The Wisdom and Wonder of Waterfalls

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” ~ JawaHarlal Nehru

It feels like an age since our summer holiday. Inevitably the days are drawing slowly shorter as autumn’s early whispers bring cooler temperatures.

My children are back at school (my youngest has her 11+ exam on Thursday), I’ve nearly finished painting my office cabin, and I finally have some quiet time to reflect on and share the incredible two week family road trip we took this summer; a touring holiday that took us to three countries.

Our adventure began in Iceland, with awestruck admiration for its volcanic, Hawaii-esque scenery, a spectacular waterfall around almost every corner, before jetting off to the urban jungle and iconic skyline that is New York, to spend some time with the American branch of our family.

Together we made an epic drive through the stunning landscape of New York State, (via Letchworth State Park) to Buffalo, and a hotly anticipated meal for my son at the original ‘home’ of Buffalo Wings.

The canyon that runs through Letchworth State park

From the shores of Lake Erie we entered into Canada and spent two amazing days at the horseshoe falls in Niagara. To say Niagara Falls is breath-taking doesn’t do it justice. I thought I might feel a bit jaded after the many magnificent waterfalls we had seen in Iceland, but Niagara was the crowning glory.

I saw more waterfalls on this trip than I had previously seen in a lifetime!

My photo of the horseshoe falls from Table Rock

There is something magical, ephemeral and transcendent about waterfalls that invigorates the mind, body and soul.

It was hot the day we arrived – and a national holiday in Canada so it was also heaving, but to walk along the promenade and feel the spritz of the water was refreshing.  We loved our little excursion into the spray filled cauldron on the Hornblower, a totally different and more immersive perspective from water level.

Depending on where the measurement is taken, the horseshoe falls are 54 – 58 metres high, and 675 metres across from Table Rock to Goat Island on the American side. Around a million gallons of water per minute cascades down, producing its own roaring symphony, (we could even hear it from high up in our hotel room).

The next morning we ventured into the tunnels that go down and behind the falls. There are two openings, the Cataract Portal and the Great Falls Portal, the latter being 200 metres along the falls, almost one third of the width of the falls.

Behind the falls at the Great Falls Portal

On 24th October 1901 Annie Edson Taylor was the very first person to ‘go over’ the falls in a barrel and survive. She was a widow and school teacher. Amazingly she sustained only cuts and bruises. Annie was certainly courageous. Many others weren’t so lucky…

The word ‘Niagara’ is thought to originate from the Onguiaahra tribe of the Haudenosaunee society around 3000 years ago. The first European reported to have discovered Niagara was Etienne Brule, a crew member of Samuel de Champlain, but the first actual, (and in my opinion quite eloquent) eye-witness account of the falls was written by Father Louis Hennepin who visited Niagara in 1678:

“…four leagues from Lake Frontenac there is an incredible Cataract of water-fall which has no equal… Betwixt the Lake Ontario and Erie, there is a vast and prodigious cadence of water which falls down after a surprising and astonishing manner, insomuch that the Universe does not afford its parallel. “

Lake Superior and Lake Michigan feed into Lake Huron which (via the Detroit River) joins Lake Erie, and flows into Lake Niagara. The water from Niagara Falls drains into Lake Ontario. The great lakes of North America contain one fifth of the world’s fresh water supply.

After Niagara we drove through the flat vineyard lands surrounding the southern tip of Lake Ontario, along the north-west shore for a fleeting meeting with Toronto, mostly viewed from the CN Tower.

Further up the lake we took an overnight pit-stop at Trenton. Poor weather prevented us from exploring Prince Edward Island, so we wound our way up into Quebec and Montreal. I can recommend Tommy’s for a fab brunch and the children persuaded me to do my first urban zip wire over the old port as we explored the city and its French origins.

From Montreal we drove south back into the US and through the Adirondack Mountains into Vermont, to the secluded old-world resort of Basin Harbor, nestled quietly since 1886 on the shores of Lake Champlain.

Basin Harbor on Lake Champlain

Some of the highlights included water-skiing, tubing, biking, hiking and water trampolines. After three nights in one place I was beginning to get settled, but then we needed to return to Connecticut. It’s probably just as well, as the American Plan (basically everything you can possibly eat in a buffet in one go three times a day) was taking its toll on our waistlines and our finances were already depleted. Plus the mosquitoes were feasting on us…

We had one last day in New York to take in some culture at the Met Museum and do some sightseeing in Central Park before flying back to the UK via Iceland.

View from Bow Bridge of the Manhattan skyline

We did A LOT of driving, but felt like explorers nonetheless. The kids were mostly well behaved, considering such long stints in close proximity. I don’t think I heard one “are we there yet?” from the back seat!

Iceland

None of us had been to Iceland before, immortalised and popularised on TV by Game of Thrones, and we weren’t disappointed. Located in the middle of the North Atlantic, just four degrees outside the Arctic Circle, we landed at 10.30 pm and the sun was a bright ball on the horizon. It never really got pitch black, even after the sun disappeared shortly after 11 pm.

These long, light days lent themselves to touring, and we duly hired a car from Reykjavik Airport and based ourselves in a delightful Airbnb apartment in Grindavik.

Iceland is essentially one big, moss and mountain covered lava flow, an island of multiple geothermal hotspots – home to around 130 volcanoes – many of which are active. The 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull caused massive disruption to flights to and from Europe. We saw a glimpse of its shrouded slopes from a viewing point en-route to Gulfoss.

