The Cowslip flowers have been fabulous this year. They have been spreading into all areas of the garden. The less mowing is beginning to pay off. April was very sunny with very little rain.
Outward bound to Iceland Friday 6th March 2020
We drove to Heathrow to catch our flight to Iceland. We parked in the long stay, wrote down our location and caught the bus. Having negotiated the tedious check-in procedures we were soon in the departure lounge. Part of the check-in process was to be asked if we were flying on to America, and if so had we been to Italy. In departures, I decided to buy a bottle of Lagavulin 16. No cheaper than in Tesco, but at least I can take it on the flight, and it will be cheaper than in Iceland. The flight was not busy, was this because of the virus? At Keflavík International Airport most of the passengers stayed in departures, as they were continuing on to the US. We soon had our bags, I did purchase some cash from a cash machine near the bag pickup area. I would advise against this, Iceland is pretty well cashless these days, so use your debit card. Nowhere did I have to spend cash, and we ended up having to spend it to get rid of it. We also couldn’t use a precharged debit card, as the Icelandic currency was not supported by our Post Office card,
By now we had met up with the other passengers and the tour leader. We took a coach to the car hire location. Here the leader picked up our minibus. Our trip was to take us to our hotel, driving initially along the coast. We set off just before the sun was setting, arriving at the hotel after sunset. We did stop at one place to see a lone Harlequin duck swimming in a river. There was not much wildlife outside. Outside of the van, it was bitterly cold, the weather was bright and sunny, but there was a cold, icy wind.
We arrived at the hotel Eldhestar, a single-storey hotel. The hotel is geared around horse riding in the summer. We were treated to views of the ponies as they were moved around. Many of the surrounding buildings were stables. Also staying at the hotel was a male choir who provided us with an impromptu entertainment during our evening meal.
Spotted: Harlequin Duck, Eurasian Wren.
Alþthing, Strokkur, Gullfoss and Skálholtskirkja, Saturday 7th March 2020
I do love continental breakfast. This hotel was no exception. I gorged myself on the cold fish, cheese and meats. I was well-filled before we climbed aboard the minibus for our trip around the tourist sites. The weather was sunny and cold. On the way to the first stop, we had to wait a little while as a car was pulled out of the snow and up the hill by a breakdown vehicle. Someone had slid off the snowy road in a dip where the snow had drifted.
Our first stop was at the bottom of a hydroelectric power station. Here we were able to view some Mallard and Whooper Swans. We then drove to the top of the hydroelectric lake where we should have been able to see some more birds. We did spot a Barrows Goldeneye.
Stop 3 was at the Thingvellir National Park. Here there were some nutters scuba diving in the lakes which were covered with ice. We walked around the small church, Þingvallakirkja (Þingvellir church) and the location of the old Icelandic parliament. The parliament still comes here for a couple of weeks in the summer. There was some lovely walking around here, where you could see the volcanic layers. Some breathtaking views from the ridges. We ended up in the visitor centre for a sandwich lunch before returning to the van and on to our next stop.
Stop 4 was at Geysir where we could see the active geyser called Strokkur and the inactive geyser called Geysir. The place has changed since we were last here back in 2000. There is a large new hotel there now. Sorry for so many photographs of Strokkur, I took a long sequence of pictures for one eruption.
Stop 5 was Gulfoss where we walked along the top of the frozen falls. We could not walk up close along the lower paths, they were roped off after being deemed dangerous because of the snowfalls. Spent some time warming up in the visitor centre, though not buying anything. Prices were too high: Managed to get a picture of a Northern Raven soaring on the cliffs over the falls. The falls had also changed since we last visited, a large visitor centre having been constructed.
Stop 6, we did a picture opportunity of some Icelandic horses. Cute creatures, so hardy standing out there in the cold and snow.
