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Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Iceland 15: Postscript

links to: introduction and index - previous part

In transcribing this saga, I began to wonder what had happened to the people and places I encountered.

Iceland now seems increasingly geared up to the kind of tourist activities that extract money from punters at every twist and turn, such as sitting in warm pools sipping cocktails. And did I mention the penis museum? Staving off boredom! How I detest myself when I do these things. Wild walkers just don’t generate the same revenue.

Despite several distinctive names, there seems to be very little online about the others on the walk. I came across technical publications that may have been written by the landscape architect, one of the chemists and the medical researcher, although they could have been by others of the same name. The index of marriages on Ancestry suggests that the couple on the walk did not stay together, and that they may have married other spouses. That’s about it.

There is, however, quite a bit about the route and the tour organisers.

The Route

In 1977, the walks offered something of the wilderness experience Dick Phillips must have enjoyed in surveying the routes in the nineteen-sixties. Today, there are many more organised trips with motor support. One would have to go to the isolated interior, or to Greenland, to find places where other walkers are rare, where you might be the first to venture as the snow melts. Even so, satnavs and satellite phones remove much of the isolation. 

Julia Bradbury’s hour-long television programme about her 2010 Icelandic adventure (https://youtu.be/YGgWse3iQLA) illustrates the difference. Caught in bad visibility in the mountains, she calls in a support vehicle to take her to the next hut, almost a stately home, and there takes a shower. Neither would not have been possible in 1977.

Most of the huts we used have now been replaced by buildings we would then have considered outrageously luxurious. They have wardens, bunks, showers, chemical toilets, cooking facilities, cutlery and crockery, and are reachable by ordinary car. There are also more of them, although not at Strutslaug where Dick Phillips’ remote hut was swept away by an avalanche around 1999. 

Pictures of the Skaelingar hut (the one with the rock pillars) belonging to the Útivist Icelandic travel association also show the difference (https://www.utivist.is/english/skaelingar-hut). Below, their new hut is in the background, with one of the two we used in the foreground. The other we used has gone, with the new hut, car park and toilet shed in its place. Things can’t possibly be the same without a shovel outside the door.   

Skaelingar, Dick Phillips Tour, Iceland 1977
Skaelingar now and then. The hut in the foreground on the left is one of the original two. The hut, car park and toilet shed behind it are new. The picture on the right shows how it was.

The Tour Organisers

Dick Phillips’ tours ran until around 2012, for fifty-two years in total. I would guess that more than ten thousand people went on one kind of tour or another over these years. In the winter Dick lived at Nenthead near Alston in Cumbria, where, known to all as ‘Icelandic Dick’, he was active in the local community. Among his many roles he was a Councillor, newsletter editor and helped with the Nenthead mines group. He was invariably to be seen riding a bicycle in one of his distinctive Icelandic jumpers, and was buried in one in 2019. He was in his mid-eighties. There are several tributes on the internet (e.g. here and here).

Paul Stevens, the walk leader, was invited into partnership soon after our trip, and remained with the business, leading walks until it ended. A search reveals that, around 2005, he talked about his experiences for the BBC Radio Stoke ‘Inside Lives’ project. A brief synopsis is archived but the link to the recording no longer seems to work (http://www.bbc.co.uk/stoke/insidelives/2004/02/paul_stevens.shtml). 

Paul Stevens, Fljotsdalur, Iceland

Paul and wife Judi are still involved with the Fljótsdalur hostel, which he talks about in a four-minute facebook video (https://fb.watch/8RA4SOHyWO/ - you may need to switch on the sound using the icon in the bottom right of the picture; the spelling in the subtitles is atrocious). It is good to see him looking well. Is that what a lifetime of walking with a heavy rucksack does for you? What a book he could write! The hostel facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/FljotsdalHostel/

I bet they still have our real names in the visitors’ books. I am half-expecting a letter from their solicitor.

Finally, an elderly Dick Phillips appears at the beginning and end of this fifteen-minute video, not in any way the scary perfectionist I perceived in 1977. The scariness was my own inadequacy. 

The main part of the video is about extreme mountain biking in Iceland, and worth watching if you have fifteen minutes. That really is scary. 

Dick Phillips, Alston, Cumbria
Horace and the Rough Stuff Fellowship: click image to play video

(The video URL if the link doesn't work is: https://vimeo.com/98904694?fbclid=IwAR0yW2nRSTfiYKJq7rbYlevwi5j9ISS9SSbCOtrvk4wnXYWEmChrUFA3JRA)

The end.
Some names and personal details have been changed. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who was there.

23 comments:

  1. It is strange how some people with quite distinctive names don't seem to have an internet presence. It is so annoying for stalker types.

    It was good that you took notes and photos and so many years later assembled it all into an interesting story.

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    1. I enjoyed being able to do the telling after all this time.
      The lack of internet presence is probably an age related thing. Even the youngest will be over sixty, and most will be over seventy. That's an age group where those who didn't get into the internet earlies are probably unlikely to do so now.

