A tour to Drangey Island with students from the University of Southern Main
Updated: Jan 6, 2022
Occasionally, I take tours, as a guide, with groups traveling with Geocamp Iceland, an Icelandic company that helps organize tours for schools, educational institutions and teachers around the world that are interested in Iceland. Most of the time the tours are organized with an emphasis on a theme, like geology, history, or even an industry like the fishing industry in Iceland. In June, I guided a wonderful group of fifteen visitors from the Honor students program of the University of Southern Main and four teachers, for ten days. It was pure joy traveling to some of the most interesting places in Iceland, seeing some of the most spectacular museums, visiting interesting companies in the fishing industry, and showing them important places related to our history. The students were all wonderful representatives of their school as well as their country and with their intelligence, politeness, and enthusiasm showed me and all the people they met, why the USA is a great country.
Our visit to Grettislaug and Drangey
But, even though the theme and the goal of the tour were education, learning and comparing the fishing industries in Iceland and Main, it was also a visit for fun. Although there are many places to visit in Iceland, to have a good time, Geocamp Iceland and the teachers thought that a bit of a challenge was appropriate for this energetic group. And that is the reason why climbing the steep hills, which are 180 meters high, to the top of the Drangey island rock, in the middle of the beautiful fjord Skagafjörður, was selected. Drangey Island has been a part of Icelandic history since the time of settlement, as it was a sanctuary for the notorious outlaw, Grettir Ásmundarson, in the 10th century. It is a rock that stands in the middle of the ocean with its high cliffs and is only accessible from one place.
The boat tour to Drangey
The company Drangeyjaferðir operates tours to Drangey during summer from the Reykir farm, about 40 kilometers north of the Varmahlíð hamlet, on the Ring Road in Iceland. The farm has two of the most famous geothermal pools on the shoreline in Iceland, Grettislaug, and Jarlslaug. As we arrived early, the group took the opportunity to take a dip in the pools. Some of the more eager and energetic students also took a dip in the ocean and took a swim in the small harbor. It was time for excitement and adventure. The boat trip took about half an hour and fortunately the weather was calm, making the cruise to the island enjoyable. The boat was operated by the Earl's son, Viggo. Landing at the tiny dock on the island one has to admire and respect the magnificent rock, the steep cliffs, and the noisy sounds of the hundreds of thousands of birds that live in the cliffs. It is understandable why the outlaw, Grettir, chose this place to hide in more than a thousand years ago.
The climb to the top
Throughout our history in Iceland, Drangey island has always been very difficult to climb. For centuries, it was only for those who knew how to climb steep cliffs. Luckily for the rest of us, this has changed. In recent decades, Jón Eiríksson, the farmer and owner of the Reykir farm has worked hard to make the island accessible to the public. He has devised ways to climb to the top of the island with ropes, handles, and steps, making it possible for almost anyone to climb it. It is a steep path and still a bit difficult for people intimidated by heights. Needless to say, it is not suitable for people with Acrophobia. It is not a dangerous climb but requires full attention. For his lifelong dedication to Drangey island, Jón Eiríksson has earned the nickname “the Earl of Drangey” and has become a living legend. On a good day, like the one we had, you will meet the almost 90-year-old Earl sitting calmly in his little kingdom, following the boat, and viewing his island with sharp attention. The climb is divided into two phases: The first phase is a fairly steep path that pools the ropes up to the middle of the rock and the second one involves holding on tight to the ropes and handles and finally taking the 32 steep steps on the ladder to the top. On the way up, especially during summer, the birdlife is extensive and enjoyable, mainly the puffins.
On the top of the rock Drangey
Luckily when we reached the top of the island, the weather was fantastic and the view was spectacular. Greeted by the earl’s grandson, Helgi Rafn, the group was ready to walk the island and learn the many stories related to this rock in the middle of Skagafjörður fjord. While sitting in front of the home of Grettir, Helgi told stories of the outlaw and the dramatic events that led to his slaying. And he of course quoted the hilarious and embarrassing comment that the enormous and strong Grettir received from a young woman about his intimate parts at Reykir farm, after swimming across the cold ocean from Drangey. All of this was very well documented in the Saga of Grettir, written in the 13th century in Iceland. Helgi Rafn also took us to the edge and told stories about egg collectors and rappelling down the cliffs. At the end of the walk, before climbing down again, the group gathered in the northern part, which is the highest peak of the island with a spectacular panoramic view from all directions. On a good day, like the one we had, the experience is nothing less than spectacular.
Sailing back to shore after a time of fun and adventure
Of all the adventures and tours to choose from in Iceland, the Drangey tour is one of the more interesting trips. Especially if you add the relaxation in the geothermal pools to the trip, either before or after the climb. For me, it was exceptionally enjoyable as my group was great company–energetic and intelligent young people that make me optimistic about the future. I would like to thank the wonderful people from Main and the amazing family that operate the Drangey tours.