Stop 7 and it was the Skálholtskirkja cathedral. The cathedral is miles from any inhabited areas. The present cathedral was consecrated in 1963. There is a re-creation of the old Icelandic Cathedral on site. Where the cathedral is located is considered one of the most important places in Iceland from 1056 until 1785. It was one of Iceland’s two episcopal sees. While we were there we saw a lovely flock of Snow Bunting flying into the trees. No photos, wrong lens. No problem, there were plenty of Snow Buntings on later days.
It was now back to the hotel for some 16-year-old Lagavulin and dinner. I apparently was not the only one to buy some whisky for an evening drink.
Spotted: Whooper Swan, Eurasian Widgeon, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Cormorant, Northern Raven, Snow Bunting.
Stykkishólmur and Orca watching Sunday 8th March 2020
Today there was the long drive to Stykkishólmur. We should be stopping off at Olafsvik for the Orca hunt. The news was not good though. The wind was strong, the forecast was bad, and the sea was rough. It looked like the Orca viewing would be off. Despite several phone calls during the day, and the weather not seeming as bad as forecast, the boat trip remained off.
We first drove to Reykjavik and did a whistle-stop tour of the city, before heading North, through the tunnel under Hvalfjörður. We stopped for a coffee and some cakes on our journey. On entering Stykkishólmur we had lunch in at a bakery called Nesbrauð ehf. After lunch we spent quite a time at the port searching for birds, spotting European Shags, Great Cormorants, Black Guillemot and various gulls.
We then drove to an industrial area of the town, where we thought we might get a different view out to sea. We were made to feel unwelcome as there were large trucks reversing, picking up their fish cargos. So we left.
Next stop was to the West, Grundarfjörður and its small harbour where we saw flocks of Snow Bunting, with many of them sheltering amongst the harbour wall rocks, they looked a little like cobblestones from a distance. There were many lovely Northern Ravens flying around, seemingly pairing up for Spring.
Back to the hotel Foss, a larger multi-storey affair. This seems to be under renovation for the summer. Reasonable room with a walk-in shower. There was a good view of the town, directly towards the church. It may be possible we will see the Northern Lights from the comfort of our room.
After supper, we did look out over the town, no Northern Lights. Our tour leader said he would keep watch and wake us if and when they arrived. So alas no Orcas and no Northern Lights. Hopefully better luck on Monday
Spotted: Greylag Goose, Whooper Swan, Eurasian Widgeon, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Common Eider, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, European Shag, Great Cormorant, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Purple Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, European Herring Gull, Black Guillemot, Northern Raven, Common Starling, Snow Bunting.
Snæfellsjökull National Park Monday 9th March 2020
The news was not good, looked like no Orca spotting this trip. We could try from the land and we did stop at a few viewpoints on the way. No luck.
We started the day with a quick trip to the Harbour. Not much was going on, so we were soon on our way West. We stopped at Grundarfjörður (2) with the inevitable tour of the harbour, again nothing worth photographing. A few metres along the road we stopped again for a viewing point of the Kirkjufell Mountain (3). It is quite impressive.
Another viewing point along the road was high above the sea at Búlandshöfði View Point (4). Here we looked out to the sea. Would there be any Orcas breaching? In the rough sea, they were going to be difficult to spot.
We made another stop down to the coast (5) where we viewed many different gulls and Oystercatchers. Totally confused by gulls. They change their plumage as they age.
Next, we went on to the Port Ólafsvík (6) where we should have taken the boat out to see the Orca. It was obviously all closed up. We had a coffee here and watched a display by the Northern Raven. Many Snow Buntings were landing on the roofs of the house opposite.
We continued on, dropping in on the village of Rif (7) and then towards Skarðsvík Beach (8). It was a narrow road with a steep camber. Here we managed to slip off the road. We pushed, we dug and only made matters worse. Other people stopped by to help, some of our weaker members were placed in the other vehicles for save keeping. Rosemary was at one time unceremoniously dragged across the ice by me and another man because she was about to be squashed by our van when it was reversing. Eventually, a phone call was made, and a truck arrived and pulled us back on to the road.
