Wednesday 2 December 2020

#053 Not ideal weather for archaeology

Every day's a school day, so the saying goes.

My wheels were in for an MOT at a garage in the Peak District village of Dove Holes. Students of stone age archaeology may be familiar with the Bull Ring henge in the centre. Now surrounded by the village school and a housing development.

Combs Moss - north (OS Maps subscription)

With a couple of hours to pass the time, I went for a walk up to Combs Moss. It was an opportunity to visit a handful of sites which I'm not usually nearby in the course of my work. These were not the iconic places that Peak District archaeology is better known for, such as the Nine Ladies and Arbor Low Stone Circles. But the diminutive, the easily missed. With just a gothic script on the map to indicate that at one time, several thousand years ago, they were imbued with meaning and memory.

Cow Low

The first location was Cow Low. A bronze age burial mound (c 2350 to 701 BC)

Cow Low (OS Maps subscription)

Cow Low appeared indistinct on the approach. Its diameter is around 27 metres. The height, now 1 metre, is much reduced since the Bronze age.

The barrow itself has a depression in it's top, indicating it had once been dug out. According to information on and Derbyshire Monument Record MDR203: Thomas Bateman excavated Cow Low and found a hexagonal cist containing two skeletons and food vessel. He published his book, Bateman's Ten Year Digging - where he describes excavating in 1846 and finding a number of cist burials.

Cow Low

It was only standing atop the burial mound that a more complex set of earth works was revealed. Three circular tiered terraces on the steeper side of the hill. These were probably later features, possibly dug to source stone for walling at the time of the Enclosures Acts. 

In contrast to the December halcyon day before, the weather had turned overnight. From early morning onward, the cloud base had descended. Bringing a water saturated mist which turned to rain the higher I walked and was ultimately supplemented with a gusty breeze.

Next, I ascended to the top of the spur to find Lady Low. Another bronze age burial mound.

Lady Low (OS Maps subscription)

This round barrow is 20 metres diameter and 2 metres high. It showed similar signs of disturbance to Cow Low, although there are no surviving known documents of excavation.

Lady Low

I then just had enough time to gain the upper edge of Combs Moss and handrail the plateau around to Castle Naze. An iron age hillfort with natural cliffs on the north and south west sides.

Castle Naze (OS Maps subscription)

The defensive ramparts, double row ditches, bisecting the far north west corner of the plateau are still very evident. When freshly cut and embellished with palisades, they would have been a formidable obstacle to would-be aggressors. 

Castle Naze ramparts

I looked over the steep face of the Short Edge, through a brief parting of the mist. Below, I saw a colour change in vegetation. A distinct linear shape. That looked like another ditch, I thought. Cross checking the map this was confirmed by chevron earthwork symbols. Further research showed this to be an ascending hollow way, which forms a defensible access to the hill fort.

 J.D.Sainter's plan of Combs moss Hillfort aka Castle Naze (1878) 

According to It was surveyed in 1957 by students from a Nottingham University summer school and The Workers' Educational Association of Buxton, when it was established that the fort had undergone three phases of construction, two of the Iron Age and one Medieval. Obvious differences in the method of construction confirmed that the two prehistoric phases were not contemporary.

Castle Naze aerial photo - Google Maps

It was time to go and I retraced my route. I thought about what route the people that used the fort would have taken. Features in the landscape commonly continue to serve as reference point, even when their original meaning or significance has changed. 

Catle Naze ramparts ditch

Archaeologists often refer to the ritual landscape. But perhaps too readily, things that elude understanding are put into the ritual category. Phenomenology techniques have helped modern archaeologists make better sense of the sites they are studying. More than what's possible by just looking a two dimensional maps. By actually being within the environment and using cues for all the senses, one can achieve a deeper level of insight into how people interacted with their landscape.

