Category Archives: adventure

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!!!!

…..fanfare/drumroll……

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

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qnnh

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

http://www.bbc.com/earth/uk/sections/on-location

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!

For Fox Sake!

Filming wildlife is rarely easy.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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….

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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.

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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.

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

Bárðarbunga – A Giant Awakens?

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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)

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

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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)

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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.

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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

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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.

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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,

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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.

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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

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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.

The Highlands

 

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Landmannalaugar lava fields and mountains flushed with colours.

Neil and Ian recently finished a filming trip to the highlands of Iceland, with particular focus on the area known as Landmannalaugar but also taking in  many sights and sounds along the way.

Above is one of Neil’s (aka “MILKY” as he was affectionately named by one of our friends Maggi on the island of Grimsey) very nice photographs of the lava fields and mountains.

We started our highland trip from a beautiful waterfall called Aldeyjarfoss not too far from another famous waterfall Godafoss in the North of Iceland driving our trusty 4×4 along the rather bumpy dirt roads and tracks. If you are reading this and planning a trip through the central roads of Iceland it is well worth doing a lot of research. The roads are great fun to drive but you will need a decent wagon and it needs to be a solid 4×4, the bigger the better! it is easy to get stuck out there and if no one passes for a few hours and the weather turns which it will! it can be a long wait for passing help. Take plenty of supplies and be prepared. And remember to stay on the tracks and roads it is strictly forbidden to drive off road, the terrain and vegetation is extremely sensitive and does not recover for hundreds of years.

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Aldeyjarfoss waterfall. Skirted by basalt columns, blue skies and fluffy clouds. Beautiful.

Above is milky’s photograph of Aldeyjarfoss as we arrived. It is a real beauty and a great place to stop and film and take in that dramatic landscape.

Iceland is a great place for landscape photography full stop, but it is also worth putting the camera down and soaking it all up! Whilst filming scenics we usually spend a good day or much longer at one location waiting for better light and moving about to get the best out of the situation. Sadly we are not as mobile as DSLR photographers, our filming kit is heavy and big and it takes time to get the best out of a situation. Spending all this time in one spot we are able to do a fair bit of tourist spotting! It is interesting to see how little time people actually spend having a sit down and taking it all in! Usually it is a quick pit stop, 150 photographs from one or two spots, a plethora of selfies all taken in record time then off like a rocket to the next recommendation in the guidebook! Perhaps it is due to time constraints or being on a tour of sorts, but it does seem a shame to not have a moment to contemplate, relax, and be in the nature, and we did spot a lot of people in hired 4x4s just turn up, take a look over the edge and leave. Neil and Ian could happily spend a week just here waiting for the best light to make her look even more beautiful. Good light is rare, and when it happens it is just magic. Most landscape photographers are always chasing the light, early light, late light, moody light, dramatic light. Sometimes it is best to just wait a little while longer it will pay off in the end and you will have a much better photograph for it and spent some time with your eyes and mind open and relaxed.

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Large areas of the highlands are like a lunar landscape, something you would expect on a newly found keplar planet in a distant galaxy. As you leave the martian plains of the highlands things start to change, colours emerge from the black, and white landscape, reds and greens emerge, rivers are riddled with coloured veins of vegetation, moss, cotton grass and flowers start to show.

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colours and shapes crafted by the elements start to appear.

Along the journey to Landmannalaugar we helped a fair few people who had got stuck or had broken down. The Icelanders are a nation of people willing to help tourists and hikers, on countless occasions we have been helped by the really cool people of Iceland so we have a lot of respect for the Icelanders and the rescue teams.

We met a German couple travelling by motorbike who had flagged us down requesting help. The motorbike was stuck in the mud. Now when we say stuck, we mean seriously stuck, buried past the engine in thick black volcanic mud. It had been raining on and off all day so the ground was saturated and the rain was getting heavier, the couple had been in the rain for a good few hours desperately trying everything to get the bike free from the sinking mud, but the more efforts they had made the bike had sunk deeper. They were exhausted and cold wet and in need of a good old cuppa tea! We have pretty much everything in the Van to survive for weeks even months. We fired up the boilers and made tea and chocolate, a doctor once told me have a culpa tea and a bit of chocolate, you will feel much better! Sadly or van had no chance of pulling the bike from the mud, our van would just become stuck trying, so we waited and kept the guys warm till a super truck approached. Luckily it was a beast of a truck with very large tyres, even so it took 3 men and a super truck to pull that big old BMW out of that mud it just didn’t want to let it go! Some more tea and biscuits and we were on our way only to find a cyclist with a snapped bike and a glum face at not being able to finish his journey into the highlands, we chucked the bike in the back and took him to the campsite at Landmannalaugar.