The volcano has erupted four times since the island was settled, with 2010 being the last eruption.

Iceland is the land of fire and ice, boasting mountains, volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, lakes, black sand beaches and verdant fields with an abundance of grazing horses.

Its dramatic, untamed and pristine landscape has a primordial power, you feel like you have gone back in time in some respects. You can drive for hours and only see handful of homes or farms, and I loved that they built tiny, American style churches in these remote communities.

Church at Thingvellir

Their language is Germanic based, but unlike the languages of Europe it has not evolved or been altered from outside influences and is essentially the same language as it was 10,000 years ago.

It felt significantly colder than the UK, especially only days after one of our hottest days on record. The weather was cool, cloudy and rainy for the most part, except on the last day when we visited the geothermal springs at the Blue Lagoon, when the sun eventually came out.

The Blue Lagoon

I would have liked to experience the relaxing heat of the Blue Lagoon in the snow…

We soon got used to the faint smell of rotten egg, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it on the day you fly as the warmth of the water puts you into a kind of soporific state, and we sort of lost track of time. That, coupled with slow service in the restaurant, (although delicious food) meant we only just caught our flight to New York.

Surprisingly Iceland is the largest producer of bananas in Europe. We saw a massive distribution centre sized glass house, which lit up the night sky running on geothermal power.

The glacier topped volcano of Snæfellsjökull, 120 kilometers north-west of Reykjavik inspired Jules Verne in his 1864 novel ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’, but sadly that glacier (and others), are now rapidly melting. With lava formed slopes and volcanic caves this dormant volcano provided the perfect fictional entrance to the passage leading into the Earth’s core! We didn’t have time to visit it, but maybe if we can ever afford another visit we’ll do a trip to its summit, 1448 metres above sea-level.

Pretty much everything, but especially food, is eye-wateringly expensive in Iceland, so save your pennies! I took my gut-friendly pea protein shakes and plenty of nuts, which sorted breakfast.

Elements of Iceland:

Gulfoss

“No waterall in Europe can match Gulfoss. In Wildness and fury it outdoes the Niagara Falls of the United States. Thousands of unharnessed horsepower flow continuously into the gorge, year in and year out.” ~ Taken from a travel book by two Danes in the retinue of King Frederick VII after a visit to Gulfoss in 1907.

The first thing I remember about Gulfoss was seeing a rainbow. As you walk closer you see the mist and hear the water.

It flows down a rocky incline before descending into a steep gorge, pummelling the earth with incredible force and sheer radiance.

Luckily for us, Gulfoss and the surrounding area were made a nature reserve in 1979 to give people the best opportunity to experience this natural phenomenon.

Geysir

We saw two of the world’s largest geysers at Geysir, where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge cuts Iceland into two parts. These two plates are drifting away from each other at a rate of 2 cm per year.

Scenery at Geysir

The high temperatures of Icleand’s geothermal areas are located in the volcanic zone, and Geysir has a base temperature of around 250 degrees celsius.

Thingvellir National Park

We spent several hours in Thingvellir National Park, the geographic location of Iceland’s culture, history and national identity. We did quite a bit of walking here, but I hasten to add we didn’t dive or snorkel where the American continental plate is drifting apart from the Eurasian continental plate.

We walked along the scenic path by the side of the steep escarpment of the American plate.

One of the more macabre facts we learnt about Thingvellir National Park (the site of Iceland’s first government), was that they used certain areas for executions. Seventy-two people were put to death between 1602 and 1750: 30 men were beheaded, 15 hanged, and 9 burned at the stake. Eighteen women were drowned at Drekkingarhylur.

The Drowning Pool (Drekkingarylur).

Skogafoss

Skogafoss is another impressive and beautiful waterfall. High and majestic, falling over ancient coastal cliffs, like Gulfoss, its source is glacial.

We ventured close to the foot of the 62 metre high and 15 metre wide Skogafoss, and boy was it powerful! We spent the drive back wishing we had bought head to toe waterproof gear…

Afterwards we pushed on further along the coast to the black beach at Reynisfjara – a bleak but stunning vista, yet another location where filming for GoT took place.

5 Observations of the wisdom and wonder of waterfalls:

Water – that simple chemical composition of H2O, so vital to our health and well-being and that of our planet – yet not all sources are equal, depending on where in the world you are. It’s contradictions matter: abundant or scarce, pure or polluted, the ultimate elixir of life, maybe even a kind of spiritual life-blood…

It’s hard to put into words how being near a waterfall affects you.

  1. To respect the raw, untamed power of nature and enjoy its beauty.
  2. Flow’ is everything…
  3. Energy can be harnessed from waterfalls, both physically (hydro-electric power) and spiritually. Waterfalls make you feel alive and connected to a higher power.
  4. The natural circulation of water helps to oxygenate and irrigate the surrounding plant life.
  5. They emit negative ions, which are beneficial to humans.

Only Victoria Falls and Iguazu Falls to cross off my bucket list now!

“A waterfall cannot be silent, just as the wisdom! When they speak, the voice of power speaks!” ~ Mehmet Murat Ildan

Talk about post-holiday blues – I think I spent two weeks continuously doing laundry, and other ongoing distressing challenges arose the moment we landed.

I have finally downloaded the gazillion photos I took on the trip. I’ll share some photographic highlights in the galleries below. Please contact me if you wish to use any of these images.

Iceland Gallery

USA Gallery

Canada Gallery

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