Possible trackway, eastern side of Combs Moss

As I walked off the east side of plateau, I didn't think ooh, lets now do some phenomenology. But I did notice what first appeared to be a shallow ditch, with small puddles under sprigs of heather reflecting the grey sky. The ditch widened further and followed the natural line of descent. Not straight down, but contouring, easing the gradient. Aside from a couple of very subtle deviations on contour lines, it wasn't shown on the map. Although it was in common with the natural line I was taking and also heading towards the lower ground and direction of Dove Holes. 

The realisation sprang to mind, that I was perhaps following another trackway ramp. For the Iron Age communities below the eastern side of the plateau to access the defensible structures on higher ground. 

From a day of undemanding expectations and claggy mist, I carried home this little gem of insight.

Tuesday 27 October 2020

#052 A Taste Of Iceland Part 3

In this Part 3 of the Taste Of Iceland series, I contrast two main meals: One for the grown ups. And one for a  family lunch or dinner which the children will find lots of fun to help prepare.

Salmon with Skyr & Sauteed Kale

What impressed me about this dish is for the relative simplicity of preparation and with a little 'cheffy' presentation, it really delivers on flavour. This is a good one to offer visiting friends. To be enjoyed and savoured during a relaxed evening dinner with a chilled pinto grigio. The Skyr and salmon connects Iceland farming produce to the traditions of sea. Adding a garnish of samphire gives a briny estuary taste, inviting the diner to breathe in, as if walking along the shoreline.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
12oz wild mushrooms, sliced (I used shitake)
1 bunch kale, trimmed and chopped
4 skinless salmon fillets
Natural unflavoured Skyr
1 tbsp horseradish, prepared and drained (I substituted a samphire garnish)
1 green onion finely chopped
2 tsp spicy brown mustard

1) Heat oil, add mushrooms and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook 5min (until soften). 
2) Add kale, 5 to 7 mins (until stems tender) stir occasionally
3) Cook salmon, season
4) Stir together Skyr, horseradish, green onion, mustard and season
5) Serve salmon over greens, topped with Skyr sauce. (I added a bed of sautee potato to make a complete meal)

Landmannalaugar Trout Burgers

I first experienced the delight of trout burgers, when served from an old American vintage style school bus at the campsite below the rainbow coloured rhyolite cliffs of Landmannalaugar. The bus was most likely originally shipped over for use at the Keflavik US NATO base. The base itself was substantially decommissioned in 2006. Visually, at least, Keflavik is all the better for it. 

A military airstrip was established at Keflavik in World War 2 to help protect the north Atlantic air routes and the strategic position of Iceland itself from Third Reich invasion. During the Cold War, Keflavik was an important reconnaissance and monitoring location against the Warsaw Pact threat..

On my first visit to Iceland, a 30th birthday surprise from Dolores, we were on a guided tour which passed by Keflavik. The tour guide was a friendly, distinguished, gentleman in his 80's who was intensely proud of his country. But when we passed the US airbase, with ragged strips of wind blown polythene and rubbish caught up all along the perimeter fence, he expressed embarrassment. The litter was jarringly incongruous compared with the surrounding pristine lava fields, scrupulously clean Reykjavik and actually everywhere else in Iceland.

One outstanding perception of every Scandinavian country I have visited (Iceland, Norway, Denmark, The Faroes) is the conspicuous absence of litter, general cleanliness and love of country.

After the disgusting mess left for other people to clean up, both during and after Summer 2020 Covid lockdown, its a lesson which many people in the UK could take on board. It beggars belief that so many people have so little self respect to leave a trail of discarded trash in their own wake. All those years of Keep Britain Tidy campaigns came to nothing.

