Iceland has become a popular destination in recent years, for photographers and tourists alike. With the closure of WOW airlines in 2019, ticket prices have skyrocketed, but the draw of the island country remains irresistible for many. Iceland offers photogenic, otherworldly landscapes and an interesting Nordic history that keeps people coming back for more.
The dwelling known as Rútshellir might not be the most impressive visually–especially when compared to iconic nearby sites like Skógafoss and Reynisfjara–but it holds a different sort of appeal in the legends surrounding it.
Believed to be the oldest extant man-made residence on the island, Rútshellir is carved into a outcrop of rock beside what is now the southern Ring Road. Today it is guarded by a turf-covered barn, making it easy enough to identify, but behind this lies the real attraction: the cave.
There are various legends surrounding the cave. Its original inhabitant is identified as Rút or Rútur, variously described as an old goði, a looter, or a troll. In some versions of the legend, Rútur is murdered by his slaves. In others, the slaves fail and are instead hunted down and murdered by Rútur. Since then, the existence of the cave has been documented at numerous intervals, and is believed to have been occupied over the years, though today it is uninhabited.
More recently, German scientists were sent by Nazi authorities to study the cave in the 1930s, believing that it served as a pagan temple during the early settlement of Iceland.
The lighting made pictures of the entire cave difficult, as I was photographing with only my phone at the time, but inside you’ll find a two-story cavern and the remnants of some old wooden beams. It might not look particularly exciting, but it’s worth the visit for the history alone–just imagining all the people that lived in this little cave is fascinating and a little humbling.
The cave is open to the public, though it is guarded by a fence. One may either hop the fence or enter through the gate, but close the gate behind you to keep the farm animals in. The cave itself is accessed through the turf barn. FunIceland recommends parking at the community centre building at Skarðshlíð. Parking along the road is not recommended.
As a closing note, WOW Air is slated to return as Play in early 2020, so we may see a drop in price for flights to Iceland soon, though Americans will have to wait a while before flights are available outside of Europe.