While we were standing around in the icy blast, we realised how in-hospitable the land is around here. There is no way you can walk across the country, you would soon be torn to shreds by the sharp ragged lava rocks.
Once back in the van we headed back to Port Ólafsvík (9) for lunch. The best lunch. Surprising how restrained we were in ordering our food when it was being paid for by Naturetrek,
Continuing our journey around the Snæfellsjökull we headed back towards where we had slipped off the road, instead of going down to the beach, we kept to the main road. Our road looked very pretty with the drifting snow blowing across it. At Londrangar (10) we stopped to view the birds from the top of the cliffs, and of course the two rock pinnacles.
At Hellnar (11) we drove down to see the Bárðar Saga Snæfellsáss Statue.
It was now back to the hotel, completing the circuit around the Snæfellsjökull. It was our final meal, and the final chance to see the Northern Lights. Sure enough, that night, there was a banging on the door and a phone call. The lights were visible, but we couldn’t make them out. Let us face it, we are in a solar minimum, so the chances of seeing a good display were pretty non-existent. Maybe a cruise up the Norwegian coast in five years time, when CORVID 19 should not be an issue, and the sun will be at its maximum.
Spotted: Eurasian Widgeon, Mallard, Common Eider, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Northern Fulmar, European Shag, Great Cormorant, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper, Black-legged Kittiwake, Black-headed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, Northern Raven, Common Starling, Snow Bunting.
Back home Monday 10th March 2020
It was now time to go home after our short break. Breakfast and then the trip back home. We started off with a quick visit to the harbour, and then the drive South. A coffee break at Kjalarnes, before heading past Reykjavik and finally stopping on the coast near Keflavík. Here we did some bird spotting in the harbour and park. A quick lunch at a bakery, Kornið bakarí and then to the airport. Finished spending all the remaining money and caught a fairly busy flight home.
We managed to complete a foreign destination holiday before Lockdown started. We were conscious of the CORVID 19 virus while we were away. Despite Iceland having a good record on CORVID 19, we did not see any particular restrictions, social distancing or hygiene actions in the hotels or restaurants There were some signs in the airport, but nothing at Heathrow.
Complete interactive Google map of trip.
The Google Interactive map can be zoomed into, and shows the stop points for each day.
Complete Travel Map
Saturday – Oxford Conference
For several years we have been meaning to attend a one day conference at Oxford University on various topics concerned with the History and Philosophy of Physics. These conferences run about three times a year and are organised by the Post Graduate college of St Cross. They appear to be open to anyone.
We dutifully made full use of our old people’s bus passes and parked at the Bicester Park and Ride (still free) and took the S5 into Oxford. We walked to the Martin Woods Lecture Theatre for our days’ conference on The Rise of Big Science in Physics.
Big Physics: The Manhattan Project
The first session was a history lesson given by Professor Helge Kragh from the Niels Bohr Institute. This lecture charted the history of Big Science before, after and including the Manhatten Project. We heard about the Leviathan of Parsonstown, a large telescope built by William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse which was the largest telescope in the world from 1845 to 1917.
The liquefaction of Helium was an expensive project first undertaken by Kamerlingh Onnes. In 1904 he founded a very large cryogenics laboratory and invited other researchers to the location. In 1908 he was the first to liquify helium. He also discovered superconductivity and superfluity during this research.
Big science ramped up in cost when high energy synchrotrons were built. These were necessary to understand the building blocks of life. They became more costly as they became more and more powerful.
During the war, the Manhattan Project to build the Nuclear bomb was an expensive project, which involved organisations from across America. In today’s money, this project cost $20 billion. Huge industrial plants were built to separate the uranium isotopes.
We heard how the Americans led the high energy physics until the Europeans got together after the war, coordinated and jointly funded CERN to build powerful cyclotrons. We also learnt a little about the Russians and their spying.
