Updated: Jul 17, 2021
By Elin de Ruyter / Photo credits Elin de Ruyter
Laugarvatnshellir are a set of man-made caves in Laugarvatn, South Iceland. They were built and lived in by various families from 1910 to about 1922, but before that they were used as stalls and a place of shelter for sheep and shepherds alike from Laugarvatn. It was said the cave could house from 400 to 500 sheep.
There are many stories associated with these caves including stories of ghosts and hidden people who were said to dwell there within.
The following story is taken from the tourist plaque outside the cave which is now a popular tourist attraction on the Golden Circle in South Iceland:
“One fall a new shepherd named Þorsteinn had a strange experience. One evening when he brought the sheep to the cave as usual the sheep could not by any means be made to enter the cave. He had repeatedly tried to light a candle but the light went out instantly.
He got angry and went into the cave cursing and banging the walls with a cane. After that the sheep finally entered. But when he had lain down to sleep in the deep end of the cave as he usually did, something took him by the feet and dragged him hastily around in the cave. This took place a few times until Þorsteinn gave up and took the sheep to Laugarvatn and said he would never sleep in that cave again.
As soon as Þorsteinn came home to Laugarvatn with the sheep a blizzard broke out that lasted for many days. If Þorsteinn hadn't taken the sheep to Laugarvatn they would have starved to death in the caves.”
After this, the caves received their reputation for ghosts and people avoided them if they could. But while some say it was the ghosts at play, others said it was in fact the hidden people that had saved the lives of Þorsteinn and his sheep. The exact same incident happened again only a few years later, this time with the farmer Guðsteinn Einarsson who boasted to be unafraid of ghosts, but like Þorsteinn, his sheep too were prevented from entering the cave and no matter what he did they would not enter. He had no choice but to take his sheep on to Laugarvatn and again a blizzard blew in shortly after that and lasted for days meaning he would have been trapped in the caves and starved to death.
Have you visited the Laugarvatnshellir during your Iceland travels?