history, travel

A Visit to Keldur, Iceland

Anyone familiar with Iceland has likely heard something about turf houses, the iconic grass-roofed houses that grace the countryside, carried over from insulation methods in medieval Norway. I wrote once before about Rútshellir, a famous old cave guarded by a turf-covered barn. But while the cave itself might be the oldest man-made residence in Iceland, the barn that guards it is certainly not the oldest turf house. That honor likely goes to the hall at Keldur.

Keldur Farm has a pretty well-documented history. Like many Icelandic locations, it features prominently in the sagas—namely, in the popular epic Njáls saga, which details supposed historical events from the 10th and 11th centuries CE. In later centuries, it was host to Jón Loftsson of the Oddi clan, one of the most powerful chieftains in Iceland during the 12th century. In short, its history dates back pretty far, mingling fact with fiction. But if the dates in the stories are any indication, it looks like the oldest buildings at Keldur are about a thousand years old.

Keldur was a bit chilly

I had the opportunity to visit the farm back in 2018, when WOW Airlines was still in business and flights to Iceland were a little more doable for a Californian like me. I’d studied Njáls saga as part of my capstone research at my university. Although I ultimately didn’t incorporate the saga into my actual thesis, I was eager to see a saga location for myself. Keldur is located in the southern region, a bit inland from the Ring Road near Hvolsvöllur. It was an easy drive from where we were staying near Vík, but bizarrely, Keldur was probably one of the coldest places I visited in Iceland. There was a pretty crazy wind chill that day and I (foolishly) had left my gloves at the cabin.

Most of the interiors were closed to visitors when I went, as it was still spring and they weren’t prepped for the tourist season. One of the buildings houses an underground tunnel that dates back to the Viking era, although the tunnel wasn’t re-discovered until the 1930s. It’s believed that it would have been concealed beneath a seat or throne of sorts, and used to escape unnoticed in case of emergency. Visitors can check out the tunnel during the summer months, though it’s now covered by a grate.

The whole farm sits in the shadow of one of Iceland’s volcanoes, Mt. Hekla. I did get the chance to see the various turf houses, including the mill house and the two old lamb houses near the creek.

Finally, the farm is also host to a small church and graveyard, built (obviously) more recently than some of the other structures. The graves date back to various different time periods, though nothing too old, that I saw.

In short, Keldur is one of those places that’s easily overlooked by travelers, but it’s absolutely packed with history and definitely worth the visit, particularly for those visiting in summer. Here’s hoping that the world will get back to normal in the future and we can all start exploring new places again soon!

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