Charity offroad trip in Iceland sparks protests

Rhys Rowlands, left, and Matthew McHugh. Picture: Lesley Martin
Rhys Rowlands, left, and Matthew McHugh. Picture: Lesley Martin
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IF they wanted to know what it felt like to be Jeremy Clarkson and chums, they haven’t been disappointed.

Two ex-servicemen set off on a Top Gear-style fun adventure with the intention of boosting the coffers of good causes and making plenty of new friends.

Instead, Matthew McHugh and Rhys Rowlands have ended up being frozen out by Icelanders after their off-road driving challenge sparked a storm of protest.

The pair have been in the country attempting to drive a Mitsubishi L200 – known as Louis – to the summit of several of the country’s volcanoes.

But their efforts have left environmentally-friendly locals less than impressed – causing the sort of furore often faced by Clarkson and his fellow former Top Gear hosts James May and Richard Hammond.

Icelanders were enraged after Matthew and Rhys posted videos and pictures of themselves online driving over protected lava fields as part of Operation Ragnarok.

They repeatedly warned the pair that off-road driving was illegal in Iceland and that they had been reported to the authorities.

Police launched an investigation and cleared the Edinburgh fundraisers of 
wrongdoing, but Matthew and Rhys have issued an apology to anyone they upset.

Since the protests began, they have also deleted the offending videos from their YouTube page.

Matthew admitted the tone of the updates had been “over-enthusiastic and adventurous” and said efforts to add to the £800 already raised for Poppyscotland would go on.

He said: “We have not done anything wrong and we were glad to be able to work with the police to confirm that we have been following the legal and correct procedures for driving in Iceland.

“Our challenge has taken a lot of careful preparation and research and we took the advice of local experts when planning our trip. Since we arrived in Iceland at the start of August we have adhered to their advice throughout.

“In hindsight, we can see that our tone and language in our videos and social media posts were perhaps over-enthusiastic and adventurous. We are extremely sorry if we have caused offence to anyone.

“We think that Iceland is an amazing and beautiful country and we have strived to be respectful and considerate to this stunning landscape. We are also very grateful to the friendly and supportive people whom we have met on the way.”

Lothian MSP Cameron Buchanan, a former consul to Iceland, said natives of the country would have feared for the environment.

He said: “Going off-road in Iceland can be extremely dangerous as volcanic eruptions and even small earthquakes can surprise unsupervised travellers at any time.

“Icelanders do not appreciate it when foreigners disregard the environmental implications.”