Shrimp Gratin Ingredients:
350g skinless trout fillet
150ml milk 
150ml hot fish stock (I used a fish stock cube)
1 medium onion finely chopped (alternative 4 spring onions)
350g mashed potato
1 tsp tartare sauce
1 egg beaten
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
salt & pepper
2-4 tbsp vegetable oil


1) Poach trout in frying pan with milk, stock and onion. Simmer 5 mins
2) Lift fish out of pan and set aside. 
3) Strain stock through sieve into bowl. Set aside poached onion. Save the liquid for a different dish, e.g. fiskesupa
4) In a large bowl, add mash potato, stir in tartare sauce, egg and breadcrumbs. Flake trout into mixture, add onion. Fold and season.
5) Divide mixture into 8, shape into burgers. Coat each in flour. Put in fridge to firm up.
6) Heat oil, fry for 10 minutes, turn once.
7) Serve in bun, with mayo/tartare sauce and salad (I didn't have any salad left in the fridge, so instead  I fried some mushrooms alongside the trout burgers)

Aðalbláberog Rjomi

An Icelandic version of Blueberries and cream. 

As simple as it gets, bilberries gently mixed into plain skyr. The bilberry season in Iceland and the UK is relatively short in August with some berries lingering into September. Maybe even October, as I've seen as few patches of escapees from the birds and sheep on the moors around Hayfield. They're prolific in the Icelandic West Fjords and uplands of the UK. 

Monday 21 September 2020

#051 Recreating The Dog Stone

The Dog Stone, situated on the slopes of Kinder Scout, near Cluther Rocks. 

Quern stones found on the site date usage of the grit stone back to at least the Iron Age. Several abandoned round mill stones are also easily found. Taking a moment to view their recumbent pose in the landscape, there was once a day when it was decided that there was no longer a need for them. 

Photo credit: Rob Lowton

Perhaps the mason's foreman brought the message while they were working. The clinking sound of chisel on stone stopped forever. The stonemasons packed their tools away and walked off the hill, calling in at one of Hayfield's many pubs to contemplate how to feed their family while they sought further employment. Or maybe, they assembled one morning at the edge of the village ready to hike up to the quarry, only to be told the news. 

Photo credit: Rob Lowton

The Dog Stone, is a local enigma. It has a cryptic inscription and an etching of a dog's image a few inches across. The form of the dog, with pointed ears, thick tail, strong jaw, and robust frame could be an Alsatian or similar breed. 

The image of the dog itself could be explained as the idle lunchtime doodle of a stone mason. However the inscription adds a layer of complexity to interpretation. and opens the possibility that the etching is more than a mason's lament to his departed loyal companion. There has been speculation that the Dog Stone dates back to mediaeval times.

The inscription can be decoded using a version of Pigpen Cypher. The earliest forms of Pigpen date back to the 1500's but use only square grids to decode letters. In 1531, German polymath and theologian, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, wrote Three Books Of Occult Philosophy in which he describes a cipher which would eventually be called the Rosicrucian cipher.

The Freemasons began to use the Rosicrucian Cipher and then Pigpen. They are perhaps the most famous and prolific users, which is why it is often referred to as the Freemason's Cipher. There are still surviving examples of letters written using the cipher from the 16th Century. It can also be found on Masonic medals, certificates, tokens and gravestones.


Standard (masonic) pigpen decoding of The Dog Stone yields nothing but apparent gibberish. 

However, the Grid,X,Grid,X version reveals the following...

"See may be small but she is of the best green stone"

Note the first word. Is this a misspelling of 'she' before the mason corrected the mistake later the encryption? Or, is the word 'see' intentional? 

Underneath the Pigpen Cipher is another set of symbols: A linked triangle, square and circle. Other masonic imagery incorporates simplified stylised set square and dividers, combined into a square and bounded by an overlaid circle. Metaphorically, 'squaring the circle'.

Then while I was researching the linked geometric shapes, the following image of a silver ring popped up on Amazon with product description stating: The triangle is symbolic of the concept of time with past, present and future, spirit, the holy trinity, ancient wisdom. The square represents the earth and being stable. The circle represents things that are spiritual and sacred in nature. 

Perhaps then, the mason is expressing his connection to the landscape and its materials. Up on the high shade less slopes of Kinder, in rain, hail and inescapable sun, his life was inextricably bound to the weather and seasons. He may not have experienced this in the liberal terms, which we today think of as spiritual. More likely it was as he gave thanks and honor to his omnipotent God the creator and provider.

