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Viðgelmir, deep withinPhoto from: Into the Lava | Audio Tour of Víðgelmir Lava Cave and Borgarfjörður

Viðgelmir is the largest lava tube in Iceland at 1585 metres (5200 ft) long. It is located in the country’s west, and is one of the most popular destinations for lava tubing.

Geography and Geology of Viðgelmir

Viðgelmir is situated in the Borgarfjörður of west Iceland, beneath the Hallmundarhraun lava field. It was formed during a lava flow that occurred in the area in 900 AD.

Lava tubes are formed when a river of running lava cools from the outside, creating a solid shell. When the liquid lava within this flows out, a cave is left remaining.

This river must have been vast, as it left the largest cave in the country. Not only is it the longest, but also its widest, with the walls 16.5 metres (54 feet) apart at one point, and the highest, which the ceiling up to 15.8 metres (52 feet) above the ground.

As with many lava caves in Iceland, Viðgelmir has both lava stalactites, which come from the ceiling, and stalagmites, from the ground. The former were formed when lava at the top part of the cave cooled as it dripped from above, and the latter indicated where this lava landed, pooled and began to stack.

Unlike in limestone caves, these features never grow back if broken off, thus it is absolutely essential that you do not touch them or attempt to break them off. There are large fines for those who break these rules, and many of the more beautiful features are cordoned off.

Lava Caving in Viðgelmir

Viðgelmir is one of the country’s most popular lava caves, and the easiest to traverse for beginners.

Unlike lava caves such as Leiðerendi on the Reykjanes Peninsula, Viðgelmir has a paved walkway and installed lights. This means those who are less confident on their feet do not need to worry about the uneven lava or relying on their own torch.

The scale of the cave also makes walking it much less challenging, as there is no crawling, stooping or clambering needed to get through.

History of Viðgelmir

Viðgelmir is one of the many caves in Iceland that humans were known to have lived in.

Through Iceland’s medieval period, it was a common punishment for criminals to be outlawed from society. Many of these moved into caves and lived out their lives as notorious bandits.

It is very likely, considering the age of the evidence found, that this was the case in Viðgelmir. These artefacts are now kept in the National Museum of Iceland.

 

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