Adrian Latimer - Fire and Ice

Medlar Press £25
ISBN 978-1907110-37-5

Adrian Latimer has been around - readers will undoubtedly remember his Patagonian adventures in The River at the End of the World - and his new book takes us to the other end of the planet. Iceland is the most extraordinary place and I have often wondered what the Vikings must have thought when they first set eyes upon its contorted geology. No doubt they kept their hands on the hilts of their swords as their eyes drank in a landscape the gods had drawn with a savage pen; a place where the sagas made sense of man’s uneasy relationship with the violence that lies at the heart of nature. Here it was laid bare for all to see.

The Vikings were practical folk and they probably came for the fishing as much as anything else, an attraction which still pulls many visitors to the island, although the prices have gone up considerably in the last thousand years. Thanks to a combination of enlightened conservation practices and brute-force commercial ranching, Iceland has salmon fishing to die for, so good nowadays that it has totally eclipsed the outstanding trout fishing the country has always offered. This book offers a remarkable window into the quality of that fishing and I find it hard to imagine that it won’t remain the standard work on the subject for a long time to come.

Fire and Ice isn’t the author’s first book on Iceland, as he self published An Icelandic Fishing Odyssey back in 2003, which is roughly half the extent and this is sought out enough that it has become quite hard to find. This new volume is 320 pages long and allows Adrian to give the reader not only the benefit of a decade’s more experience, but lavish amounts of colour illustrations which do a huge amount to bring out the Manichaean experience of fishing in this impossible place. Given that there isn’t much of Iceland that Adrian hasn’t seen, the end result is a perspective of the sort that is reminiscent of John Ashley-Cooper’s writing, although the two writers come from very different periods. John came from the time before agricultural intensification, salmon farming and global warming deep-sixed salmon fishing for a generation and though the salmon are coming back, the rules are very different now, and this book reflects that.

The bulk of the work is about fishing and traveling in Iceland and it is written around Adrian’s experiences, rather than as an old-style fishing guide; what you get is an overall impression of what it is like to fish there, rather than a beat-by-beat description of each venue. As a method, it works, largely because the author is a talented writer and isn’t afraid to paint a warts and all picture, although he does play down the notorious awfulness of the island’s weather somewhat. Part of the charm of the book is Adrian’s diversions into Icelandic folklore, food and history, including the 18th century eruption that followed hard on the heels of a smallpox epidemic and nearly wiped the place out, as well as devastating the agriculture of northern Europe for several years. The last 30-odd pages cover fishing locations and services, tackle and clothing, and appendices which highlight how well the active management of Iceland’s fisheries have worked.

If you are thinking (dreaming?) of going to Iceland, read this book, because it will save a few surprises. The one place where information is a little lacking is on the subject of cost and I hope you are sitting down: €1000 or more a day is a good general guide to the quality of the salmon fishing described here, and the lodges aren’t exactly inexpensive, either, although for some unfathomable reason the trout fishing is a great deal cheaper. At this sort of price, Scotland’s best beats suddenly come into sharp perspective, but if you can afford it, Iceland is a fantastic destination and Adrian has shown us the way.

Review 7.10.2012