Fantasy Iceland

‘I first spotted it, my future home, when I pulled over midway through a day’s drive’

Illustration by Lucas Varela©Lucas Varela

The single-storey red cabin with white windows and door stands defiant but contented, far from other signs of life. It’s next to a lake in northern Iceland on plains of short, bristly grass. In the distance, craggy mountains with blotches of snow rise abruptly. But the cabin doesn’t care. It doesn’t need mountains any more than it needs other houses nearby.

I first spotted it, my future home, when I pulled over midway through a day’s drive. The car had gone quiet and I needed to pick another playlist. It would be the soundtrack of my imagined transition from London-dwelling journalist to lakeside-living Arctic tundra sheep farmer, so getting the choice right was important. Maybe some Americana?

The move to the cabin, and career change to animal husbandry, is of course a fantasy. It almost always is with such holiday-spawned hypothetical narratives but that doesn’t make them any less fun and I’m hardly alone in this pastime. Indeed, if you manage to go to a Tuscan hilltop town this summer and not fantasise about one day moving there and running your own vineyard, you are as rare as a hipster non-ironically drinking a pint of Stella in a Wetherspoons.

Given this, it strikes me as a missed opportunity that the activity of pondering an alternative life while away from home isn’t more explicitly acknowledged or catered for by tourism authorities. Not least by Iceland’s. Their prowess in marketing the largely lunar-scaped island is matched only by whoever managed to make gluten-free foods popular.

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Lisa Pollack

So why not milk the rustic dream as well as the Northern Lights? I mean, I could look at some woolly jumpers, bathe outside in geothermal waters that smell of rotten egg, and spend hours freezing on a boat so that I can maybe catch a fleeting glimpse of a whale’s butt. But truth be told, I’d much prefer a walking tour guided by a local who talks about the community past and present, inclusive of gossip, a discussion about the average broadband speed and how long it takes Amazon to deliver. Work with me here, people.

Estate agents’ windows in popular tourist destinations fill the gap part-way, with peeks into actual homes. This is an activity for all the family. “Look, honey! If we sold our three-bed semi in Bromley, we could get a seven-bedroom castle in the Highlands of Scotland. It even has a collapsed turret! You could work remotely, couldn’t you?”

As things stand, Airbnb is the best way I’ve found to indulge the fantasy further. In Iceland, my friend and I stayed an hour’s drive from the red cabin, in the attic of a similar-looking house. Its owner — a future colleague of mine in the agriculture business, it turns out — helpfully informed me that the animals I’d spotted in the pen outside were not “Icelandic ponies”. They are “Icelandic horses”. Most farmers have them for trips to gather the sheep from further-off pastures. Good to know!

Now, normally I am not so prone to excessive flights of fancy. If I take a course in cupcake decoration, I don’t then go on about quitting my job to open a pâtisserie. With an attitude towards risk that’s not far from a health and safety policy manager’s, I know I’d never do it. On the other hand, fantasies that might seem more pragmatic — like retiring early with a defined-benefit pension and a well-funded NHS — are fast becoming genuinely unobtainable, and hence hold less allure.

As it was, returning to my flat in London, I have my own bathroom that I don’t need to lock. And soap that doesn’t sting my eyes when I put in contact lenses. The fridge is full of food I like and I have two choices of slippers. It sounds simple but I felt deeply appreciative of these things after travelling. Maybe this is the fantasy that I am so fortunate to get to live in. Or maybe I should move it all to the red cabin by the lake.

Lisa Pollack is FT.com head of new projects;

[email protected]. Robert Shrimsley is away

Illustration by Lucas Varela

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