There is also a geoache at The Dog Stone. It makes a fun 'target' for navigation training sessions. I've shared the pleasure of finding this special place with many clients, friends and family...a 'Kinder Surprise'.

There are other rock markings on Kinder. But none discovered thus far date back to the prehistoric cup and ring symbols of the Neolithic and Bronze Age. 

The lesser known incongruous 'Aztec' marks are without precedent in the United Kingdom. Archaeologists consider the image to be old but not ancient. 

Aztec Rock - photo credit Chris Eardley

I was inspired to recreate the Dog Stone on a nice slab of Orcadian sand stone, for my Ancient Stones hand crafted in Hayfield collection. The flat, fine grain surface would take take the etching and the overall proportions were well suited.

Thursday 10 September 2020

#050 A taste of Iceland - Part 2

In part 2 of our Icelandic inspired culinary adventure, we revisit a couple of Þrír frakkar specials as well as including a couple of tasty meals which can be put together in less than half an hour. 

Perfect after a day's gravel trail driving along the ghost road.

Or leisurely stroll through the woodland park to the Perlan atop of Öskjuhlíð hill

Heilsteikt Þorskflök með rækjum “gratin”
Panfried fillet of Plaice with shrimp “gratin “
Shrimp Gratin Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
30 uncooked peeled & divided shrimp
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 onion thinly sliced
1 pinch salt
1 pinch ground nutmeg

1) Preheat oven to 175degC
2) Heat oil and butter in skillet, melt, reduce heat to medium, whisk in flour, stir until thick paste, 5 mins.
3) Gradually whisk in milk and simmer. Cook and stir until sauce is thick and smooth. 5-10 mins.
4) Season with nutmeg (or ground pepper) and salt.
5) Plate up panfried cod. Ladle shrimp gratin sauce on top. Cover with cheddar, add onion. Top with breadcrumbs and parmesan. Place under a medium heat grill until cheese gently melts and breadcrumbs turn golden, but not burnt.
6) Add your choice of vegetables and serve.

Grillsteikt Þorskflök á mildri sinnepssósu
Grilled fillet of Cod on mild mustard sauce

Ingredients for mild mustard sauce (Quick recipe):
1 cup double cream
1/2 cup Dijon mustard (to taste)
Pinch of ground white pepper
Salt (to taste)

1) Mix cream, mustard and pepper on low heat
2) Simmer stir and season
3) Pour onto warm plate, place grilled cod on top.
4) Add your choice of vegetables and serve.

Ingredients for mild mustard sauce (Long recipe):
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups milk
Salt & pepper
Chopped parsley

1) Melt butter, low heat, add mustard, 30 seconds
2) Add flour and stir in until smooth and slight change in colour
3) Add milk, slowly and stir until incorporated using a whisk, avoid lumps
4) If sauce tastes slightly floury, it hasn't finished cooking, continue simmering.
5) Pour onto warm plate, place grilled cod on top.
6) Add your choice of vegetables and serve.

Pan seared salmon on cauliflower mash
1 lb salmon fillet
1/2 large head cauliflower, chopped into florets
2 medium potatoes, peeled, cut into 1" cubes
1/4 cup whole milk
2 - 4oz unsalted butter
Salt & pepper
6 Cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
Handful pine nuts (optional)
2 lemon slices (optional)

1) Boil potatoes and cauliflower until very tender. Drain and return to the pot.
2) Add milk, butter, salt and pepper, mash until smooth. Beat with a spoon until it has a whipped texture.
3) Blend cherry tomatoes and pine nuts. Or just gently pan fry the tomatoes.
4) Heat frying pan and sear salmon.
5) Plate up mash, place salmon on top.
6) Plate up tomatoes to the side.
7) Add further vegetables of your choice.

Hekla Dessert
Mount Hekla is one of Iceland's most active volcanoes, known in antiquity at the gateway to Hell and folklore has persisted that witches gather on the summit during Easter. In the time of the early settlers, Hekla's more explosive eruptions caused widespread destruction and farms to be abandoned.

Inspired by the infamous volcano, this dessert is my own creation. 

