The Faroe Islands and Iceland, which had already experienced limited settlement by Gaelic-speaking monks, were first made a focus of settlement by Northmen ("Vikings" mainly from Norway) at some point around AD 825. The Faroes are traditionally held to have been first settled by Grímur Kamban, who is most closely associated with the settlement at Funningur on the island of Eysturoy. Another early settler was Naddoðr, who is credited as the first to make landfall on Iceland, after he got lost returning to the Faroes from Norway and arrived in the area of Reyðarfjörður. He gave this new discovery a id, Snæland.
In about AD 860, Iceland received a second name, Garðarshólmur, in honour of a Swede, Garðar Svavarsson, who came to the island and built a house at Húsavík. While Garðar soon left, his crewman Náttfari remained behind with two slaves, founding Náttfaravík on Skjálfandi bay opposite Húsavík. About a decade later, the third man credited with landing on Iceland, Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson, arrived at Vatnsfjörður. His associate Faxi gives his name to Faxaflói. A second settlement was founded by Floki's party at Borgarfjörður. He returned to Norway, but eventually returned to Iceland, settling at Flókadalur in Skagafirði, near Hópsvatn.
Around this time, Harald Fairhair emerged as the first king of a united Norway (Harald is traditionally credited with a reign dating from c.872-930). His reign saw the emergence of a more centralised power, and led to the emigration of many malcontents, swelling the populations of the Faroes and Iceland. Foremost among these were Ingólfr Arnarson (or Bjǫrnólfsson), his wife Hallveig Fróðadóttir and his half-brother Hjörleifr Hróðmarsson, who are traditionally given the honour of founding of Reykjavík in 874. They first settled at Álftafjörður. Hjörleifr was murdered by his Irish slaves who fled to the Vestmannaeyjar, to which Ingólfr pursued them and killed them. His slaves were Vífill and Karli.
Simultaneously, Harald Fairhair was interested in gaining control over the Northern and Western Isles of Scotland, which were used as bases by his enemies, who persisted in raiding his lands. To this end, a major expedition was mounted under the leadership of Rögnvaldr Mœrajarl, son of Eystein Glumra, or Ketill Flatnefr Björnsson, whose father Björn Grímsson. Rögnvaldr Mœrajarl was made the first Earl of the Orkneys, while Ketill carved out a kingdom for himself in the Hebrides. Both of these men are closely associated with the modern Norwegian region of Møre og Romsdal.
Already by the time of Harald Fairhair's consolidation of power in Norway, men primarily from the Swedish mainland and Götland enjoyed extensive contacts with the East Slavs in what is today the Russian Federation, Belarus and Ukraine. These groups of Norse adventurers and traders - known in the sources as the Rus', had already founded a settlement at Lagoda by around the mid-8th century. By 862, internal disputes among the ethnically-diverse population of the region led to a detatchment from the various Slavic and Finno-Ugric tribes to appeal to a powerful magnate among the Rus' to be their ruler. This man was Rurik, who is remembered as the first ruler of Novgorod. Among his followers were Askold and Dyr, who settled in Kyiv and had already raided the great city of Constantinople by this time. The Byzantines realised that they could make use of these Variags or Varangians and many a Viking (as well as their Anglo-Saxon enemies) was to be found in the employ of the Romans.
The Anglo-Saxons of the time were desperately hard-pressed by the Danes, though fortunate indeed to find themselves with such a champion as Alfred, the king of the West Saxons, whose cosmopolitan court included a certain Ohthere of Hålogaland, who told the king of his travels in the Northern Ocean, as far as the famous country Bjarmaland. On the other side of the channel, the rulers of the Franks also realised that they could make good use of Norse talent: in 911, a warrior by the name of Rollo - who had previously laid siege to Paris - was granted lands in Normandy, where his descendants would become the Normans, Europe's leading fighters in the centuries to come.
Perhaps already by Harald's reign, lands west of Iceland had already entered the consciousness of the Norse people. One navigator, Gunnbjörn Ulfsson or Gunnbjörn Ulf-Krakuson - who is dated approximately between 876 and 932 - caught sight of a small archipelago, which came to bear his name: Gunnbjarnarsker or Gunnbjörn's skerries. These islands were the site of an attempted settlement in about 970, though have since disappeared, succumbing perhaps to a seismic event during the 15th century: two maps, including one by Ruysch, from the first decade of the 16th century record the destruction of land in the region in 1456. Beyond Gunnbjörn's skerries, of course, lies Greenland, which was first sighted in 978 by Snæbjörn galti Hólmsteinsson, who was also remembered for a poem mentioning the terrifying Amlóða mólu in the sea.