Dr Isabelle Wingerter from the French National Centre for Scientific Research talked about CERN, and the Large Hadron Collider built to find the Higgs Boson particle. Listening to her talk, you became amazed how these large projects are run. How technology advances during the build, and how the documentation and project management must be an absolute nightmare. Definitely going to visit CERN when we are in the area again.
Next up was Bernard Bigot, the director-general of the ITER project. ITER is a Nuclear Fusion reactor being built in France. It will be the model for commercial reactors and should be the first reactor to generate more power than put in.
The project is funded by China, EU, Japan, Korea, Russia and the USA. Components for the reactor are built in all the counties and shipped to France to be assembled. The agreement to build the reactor was signed in 2006. All members of the project share all the intellectual property rights generated by the project. The UK participates, and the fusion reactor at Culham is used to prototype technologies to be used in ITER.
This reactor should generate 500MW for 50 MW put in. Commercial reactors will be larger. The reactor works at high temperatures and uses a magnetic field to keep the plasm in place, The device is huge, with 18 Toroidal Field Coils weighing 360 tons each. They are built to a precision of 0.2 mm. The central solenoid is 1,000 tonnes and powerful enough to lift an aircraft carrier out of the water.
The work is progressing on time, work started on site in April 2014. The next two years are crucial with most of the large components being delivered and installed. Then comes the long few years in commissioning the equipment. The first plasm should be generated in December 2025.
We left for lunch and had soup at the Pitt Rivers Museum. The queue was busy when we arrived. A few from the conference were there also. A thought, each session of the conference was around 30 minutes, with questions afterwards. Some of the questions were rather bizarre. One attendee was asking about documentation, and how to get these large projects documented. He found nobody wanted to update the Wikis. Isabelle said there was nothing better than human interaction and meetings. But what happens years down the line when everyone has left.
Interesting to hear how the published papers now had hundreds to thousands of names as authors. These were the researchers, but not the technicians who built. operated and serviced the machines.
Professor Carole Jackson from Astron, The Netherlands Institute of Radio Astronomy talked about the mega projects in Astronomy. Here we learnt about the creation of NASA and how they were the birthplace of big astronomical projects. We again heard about the hyper authors, with over a thousand authors named on a paper.
As well as building large radio telescopes, there is collaborative research where telescopes are linked together across the world to make one large machine. Pure Science research requires global participation.
Look Ahead at the Next Decade
Dr Michael Banks a journalist from Physics World, Institute of Physic Publishing, took a look into the next decade.
In 2021 we should have the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. This will work in the Infrared and is a joint project from NASA, EAS and CSA. $8.8 billion
2025 The European Extremely large telescope with a 39.9-meter diameter dish. This will be used to searching for exo planets. $1 billion.
The Square Kilometre Array, thousands of radio antenna, building in South Africa and Australia. (low radio interference) $1 billion
2027 Long baseline Neutrino Facility. A proton accelerator and neutrino detector. Built-in Fermilab and Sanford. To detect the symmetry violations in antimatter. 180 organisations including CERN. Cost $1.5 billion
2027 Hyper Kaniokande, 260,000 tons of pure water in a mine in Japan to detect the symmetry violation of neutrinos. Why is there more matter than antimatter? $0.8 billion.
2035? International Linear Accelerator. 20 km accelerator (250GeV) with two detectors. To study the Higgs Boson in greater detail. To be built in Japan, $7.5 billion
2040? Compact Linear Accelerator 11 km tunnel (380GeV) CERN, further study of the Higgs Boson. $6.0 billion
2040? Future Circular Collider. 100 km tunnel, first stage 250GeV, then 100TeV with protons. Higgs Boson and look for further particles. $9-25 billion
Tea was taken in the Physics Department. Chatted with a couple of attendees. One was a questioner, who had a bone to pick on documentation. Hopefully, he won’t be at the evening meal.
Professor Frank Close closed the proceedings with a summary of the days’ events.
