Iceland’s great outlaw story, Grettir’s Saga centres on a man who is born out of his time: Grettir has the wild spirit of a Viking, but lives a generation after the country’s conversion to Christianity. Outlawed for three years in his youth for killing a man, Grettir spends the rest of his life performing great deeds – often for the benefit of others – yet something bad always seems to result from his actions, isolating him from his fellow men and eventually forcing him into perpetual banditry. In the end, he and his brother Illugi settle on Drangey, living off sheep left here by local farmers. Yet even as he is granted a pardon at the Alþing for his past crimes, Grettir is hunted down by his enemies and finally killed after three years on the island.
The stretch of bitterly cold sea between Drangey and the farm at Reykir on the mainland opposite is known as Grettir’s Swim, which the outlaw reputedly swam across to fetch the glowing embers he’d spotted on the mainland after his own fire had gone out; its 7.5km are still sometimes swum for sport, despite the fact that the water temperature in summer barely rises above 9°C. However, if the bawdy humour of the sagas is anything to go by, this feat certainly takes its toll, even on Viking superheroes; according to Grettir’s Saga two young women, finding Grettir lying naked on the ground numb after his swim through the freezing waters, declare, “He is certainly big enough in the chest but it seems very odd how small he is farther down. That part of him isn’t up to the rest of him,” to which Grettir retorts, “The wench has complained that my penis is small and the boastful slut may well be right. But a small one can grow and I’m still a young man, so wait until I get into action, my lass.”