One of the highlights of travelling through the Golden Circle region of Iceland is the mighty Gullfoss waterfall (Golden Falls). In summer I imagine it is a wonderful green place with raging water cascading down 32 metres (105 feet) over two levels of falls 11 metres (36 feet) and 21 metres (69 feet) in height. In winter it takes on a very different look.
I have seen photos of Gullfoss virtually frozen over but despite the snow and ice, it was flowing freely and powerfully on the day of my visit. The coldest wind you can imagine roared down the canyon from the falls. It was so strong it actually moved me backwards when I was trying to take in the view! Despite the cold, you can not help be overwhelmed by the view before you. I just wish I had made it there when a little more sunlight was on the canyon but in winter the days are short and that is not easy to do.
The falls are fed by the Hvítá (White) River and the power of the water is evident. It was once considered to harness that raw power and establish a hydroelectricity plant in the canyon. In the early 1900’s the area was owned by sheep farmer Tómas Tómasson. In 1907 English investors offered to buy the land from him to build the electricity plant. Tómasson declined the offer but later leased the land to them. This was going to be the first step in developing the plant.
The farmer had a daughter, Sigriður Tómasdóttir who had grown up in the area and did not want to see its beauty destroyed. For years Sigriður fought the matter in the courts, she was known to walk all the way to Reykjavik (115 km / 71 miles away) to follow up on the case and even threatened to throw herself into the falls if construction began! Ironically she failed in her court case but avoided a grisly death and the falls were saved through the simple reason that rent payments on the land were overdue and the contract was voided!
Sigriður Tómasdóttir went on to live to a ripe old age of 87 (passing away in 1957). For her efforts to protect the waterfall, Sigriður Tómasdóttir is dubbed the first environmentalist of Iceland (a memorial erected in 1979 commemorates her crusade at the falls).
Later her son sold the land to the government of Iceland and the waterfalls became a protected nature reserve in 1979. Luckily sense prevailed in the long run and we can all enjoy the beauty of Gullfoss!