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Landmannlaugar is an incredible landscape. The sheeps seem to like it too!

Arguably one of the best locations to visit in Iceland, Landmannalaugar is a breathtaking landscape. Summer is a busy time in the area, a lot of people come to hike, camp and enjoy the landscape. So much to do and see, there are excellent trails, hikes and locations to visit. It is a national park and is simply beautiful. The lava fields are incredible, covered in moss hundreds of years old, ptarmigan hide out in the lava fields, wagtails, redwing and pink foot geese are to be found in the area.

The Landmannalagar area is not too far from the Bardarbunga volcano which  has been all over the news for the last week. The volcano is situated in the northern part of mighty Vatnajokul the largest glacier in Europe. For more info on the seismic activities in Iceland you can check this link http://en.vedur.is/

We are aiming to head back to Iceland in a week or so to cover the horse round up and other spectacles so stay tuned for updates, and still to come a blog about the foxes at Hornstrandir and the ups and downs of filming wildlife.

The Egg Collectors of Grimsey

 

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The warmth and hospitality of Icelanders has constantly impressed us on our journey through this extraordinary land. Grimsey is no exception to this, we were met off the ferry (Andy was having a hard time negotiating the narrow exit ramp, but we got off without becoming an addition to the boats in the harbour) by Gagga, our lovely landlady from Basar guesthouse, and welcomed with hot coffee to our home for the week.

Our main targets to film for the week are the huge numbers of seabirds nesting on the cliffs here (over a million on the 300ft cliffs that ring this tiny island). But its not just the birds, we wanted to film the age old method of egg collecting that has been practised here for centuries. For a community that existed on a diet of fish and the few sheep that were kept here, seabird eggs played an important part in days of old and today.

In the same way that chicken eggs bought from the supermarket are not viable (i.e. they haven’t developed a foetus inside until growth has been triggered by the warmth of incubation). The Seabird eggs are collected just after they have been laid and before incubation, so timing of this event is critical. The collectors keep a watchful eye on their stretch of cliff (they are divided up in the same way as any land, each collector has his own patch) waiting for the first signs of laying. Once started, a sector is only harvested 3 times over 9 days or so, then left alone, so the guillemots and razorbills simply lay a new egg after the collecting and raise that to the hatching stage undisturbed. Its typical of Icelanders to work out a way to exist in harmony with the landscape and wildlife, and this totally sustainable way of working with sea birds is no exception.

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So it was with great interest and anticipation that we met up with Maggi and Siggi on the high cliffs. These brothers have lived their lives to the full here on the island, spending happy childhood days learning the ways of sea and land, it shows too. Their knowledge of bird behaviour and the ways of the sea is extraordinary, there is a depth behind their words that cannot be learnt by reading books or taking a degree in biology, it can only come by living side by side with nature.

Our cameras set safely at the top of the cliff , we were wondering exactly how the eggs were collected?, how many ropes, harnesses and all the normal paraphernalia of rock climbing on 300ft sheer cliffs were to be employed? Soon all became clear, as an old tractor came trundling towards us across the moorland…

The tractor reversed to the edge of the cliff, Siggi put on a sturdy harness (made by himself, the same patterns used by his father before him) long rope slung over the back of the roller winch on the back of the tractor and Siggi backed over the cliff edge carrying the all important tools of the trade – pole net, canvas bag for the eggs and the all important helmet (some protection against any rocks dislodged by birds).

Seeing Siggi nimbly make his way down the cliff face from the safety of our viewpoint was an impressive sight, constantly in touch with his brother Maggi, holding the other end of the rope at the top, literally with Siggi’s life in his hands, telling him when to give more rope, when to stop etc. It was very clear the huge level of trust they place in each other. To them its a normal day at the office, they’ve been doing it for years, but it took our breath away. The sequence will hopefully do some justice to this when its been through the cutting room later this year, and with the combination of our main camera (Sony F55) 2nd unit (Canon C300) and the ever useful GoPro, we’ve certainly got it covered. here’s some stills that will hopefully give some idea.

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With the collecting done, we chatted away with the brothers for ages, happily munching away on fermented shark and eggs, listening to stories of their youth and life on the island. You couldn’t wish to meet nicer people, funny, charismatic and tough in the way that only a life in a harsh environment can make a man.

We all felt privileged to spend time with them and gladly accepted the kind invitation of dinner at Maggi’s house (a wonderful meal of lamb cooked by his wife Anna) More chatting and stories of the island kept us thoroughly entertained for the evening but more excitement was still to come, Maggi had a surprise in store for us.

He and Siggi had to take their boat round to the cliff bottom to pick up some eggs left from a previous days collecting and invited us to go with them. It was too late (9pm) for decent filming light, but never being ones to turn down the opportunity for a spin on the ocean, and to see the island from a different perspective, we piled in and set off through calm seas in Siggi’s powerful RIB.

