Even the islands around Iceland are volcanic in origin. So, too, Drangey, a 180 meter high steep-cliffed, tuff-stone blob of about 20 hectares in diameter, that is the remnant of a 700,000 year old volcano dominating the Skagafjoerdur fjord in the north of Iceland. Now uninhabited (except for a small cottage for bird catchers), it was supposedly the last refuge and place of death of the legendary outlaw Grettir, protagonist of the Icelandic “Grettis Saga”, from around the 11th century.
A favorite place for Puffins, black-legged Kittiwakes and Auks to nest and breed, it also attracts egg collectors and bird catchers, in a good year more than 200,000.
We reached Drangey Island by fishing boat from Reykir. The fisherman and his son had built about 50 concrete steps leading up to the plateau. However, about two weeks earlier, a slight earth tremor had sent some substantial boulders tumbling down and destroying the arduously constructed steps. Now there was a system of ropes in place for visitors wanting to go up. I did not have appropriate shoes on, so I stayed below, but my friend – with better shoes – ventured up the very steep zig-zag path.
Because of the cliffs being very steep, many accidents happened over time. It is said that in the 13th century, the Bishop Gudmundur the Good decided to consecrate the island in order to minimize accidents. He was roped down the cliffs around the island, throwing holy water around and blessing the cliffs. Suddenly a huge hairy hand came out of the cliffs and cut off all but one of his – already blessed – strands of rope that held him aloft. A somber voice told him to leave that part of the cliffs to the spirits who dwelt there. It is said that the good bishop stopped immediately, understanding that there had to be a place for other Beings. Ever since then, that part of the island is called The Heathen Cliff and anyone attempting to climb up (or being roped down) that area is supposed to recite the Lord’s Prayer.