I discovered the butterkissed lava bombs method by mistake. I was trying to create a caramelise for potatoes and had the pan too hot. So when the butter was added, instead of a runny coating, I ended up making the inside of a Cadbury's Crunchie bar.

Skyr unflavoured
Frozen cherries
Golden syrup
5 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons butter

1) On medium frying pan. Heat sugar until melts, stir in butter. Mixture will crisp up and cling together, making butterkissed.
2) Serve a generous scoop of skyr into bowl
3) Place defrosted cherries on top
4) Gently pour a little cherry juice on top to create the 'red lava flows'.
5) Gently add a teaspoon of golden syrup to the top for the 'super heated lava flows'
6) Crunch up the butterkissed and spinkle to the base to place the 'lava bombs'

In his book Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, Jules Verne wrote of Hekla:

Yet, people didn't leave this gruesome territory, instead they tries to reach Hekla's peak countless times until they finally succeeded. Thus depriving Hekla and her Gods of its deadly reputation. 

Sunday 26 July 2020

#049 A taste of Iceland - Part 1

Iceland may not immediately come to mind as a country of culinary delights. The local delicacies are certainly, shall we say, an acquired taste even for the most intrepid gastronomist. There's the traditional hákarl (fermented shark) with it's pungent ammonia odour. Best washed down with neat Brennevin schapps, for an equally direct assault with a hint of anise to keep you coming back for more.


Then there's slátur . If you think that sounds like slaughter, then you'd be correct. Slátur is made from the innards of sheep into something like blood pudding. However, there is so much more to food in Iceland than these unconventional headliners. Cattle, horses and sheep were brought to Iceland by Viking settlers. In the harsh climate, short growing season and with the prolonged winter gales, animal products originally dominated their diet. They were subsistence farmers who's stories, lives, loves, expeditions and feuds were later recorded in the thirteenth century Sagas literature.


Vegetable cultivation increased, by necessity, during the 17th Century Napoleonic wars when merchant ships stayed away. However, vegetables did not become a significant part of the Icelandic diet until the 19th Century. The town of Hveragerði is renowned for harnessing geothermal energy from just below the thin volcanic crust, to heat industrial scale greenhouses and grow vegetable varieties which would otherwise be unviable at 66 degrees north. At sunrise the first light glinting off the multitude of glass panels can be seen from Route 1 several kilometres away. A local tour guide once joked with me that Iceland is the most northern banana republic.


Fish has been vital to Icelanders, from the early settlers to it's modern economy and not only from the obvious source of protein and oils. In the Saga era, animal leather was a scarce commodity so the Vikings turned to fish skin to make shoes. Journeys across the abrasive lava fields were measured in the number of shoe soles that would be worn out. Atlantic fish skin leather is currently experiencing a renaissance within the Icelandic fashion industry to make distinctive footwear, handbags and wallets.


The rich cod and herring grounds off east Iceland attracted the French fishing fleet from the 17th Century. This peaked during the 19th Century with over 200 ships and a French hospital maintained in the town of Fáskrúðsfjörður near Djúpivogur. Icelanders have for hundreds of years perfected preservation methods of air drying fish. For the observant traveller, the harðfiskur racks are still a relatively common sight.

Unfortunately, the Icelandic trawler fishing fleet has reduced in recent years. Overburdened with toxic loan investments and escalating debt, many smaller operators were left with little choice but to sell their quota to larger outfits after the 2008 kreppa (the financial crisis resulting from the default of all three of Iceland's major commercial banks). However, fishing and in particular fish processing remains a major source of employment in Iceland and is especially crucial for communities which are more remote from the usual tourist destinations.

Domestic fish consumption in Iceland fluctuates according to shelf and market prices. But even when prices are high, with the exception of the Maldives, Icelanders remain the top consumer of fish per capita in the world. (Source: ).

