Vestari-Hagafellsjökull is a surge-type outlet glacier from the Langjökull ice cap, Iceland. Intensive hydrological investigations were carried out during non-surge conditions in the summers of 1999 and 2000, and 14 boreholes were drilled using pressurized hot water over an area 800 m from the margin and approximately 5000 m2 in size, where ice thickness ranged from 60 to 70 m. Initial investigations showed that a large fraction of the boreholes drilled to the bed did not drain and were assumed not to connect to the subglacial drainage system. Subsequently, we investigated the hypothesis that boreholes which remain full may do so as a consequence of a balance between englacial inflow and basal drainage rather than the standard assumption that such boreholes are simply unconnected. In testing this hypothesis, we developed a new technique for measuring water motion within the borehole by monitoring the passage of a saline solution down the borehole’s water column. The technique allows rates of motion to be established, as well as allowing the quantification of net addition and loss of water from the borehole. Observations based on the motion of saline plumes within the boreholes lead us to the conclusion that some boreholes do indeed remain full as a consequence of a balance between englacial inflow and subglacial drainage. The abrupt dilution that occurs at the top of these boreholes suggests inflow from a near-surface englacial water source, while the descent of the saline plumes implies that water is being lost at the base to the subglacial system. The system appears to be driven by excess water head in the boreholes over flotation and implies that the borehole/bedrock interface can be ‘leaky’.