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The full story behind Glymur Waterfall

Glymur waterfall is the second tallest waterfall in Iceland, originating in Hvalavatn (Whale lake), the water plunges down a drop of 198 meters (620 feet). Located in Hvalfjörður, a serene fjord about thirty-five minutes out of the capital, this hiking trail offers stunning views, passes through a  fairytale-like cave called Glymshellir, crosses the river Botnsá and then reaches all the way to the top of the waterfall, a bit further up you’ll then have the lake Hvalavatn.


It’s impossible to hike up this path without knowing the story about how Glymur got its name. The story is quite long but we will do our best to get the important parts across clearly.

Long ago, farmers living in the area surrounding Glymur, would during summer go out to a little island located out in Hvalfjordur for egg picking. (You will have a good view of this from the top).

This trip was thought to be quite dangerous. One summer a few men head out to the island, as they are collecting eggs, a violent storm hits the fjord. The men go back to the boat they sailed out on but are forced to leave one behind, that they were unable to get aboard with the waves becoming bigger by the minute. The men plan on coming back for the one left behind, once the weather dies down. The summer and fall pass, with constant strong winds, by the time winter, comes around they hadn’t had the opportunity of getting the man back and it has now become too late in the season to sail out to the island.

The winter passes and the next spring it’s time to make the journey out to the island to pick eggs. The man is presumed deceased. When the boat gets closer to the island, the first sight the men on the boat are greeted with is one of their friends, waving and all smiles. The sailors understandably are surprised, and even more so by the fact that he looks well fed and in good spirits. The man doesn’t talk much about how he had survived the winter but is insistent on wanting to go back with the boat. The whole matter is thought to be bizarre, but he remained tight-lipped about his experience on the island.

A few months later on a Sunday, everyone gathers at church. Once the mass is over the churchgoers quickly notice an infant that has been left in a cradle on the church steps. Also drawn to their attention is the blanket the baby is wrapped in, colorful and made out of materials no one recognized. The priest comes out, asks if someone knows who the baby belongs to, or saw who left it behind and if someone would want him to christen the child. No one is willing to speak to the fact that the child is theirs including the man that had been stranded on the island. The priest asks him directly if he knows who this child might belong to, he answers something along the lines of him not knowing and not caring. Just as he finishes the sentence a stunningly beautiful woman appears. She is clearly angered. She grabs the blanket of the baby, throws it inside the church, followed by the words “the church shall not be punished for this” then she looks at the man and says “but you, you will become the worst whale in the sea”. Then she disappears with the baby. The man is clearly straddled and quickly leaves, running down to the ocean.

Standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking Hvalfjordur, he suddenly starts swelling. He swells so much, that within minutes the man has taken the shape of a whale (the story says the whale had a red head because the man had been wearing a red hat) and plunges off the cliff into the ocean.

Whispers of stories about the man’s winter stay on the island start making the rounds between people, it is thought that he had entrusted a dear friend with what he had experienced during his winter stay. As it turns out the man had understandably been filled with desperation when he was left behind, so much so that he considered throwing himself in the ocean to shorten his suffering. As he is contemplating this a stunningly beautiful woman appears, she offers him a home for the winter and food and assures him that he will be safe with her, and the other elf people living on the island. Relieved, he thankfully accepted the generous offer. As winter is coming to an end the elf woman tells him that she is carrying his child. She lets him go back home with the one condition that should she appear with the child at the church he would make sure the child was christened or else suffer the consequences. It remains unknown why the man had gone back on his promise to the elf woman that had so lovingly cared for him.

Now, a red-headed whale, living off the coast of Iceland is causing havoc. The man has, in fact, become the worst whale of the sea, sinking every boat he comes across and drowning its men.

One day he sinks a little fishing boat in Hvalfjordur, causing the death of two brothers. Their blind father learns the news and is consumed by sorrow. One day not long after, with the help of his daughter he makes his way down to the ocean. Once they are there, he sticks his cane into the ocean and soon the whale appears. He now asks his daughter to walk him to the bottom of the fjord, and up alongside the river Botnsá. She does as asked, and the red-headed whale follows the cane, almost as if it’s being dragged. As they continue up, the river bed gets narrower and narrower, making the journey difficult for the whale. Getting all the way up to the bottom of the waterfall the waterbed gets so tight that as the whale jumps up, the earth trembles and rumbles like a big earthquake is taking place.

glymur waterfall in Iceland

The waterfall now draws its name from the rumbling sound made as the whale jumped up. Glymur. But this is not the end of the story, the old priest didn’t stop until he had gotten the whale all the way to the lake feeding Botnsá (the river) and has the lake since been called Hvalavatn (e. Whale lake).  Once the whale got to the lake, it exploded from exhaustion. Since then parts of a whale skeleton have been found surrounding the lake, beginning the question if perhaps the story is true. The farmer then made his way back down to the fjord,  where he was praised and thanked for his achievement. The precious blanket, gifted to the church by the elf woman, remained in the church and was used as a decorative altar cloth.

Glymur-Hike-Iceland (

This wonderful day hike, a personal favorite,  just out of Reykjavik should not be missed. Bring a camera, your imagination, a couple of sandwiches and good hiking boots. A surefire way for a wonderful day in close proximity to the city.

Glymur waterfall hikie in iceland

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