#vatnsdalur

 

Practically on the Ring Road in Húnavatnssýsla district in the northwestern region of Iceland is an interesting place called Þrístapar or Triple Hillocks.  Although this part of the area is well known for its cone-like hillocks called Vatnsdalshólar (Water-valley-hillocks), most of the small hillocks are on the south side of the road. Hundreds (or some say thousands) of them in a cluster called Vatnsdalshólar scattered over a five square kilometer area.   Þrístapar on the other hand, which consists of three adjoining small hillocks, is on the north side of the road.  Around them are only two or three other smaller ones. So they stand out when you look to the north when driving the Ring Road.

The last execution in 1830

But the Triple Hillocks stand out for another reason. On a cold day at the beginning of January in 1830, a double beheading took place at Þrístapar, when Agnes Magnúsdóttir and Friðrik Sigurðsson were executed.  They had been sentenced to death for murdering Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson at the farm Illugastaðir, located on the west side of the Vatnsnes Peninsula.  The slaying took place two years before in March 1828 and was quite brutal as both men were knocked through the skull with a hammer, stabbed multiple times, and burned when the farm was put to flames after the atrocity.  As the district commissioner at the time of execution was of the opinion that vandalism was far too frequent in his jurisdiction, he decided to make the execution an example and a warning.  After the beheading, the two heads were put on a stick on top of Þrístapar for display, and the corpse buried in the field nearby.

Þrístapar and the magnificent story of Agnes

The story of Agnes the alleged killer and Natan the victim, their alleged love affair, the murders, the social background behind the story, the prosecution, the verdict and the aftermath has both fascinated and haunted Icelanders since the events at Þrístapar.  Much has been written about these events, and disputes have risen among writers, local people, and academia. So it is not surprising that Þrístapar along with Illugastaðir farm has become symbolic of the story.  The setting of the story is a rather large area within the district.  Because of the heinous nature of the crime, the corpses were ditched in the ground nearby Þrístapar after beheading without a blessing.  It wasn't until June 1934 that the remains of Agnes and Friðrik were put to rest in the cemetery at Tjörn, including the heads that were found in a rather mysterious way decades after the sticks and the heads disappear a few days after the execution.

The hillock where Agnes and Fridrik were beheaded

On a cold day at the beginning of January in 1830, a double beheading took place at Þrístapar, when Agnes Magnúsdóttir and Friðrik Sigurðsson were executed

Will the pauper and abundant child Agnes become a historical celebrity?

Agnes Magnúsdóttir was, without doubt, a witty and intelligent woman but from the time she was born, underprivileged and poor. She was left at a farm and abundant by her mother at an early age and became a pauper living at the mercy of others.  In her time she was hardly noticeable but had the drive and intelligence to crave for something more, to move up the social ladder.  Ironically she is becoming one of the best-known persons from these parts of Iceland and might be on her way to gain international fame.  Her story has received more attention after Hannah Kent published her debut historical novel Burial Rites in 2013 about Agnes and the event leading to her execution. Especially after the announcement that a movie is in the making and Jennifer Lawrence is to play Agnes.  So if you are traveling the Ring Road in Iceland or visiting the seal colony at Illugastaðir or Hvítserkur stack on the beach by Vatnsnes, you should stop at Þrístapar.

Þrístapar hillocks near Vatnsnes Iceland norhern-region

When you are driving in North Iceland, there is just no way you'll miss Vatnsdalur (The Lake Valley) in Húnavatnssýsla. At the very mouth of the valley is a swarm of hills known as Vatnsdalshólar. Rising like hundreds of gigantic boobs in the landscape, many wonder why it isn't simply called Boob Valley. Especially as the lake the valley derives its name from, Vatnsdalsvatn (Lake Valley Lake) is small and rather insignificant.

Vatnsdalur is quite and interesting valley. It has one of the greatest salmon fishing rivers in Iceland, Vatnsdalsá. (Best keep it simple and not complicate things with loads of confusing names). The river cascades from the Highlands into a magnificent canyon in the southernmost part of the valley. From there it weaves its way along the valley, plunging from hills and circling farmlands.

Vatnsdalur is quite fertile and was inhabited from earliest times. It is the setting for Vatnsdælasaga (The Saga of the People of Vatnsdalur) when Ingimundur the Old settled in the area around the year 900.

Later on, Vatnsdalur was the setting for the last execution performed in Iceland in 1830. A couple, Friðrik Sigurðsson and Agnes Magnúsdóttir, were beheaded for a double murder. At the execution site, a memorial has been erected.

Below is the location of Vatnsdalur on the map of Iceland

Vatnsdalur is quite fertile and was inhabited from earliest times. It is the setting for Vatnsdælasaga
 
When driving the main road, the Ring Road, in North Iceland, most of the natives are in a hurry. Mostly trying to get as fast as possible from Reykjavík to Akureyri or any other town or village in the Northern Region. As a result, they usually miss one of nature's most stunning sculptures, Kolugljúfur, also referred to as Kolugil.  Kolugljúfur is
a gorge in the river Víðidalsá river, a great salmon river running through the valley of Víðidalur. The canyon is one km long,  approximately 25 meters deep and a stone's throw away from the main road. You'll find a few beautiful waterfalls in the gorge, the most impressive one being the majestic Kolufoss, of course. It is a spectacular sight and one of many impressive natural wonders in Víðidalur and Vatnsdalur valleys, in the west part of the Northern region, often referred to as Húnavatssýsla. It is a place you do not want to miss if you are driving through the area. 

Named after a giantess

Kolugljúfur is actually the gorges name and is located in front of the farm Víðidalstunga. The river drops into the gorge in two scenic waterfalls named Kolufossar falls.  Like many natural wonders in Iceland, the gorge has its own folklore story explaining its name and role in the past. Kolugljúfur derives its name from the giantess Kola, who lived on a ledge in the gorge where she had found a rather convenient place.  Sometimes after a good night's sleep, she would throw her bare hand into the stream to catch salmon for breakfast that she would eat raw on an empty stomach. Sometimes though, she would also throw it into the nearby Koluketill Kettle, a hole in the ground with boiling water. There she would cook her catch for lunch or dinner.  From the stories related to Kola she absolutely loved salmon.   Her love for this place was a practical one and not specifically to enjoy the natural wonder like most of us today. 

Finding Kolugljúfur and rembeber to take cautions

Kolugljúfur is located in Viðidalur valley west of the town Blönduós not far from Hvítserkur.  When on the Ring Road keep your eye open for a turn south on Road Nr. 715 Víðidalsvegur. After you take the turn you drive around 6 kilometers an you are there. Keep in mind that the gorge is quite spectacular and caution is needed. The river is often quite forceful and the sight amazing.   

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Below is the location of Borgarvirki on the map of Iceland

Kolufoss in Kolugljufur