A horse-like amphibian, the nykur is a sinister beast whose sole purpose is to drag those who dare wander carelessly through the Icelandic wilderness into a watery grave. As you read it, nothing pleases a nykur more than drawing people.
Although the nykur looks almost exactly like a horse, it’s easily identified by its grey color and backwards hooves.
This horse-like being lives underwater but will occasionally surface to try and lure passing humans to mount it. Once mounted by the unsuspecting walker, the nykur can’t be un-mounted –its skin is extremely sticky— and it will immediately ride towards its underwater lair drowning whoever is stuck on its back.
If you see one, you must run fast from it. Although, if you don’t feel like running away, you can get rid of the beast by muttering its name. This will make it run back into the water protecting you of any imminent danger. Now, if yelling “Nykur!” doesn’t seem to work, you could try some of his other appellations: Nennir, Nóni, Vatnaskratti or Kumbur.
All over Iceland people believe in the nykur, so in all districts there are stories and accounts of encounters with this beast. Such accounts are most abundant in the districts with rivers or lakes, specially those with strong currents.
Not much is known, however, about the nykur’s origins except that it inhabits the rivers lakes and coast of Iceland, Shetland and Orkney Islands, and northern Scotland.
Accounts of this beast are common, for instance, the inhabitants of Grímsey, off the north coast of Iceland, refused to keep cows on their island until about 1850 because they claimed there was a nykur in the sea that drove mad any cow that they tried to bring across from the mainland.
The nykur has many counterparts in the folklore of neighboring countries, so it is possible to assume that in past centuries, the frightening beast plagued the whole of Scandinavia. For the Swedes it is the Bäckahästen and in Celtic folklore there is a very similar beast known as Kelpie.
-The Icelandic Sea-Monster Museum in Bíldudalur
-Simpson, J. 1972. Icelandic folktales and legends. Univ of California Press, 1972.