Eating Out

In common with Scandinavian countries, eating out in Iceland comes at a premium and according to urban legend, you may need a second mortgage to enjoy a bottle of wine with your dinner. In reality it's not that bad. Certainly, if you're sitting in a swanky Reykjavik restaurant near Laugavegur, then expect to pay city centre prices, as you would in any European capital.


Much of the extra cost comes as a result of the price of living and the fact that most products and manufactured goods have to be imported to this relatively remote island in the North Atlantic. Take for instance McDonald's. I baulk at discussing good food and Maccy D's in the same sentence but stay with me one this. A few years ago there was a franchise in Reykjavik which initially did well. A franchise licence condition was that the franchisee bought all the menu ingredients from the overseas McDonald's supply chain. Then came the kreppa. The Kronur was devalued, import costs rocketed and profit margins were decimated.

Jon Gardnar Ogmundsson, a key figure in the Icelandic McDonald’s scene at that time, said,

“It just makes no sense. For a kilo of onion, imported from Germany, I’m paying the equivalent of a bottle of good whiskey.”
(Source: )

The irony is that Iceland is really good at producing good quality meat, in conditions which are far more ethical than factory farmed animals. Soon after McDonald's pulled out of Iceland in 2009, the proprietor restarted under his own banner using more locally sourced ingredients.

International franchises don't tend to do well in Iceland. But then, why would you want to pour your holiday spending money into the coffers of tax dodging corporates, rather than savouring local flavours and supporting the community economy at its roots?


With a little extra shoe leather effort, or should that be fish leather, its not too difficult to find great quality places to eat at a moderate prices. Over the last 20 years, I have visited Iceland many times: As a hotel based tourist with Dolores (before her illness made overseas travel to arduous). Also organising my own self-led 4x4 adventures and as a professional expedition group leader.

The following meals and recipes are all inspired by my journeys across the length, breadth and interior of the superb, the wonderful, the captivating, Iceland.

Fish soup, hey ho, what's so special about that? Well, even though I do really like fish, when I first tasted this recipe, it was surely the best thing ever!

It was 2009, Dolores and I had taken the Toyota Hilux over to Iceland for a four week expedition.

The previous day, I had summited Hvannadalshnjúkur. A pyramidal nunatak, on the glaciated northwestern rim of the summit crater of the Öræfajökull volcano in Vatnajökull National Park.

It had been a tough climb, from sea level to 2110 metres and back down in the same day, with climbing partner Tony who I rendezvous with at Skaftafell and Mountain Guide, Siggi.

After a good sleep back at Kirkjubæjarklaustur Hotel (locally shortened to Klaustur) and with a equally good appetite, Dolores and I made a short drive up the road to Systrakaffi (Sister Cafe). Their soup was a feast for the taste buds, flavours of the sea combined with a lovely creaminess, which left me going back for a second bowl.

Serves 6
1.5 lb Fish: Any combination of white fish, salmon, prawns, shell fish will be equally good.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, mashed
2 tins chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
32 ounces fish stock
3 or 4 potatoes, 1" chunks (optional)
1 cup double cream
1 teaspoon salt

1) Large pot, medium heat, melt butter & olive oil
2) Add onion, cook 7 mins
3) Add garlic, tomato paste, salt, stir well, cook 2 mins
4) Add stock, tins tomatoes, potato chunks, cook 15-24 mins
5) Add fish selection and gently cook thought, 10-15 mins depending upon thickness of fillets.
6) Add prawns / shellfish for the last 5-7 mins.
8) Should have the consistency of a quality soup or broth. If too thick, add some further chopped tomatoes.
7) Turn off heat and swirl in double cream
8) Serve soup with crusty bread

Fish Stew, this was another first. We had journeyed across the interior Kjolur F35 route to spend a few days exploring the north, the magnificent waterfalls of Goðafoss and Dettifoss, as well as Lake Mývatn and the surrounding geothermal highlights. It was at the village of Reykjahlíð, we stopped for lunch at a popular cafe-restaurant. The Plokkfiskur, a combination of flaked white fish and creamy mash potato, served with rye bread, did a fabulous job of setting us up for the remainder of the day. It was so good we intentionally drove by a couple of days later for some more.

