Gillian Thornton explores the unspoilt landscapes of the North Atlantic
There’s something strangely mesmerising about a pool of bubbling mud, the rhythmical gloop-gloop sound and the way the liquid earth shudders with each bursting bubble. I hold my breath as I pass through the cloud of sulphurous steam issuing from the valley floor and marvel at the barren landscape, stained in a palette of primeval colours from a myriad of minerals. No wonder the crew of Apollo 11 came here to Iceland to train for the Moon landings.
This chance to experience Iceland’s geothermal landscape is one of many good reasons why I booked a 12-day cruise with Silversea this summer from Reykjavik to London. I’ve always loved wild, unspoilt places and Iceland delivers by the bucket load. But after four full days on this extraordinary island, the itinerary also promised more dramatic scenery through a clutch of other Atlantic islands, as well as wildlife encounters, historic sites, and some appealing TV tie-ins. A varied itinerary that only a cruise can deliver.
Iceland is featured by several cruise operators but from previous experience, we knew we liked the luxury boutique feel of the Silversea fleet. A real treat after so many cancelled trips during the pandemic. In July 2022 when we travelled, passengers with up-to-date Covid vaccines – in other words, each one you are eligible for – were required to produce a negative Rapid Antigen test within 72 hours of departure. We passed, but sadly our travelling companions didn’t and were given an immediate full refund by Silversea.
We travelled this time on Silver Whisper which carries 392 passengers in understated luxury, flying to Reykjavik with British Airways from London just as the record-breaking heatwave hit Britain. A welcome relief on our part as we packed layers of outdoor clothing for temperatures likely just to edge into double figures
Silversea voyages include all drinks, meals and tips as well as a good choice of free daily excursions, so there are only optional extras to pay for such as spa and bespoke experiences. Our 12-day cruise included two formal nights, but gentlemen can choose dinner suit, dark suit, or blazer and tie, or to dine casually at the pool deck grill.
Every passenger enjoys butler service with each butler assigned to a small group of suites, but it’s not nearly as intimidating as it sounds. Vimal, our butler, supervised the daily cleaning of our accommodation, kept our minibar stocked with our choice of drinks, and generally took care of any requests. He wasn’t there to unpack our smalls, although ‘help with packing’ was advertised for those in need of a hand before return.
In Iceland, we chose four excursions to give us a real feel for the island’s varied landscape and wildlife. The rugged western fjords and the geothermal landscape of the north, as well as a guided hike to a plateau high above the east coast. In summer, birdlife was everywhere from puffins and gannets to godwits, plovers and whimbrels. Not sure you’d know one? You will if you chose the nature excursions!
You’re never very far from tumbling water either in this extraordinary landscape, from cascading streams to the ‘mini Niagara’ of the powerful Godafoss waterfall where a 10th century king is said to have flung images of pagan gods into the water as the country adopted Christianity. Others Icelandic legends include sea monsters and strange beasts, still supposedly seen in recent decades!
After four days around Iceland and a relaxing sea day, contrasting islands followed in quick succession. The spectacularly rugged Faroes, setting for the Scandi crime series Trom and 007’s final scene in No Time to Die. The Shetland Islands too where we enjoyed scenery, seals and seabirds on a guided walk around a nature reserve, and browsed round Lerwick, setting for the TV detective series Shetland. And lastly, the Orkney Islands where my imagination went into overdrive amongst the Neolothic remains of Skara Brae village and the standing stones at the Ring of Brodgar.
Without exception, the local guides were excellent, teaching us about the Norse history that links not just these Atlantic islands but also our own island and France after Viking explorers set off from Norway in the ninth century. Who knew for instance, that the word ‘Viking’ actually means ‘adventurer’?
We loved the summer wildlife too. The humpback whales who obligingly put on a show beneath cloudless blue skies during our whale watching tour from Husavik, and the sight of thousands of puffins flying and fishing around their annual island nesting grounds. Seals basked on Scottish beaches, popping up at dinner beyond the restaurant window, and Arctic terns put on spectacular fishing displays as they plummeted seawards to seize another snack.
From the Orkney Islands we sailed to another volcanic landscape, Edinburgh, the ancient volcano of Arthur’s Seat clearly visible above the city as we moored close to The Royal Yacht Britannia, another advantage of choosing a small ship that can access the inner harbour. Take a choice of city tours, visit the spectacular Rosslyn Chapel, or simply take the shuttle bus to explore independently.
Two relaxing sea days gave us time to enjoy the hospitality and facilities of Silver Whisper before an evening cruise up the Thames to our final mooring. The coloured lights of the Thames Barrier, the ‘Manhattan’ skyline of Canary Wharf, and the unmistakeable dome of the 02 Arena gave way to stately Greenwich Palace and the illuminated masts of the Cutty Sark. A very different ship but a fittingly maritime finale for our North Atlantic adventure.
Call 0800 412 5678 to book and to find out more about Silversea voyages.