From Iceland — On The Road: Rútshellir

On The Road: Rútshellir

Published June 9, 2016

Photo by
Art Bicnick

On the southern Ring Road, near Skógafoss, sits the curious site of Rútshellir—a man-made cave carved into a huge chunk of rock. During the early 20th century a stone barn was built onto the entrance, making it look like a ruined house, but the cave itself dates back much farther. There’s evidence inside that it was used as a forge at some point, and before that, a residence.

And, this being Iceland, there’s a legend attached to it. The story goes that the cave was once inhabited by Rútur—an evil looter, or a troll (depending on which version you’re hearing) who kept slaves. Three of his slaves, Sebbi, Högni and Guðni, attempted to murder Rútur with a spear. They failed, and he chased them down, killing all three. Guðni apparently got farthest—he made it all the way to the top of Eyjafjallajökull before being slain, and Guðnasteinn (“Guðni’s Rock”) marks where he died.

But the story of Rútshellir doesn’t end there—in 1936, a wing of Himmler’s SS, charged with investigating Nordic history, surveyed the cave suspecting it might be the site of a ruined temple. And finally, last year, the landowner rebuilt the barn structure with a wooden roof, to stop it from collapsing. Rútshellir is listed as a heritage site, and is open to the public.

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