From Iceland — Víðgelmir: The Epic Lava Cave of Borgarfjörður

Víðgelmir: The Epic Lava Cave of Borgarfjörður

Felix Robertson
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Published July 5, 2019

Deep in the eerie landscape of Borgarfjörður is the largest cave in Iceland called Víðgelmir, which roughly translates as “worm” or, better still, “serpent.” It stands as one of the best examples of lava caves in the world, formed around 900 AD, when a major volcanic incident over 30 kilometres away sent rivers of lava pouring out over the region. Some of the rivers melted deep into the ground, hardening and cooling at the top but remaining warm and viscous beneath the surface, carving out the sprawling caves as they flowed.

Today, Víðgelmir measures 1.6 kilometres long, with 600 metres of that open to explore with an experienced guide. It’s a palatial structure with plenty of geological wonders to see. The walk through the majority of the cave is on specially constructed wooden walkways, so there’s no slipping or scrambling as you plod underneath the distant ceiling, which glistens and sparkles with each step. On either side, lava stalactites and stalagmites cling to the ceilings and walls—the result of super-heated mineral compounds melting and dripping as the cave formed.

Leaving the light and entering into this strange underworld feels like venturing into another time, into a secret place, where men live in darkness and snakes, be they lava rather than Gods, could carve out worlds.

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Let’s hear it from you!

Name: Lewis Adams

From: UK

When did you arrive in Iceland?: “Only yesterday. I will be working here for a month, then I’m flying home to graduate, but I’m coming right back afterwards.”

What are you most looking forward to doing here?: “I’d like to do some hiking, and would definitely like to see some glaciers. I’m only sorry I won’t be able to see the Northern Lights—that would have been amazing. I’m also looking forward to trying some Icelandic foods—especially whale!”

Do you have a favourite rock fact?: “Basalt, which is the rock we’re standing on, actually comes in many different forms. One is this type of basalt called vesicular basalt, where gasses bubble out of the molten rock as it cools, forming gaps in the rock. These sometimes fill with other molten materials, to form colourful marks on the basalt. It’s really beautiful!”

Names: Yuetian and Xiaofu

From: China

How long will you be staying in Iceland?: “We’re just here for nine days, but we’re packing a lot in.”

What has been your favourite thing so far?: “It’s really hard to choose.  Everything has been so amazing. The waterfalls are so photogenic, but I think maybe the lobster pasta we had at our hotel is the best—it’ll be pretty hard to beat.”

And what are you looking forward to doing?: “We’re travelling around Iceland, so we’ll spend some time in Reykjavík tomorrow. But before that we need to go and see Kirkjufell, you know, the mountain from ‘Game of Thrones.’ Everyone needs to see that!”

Meet a local!

Name: Egill Örn

From: Iceland

What’s your favourite thing to do in Iceland?: “Ice climbing! Anywhere—it doesn’t matter. There are so many great places to go.” 

What should people do when they visit Iceland?: “People should definitely visit the glaciers and they should try the meat soup—Icelanders eat a lot of meat soup. But there are also quite a lot of disgusting Icelandic foods—perhaps they shouldn’t try everything!”

Do you have a favourite rock fact?: “Basalt is simply dirty air. There’s a relatively high percentage of oxygen in it.”

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