What welcomed us on the shore at the bottom of the cliffs was the most extraordinary spectacle, thousands upon thousands of Guillemots and Razorbills flew off from and returned to the cliffs as they headed to their feeding grounds out on the Arctic Ocean. Ive never seen anything quite like it, the sheer numbers were amazing and there is no way a camera can do it justice (even our prized Leica!) its one of those things that just has to go on your top ten things to see before you die, you have to see it with your own eyes and experience the smells and sounds alongside.

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end of a perfect few days, I think its fair to say that we’ve fallen in love with Grimsey!L1002564

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40km off the north coast of Iceland lies the island of Grimsey, our home for the next week whilst we film the extraordinary seabird colonies here.

A small fishing community has scraped a living from the rich fishing grounds here for centuries, so filming the people is as always high on our priority list.

The journey over here was spectacular, we had left the comfort of our beds (and seaweed baths) in Reykholar at the unearthly hour of 2.30am to get to the ferry by 8.00am, boarded and set sail into flat calm waters and bright sunshine

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leaving behind the snow covered mountains around Dalvik, our three hour crossing was a pleasure, whales abound around these waters, surprisingly close to shore, and we had 2 full breaches, 6 full tail dives from Humpbacks, numerous Minke surfacing, and lots of white beaked
dolphin. As per usual with whales, Continue reading

An Icelandic Ghost Story

 

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Great to be back in Iceland, and as usual it doesn’t disappoint. Ian and myself got the (very) early flight from drizzle Brizzle, got the van sorted and, to make use of our time before picking up camera assistant Neil that evening, went on a recce to the South Western peninsula of Reykjanes.

This peninsula is one huge lava field, an outpouring of a massive eruption a few hundred years ago, its created a barren landscape that stretches for miles and miles. There is a stark beauty about this place that matches nothing Ive seen before on my travels.

The area is home to the famous Blue Lagoon (more on this down the line) a geothermal pool popular with locals and tourists alike that plays host to some wild parties all year round. Not being as hardy as the locals, us soft southerners didn’t take a dip and opted instead to recce the area for a shoot we will be doing here later in the summer.

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GunnHuver geothermal vents

So we headed over to the Gunnuhver mud pools and vents, some of the largest in Iceland, with the most spectacular lighthouse nearby…. nobody told us about the ghosts and spectres though….

Legend has that 400 years ago a witch called Gunn became involved in an argument with the local judge over an unpaid debt. Judge Vilhjálmur ruled that Gunns only possession, a cooking pot, should be taken in payment for this debt, an act that sent Gunn into a fury, swearing eternal revenge. 

When she died, Judge Vilhjálmur attended her funeral, but disappeared on his way home through Reykjanes. Next day, his body was found, battered and bruised..and in the graveyard, the witches coffin was empty. Gunn had returned from the afterlife. 

Shortly after, the Judges’ wife also died in mysterious circumstances and for years the ghost of Gunn caused havoc for the locals, with villagers disappearing and women and children going mad. So they enlisted the services of a local pastor who was also a powerful sorcerer (an interesting theological combination!). After much contemplation (and a fair amount of the local liquid spirits) he came up with the novel idea of giving this ghostly witch the end of a piece of wool, then throwing the ball of wool into the boiling mud pools. This proved successful apparently, and the powerful spectre followed the wool ball down to the steaming pools where she remains tethered to this day…some say you can still see and sense her in the right conditions even now, and with the sulphuric smells, clouds of steam, and bubbling cauldrons of mud, its definitely a place that makes your other senses come alive.

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Geothermal plant, Gunnhuver

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Bridge across continents, Reykjanes

I’d love to say that Ian and I saw the ghost. Sadly, on this occasion all we saw were a few American tourists braving the elements (incidentally, very close by to here you can cross continents from one tectonic plate to another, America to Europe in about a second), a pretty spectacular lighthouse, and a small but very cool fulmar colony on the sea cliff nearby.

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Reykjanes lighthouse and geo thermal vents.

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Whilst we were down there we took a look at the lava formations down by the sea edge. For two committed monochrome nuts like Ian and myself, seeing the extraordinary colours formed by the molten rock cooling and leaching out various minerals was a treat indeed.


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So all round a successful recce, we’ll be coming back here later in the summer to do some filming underground in the lava tubes and with a bit of luck, a decent down inside the magma chamber of a real volcano, looking forward to that!

 

 

 

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As always in Iceland, it never ceases to amaze me how even in the most inhospitable and barren parts of this incredible island, life manages to grab a foothold and flourish, its not just the witches that come back to life here..

Imagesleep well…