Drangey Bird Cliff in North-Iceland and the Viking Grettir the Strong
I went on a truly memorable trip when I sailed by boat from Drangeyjarferðir tours and climbed up on the top of the steep Drangey island sea cliff in Skagafjörður fjord in North-Iceland
There is only one way to climb up to the top of Drangey - on the man-made path at "Uppgönguvík" or the Climbing-Up-Cove. It is a steep path up to the top of the 180 m high cliff, but there are ropes and chains to make the ascent easier. And a ladder on the final climb.
Top photo: Puffins on Drangey island - all my photos are taken in fog, so they are a little dark
On the boat tour arriving at Drangey island
Drangey cliff is well known in Icelandic history, as here one of the best-known Vikings in Iceland, Grettir the Strong Ásmundarson (around 996) from the Grettis Saga (written in the 14th century), sought refuge for his 3 final years of being an outlaw.
He is known for being the longest surviving outlaw in the Viking history of my country; he was an outlaw for almost 20 years!
Climbing up Drangey
When I joined this tour I still had fear of heights and I was terrified of being so high up; I was holding on to the rope for dear life. Fortunately, I was mostly cured of this phobia by hypnosis a year later.
Grettir stayed on Drangey island cliff for 3 years with his brother Illugi, and Glaumur, who had asked to come with them and work for them - and here Grettir was slain when he was 44 years old.
I was holding on to the rope for dear life
Grettir was so afraid of the dark that he had not wanted to be alone in Drangey, so Illugi offered to stay with him.
Grettir had chosen the Drangey cliff as his asylum, on the advice of Guðmundur ríki - the rich as there is only one way to climb up to the 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.
Drangey island - we were quite high up
Now there are ropes and chains to help visitors climb up to the 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.
We arrived at a spot called Gvendaraltari - the altar of Gvendur, named after bishop Guðmundur the Good, who consecrated the island after a row of accidents.
Here is a plaque on the rock with Faðirvorið - the Lord's Prayer in Icelandic. Guests on the island are supposed to say the prayer out loud before ascending any further.
Praying by Gvendaraltari on Drangey island
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 sea, way beneath the ladder, can be spotted in my photo.
I was absolutely terrified of being so high up and dreaded the descent, and thought I would have to be rescued by a helicopter, but that is what fear of heights does to people! But it is pretty steep!
Pretty steep, eh!
Once on top of the cliff, we visited Drangeyjarskáli hut, which was built in 1984, and our guide, Helgi, took 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!
By Drangeyjarskáli hut
We Icelanders study the Sagas in college, and I remember vividly the story of Grettir the Strong. I am a big fan of the sagas and have read them all. Grettissaga is one of the longest sagas, but a very good read.
We sat down here by Grettisbæli - the Lair of Grettir 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.
Grettisbæli - the Lair of Grettir on Drangey island
The top of this steep rock is covered in grass and in the years Grettir was living here some 80 sheep, belonging to the farmers, were grazing on the island, so Grettir and his companions had plenty to eat. There is also a myriad of birds on the Drangey cliff and eggs in abundance.
So they were not lacking in food at that time.
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 ;)
Leader sheep in Iceland
I guess that Hösmagi was a forystusauður - a leader sheep and that they were badly in need of entertainment after such a long time on the cliff!
Grettir lived in Drangey for some 3 years until he was slain on the island. A sorceress had cast a spell on a log, which landed on Drangey's 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 swelled up and turned dark blue.
Grettir's enemies, the Viking Þorbjörn Öngull, and his men managed to climb up the cliff after Glaumur had fallen asleep and didn't pull up the ladder, so the coast was clear for the enemies of Grettir.
They attacked and killed Grettir while he was fatally wounded in bed, and Þorbjörn Öngull cut off Grettir's head with Grettir's own sword. They also killed Illugi and Glaumur.
The reason for Grettir's being hunted as an outlaw was that he was believed to have burnt alive some 12 men, amongst them 2 brothers. Grettir had entered the rest house, where these men were staying, and wanted to ask them for fire; they mistook him for a troll.
Thus they attacked him and some hit him with firebrands, resulting in a fire spreading out (38th chapter in Grettissaga).
Looking into the fog - zero view - but we heard the sounds of the birds
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 around 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 that are named after Grettir.
Looking into the fog
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.
Puffins on Drangey island
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 the falcon.
We saw several young ravens in the fog. And a lot of puffins.
Birds on Drangey island
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 them.
Unfortunately, it was foggy, but here is a link to Drangeyjarferðir tours, where they have some lovely, clear photos of Drangey cliff and the puffins.
A puffin at Látrabjarg
There were puffin holes all over the place. The puffins make around 3 meters 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.
A puffin hole on Drangey island
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.
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.
To the south of Drangey, a steep rock stands alone in the sea. 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.
Kerling rock - still foggy
In many places in Iceland, rocks like these can be seen, with similar names. They are trolls that 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.
We have many such stories in Iceland, f.ex. Kerlingarskarð Pass in Snæfellsnes in West-Iceland - the Folklore of the Giantess & her Fiancé
A little bit earlier we were on top of the island in the fog
Now back to Grettir the Strong when he was still alive. Fortunately, Grettir had some friends on the mainland, one of which lived at the farm Reykir in Reykjaströnd, Þorvaldur by name.
One day in 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 some 7 km in the cold sea!
Soaking in Grettislaug
After he came ashore he warmed up in a natural hot pool at Reykir. It is described in Grettis Saga how Grettir baked in the hot pool for the longest time before falling asleep in Þorvaldur's house.
Þorvaldur gave him fire and a lift back to the island in his boat.
There is now a replica of this hot pool, 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 around 39° C.
Soaking in Jarlslaug
Jarlslaug (the pool of the Earl) was built in honour of the late Jón Eiríksson Drangeyjarjarl, who was the tour operator for Drangeyjarferðir for many years and who built Grettislaug pool.
Jón Eiríksson's son, Viggó, and his grandson, Helgi Rafn, now operate Drangeyjarferðir tours. Helgi Rafn, who is in my photo below, was our very knowledgeable and friendly guide on the tour.
There are daily boat trips to Drangey from May 20th - August 20th at 10:00 am. The tour lasts for 3.5 hours, of which the boat ride to Drangey is 25 minutes.
Helgi Rafn, our tour-guide
The Drangeyjarferðir tour is a fantastic guided tour that 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.
To visit this area you can rent a car in Reykjavík and make it a part of your North Iceland experience.
I have written another travel-blog about Grettir the strong and Grettisbæli Lair in Hítardalur valley.
Here is the location of Drangey island on Google maps.
Have a lovely time visiting Drangey island :)
Source: The Saga of Grettir
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