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  2. I always regard follow-ups with mixed feelings; they are interesting, but tinged with sadness. In the case of your Iceland saga, I think I would have done the same - researched my tour mates, I mean.

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    1. I suspect some of them will no longer be with us, which makes you think when we once all carried heavy rucksacks up and down mountains for something like eighty miles. I still hope some of them will find this and comment.

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  3. It must be quite satisfying to know that you made the trek the "hard" way, without today's soft comforts.
    I think I would also have attempted to look up my fellow travellers, out of interest. Yours obviously don't want to be found, though.

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    1. I know several people in their 70s who want nothing to do with social media, even when they use the internet for other purposes.
      Remember Chris Bonington's - Everest The Hard Way. As if the other ways are easy. This was Iceland The Hard Way (except it wasn't if you watch that 15 minute film at the end).

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  4. Thanks for your summation. Looking back at your walk, you must feel immense satisfaction to have been able to make that journey as a young man--hardships and all. As mentioned earlier, you learnt a great deal about yourself on this trip--things that have probably helped you over the years in making decisions or at least in recognizing your strengths and weaknesses.

    Thanks, too, for the video at the end. It made for remarkable viewing. Definitely another way to cross Iceland that was not easy. The scenery is as extraordinary as ever--high tech video making it even more accessible. Have to admit, as I watched it (thinking about how I wouldn't have made it down that first path in one piece, much less through those steep rocky ones), I kept wondering how many tires (and brake parts) he must have gone through over the course of that varied terrain. :) Still, so good to see those vast open spaces that can still capture our imaginations and stir our souls.

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    1. For me the walk was at a point of career change, justy before going late to university, and yes I would say it did boost confidence about persistence and that kind of thing. I've often thought there are parallels between walking in the hills and the ups and downs of life.
      The mountain biking video at the end is indeed remarkable. It looks positively suicidal to me. I'm happy on my bike just pedalling along on roads.

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  5. Yes. This postscript blogpost ties everything up nicely. It was good to see Dick Phillips and hear his voice. He must have helped so many people to forge lasting memories of that wild and untamed place - people like you. That must have given him an enormous sense of fulfilment.

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    1. I suspect he was a bit of a perfectionist in the sense that if something was worth doing it was worth doing well, and from what I know and have read of him, he did do everything well, which would have given him great satisfaction. It must also have been irritating to see the commercial profit-driven operators moving in, which was not his philosophy at all. Someone it would have been a pleasure to be able to call a friend.

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  6. I'm late commenting, but I do want to thank you for this very interesting series of posts! I have enjoyed them all and learned a lot about the beautiful country of Iceland. It was nice to learn more about Dick Phillips too.

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    1. I enjoyed reading more about him and seeing the video. He was a unique character. We can learn a lot from those who choose their own way to live their lives rather than being pushed around by commercial pressures.

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  7. I wonder if now, years after the fact there are others who reminisce about this and ponder about that Tasker fellow, and whatever became of him?

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  8. What a wonderful ending to the story. Thank you.

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    1. It pulls in some of the loose ends. It's odd to think that similar groups were doing much the same walk for the next 35 years, all presumably with similar tales to tell.

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  9. Well you were of an age when you were fit to do it. I suspect at the time it was more or less taken in the stride of your contemporaries, your friends, whilst some they may have thought you slightly mad, sleeping in huts etc I don't suppose anyone gave your fitness to do it a second thought. Reading it now as OAPs we get our perspectives about it slightly skewed. I thank you for sharing your log of it. Makes totally different reading to my travelogues!

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    1. It would be good to think I could still do it, but that would be delusional because I now to be very careful descending any steep slope even without a rucksack. No doubt there will be some in their 70s who still could, especially if they have continued walks like it. You're right that few friends gave it much of a second thought. I do remember one girl at a party, possibly slightly drunk, who became very angry with me because I disagreed with her, as she put it "what an absolutely stupid place to go for a holiday" and "how stupid can you be". I'm pleased you and others seem to have found it worth me posting it.

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    2. Your passing on of the girl at the party's remark sums up well what I was thinking when I made the comment. Nobody would have discussed whether you were physically up for it or not, it would have been all about "what a ridiculous place to be going for a holiday" in the `1970s. I remember going to Romania with three friends, Romania very much behind the Iron Curtain at that time, and being stared at over coffee break at work as if I was out of my mind and nobody knowing quite what to say except "why on earth are you going there?"

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    3. Romania would have been viewed like going on holiday now to Afghanistan or North Korea. It seemed for many a good holiday meant burning on a hot beach all day and being in a noisy club all night getting pissed. I may have said something similarly dismissive. She followed when I walked off trying to turn me round and shout in my face.

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    4. My mother tried to stop me going less than 24 hours before the flight.

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