Drangey island

Few places I have visited in Iceland have impressed me as much as the island of Drangey. Drangey is situated in Skagafjörður in northern Iceland. This rugged island is the remnant of an old volcano. It rises 100-200 meters above sea level, and is a bird paradise. More than a million birds nest there every year - including puffins and black guillemots. Birds and eggs used to be taken from the island in the spring and many ladders in the most dizziest places around the island can still be seen.

Drangey rises almost perpendicular out of the sea and the sheer cliffs make it very hard to ascend it. There is only one place on the entire island where the visitor can climb and it is difficult, specially since a boulder during a recent storm destroyed the jetty and the main steps and ladder. 

 Below you will find the three main stories attached to the island and a few photographs taken during a trip in May.

The origin of Drangey

It all started with a pair of trolls living in Skagafjörður. As in many other Icelandic stories, they were night trolls, who turn to stone when exposed to sunlight, and therefore they only venture out at night. They had a huge cow which provided them with milk. The cow came into season, and since the nearest bull was on the other side of the fjord, they had a long way to take the cow. At sunset they started wading across the fjord, the old man pulling the stubborn cow behind him, and his wife pushing after it. The going was slower than they had expected, and at dawn they still had some way to go. When the sun's rays struck them, all three were turned to stone and became the island of Drangey, and two pillars of rock at either end of the island, after which it was named. Drangey derives from the 'drangur' which means rock pillar. The pillars were given the names Kerlingin (the old woman) and Karlinn (the old man). Karlinn collapsed into the sea in the 18th century, but Kerlingin is still standing.

"Even the evil need a place to live"

A legend goes that Drangey was once the abode of evil beings. Men who sought to pick eggs and hunt birds in the bountiful cliffs of the island, fell to their deaths, their climbing ropes mysteriously cut. Finally, people almost stopped going to the island to hunt birds. Then Guðmundur became bishop of Hólar, which was at that time the bishop's seat for the northern part of Iceland. Guðmundur, or Gvendur, as he was sometime called, was a good, kind man, and very holy, thus earning the nick-name "the good". The poor flocked to Hólar, because Guðmundur was know for feeding beggars. It sometimes became hard for him to find food for all those people, especially at the end of a long winter. So Guðmundur decided to send his men to Drangey to hunt birds and pick eggs. Several of the men were killed when they attempted to pick eggs in the cliffs. When the bishop heard this, he decided to do something about it. He went to the island with several priests and a barrel of holy water, and began blessing the island, descending down the cliffs by a rope, singing hymns and splashing holy water as he and his priests wended their way around the island. He had almost gone all the way around the island when a hand came out of the cliff face, holding a big, sharp knife, and began cutting the rope. The rope was three-ply, and the creature was able to cut through two of them, but the third held, because it had been soaked in holy water and blessed before the rope was made, and it could therefore not be destroyed by evil forces.

When the creature saw that it couldn't kill the bishop, it said "Stop your blessing, bishop Gvendur, even the evil need a place to live". Guðmundur stopped the blessing and asked to be pulled up. He then declared that this part of the cliffs should be a refuge for the evil creatures to live, and people should not try to descend that cliff. Ever since, there have been fewer accidents in the island, and bird hunters and egg gatherers have been left alone. The place Guðmundur left unblessed came to be called Heiðnaberg, or "Heathen Cliff", and it is said that nowhere on the island are there as many nesting birds, because no-one dares to try to pick eggs or hunt there.

Grettir the strong.

Grettir is the most famous outlaw of the Icelandic Sagas. As a young man he made a name for himself by his great strength, and got the nick-name "the strong". As the story goes, he fought and killed a powerful ghost named Glámur, who put a curse on him before it died, saying that everything he would do thereafter would turn out bad, that he would have no luck and that he would become a killer and an outlaw. The curse came true, and Grettir was outlawed, following a series of killings and mishaps. After sixteen years of roaming around Iceland and hiding in various places, he finally found refuge in Drangey, where he lived with his brother, Illugi, and a slave, Glaumur. They lived on the pickings of the island, including birds, fish and sheep that had been put there for the summer, occasionally going ashore for food. To get water, they had to climb down to a ledge where there was a hole that usually contained some water. It is called "the Well", and is the only place on the island where you can get water.
Grettir lived in the island for three years, and during that time there were numerous attempts made to climb the island. Finally, Grettir's enemies were able to ascend the island when Glaumur the slave, who was supposed to be guarding the rope ladder, fell asleep due to a magic curse. Grettir was ill, perhaps dying, and unable to defend himself, so it fell to his brother to fight the intruders. Finally, Grettir was killed, and his brother and slave were executed.

One of the most memorable things Grettir did, was when the slave let the fire in the island go out. They had no boat, and Grettir swam to shore to get fire from a farm up on the shore. He rested and bathed in Grettir's pool on the shore after his swim. The remains of the shelter Grettir and his companions used is still visible on the island. Since he lived in the 11th century, it is likely that others must have used it since then, thus keeping the ruins visible.

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