Dinner was held at St Cross College. We arrived in plenty of time and sat in the Common Room waiting for pre-dinner drinks. Close examination of the pictures on the wall, which had all been bought in a few years from a bequest. The College was founded in 1965, admitting its first five graduate students a year later. The College moved to its present location on St Giles in 1981.
After preprandial drinks, we went into dinner. Rosemary and I seemed to be seated in quite a good position on the table. Near to the organisers and some of the speakers. Our dinner, which included wine was.
Twice-baked cheddar souffle
Confit of duck with spiced plums, celeriac mash and flageolet bean ragout.
Vanilla baked cheesecake with roasted spiced plums
Coffee, mints & petit fours
It was an enjoyable evening with lots of conversation. We left and caught the S5 bus home. Busses seem to run late into the evening and well past midnight in Oxfordshire.
Sunday – Cambridge Society
Next day was the Berkshire branch of the Cambridge Society AGM. It had been scheduled to be the last AGM. This was to be the winding up AGM as there was no one wanting to stand as committee members. Thankfully two new members were found and we are going forward.
The meeting was held at Hurley Village Hall. We held the AGM, over quite quickly. We then ate lunch, each of has brought along a dish. Then there was a talk on a cruise from the UK, to France around Spain and back again. This did not persuade Rosemary to undertake any more cruises. We might visit Bordeaux though.
I came away not a member of the committee. We were asked to look at whether it was possible to organise a tour of the Space Centre at Wescott.
I had booked a test drive of a Tesla 3. We drove to Milton Keyes and walked into the ITSU shopping centre in Central Milton Keynes. The Tesla showroom is right inside the shopping centre. Here a young lad showed us how to work the Tesla in the showroom, and then took us up the stairs to the car park. A row of Tesla vehicles was sat there ready to be driven. We waved the card at the car. opened it up and sat inside. We were allowed to take the car for a 30-minute drive with no one accompanying us, but R asked for the salesman to come in case things went tits up.
So I drove out and took a random route through MK to Willen Lake. The acceleration on the Tesla 3 is very good, and this model was only the rear-wheel-drive model. The one I was contemplating also had both front and rear-wheel drive and faster performance. It definitely accelerated well and cornered around the roundabouts as if on tracks. It was definitely a good drive.
The only oddity, which didn’t take long to get used to, was when you took your foot off the go button, the car slowed quickly. This was the regenerative braking coming into action. Approaching roundabouts, you needed to leave the accelerator pressed a bit, until you wanted to slow down. I rarely used the traditional brakes.
Would I buy one? Yes? Rosemary didn’t like the inside, saying it was totally boring and not a bit like a car. So maybe we will look at the Polestar 2 coming out mid-year. Personally I would really like the pickup trucks coming out, the Rivian, or the Cyber Truck. Strongly suspect those choices would get vetoed by R.
The cafe in the Tesco at Bicester is so much better than the cafe in the Aylesbury Tesco. The Bicester Tesco has cooked breakfast, ideal for morning sustenance while Rosemary is doing the weekly shop. They recently launched their vegan breakfast which comprises two vegetarian sausages, half an avocado, baked-beans, mushroom, tomato, toast and some steamed green leaves (spinach??).
The breakfast took a long time arriving, much longer than a traditional breakfast. I assume this was because the food had to be prepared fresh, and not from a range of food already prepared, or at least cooking on already hot griddles.
So what did it taste like?
The sausages were fine, avocado was good, spiced with some black pepper. Beans, can’t go wrong. The mushroom and tomato could have booked cooked longer with more oil. The toast was OK. The steamed green leaves were bitter and not at all nice.
Would I have this again? No, the cooked standard breakfast was so much nicer than this. I don’t have an issue with vegan foods, just I don’t think you should try and make a pretend English breakfast from vegetable ingredients. Some hummus and toast would have been so much better.
(In case anyone is thinking what a swine I am to be eating while R is food shopping, I should say I go with her blessing. In fact, she positively herds me towards the cafe. Apparently, I become irritating if I walk around with her. (So you know what to do, chaps…..)