On a subsequent city break, we looked up a favourite haunt, Þrír Frakkar restaurant in the 101 district, Reykjavik. I had seen Plokkfiskur au Gratin on their menu. It did not disappoint, indeed it was sublime. It's their recipe that I pay tribute to here:

Serves 6
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
50g butter
10ml plain flour
500g potatoes boiled
500g cod or haddock poached
40ml milk and fish stock
salt and pepper

1) Boil potatoes (skin off)
2) Boil water, add salt and fish, cover. Turn off heat 8-9 mins.
3) Stand. Remove fish, keep water for stock.
4) Cut potatoes into bite size pieces.
5) Flake the fish
6) In an empty pan, add butter & onion on a medium heat. Simmer until onion turns clear. Sit in flour and gradually thin with stock and milk (ratio 1/3 stock : 2/3 milk) to the consistency of gravy or a good soup.
7) Add the cut potatoes, flaked fish and stir loosely together
8) Salt & pepper, season to taste.
9) For Gratin version, transfer mixture to a oven proof bowl. Add grated cheddar cheese on top and put into hot oven for 15-20 mins. Until cheese is melted and just colouring in the heat.
10) Serve with rye bread.

Pönnusteikt Steinbítsflök á rjómapiparsósu:
Grilled fillet of cat fish with creamy pepper sauce and caramelised potatoes.

This one came recommended via a review in the Lonely Planet guide. So on our very first trip to Iceland in 2001, we walked through the sleepy backstreets, below the skyward sweeping spire of Hallgrímskirkja. In front, a bronze statue of Leif Erikson looks westward towards his discovery of America, half a millenium before Christopher Columbus. Then along Baldursgata to find Þrír Frakkar. The name, a Icelanic play on words - three Frenchmen, three coats, or something like that, gave an indication of the delightful quirkiness inside. A combination of wood panelling, fishing memorabilia and images of old Reykjavik. The food is most certainly Icelandic, but with a hint of France, perhaps as a doffed hat to the old times when French fleet came into port.

For me Þrír Frakkar, is my all time favourite restaurant. Going back feels like a kind of home coming. A rare and special feeling, outside of the Peak District. I have only savoured elsewhere in East Africa.

2 fillets of catfish. (Basa makes an affordable and readily available alternative)
1 sachet of Knorr Peppercorn Sauce (Bit of a cheat, but it's quick easy and tasty)
1 Onion, sliced
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
Selection of vegetables: Baby carrots, broccoli florets, mange tout
3 potatoes, peeled
5 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons butter

1) Cook potatoes until tender (boil 20-25 mins) drain.
2) On medium frying pan. Heat sugar until just melting. Take off heat, stir in butter. Carefully roll in potato pieces. Heat until golden brown.
3) Large frying pan, add oil, medium heat. Add onion. Add fish. Take care not to burn the onions.
4) Prepare sauce according to instructions on packet
5) Steam vegetables, carrots take longer than broccoli and mange tout.
6) Assemble and present.

I hope you've enjoyed the verbal gymnastics of Icelandic words. The language is not far removed from Old Norse. You'll no doubt have noticed it has a couple of special characters and accents .
Þ  said as 'th' in thing. Hence Þingvellir, the site of Icelands ancient parliament (and the world's oldest), is Thingvellir
ð  said as 'th' as in the
á  said as 'ow' as in cow
æ  said as “eye”
í  said as 'ee' as in we
ö  said as “ ur ” as in murder
ú  said as the “ew” sound in yew

Most Icelanders do speak good English. It's taught, along with Danish, at school. However, don't let this stop you having a try. If nothing else it's a great conversation ice breaker (no pun intended) and will no doubt generate some good humoured amusement. It's worth also mentioning that if you're invited into someones house, it's good manners to take your shoes off at the door. If you're fortunate to invite guests to your holiday apartment, it's good from to offer coffee and some sweet pastries.

More Icelandic recipes, stories and reminiscences, to come in Part 2.