Drangey Bird Cliff in North-Iceland and the Viking Grettir the Strong

I went on a truly memorable trip recently, when I went by boat from Drangeyjarferðir tours and climbed up on top of Drangey island sea cliff in Skagafjörður fjord in North Iceland.

There is only one way to climb up to the top of Drangey - it is called "Uppgönguvík" or the Climbing-Up-Cove. It is a steep route up to the top of the ca 180 m high cliff, but there are ropes and chains to make the ascent easier. And a ladder on the final climb. 

Back in 2014 when I joined this tour I had fear of heights and I was terrified being so high up - I was holding on to the rope for dear life.  Fortunately I was cured of this phobia by hypnosis a year later.

Drangey Bird Cliff in North-Iceland and the Viking Grettir the Strong

Drangey cliff is well known in Icelandic history, as here one of the best known Vikings in Iceland, Grettir the Strong Ásmundarson (ca 996-1031), from the Grettis Saga (written around year 1300), sought refuge for his final 3 years of being an outlaw, from around 1028-1031. He is known for being the longest surviving outlaw in the history of my country - he was an outlaw for 20 years! 

Grettir lived on Drangey island cliff for 3 years with his brother Illugi, and Glaumur, who was his slave - and here Grettir was slain.

Drangey Bird Cliff in North-Iceland and the Viking Grettir the Strong

Grettir had chosen Drangey cliff as his asylum as there is only one way to climb up on top of this steep cliff in the ocean. This is the route we took to climb to the top. When Grettir was living on the island 2 ladders were put up to climb up on top of Drangey, but if the ladders were removed there was no climbing up, so Grettir was safe here. 

Now there are ropes and chains to help visitors climb up on top, and the final climb is done by climbing a ladder. It is quite steep in parts, but even kids can go on this tour, and they seem to love it.

My next photo is taken from the ladder and one can see how steep this route really is. We encountered fog on the cliff, so that affected my photos, but the ocean way beneath the ladder can be spotted on my photo.  I was terrified being so high up and thought I would have to be rescued by a helicopter, this is what fear of heights does to people!

Drangey Bird Cliff in North-Iceland and the Viking Grettir the Strong

Once on top of the cliff we visited Drangeyjarskáli hut, which was built in 1984, and our guide, Helgi, took a a group photo. 

Helgi then walked us to the spot on the island where Grettir the Strong had built a hut. One can still see the hole in the ground where the hut stood. It is called Grettisbæli or the Lair of Grettir. Here Grettir had shelter from the northern wind and could collect water in small water bowls in the rock.

It was amazing seeing these holes, from which Grettir the Strong drank water some ten centuries ago!

Drangey Bird Cliff in North-Iceland and the Viking Grettir the Strong

We Icelanders study the Sagas in college, and I remember vividly the story of Grettir the Strong. We sat down here by Grettisbæli and listened to Helgi tell us the story of Grettir and his life here on Drangey. The group consisted of Icelanders and two French tourists, so Helgi told these stories first in Icelandic and then in English.

The top of this steep rock is covered in grass and in the years Grettir was living here some 80 sheep were grazing on the island, so Grettir and his companions had plenty to eat. There are also myriad of birds on Drangey cliff and eggs in abundance. So they were not lacking for food at that time. 

Drangey Bird Cliff in North-Iceland and the Viking Grettir the Strong

After a couple of years they had eaten all the sheep but one, which was a ram called Hösmagi, which they didn't kill as he was so entertaining, as it were ;)  I guess they were badly in need of entertainment after such a long time on the cliff!

Grettir lived in Drangey for 3 year or until he was slain here in 1031. A witch had cast a spell on a log, which landed on Drangey cliff. Grettir wanted to chop it up as firewood, but due to the spell his axe landed on his foot and he got a bad wound. His leg swell up and turned black. 

Grettir's enemies, the Viking Þorbjörn Öngull and his men, managed to climb up the cliff and kill Grettir while he was wounded. Þorbjörn Öngull cut off Grettir's head with Grettir's own sword. I will add another blog of on the burial place of Grettir's head at Bjarg.

Drangey Bird Cliff in North-Iceland and the Viking Grettir the Strong

After listening to Helgi's interesting stories about Grettir's life and death on Drangey, we made the final hike to the top of the ca 180 m high cliff. On the way up to the top we stopped by the steep cliff's edge and were shown Grettisbrunnur or the Well of Grettir, where Grettir collected water supplies. There are more places on the cliff which are named after Grettir

When we got to the top of the cliff, Helgi the tour-guide, took us to the edge of the cliff, which was quite scary in the fog, and asked us to hold our hands behind our ears. That way the sound of the birds beneath in the cliffs multiplied.

