Gluggafoss waterfall - the Window Falls is a beautiful around 44-metres tall waterfall in Fljótshlíð in South-Iceland, often overlooked by travellers. It is actually a series of waterfalls running in the small river Merkjá and together these waterfalls are called Merkjárfoss Falls.
What makes Gluggafoss unique is its geology - the river has created several holes and tunnels in the soft palagonite bedrock, through which the water finds its way - we call them "gluggar" or windows. Gluggafoss is well worth visiting for this unique geology alone, but it's also a very scenic waterfall in its own right.
Seeing that the upper level of the waterfall cascades through soft palagonite the waterfall has changed through the years. I first remember visiting it back in 1979 and back then it looked pretty much the same as today, but from what I have read on the Katla Geopark website then back in 1947 Gluggafoss was only visible through the 3 windows, one on top of the other, which give this waterfall its name.
Then the water only managed to come out through one of the windows, forming an arch. What a pretty sight that must have been! When you visit it today you will notice, especially if the water level is high, how the water forces itself through the windows and then cascades into a grotto - it is such a mystical and mesmerising sight!
At the top of Gluggafoss, you will notice a stone arch through which the river runs - so pretty :)
That same year, in 1947, the notorious volcano Hekla erupted, but Hekla was in olden times believed to be the Gateway to Hell. The ashes from the eruption were carried down the river and filled the windows of Gluggafoss. It took decades for this beautiful waterfall to regain its former beauty - but thus the palagonite eroded and changed the appearance of Gluggafoss. The same thing might happen during another volcanic eruption.
Gluggafoss is located north-west of another notorious volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, which erupted back in 2010, causing havoc in air traffic around the world. Just a little bit further south the well-known Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi waterfalls are located.
The upper waterfall plunges some 44 meters and broadens up in the lower falls and plunges further some 8.5 meters. It is possible to walk behind the lower waterfall in one location, and I did so once and took some photos, but the drizzle got me soaking wet.
A short hike from the parking lot takes you straight up to the waterfall, but some parts of it have been closed off due to soil preservation. After visiting the first two waterfalls I took a path leading up the hill, as I wanted to see Gluggafoss from above.
From above I saw the grotto (see my photo above) which I hadn't seen from below, so it is well worth hiking up the hill, even though it is a bit steep - and it gets even steeper if you want to visit the waterfalls further up. But it is a grassy hill, so it is not difficult.
I followed the path further up and encountered two other pretty waterfalls further upstream the river. And the view from up there of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier and the Fljótshlíð area is absolutely breathtaking.
Gluggafoss is located between Hlíðarendi and Múlakot farms, close to Þorsteinslundur, where you can also see a pretty waterfall hidden behind a small grove. You can see the farm Múlakot in my photo below, and I will be telling you a story, which happened at Múlakot and by Merkjá river.
Fljótshlíð is a Saga area and one of the best known Sagas, the Queen of the Icelandic Sagas, Njálssaga - the Saga of Njáll, took place here, but one of the main characters, Gunnar, lived at Hlíðarendi farm, just west of Gluggafoss. I have written another travel-blog on Fljótshlíð and the Saga of Njáll.
A folklore, which happened at Múlakot and by Merkjá river, is written in Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason, which is a compilation of Icelandic folklore through the centuries, collected throughout Iceland by Jón Árnason (1819-1888). I try to include a folklore or two when I write about certain locations in Iceland and search for them in the 6 volumes of Jón Árnason's books.
I think it adds more substance to my travel-blogs and gives you a greater knowledge of each area in Iceland. Now, on with the story:
"In the first part of the 19th century, two brothers lived with their mother at Múlakot in Fljótshlíð, Jón and Ólafur. One New Year's morning Jón went to feed the lambs in the lamb house. A woman approached him, beautifully dressed and rather pretty. She started talking to him in a soft voice and asked if he wanted to walk with her for a short distance.
He didn't know this girl and refused in a dry manner to accompany her. Seeing that her approach didn't work out the woman asked Jón to marry her. He refused as he suspected that she was an elf-woman - a woman belonging to the hidden people of Iceland. She then asked him to sleep with her, but he promptly refused and walked away very angry and went home - and the woman didn't follow him.
He didn't tell anybody about this incidence and the brothers went together on this same day to church at Teigur in Fljótshlíð. They visited several farms on their way back and it was well after midnight when they reached the river Merkjá, which runs just west of Múlakot farm.
There was almost a full moon and still weather and thus not totally dark. Just as they had crossed the river both of them saw a woman approaching them, and as they meet, Jón noticed that it was the same woman he had met this same morning in the lamb house.
The woman started asking Jón the same thing she had this morning and pressed him hard. Jón got angry and started reprimanding her and wanted to jostle her, but his brother Ólafur prevented him from doing so and asked him to behave.
The woman then told him angrily that even though he wouldn't sleep with her then it were not necessary to reprimand her and rebut - and that he and his kids should pay for this later, but Ólafur had been kind so he should not have to suffer. The woman then left and disappeared.
Sometime later Jón got married and became a farmer on another farm. Little by little Jón started getting apoplexy - and one of his daughters became such a weakling that she was confined to bed all her life, and had very little sense or knowledge of anything - she never spoke and died when she was little older than 25. After she died her sister became severely mentally ill, but she had been a really promising girl.
The above-mentioned Jón Árnason last lived at Bakki in Austur-Landeyjum and died there. His son was Loftur, who lived at Þorlaugargerði in the Westman islands and became a Mormon and sailed to the New World. Another of his sons was Árni, who lived at Kirkjubær in the Westman island and died there.
His daughter Sigríður married Jón Oddsson from Síða, they lived at Bakki and had many children. Jón's daughter, Guðrún, married Einar Bjarnason, district administrative officer, from Hrífunes in Skaftártungur and she was the one who got insane after her sister died - she was at that time married to Einar".
(Translated into English from the Folklore of Jón Árnason)
Now, these people were real people living in Fljótshlíð. In the olden times, and maybe not so long ago, it was rather common for Icelandic people to have encounters with the hidden people of Iceland.
At the preserved Múlakot you will nowadays find one of the oldest and most remarkable private ornate gardens in Iceland, where Guðbjörg Þorleifsdóttir at Múlakot planted the first trees back in 1897. And the farm, which dates back to 1898, was one of the first country hotels in Iceland. Here Icelandic painters and artists resided and painted many a famous painting.
My grandmother told me about her encounter with the elves in her birthplace in the Westfjords of Iceland and her sisters also talked to elves. The folklore above shows us that we should never mess with the elves or make them angry as they can either help us or take revenge on us.
We Icelanders are brought up listening to the stories of the elves, and I can tell you that most of us fear the wrath of the elves, and would never risk making them angry; whether we believe in them or not.
It is also possible in the summertime to take gravel road 250, which leads from ring-road 1 and straight up to Gluggafoss.
To visit Gluggafoss you can rent a car in Reykjavík and include this beautiful waterfall in your visit to the interesting sights on the south shore of Iceland. Also, check out the self-drive tours on offer, some of which take you all around Iceland.
Have a lovely time by the beautiful Gluggafoss :)