THE FORGOTTEN FAROES
The gloriously remote and moodily beautiful faroe islands are a dream for hikers
Far north, in the misty Atlantic Ocean, a clutch of eighteen rocky outcrops, known as The Faroe Islands, huddle between Iceland and Norway, but are far from being lost at sea. This plucky and content little nation, overseen by the Kingdom of Denmark, knows what it’s doing, and is doing what it knows.
Lured by stunning visuals of virginal, electric-green hills tilting sharply to the northwest, then dropping theatrically into the ocean, of multicoloured, grass-roofed cottages in unpeopled valleys and an abundance of gorges, waterfalls and sandy coves, my friend and I decided to make The Faroes our hiking grounds for a few days. The Faroes aren’t exactly en route to any major cities and no one’s ever mentioned them. At first glance these lonely, tempestuous, wuthering heights with little to offer by way of cuisine seem unappetizing, especially given the competition from the rest of Europe. Heading out there was a leap of faith. A faith that even the Faroese Tourist Board lacked; ‘The weather is unpredictable. It’s snowing right now, the ground is wet, and it’s windy.”
“Have the puffins arrived on Mykines Island?” It was early May, and we’d hoped to visit the westernmost isle known for its enormous colonies of the bewildered looking, intensely adorable birds that mystifyingly manage to scoop up a ridiculous number of sand eels in their orange beaks. “No, the puffins haven’t arrived yet, and the ferry and helicopter service to the island is unpredictable right now.” We decided to take our chances, starting in London we flew east (to Copenhagen) to fly west, laughing at our madness, reading about the locals’ fondness for raeset, a traditional ‘air drying’ culinary technique where fish and sheep meat, often infested with maggots, given time, went from being deliciously ‘pungent’ to desirably ‘fetid’.
HIKING THE DRAMATIC MASSIFS
All doubts were cast to the torrents as we found ourselves entranced by the drama and primordial beauty of the landscape. The Faroes don’t have the icebergs of Greenland, the volcanoes of Iceland, the castles of Scotland or the magical cities of Europe, but they are a secret haven of winsome vistas and seas warmed by the Gulf Stream, and teeming with fish and whales. The sun battled away the moody rolling mist, and an embarrassment of fulmars, terns, gannets, puffins, and guillemots began arriving as we watched. While the Faroese are proud of their land, they may not be aware that they inhabit a rare nation where every nook and cranny is beautiful. Slender, beautiful, looping roads and tunnels connected the islands seamlessly and deposited us at the doors of small, scattered, achingly beautiful waterside villages where everyone knows each other, the cadence of life is unhurried, and fishing and herding roll in tandem with modern living in the sparse haven of just 50,000 souls.
We also explored the isles via hikes and drives with our engaging guide, Johannus Hanson, a rappelling expert. At Lake Sorvagsvatn we punched our way in the thick grass, over boulders and marshy patches on a threehour hike to a waterfall on the hill’s crest. Despite the wind’s evil intent, the dive-bombing birds and sheep that rebuffed our affection. At the top of the hill, the jagged, rocky cliffs plunged into the ocean below. Fulmars flew, but landed on the craggy footholds. With pounding hearts and cautious feet, we peered over the edge. The sea snarled and clawed at the base of the mountain, its frothy-mouthed roars baying for sacrifice. Johannes read our thoughts, “Many people fall off the cliffs when collecting birds and eggs, especially in the fog.” Sea stacks (lone, vertical towers) rose from the waters close to the cliffs, a magnet for tribes of abseilers who come just to scale their dizzy heights.
In the evenings, we’d head to the chic capital, Torshavn, with its bobbing boats, painted shop-houses, restaurants, and design stores. It grew warmer and the summer sun set the underbellies of clouds on fire, making us stare and stealing our sleep.
The Mulafossur waterfall by a typical Faroese village
Houses with grass roofs in Bøur village
Fishing boats in Torshavn harbour