Barnafoss is a rapid waterfall in West Iceland, just a short walk away from the serene Hraunfossar falls. It is best known for its dark history in folklore, and for how much it contrasts with its neighbour.
Explore this region on a self drive tour.
Photo above from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Johann Dreo. No edits made.
Barnafoss translates to ‘the Children’s Falls’ because of a legend long told about it. Back in Iceland’s early days, it was said that a family with two boys lived at the nearby farm of Hraunsás. The parents left home for church one morning, ordering the young ones to remain at home, but with nothing to entertain them, the children soon decided to follow.
They knew a shortcut to the church: a stone bridge, arching over the nearby rapid waterfall, that back then would have had a different name. They started to cross it, but found the heights and surging water below dizzying. In a tragic turn of events, neither boy made it across the bridge, and both fell to their deaths.
Though both parents were grief-stricken, the mother veered towards insanity. Some versions of the tale end with her demanding the bridge be torn down. Others say she turned to witchcraft, placing a rune on the bridge that made any who crossed it plummet to their deaths just like her beloved sons.
If the latter version is true, her spell was broken when an earthquake shattered the passage.
While Iceland’s tales of magic were, of course, exaggerated as they were passed down in oral tradition, it is very possible that this story is true; Barnafoss would kill whoever fell into it in all likelihood, and many Icelanders scratched runes to spread curses to their neighbours and rivals.
It is, of course, equally possible that like many Icelandic tales, it was simply created as a way to ensure that young children respected their parents, and feared the country’s unpredictable nature.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Pjt56. No edits made.
Barnafoss is a magical site in and of itself, twisting, turning, foaming and churning as it races down a narrow valley, from which you can view it from above. It is even more fantastical, however, due to its contrast with Hraunfossar.
Rather than being a narrow rapids, Hraunfossar is a wide series of trickling waterfalls, flowing from a plateau of lava rock. Seeing the drama of one, followed by the peace of the other, is an excellent example of how Iceland’s scenery is ever-changing, and completely different spectacles can exist within mere metres of each other.
Other sites of the west near Barnafoss include the highest-flowing hot spring in Europe, Deildartunguhver, which is fascinating to admire but impossible to bathe in due to its extreme heat.
There are also the settlements of Reykholt and Borgarnes, both of which should be visited by those passionate about Icelandic history and culture. Reykholt hosts the Snorrastofa Exhibition, where you can learn about the village’s most famous resident, Snorri Sturluson. Snorri wrote many of the Icelandic texts that reveal huge amounts about Nordic kings, Norse mythology, and Icelandic folklore.
Borgarnes, meanwhile, has the Settlement Centre, where guests can learn about the brave first arrivals to this stark new home, and one of the country’s most famous sagas, Egil’s Saga.