents and mud holes all with scalding hot mud and water to trap the unwary, so if you don’t know where you should go, get a guide!


With that, we set off east and north.





We are heading up there to film a horse roundup in the next week, but its always worth picking off a few shots on the way. As chance would have it, we bumped into our good chum and all round great mate wildlife cameraman Warwick Sloss who is over here pursuing his great love of stills photography (ed note – his stuff is well worth a look, sublime portraiture all done on analogue film, developed and hand printed by his good self, check out his website here http://www.slossphoto.co.uk)



Weather was pretty grim but we  caught up with the spectacular waterfall Dettifoss….


and an off chance wildlife highlight was a lagoon on the southeast where many hundreds, perhaps thousands of whooper swans were gathering before their migration south.




A sure sign that autumn, and the harsh winter, are on their way.


Til next time…

Bárðarbunga – A Giant Awakens?


When we first got this film commissioned as a Natural World for the BBC last year, very high up on wish list was filming an eruption if one happened, if being the operative word!

In geological terms, everything that happens with erosion, tectonic plate movement and rock formation takes place over an absurdly long time in our timescales. These things take millions of years to do their thing. The exception to this of course are the sudden, dramatic and often catastrophic events of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, which is exactly what is happening under the ground at Vatnajokull.

We’d had a little break in filming for a few weeks in August, the boys returning home to see loved ones and catch up on life, so when the scientific news channels started reporting increased seismic activity under the Vatnajokull glacier we pricked up our ears.

Iceland has lived with massive geological activity for its whole life. its actually a very young country in world terms, lying directly on the northern edge of the Atlantic rift joining The US and European land masses, Iceland is slowly growing as the two plates move apart with fresh material forming the land as cooled magma.

Its no surprise then that it has a brilliant system in place for dealing with earthquakes, eruptions and glacial floods. Check out the met office here http://en.vedur.is and you’ll get an idea of how comprehensive their coverage is, one thing you can be sure of is that the Icelanders know their countryside and its little (sometimes world changing) tantrums.

So, earthquakes started going off around Bárðarbunga with some startling frequency and size, up to 5.7 on the Richter scale…which is substantial. Amazingly, the scientists can predict what exactly is happening underground through a network of measuring stations and GPS locators. It appeared that a substantial quantity of magma from the gigantic Bárðarbunga magma chamber was trying to break free. The fears (liberally expressed throughout the worlds media) were of a repeat performance of 2010 when air traffic was effectively knocked out over the atlantic for a period of time when the Eyjafjallajökull eruption burst out from under a glacier.

We were due to return on the 31st August and were on tenterhooks when the eruptions started the week before, especially if flight was going to be affected. Neil had already returned (to take his young lady Rachel on holiday, we just cant stay away from here!).

In the great way of these things, Lady Luck smiled on us and left the big eruption til the morning of our arrival on Sunday. We met up with our Eider friend Thor and his wife Erna for a spot of lunch and then got on with trying to film a volcano erupting.

Now getting to the site of an eruption is not an easy task. Quite rightly, the Icelandic authorities had taken the step of evacuating both the immediate vicinity and the flood plain down towards Dettifoss. Bárðarbunga is under the northern edge of the Vatnajokull glacier (the largest in Europe) and right slap bang in the middle of the deserted but beautiful highlands. Flying in was out of the question (all overflights were banned, though a couple of “intrepid” local pilots did some fly bys).

We were very fortunate to have the assistance of the brilliant Thor from True North in Reykjavik (http://truenorth.is)


Thor, Rafnar and the rest of the team there have been our on the ground help for the whole of this project (we couldn’t do it without them to be honest) and by great good fortune, Thor is also a team leader for the Icelandic Search and Rescue organization (http://www.icesar.com) so was the right man to get us in place safely. Part of his role is to investigate eruption sites, establish safe zones (if any!) and where possible collect any samples relevant. He and his colleague Freyn located the 2011 eruption site at Grímsvötn (the weather was so appalling no one could get or find an erupting volcano, though instruments told scientists it was happening).

We met up with Thor first thing on Monday morning, he outlined the plan for how to get there (superjeep was the only option for the last stretch) so it was straight off to the other side of the country by road. 7hrs later we headed off road into the highlands by the one route allowed, quite rightly access at the moment is only for scientific teams and the SAR, all other roads have been closed into the area. We stopped by at a lonely little SAR manned outpost to log our BBC ids and passports, and continue our journey into the darkening skies. It always amazes me the power of BBC id cards, but like alcohol and cigarettes, they must be used responsibly!

We managed to take our trusty 4wd van most of the way, but had to call it quits at a river too deep for us. A rapid debuss and all our filming, sleeping (ha!) and eating kit transferred across to the Superjeep and we were off again.




A couple more night time river crossings, weaving in and out of old lava fields (expertly handled by Thor and the Superjeep) and we were getting close…


Our first inkling that something was fundamentally different in our environment was when we spotted a red glow in the clouds….to the south, not the afterglow of sunset. The cloud itself of course wasn’t really a cloud, it was the huge column of steam, sulphur dioxide and a bit of ash (not anywhere near enough to affect anyones flight plans I hasten to add!) pumping out of the ground.


