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Facing my Fears in Iceland: Hiking Drangey Island

Facing my fears through travel has become a running theme on this blog, but one phobia has reared it’s head a fair few times and that’s my fear of heights. I’ve had to face it several times before getting into small planes, being in precarious situations and ascending Table Mountain on our trip to South Africa. But this time I was flung into the deep end and I didn’t know I’d have to face my fear.

The Drangey Island tour is one of the signature experiences offered at Deplar Farm – and the one I was most excited about given that it afforded the opportunity to see puffins! Though I’d always loved the adorable bird, I’d never seen one in real life so I was super excited to see them on this excursion which I was told would also include a short boat trip and a hike.

We awoke to a misty and chilly day at Deplar Farm but there’s something rather wonderful about the mist in Iceland and rather than feeling dreary, it was incredibly atmospheric with the cloud sitting low in the sky.

After a quick visit to the basalt columns our driver took us to Reykir on Reykjaströnd in Skagafjordur where we would be picking up our boat to the island. We were soon introduced to the family team Viggo Jonsson and his son Helgi Rafn who have been running Drangey Tours for years. Two strapping Icelandic men, Mr S was soon best friends with Helgi as they discussed their favourite football teams.

Piling on to our small but sturdy boat, Mr S and I cuddled up against the cold, clad in our wooly hats and gloves, gifts in our room from the Deplar Farm team.

It was around a forty five boat journey to Drangey Island in Skagafjordurand, if I’m honest those big North Atlantic waves weren’t exactly great for someone prone to sea sickness but Helgi took our minds off it by telling us some of the mythology behind the islands. 
Legend has it that a male and female giant were traversing the fjord by night along with their cow when breaking day surprised them. Exposure to daylight turn all three to stone with Drangey being the cow, Kerling (pictured above) being the woman with the name actually meaning Old Hag. Karl, the male giant, was once to the north but has long since disappeared.
As we rounded Kerling and got close to the bigger island, I thought to myself but that can’t be where we’re going? That can’t be Drangey, the rock face is far to sheer for us to hike up. 
But it was.

Viggo tethered the boat and I got out, my legs shaking from the journey and my seasickness, still passing over me in waves. I felt a lump in my throat and turned to Mr S.

‘But I don’t think I can do that’ I said, tears pricking behind my eyes.

‘Of course you can!’ said Mr S, ever my cheerleader. 
My mind was cast back to the last time I’d had to face my fear so intensely. Getting a cable car to Table Mountain. That day I’d stood in a queue for about an hour, looking at the car and fear mounting more and more inside me. This time I’d been met with this unexpected mountain climb – honestly I’d had no idea it was a hike this intense – I’d expected a little walk and some chilled puffin watching.

So faced with no really choice and desperate to see the puffins – I cracked on. Of course Viggo and Helgi have made Drangey more accessible to tourist by installing a rope and some stairs here and there to aid with the climb. As someone not used to hiking it was still difficult for me to get up those steep hills…and then there was looking down.



In what felt life time but was more realistically about twenty minutes and we got half way to the top.

‘You’re over the tough bit now’ said our guides.

Though the smile on my face belies the terror I was feeling, I was incredibly proud of myself for getting this far. 
And when I looked down I felt that sick feeling that often accompanies a fear of heights. 
And when I looked up I saw how far we still had to go.
But what was pressing me on was the thought that if I made it to the top, I would see the puffins. And of course the thought that the whole experience would make a great story for my blog. 
After resting for about ten minutes we were off again.
With me focussing on putting one foot in front of the other and not looking down. 
And then we got the worse bit. A very narrow pathway around a corner with a sheer drop beneath. I don’t think I can do this. But it was not only the encouragement of Mr S but it was Emlyn and Griff, our guides from Deplar Farm who’s encouraging words spurred me on. And with fear sitting heavy in my throat I did it. 
And then would you believe we had to climb a ladder to the summit…? 
Don’t look down.

I gripped the rungs of that ladder as tight as possible and finally we were at the top. And we were greeted with a glorious view as the mist and poor weather of the morning had completely cleared up and the sun was showing its face.

Though I’d been utterly petrified I was so proud of myself for making it to the top!
And as my pounding heart slowed and the adrenaline rush began to subside we took a seat on the grassy hill top to listen another legend about the island. 
Grettir Ásmundarson (commonly known as Grettir the Strong) was the son of a Viking, and bad tempered but loveable rogue. After he was found responsible for a fire that killed several men he became an outlaw and fled with mainland with his brother and slave. He chose Drangey owing to its high, impervious cliffs (!!!) and isolation and eventually died there.  
From here you can see just how sheer the cliff face is. It’s nearly 180 metres high and there really is only one way up!  
Now I bet you’re wandering something else? Where are those promised puffins? Well unfortunately most of the puffin had already migrated, I was pretty gutted as other guests of Deplar Farm had seen thousands only days before. But of course the climb hadn’t been for nothing as the views were truly spectacular and I felt a real sense of achievement of facing my fear. Puffins aren’t the only birds that you can spot there, the eagle eyed can also see guillemots, gannets, kittiwakes, fulmar, shearwaters, ravens and gyrfalcons.

But of course we still had to go down! Something that I was dreading as we relaxed in the sunshine of the flat top of Drangey Island. Getting down the ladder was actually the hardest bit and from there is was pretty most smooth sailing.

Though I did feel rather sick with fear when we got to that narrow bit again. 
And looking back at that ladder, I can’t quite believe I did it!
Slowly feeling my way back and with words of encouragement from Emlyn I made it back down the rock face. 
Until I finally felt the wood of the jetty beneath my feet. I’d done it! Back to the boat all in one piece. 
Sitting back in the boat, with my heart finally reaching normal pace, I spotted a few puffins out to sea which made me feel better about not seeing them on Drangey Island.

Fear is a funny thing isn’t it? No one else in our group seemed the least bit phased by scaling the clifftop whilst I was absolutely petrified. But honestly it was being thrown in at the deep end that really made me do it in the end. Perhaps I should be thrown in at the deep end a bit more often?