The warm Footbath of the Bakkabræður brothers in Svarfaðardalur Valley
High up on a hill in Svarfaðardalur valley in North Iceland a warm footbath is hidden away. It is the footbath of Bakkabræður, who were not-so-intelligent brothers who lived at Bakki in Svarfaðardalur.
While staying in the beautiful Svarfaðardalur valley I hiked up to Fótlaug Bakkabræðra - the footbath of Bakkabræður, which is difficult to spot from the road if you don't know where to look for it. It was only on my second hike that I found the warm pool.
Top photo: Footbathing in the footbath of Bakkabræður
The large rock by the footbath and the last part of the path leading to the footbath
We found the warm pool after having hiked up the wrong path on the previous day, but that path was much steeper. I tell you about that hike at the end of this travel blog.
There is a big rock close to the pool and the hike is marked. In the distance, in my photo above, you can see the first big rock which we hiked to, Laugasteinn rock I think it is called.
"Laug" in Icelandic means a hot pool and many places in Iceland have "Laug-" in their name, which means that there is hot water in the ground.
Here the hike starts - Húsabakki in the distance
We started the hike by the junction above Húsabakki, where we had stayed for the night, and turned from Svarfaðardalsvegur road number 805, and onto road number 8036.
There you will see a marked trail with red and green sticks, and it will only take some 15 minutes to reach the warm footbath. There are no other signs which tell you where to go though apart from the sticks.
The hike is uphill but it is easy as you will be walking on a grassy hill.
It is so worth it to visit this warm pool as the view from the mountain hill is amazing.
Hiking to the footbath
The stories of Bakkabræður are told in Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Collection of Folklore by Jón Árnason - Volume II (pages 499-503). I translated the story about the footbath into English:
"Bakkabræður - the brothers at Bakki farm in Svarfaðardalur valley had been told that it was healthy to take a warm footbath once in a while.
But as they were poor and didn't have much firewood they didn't want to spend firewood on heating up water for the footbath.
Fótlaug Bakkabræðra - the footbath of the Bakkabræður brothers
Once they found a hot pool or hot spring on one of their hikes.
They thought it was a great idea to get a free hot footbath. So they removed their shoes and socks and sat down side by side and put their feet in.
But when they checked they did not know which foot belonged to which brother.
For the longest time, they were at a total loss for what to do. They didn't dare to move as they did not want to take the wrong foot out of the footbath, so they were stuck in the pool.
I had only one pair of feet to choose from so I had no problems getting out of the footbath ;)
The brothers were stuck in the pool until a traveller passed by the footbath. They cried out at the man and begged him to help them out and find out which leg belonged to which brother.
The man walked towards them and hit them on the legs with his cane.
The brothers then quickly found out which foot belonged to the right brother".
The view from the pool is amazing
I knew my feet as they were the only ones in the hot pool, as my husband didn't want to take off his hiking shoes and have a footbath.
It was heaven on earth sitting with my feet in this warm pool in this beautiful location.
There are many more stories about the brothers at Bakki, and I guess that most nations have such stories.
The sign by the footbath
We found a sign close to the pool with information about the brothers at Bakki. The sign had blown away and we found it by accident as we were leaving the hot pool.
There is a structure above the footbath which is used to carry hot water via a water pipe to the houses below, let's not touch it.
After having enjoyed the view and the footbath we returned back and of course, we were much quicker descending the hill than ascending.
The hot spring and the footbath
The stories don't tell us when these brothers lived or who were their parents, so I guess they are just funny stories that have been linked to Svarfaðardalur valley.
But who knows, they might be based on some brothers who lived here at Bakki in Svarfaðardalur valley at one time and did something which might be called stupid or foolish and then the stories were exaggerated.
Stories about Bakkabræður are also linked to Bakki in Fljótin in Skagafjörður, where there were 4 brothers called Eiríkur, Þorsteinn, Gísli, and Jón.
You can see the location of the footbath way up on the mountain hill to the left in this photo
Our parents tell us these stories when we are young, so most Icelanders know the stories about Bakkabræður.
The brothers at Bakki, when speaking amongst themselves, always used all of their names, Gísli-Eiríkur-Helgi, as they knew that these were their names, but not who was called what individually.
And if one of them had to go somewhere away from the farm the others followed him, so they were more of a group than individuals.
Once upon a time, the Brothers at Bakki lived here
One story about the brothers tells us about the time when they built a house with no windows and then tried to carry out the darkness in their caps and throw it away.
And then they carried the sunshine inside the house to get some light inside the dark house :)
We also had a look at the farm Bakki where Bakkabræður - the brothers at Bakki are said to have lived. I gather that it is now a horse farm from the horse sign and there is also a garage at Bakki.
Sundskáli Svarfdæla, one of the oldest covered swimming pools in Iceland
We had been searching for the footbath of Bakkabræður on the previous day, but didn't find it so we asked the locals.
We had a look at Sundskáli Svarfdæla, one of the oldest covered swimming pools in Iceland, if not the oldest, erected in 1929. On the bottom of the pool is a painted mermaid, but we couldn't see it as the pool was under repair.
