Chasing the Northern Lights


It is an item that is almost clichéd on a travellers bucket list; ‘see the Northern Lights’. As I set off with twenty fellow geographers from my south London school, our destination Iceland, we told ourselves they didn't matter. Yes we had all read that they were majestic, beautiful; lighting up the sky like an ethereal lava lamp. And yes we were visiting Iceland during October, in a year of solar maximum. But they were allusive, notoriously so; ‘the tricky lady’. We told ourselves we wouldn't see them. Indeed, as we sat on the floor of Heathrow airport, four hours into a delay, we mused that it would be miraculous if we even made it off the ground. To make matters worse, this delay meant we missed visiting the Blue Lagoon, the second most exciting item on our checklists after the mysterious aurora. Was our trip ill-fated, jinxed? Indeed, some in the Arctic Circle believe it is bad luck simply mentioning the fickle lights. Nevertheless, (when we eventually made it out of London) we had an unforgettable four days that confirmed we really didn't need to see the Northern lights in order to fall in love with Iceland. Even before we’d landed, circling above Keflavik airport, we saw a circular rainbow, which caused the eccentric physics teacher accompanying us to leap out of his seat in excitement, despite the seatbelt signs being activated. I’m sure the other passengers were grateful for the ad-hoc physics lesson which followed. This rainbow was just a taster of the awe-inspiring sights we were going to witness over the coming days.

We walked behind a waterfall, saw the world’s oldest parliament, stood in between tectonic plates, climbed a glacier, were mesmerised by erupting geysers and regaled with tales of the fascinating Icelandic sagas by our patriotic tour guide, Skiđi. Iceland had not disappointed, and as our coach trundled back to Reykjavik from the countryside on our last night we were in high spirits, performing a very out of tune rendition of our school song to Skiđi, which I’m sure he appreciated. We knew that now we were under the dull orange glow of Reykjavik, punctuated only by the piercing brightness of clusters of stars, that we had missed our chance to see the Northern Lights. Frankly, we didn't care. Our trip had been amazing. At midnight, as my friends fell asleep around me, I wrote a postcard to my family, telling them of the incredible things we’d seen, but that the Northern Lights hadn't been one of them. As I was writing, I thought I could hear a gentle rapping on our door, but put it down to my imagination. However, this rapping was followed by more forceful knocking, and as I threw open my door, annoyed I had to get out of the warm cocoon of my bed, I faced one of my geography teachers, with a huge grin on her face. She informed me that the tricky lady had decided to grace us with her presence after all, and my annoyance evaporated.

I threw my coat over my pyjamas and bolted down the stairs two at a time, locking myself out of my room in the process. I am sure if an inhabitant of central Reykjavik had been looking out of their window at approximately 00:25 on the 24th of October, they would have been amused at the site of twenty teenage girls running through the deserted streets of Reykjavik wearing pyjamas and walking boots, on their own hunt for the Aurora Borealis. We reached the harbour, and clambered onto the slippery rocks. The sky, darker now the city was asleep, was slashed with a stroke of emerald that stretched from horizon to horizon. The Northern Lights. For the first time in a week, all twenty of us were silent, transfixed by the aerial display that was dancing across the sky. We had to keep staring at them; as if we thought if we looked away they would fade. Although just green, the light that rippled and twisted across the sky was faceted by jade, chartreuse, cyan and teal, giving it a three dimensional quality. The world seemed endlessly, and marvellously, green. We sat, awe struck and filled with wonderment, feelingly incessantly insignificant. We stayed like this for an hour and a half, before we realised our fingers were numb, and coats slick with condensation. Our teachers ushered us back to our hostel, aware of our early flight the next day. I settled down into my bed, and finished writing my postcard.

P.S, We did see the Northern Lights after all.

They did matter to us. They mattered a great deal, and they had certainly been worth the wait.

H.Dancaster.

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