Highland along Kjolur, Iceland

The Kjolur Route: Haunted Highway and Ancient Viking Shortcut in Iceland

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Positioned on a desert upland in the highlands of Iceland, the Ancient Kjolur Trail gives a new meaning to the word “desolation.” This lengthy, winding thoroughfare, that leads visitors across an epic glacial shortcut written about in the Sagas, was forgotten for over a century before taking the lives of some trekkers. 

The “Ghosts” of the Kjolur Route

In the 9th century, Scandinavians – mainly Norwegians – began to colonize Iceland, an island in the North Atlantic where no one had yet settled in large numbers. Ever since, there has been a “highway” running through the Kjolur route on the Icelandic highlands, which runs from the northern part of Iceland to the south. Historically, people would use these trails as summer shortcuts between north and south. But his wasn’t an ideal route for them due to worrying myths of ghosts and menacing desperados attacking travelers in order to steal from and abuse them.

Location of the Kjolur highland area.

Location of the Kjolur highland area. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

According to the Sagas, small armies would use the road to travel quickly, in order to take their adversaries by surprise. As it is historically recorded, Viking war philosophy was based on speed and effective ambush, which was the main reason why they wouldn’t send a lot of men. Their preferred tactical force was small - being effective at launching the initial raids and making surprise attacks. So, in order to move quickly during a raid, Vikings did not wear much armor and would often use shortcuts to get to their destinations quicker.

Viking Battle scene showing typical cloth and leather clothing.

Viking Battle scene showing typical cloth and leather clothing. ( Public Domain )

It was during the 18th century though, when the route became truly notorious. It is believed that during that time the feared Icelandic criminal Fjalla-Eyvindur and his wife lived there with other thieves, whereby the location became known as the “Valley of Thieves.”

But there is another tale about the area that is even creepier. In early winter 1780 two brothers and three of their retainers from the rich farm of Reynisstadur, froze to death in a snowstorm there – or according to other sources suffocated in their woolen tents – along with hundreds of their newly bought sheep. Their remains were discovered near the Kjolur trail, by a hillock now called Beinhóll - which in English translates to “Bone hill.” (As you might realize, the name is derived from the bones of the animals that died in the snow there). After this deadly and tragic event Kjolur was thought to be one of the most haunted places in the country.

Shelter of the outlaw Fjalla-Eyvindur in Herðubreiðarlindir, Iceland. By Ondrej.lhotka

Shelter of the outlaw Fjalla-Eyvindur in Herðubreiðarlindir, Iceland. By Ondrej.lhotka ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Modern Day Kjolur Trail

After that dark period of creepy and violent events in the area, the route fell off the map for over a century, before being rediscovered during the 1800s. For the past decades, the Kjolur Trail has become a popular destination for hikers and tourists. And why wouldn’t it be? The solitude there is thrilling; the views are breathtaking, and it is tremendously tough but equally rewarding to hike or bike these cross-country routes.

Kjolur route, with the bridge over the river Hvitá, and the mountain Bláfell behind. By NH53

Kjolur route, with the bridge over the river Hvitá, and the mountain Bláfell behind. By NH53 ( CC BY 2.0 )

So, in case you’re thinking of visiting the legendary route, your main concerns should likely not be of the history of outlaws and rumors of ghosts, but other hazards, such as the unpredictable weather for example. Conditions can be pretty mercurial and snow is pretty common there, even in mid-summer. So, warm clothes and face and eye protection from grainy, wind-driven sand are particularly important if Iceland and more specifically, Kjolur route is one of your next destinations.

Top Image: Highland along Kjolur, Iceland Source: CC BY 2.0

By Theodoros Karasavvas

References:

Ancient Kjolur Trail. Available at:    http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/ancient-kjolur-trail

Kjolur Hiking Trail in Iceland – The Haunted Highway. Available at: http://stuckiniceland.com/icelandic-highlands/kjolur_hiking-trail_in_iceland_the_haunted_highway/

History of Iceland: Viking Times. Available at: http://www.iceland4you.is/eng/History_of_Iceland/

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