By the swimming pool, we met a man whom we asked about the footbath. He could tell us all about the swimming pool, but not about the footbath of Bakkabræður.
Arngrímsstofa turf house at Gullbringa
Only after he had left did I realize that this was Hjörleifur Stefánsson, the author of the best book written about turf houses in Iceland "Af jörðu - íslensk torfhús".
Since I adore turf houses and have written about most of them: A List of the beautiful Icelandic Turf Houses, I have visited on my Travels in Iceland - I would have loved to talk to him.
In the vicinity of the swimming pool is the preserved turf house Arngrímsstofa at Gullbringa which is the oldest atelier in Iceland (rebuilt in 1983). Arngrímsstofa is under the supervision of Þjóðminjasafn Íslands - the National Museum of Iceland.
Inside Arngrímsstofa, the old atelier of the noted folk artist Arngrímur Gíslason (1829-1887)
There we met one of the sons of the 3rd President of Iceland, Kristján Eldjárn, who was born at the farm Tjörn.
He had no idea what we were talking about but asked us to tell him if we were to find the footbath. I hope that he sees my travel-blog, now that I have found the footbath :)
Next, we knocked on the doors of a nearby house and were invited in. There we met one of the leading seismologists in Iceland, Ragnar Stefánsson who goes by the nickname Ragnar skjálfti - Ragnar the tremor. Are there only well-known people living in this valley?
Taking a breather while hiking up the "wrong" path
And with Ragnar were friends of a relative of mine in Reykjavík and we have often been invited to her place for a party on Þorláksmessa.
So we knew of each other and the situation was less awkward, us being in their living room asking them about a footbath in the mountain above their house ;)
They had heard of it and pointed us towards a big rock way up on the hill and off we walked through their living room and exited into their garden.
A breathtaking view of Svarfaðardalur valley and Hrísey island
The hike was quite steep and we did not have our hiking shoes on as we hadn't intended on doing this hike now, just ask around.
Finally, we reached the big rock and there was a hot spring with a lid on, from where they go their hot water.
I guess that we had misunderstood their directions as this one didn't look like a footbath and I gather that this was the pool with the 20-degree hot water which was used for the swimming pool below, if I am not mistaken.
By the wrong hot pool - the pool was covered up
So we descended the hill and from the corner of my eye I could see that my husband was in an angry mood, so I walked in front of him.
Then I could see him flying in the air and landing on his back straight onto a heap of wet mud on which he had slid.
This did not make him any happier and he stormed in front of me, his whole backside covered in wet mud.
Returning back from the wrong hike - my husband did not want to walk with me ;)
I was laughing so hard on the inside trying not to make him see it, but was also happy that he didn't land on a rock and hurt himself.
Even though this was not the warm footbath of Bakkabræður the hike up the Laugahlíð hill was worth it as the view is amazing.
But as I said then we had to go through the living room of one of the houses below to get to this spot, so don't go here :)
The view from Húsabakki, the footbath is on the hill above the white house
The following day we got instructions from the proprietors of Húsabakki where we stayed for the night and hiked up to the large rock by the pool.
The pool is right above Húsabakki and when we returned back and looked out of the windows of Húsabakki we could see the footbath way up on the hill of the mountain. Well, not the footbath itself, but a brownish spot next to it is visible.
But as I said earlier on then one has to know where it is located in order to be able to find it. I hope that you will be able to find it while visiting Svarfaðardalur valley.
Svarfaðardalur valley and Skíðadalur
It tells the story of the late-developing Hreiðar who lived at Hreiðarsstaðir farm in Svarfaðardalur valley.
Mt. Stóllinn in Svarfaðardalur - one of the landmarks of the valley
I don't know why these stories of not-so-intelligent people or people with developmental disorders are related to this beautiful valley.
As we found the people living in this valley to be both intelligent and very talented, and here lives also one of the extremely talented artists of the duo "Hundur í óskilum", Hjörleifur Hjartarson.
This comedy band was founded in 1994 in Svarfaðardalur valley and I never miss a show. I have even driven up to Akureyri from Reykjavík just to see their show.
I have written another travel-blog about the beautiful Svarfaðardalur Nature Reserve and our stay at Húsabakki in North Iceland.
By the footbath of Bakkabræður
And in my next travel-blog I want to show you the lovely little churches in the valley, but all in all, there are 5 churches and chapels in Svarfaðardalur: The beautiful churches in Svarfaðardalur valley
You can also visit the Kaffihús Bakkabræður or the Gísli Eiríkur Helgi café in Dalvík which is named after the 3 brothers.
Bakkabræður brothers in front of the café
Have a lovely time in Svarfaðardalur :) Here is the location of Svarfaðardalur on Google Maps.
Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Collection of Folklore by Jón Árnason from 1954 - Volume II
171 Ísland - áfangastaðir í alfaraleið - Páll Ásgeir Ásgeirsson
Chasing Waterfalls in Iceland
Sænautasel Turf House in the Highland of Iceland
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Secret waterfall on the South Coast
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