To say we were excited would be an understatement….not in a million years did we expect to be in this position.

It was now nearly midnight as we approached this massive red cloud belching and flickering like some devils breath. It was vital we approached from the right direction as the cloud contains very high levels of Suphur Dioxide, deadly in high doses. Thor checked the route visually and for any signs of the gas, as we crept closer across the flat sandy terrain.


The eruption is a fissure eruption, basically the force of the magma has opened up a huge crack in the ground (1.5km long) right next to the flood plain of a river draining the Vatnajokull glacier. Its actually the site of a previous eruption from the 18th century. This is not fire coming out of a perfectly conical mountain in the Hollywood sense of a volcano, it’s a huge gaping open crack going straight down to boiling, angry magma. Sounds benign doesn’t it, and it certainly gives food for thought as you get close. Thor was happy with it being safe so we stopped the jeep and got out to the most incredible sight.


The noise was incredible, a pretty much constant rumbling and banging as more explosions rocked the place. The wind was pretty strong too, whipping up sandstorms that are so common in the highlands. If you’ve ever been blasted by the fine pumice that gets carried by the wind here, you’ll know that it stings, and clogs the eyes pretty quick. Keeping behind the truck helped though and of course when there is a sight like this in front of you, you forget any discomfort pretty soon.


We had to work fast, not least because of the speed at which the lava was coming out and flowing along the ground, around 3m per minute.


Now bearing in mind that Usain Bolt runs 100m in under 10sec, 3m per minute doesn’t sound very fast, but hot as Usain may be, he’s not the same as a wall of molten rock, 500m across simmering away nicely at 1200c! keeps you on your toes I can say


Time seemed to stand still really, it was so strange being next to this living breathing beast for hours on end. It was both awe inspiring and humbling at the same time. Theres nothing better to my mind than being made to feel small by nature, its does the soul good to know that some things cannot be changed or even fully understood.


Sitting down you could feel feint rumblings underneath, and every few seconds a mighty explosion would thunder out


Volcanoes are obviously spectacular during the day, but the seeing this beast of a fissure spewing forth millions of tons of molten rock at night is extraordinary!


You can feel the heat of the lava fountains from a few hundred metres away, and when we were rigging our gopros and timelapse rigs (you’ll have to wait til next year to see those in the finished film on BBC2 im afraid!) to get the advancing wall of fire, you had to keep a close eye on the cameras in case the glass elements in the lens pop.


On a technical note, its worth remembering (for anyone who finds themselves filming volcanic eruptions) that heat haze plays havoc with focus, particularly autofocus, my advice, don’t use it! trust your eyes.


The night went by in a flash, and it wasn’t long before the first tinge of pink was in the eastern sky.


We did a quick reposition further away from the eruption and set ourselves up for a timelapse of the sun rising through the ash cloud. It seemed the right time to have a quick coffee and a quiet moment of reflection,attend to any ablutions and maybe a bit of food. Those regular readers out there will know that we have been using a lot of dehydrated food whilst we’ve been here, its been a godsend but not for long periods, perfect for here though we thought. Thor though surprised us all by whipping out a small bar-b-q and preparing hotdgs and lamb fillet. Unbelievablly good at 5am in front of an erupting volcano!

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(Ed note. Andy looking like a chimney sweep! But thats a hard days and nights work right there….Ash and debris from the fissure finds a new home on Andy’s face)



The sun coming up through the dust and heat haze was extraordinary, the colours in the sky were just to die for and no camera can do them justice.



Once we were happy with the wides and lapses we returned to the lava wall and fissure.Ian even had time to break out the Leica once the sun was up, as usual his results were superb




It was amazing to think that areas we had been walking on, only a few hours previously, were now covered in new land, and that’s partly the story of Iceland and what makes it so special. Its a tough place, made vibrant and beautiful by the force of nature.

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That’s one of the incredible things about this event though, I think I am right in saying that Iceland grows about 20mm a year as the plates pull apart, this event has in the few days since August 16th, grown 14 times that, astonishing.

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The rest of the morning was spent in the company of some of the scientific teams studying this. For them it’s the chance of a lifetime to increase their knowledge base and understanding of whats going on under our feet. For some, this is the first view of an eruption in their entire career, good people all of them.


We’ll obviously be keeping an eye on proceedings at Bárðarbunga, Vatnajokull and Askja as there seem to be a number of possible outcomes at the moment, varying from a full stop to procedings to either subglacial eruption and massive flood or Askja going bang,


Im neither a Geologist nor a crystal ball gazer so cannot guess what will happen, but I do know we’ve been forever humbled by the power and majesty of Bárðarbunga and the Holuhraun fissure.



Suffice to say that the power of the planet is an extraordinary thing, It’s a part of Icelanders make up to work with nature and not against it, so whatever happens, this land will continue to grow


Til next time

Editors SAFETY NOTE Friday 5.08.14

several people have been arrested trying to get into the eruption site this evening http://www.ruv.is/frett/arrested-near-the-holuhraun-eruption

We must point out that we had special permits to enter the area, were accompanied by 2 guides both SAR personnel, and obeyed police and SAR instructions at all times. If you choose to disregard official advice and permissions on entry to the area, you are not only endangering your own life, but the lives of the rescue services too.