Greenland itself was first settled by the larger-than-life figure of Eiríkur rauði Þorvaldsson (Erik the Red), in around 982, and it was his four children who play the largest role in the mapping out and attempted settlement of the famous Vínland.
Bjarni Herjólfsson sighted some land west of Greenland in 986 when attempting to reach his father's home at Herjolfsnes in Greenland's Eystribyggð. He sees four lands during his journey: -
The fourth is Greenland and he serendipitously arrives at the home of his father. After Bjarni's report was disseminated, tales of lands to be settled grew ever more strident in tone, prompting Leif Eiríksson to visit Bjarni to find out more. He furnishes a ship with a 35-strong crew and sets off. Leif implores his father to join the crew, but the now-ageing Eirík is reluctant. Eventually, Eirík is injured having been thrown from his horse on his way to join the crew. They retrace Bjarni's steps in reverse: -
A German, Tyrkir, discovers vines and grapes, from which the country is named Vínland. On their way home, they encounter a ship captained by a Norwegian, Thorir, stuck on a reef.
Þórvaldr Eiríksson led a second expedition to Vínland, which resulted in his death in 1003. He had decided to investigate Vínland further, believing that Leif's initial survey had not resulted in an adequately detailed knowledge of the land.
Þórsteinn Eiríksson planned an expedition to recover Þórvaldr's body, but was forced to abandon it, finding safe harbour in the Western Settlement on Greenland. He was accompanied in his endeavours by his wife Guðríður víðförla Þorbjarnardóttir, the widow of Thorir the Easterner.
Þorfinnr karlsefni Þórðarson, who married Thorstein's widow Gudrid, was in Vínland in around 1010. They are given the use of Leif's Houses in Vínland, where they arrive and have the good fortune to encounter a rorqual, which provides them with plentiful food. Eiríks saga rauða gives a more detailed account of their journey: -
The following summer, the party encounters the Skrælings, who flee at the sound of the livestock of the Norse (which includes a frisky bull). Norse milk is traded for furs, while Karlsefni wisely decides to fortify the settlement with a palisade. Eventually, the Norse come to blows with the Skrælings, who are led by a "tall and handsome man" who is taken by Karlsefni as their leader. The natives are quickly put to flight. The following spring, they return to Greenland with pelts, vines and grapes.
Again, Eiríks saga rauða elaborates, bringing in a number of wonders: -
The boys said that their mother was called Vætild and their father Ovægir. They said that the land of the Skrælings was ruled by two kings, one of whom was called Avaldamon and the other Valdidida. They said that there were no houses there and that people lived in caves or holes in the ground. They said that there was a country across from their own land where the people went about in white clothing and uttered loud cries and carried poles with patches of cloth attached. This is thought to have been Hvítramannaland.
During the summer of Karlsefni's return to Greenland, two Icelanders - Helgi and Finnbogi - arrive from Norway. Freydís Eiríksdóttir and the pair agree to mount an expedition with them to Vínland, but her deceptions eventually lead to conflict at Leif's Houses. Freydís manages to suborn her husband Thorvard into attacking Helgi and Finnbogi, resulting in the deaths of their men.
A number of other notices suggest the prior presence of Europeans - probably Irishmen (based upon the papar encountered in Iceland and the Faroes Island) - in the region. The earliest of these, perhaps dating to about 983, involves one Ari Marsson, an Icelander: -
Ari [...] drifted to White Men's Land, which some people call Greater Ireland. It lies in the ocean to westward, near Vinland the Good, said to be a six day sail west from Ireland. Ari couldn't get away, and was baptized there. This story was first told by Hrafn Limerick-Farer who spent a long time at Limerick in Ireland.
Subsequently, Bjorn Asbrandson, exiled from Iceland, is also said to have arrived in the region at roughly the same time as Leif's expedition. He met with one Gudleif Gudlaugson in about 1029 after the latter was driven to the west of Ireland during a storm. Gudleif's party encountered men who appeared to speak Irish and who were confederates of a Norseman who was identified by Gudleif as Bjorn. The inhabitants of this land come to be known as Albani in later sources.
While the discovery of L'Anse aux Meadows confims in archaeology the presence of Norse settlers in Newfoundland, records appertaining to these regions are hereafter quite scanty: Eirík, Bishop of Greenland, made an expedition to Vínland in 1121, and a ship from Greenland with seventeen men aboard arrived on Iceland in 1347, having been driven from Markland by a storm.