Hraunfossar ('Lava Falls' in English) in Borgarfjörður district is a series of beautiful waterfalls formed by rivulets streaming out of the Hallmundarhraun lava field. It is located in West Iceland near another waterfall called Barnafoss.
The lava field that Hraunfossar trickles through flowed from an eruption of one of the volcanoes lying under the nearby glacier of Langjökull, the second largest ice-cap in Iceland. The waterfalls pour into the Hvítá river from ledges of less porous rock in the lava.
Because the area around Hraunfossar used to be the site of constant eruptions, the lava fields are known for their hidden caves. The country's longest cave, Víðgelmir, can be found near the waterfall. This amazing feature is 1,595 metres long (5,200 feet), up to 15.8 metres high (52 feet) and 16.5 metres wide (54 feet).
Its geological history may be fascinating, being just a thousand years old, though its human history stirs just as much intrigue as the lava field was once home to bandits and, according to folklore it is the home of trolls.
Another major site near Hraunfossar is an incredibly short walk away, and though also a waterfall, could not be more different. Barnafoss surges down a narrow, rocky valley with ferocious power, foaming and churning quite spectacularly. According to legend, however, the force of these rapids led to tragedy.
It was said that an old stone bridge once went over the falls, and two boys at a nearby farm, bored at home, attempted to cross it to catch up with their parents at church. However, they felt dizzy due to its height, fell, and drowned.
The legend ends in two different ways, with the least interesting saying the mother in grief simply ordered the bridge destroyed. Other tales say that she cursed the bridge using an Icelandic rune so that any who crossed would meet the same fate as her sons.
In this version, the bridge and curse were later broken by an earthquake.
The story led the waterfall its name; it translates to ‘Children’s Falls’.
The nearest settlement of significance to Hraunfossar is Reykholt.
This tiny village has a huge history, being home to the legendary writer, chieftain, lawspeaker and poet Snorri Sturluson. Without Snorri, huge amounts of Icelandic, Nordic and even British history would be unknown.
He alone at the time catalogued a history of Norwegian kings and their relations with other monarchs through the work Heimskringla, as well as the Norse mythological beliefs through Prose Edda. It is also believed that Snorri first wrote many of the sagas still read today.
Reykholt has a centre dedicated to Snorri called Snorrastofa, which discusses his fascinating life as much as his works. Working during the times of Iceland’s tumultuous civil war as a chieftain, lawspeaker and spokesman of the Norwegian king, who had ambitions to take the country, it is a story with as much politics, betrayal, blood and sexual impropriety as Game of Thrones.
Hraunfossar is also reasonably close to Borgarnes, another town with a long history. Here, visitors can see the Settlement Centre with its two exhibitions on Iceland’s past, one is on the first people to reach this island over a thousand years ago, and the other is on Iceland’s most famous saga, Egil’s Saga.