It was quite something, standing there in the fog, listening to the squawk of the myriads of birds in the cliffs. And everywhere we looked there were birds. Only the fog prevented me from taking more photos.

Drangey Bird Cliff in North-Iceland and the Viking Grettir the Strong

Drangey is the home of myriads of birds and it is white in places from the guano, which in my opinion adds to the beauty of the cliff.

The bird species which can be found in abundance on the cliff are guillemot, puffin and auk, plus many other species, f.ex. the fulmar, the puffin, the kittiwake, the raven and falcon. We saw several young ravens in the fog. And a lot of puffin.

Drangey Bird Cliff in North-Iceland and the Viking Grettir the Strong

The cute puffin is the most popular bird in Iceland and most visitors seek it out when visiting Iceland. With its multi-coloured beak it is quite spectacular. And on Drangey you will see puffins all over and one can get beautiful photos of it.

Unfortunately it was foggy, but here is a link to Drangeyjarferðir tours website, where they have some awesome photos of the puffin and Drangey cliff. 

There were puffin holes all over the place. The puffins make ca 3 meter's long holes from the top of the cliff, so we were actually walking on top of the puffin holes, while exploring the top of the rock. It was quite strange knowing that we were almost stepping on the puffin and one has to take care not to stumble or get one's feet stuck in the holes as they are all over the grass.

Drangey Bird Cliff in North-Iceland and the Viking Grettir the Strong

Birds-eggs are collected in Drangey in the spring, when both the eggs are collected and the birds are caught. We could see ropes and ladders for this purpose in many places on the island. These are some brave people and certainly not afraid of heights, like I am ;) 

Drangey has always been a good food source for the people living in Skagafjörður and it is a landmark in the fjord, often called the Pearl of Skagafjörður.

Drangey Bird Cliff in North-Iceland and the Viking Grettir the Strong

To the south of Drangey there is a steep rock standing alone in the ocean. It is called Kerling (the old lady) and there used to be a rock on the north side of Drangey called Karl (the old man), but it collapsed in an earthquake centuries ago. 

In many places in Iceland rocks like these can be seen, with similar names. They are trolls which have been caught in the sunlight, but as everybody knows then trolls turn into stone by the rays of the sun ;) 

Karl and Kerling were crossing the fjord with their cow when the sun came up - and all of them turned into stone. The cow turned into Drangey cliff. Both Drangey and Kerling looked quite ominous in the fog. The fog sure added to the mystery of this awesome island.

Drangey Bird Cliff in North-Iceland and the Viking Grettir the Strong

Now back to Grettir the Strong.  Fortunately Grettir had some friends on the mainland, one of which lived at the farm Reykir in Reykjaströnd. One day in year 1030 their fire got extinguished and Grettir swam to the mainland to get fire from his friend there. This deed has been named Drangeyjarsund swim - Grettir swam for ca 7 km in the cold ocean!

After he came ashore he warmed up in a natural hot-spring at Reykir. It is described in Grettis Saga how Grettir baked in the hot-pool for the longest time before visiting his friend to get fire from him.

Drangey Bird Cliff in North-Iceland and the Viking Grettir the Strong

There is now a replica of this hot-spring, Grettislaug, next to the Drangeyjarferðir tours Information Centre. It was lovely warming up in Grettislaug and the newer pool next to it, Jarlslaug or the Pool of the Earl.

The temperature of the pools is ca 39° C. 

Drangey Bird Cliff in North-Iceland and the Viking Grettir the Strong

Jarlslaug (the pool of the Earl) was built in honour of Jón Eiríksson Drangeyjarjarl, who was the tour operator for Drangeyjarferðir for many years and who built Grettislaug pool.

Drangey Bird Cliff in North-Iceland and the Viking Grettir the Strong

Jón Eiríksson's son, Viggó, and his grandson, Helgi Rafn, now operate Drangeyjarferðir tours.  Helgi Rafn was our very knowledgeable and friendly guide on the tour. He is on my photo here above.

There are daily boat trips to Drangey from June 1st - August 15th at 11:00 am. More tours are added if needed. I went on a tour at 7:30 pm. The tour lasts for ca 4 hours, of which the boat ride to Drangey is ca 25 minutes. 

Drangeyjarferðir tour is a fantastic guided tour which I highly recommend if you are travelling in this area - Drangey is so rich in history and bird-life and visiting it is a truly memorable experience. I will for sure be visiting it again soon.

Contact Regína