We spent this week travelling the length and breadth of the Faroe Islands which is actually very easy to do. The roads are excellent and most of the islands are linked by subsea tunnels so we had no problem taking the van everywhere.
We started the week basing ourselves at a campsite near Sorvag on the island of Vagar. It is close to the Faroes’ only airport, built courtesy of these boys…..
…well, not specifically those ones but their colleagues in the British Royal Engineers. As Gavin W. has commented on last week’s post, his Dad and about 5,999 colleagues in the British Army were based in the Faroes during World War II. It was a strategic move to prevent a German invasion as had happened in Denmark.
Gavin – if we’d known your family story before we visited, we would have looked out for your surname in the fascinating little war museum in Vagar which gathers together lots of memorabilia from the army’s time there.
As you said, there were quite a few weddings between Army boys and local women…
…and their wedding portraits were among the WWII memorabilia on display. Included was a letter to the Mayor from one of the soldiers of – as he called it – ‘the Forgotten Garrison’ recalling his time there and thanking the islands people for the hospitality shown to the Army.
And this newspaper cutting from 1947 stood out because it could have been written this year. In fact, I’m sure the same headline ‘The Islands in the Blood-Red Sea’ has been recycled a few times over the years.
It’s a story about the most controversial tradition in the Faroe Islands, that of ‘the Grind’ or the grindadráp.
This whale hunting tradition has been going since the 1500’s and involves the local community heading out in small boats with an assortment of weaponry to herd pods of whales back to shore for slaughter. If you google images of the grind in the Faroes, the gruesome images which pop up will confirm the ‘blood red sea’ headline is no exaggeration.
And proving that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, if Eddy and Ted can have one….
…so can Stuart. And here he is modelling his birthday pressie, the holiday sweater Faroese style.
Back at the campsite, we chatted to owner and fisherman Christian about all sorts, what life is like in the Faroes, how there’s a bit of a Klondike buzz going on right now with huge amounts of money being made fishing the mackerel and herring rich North Atlantic, how this new money is changing the islanders’ lifestyles so now eating out in a restaurant is no longer a strange concept, why the Faroese think Brexit is a great idea and how delicious puffin is to eat.
‘Why would we spend a kroner eating out when we have freezers full of fish?’ he said to the first. And on Brexit, well it’s easy to see why the Faroese would support it given their past legal spats with the EU over herring and mackerel fishing quotas.
As for eating puffin? Stuart might be tempted to join him in a puffin pie. I was just keen to see one of these strange looking birds up close which, it turned out wasn’t that easy. The place to go to see them is the western island of Mykines, reached only by boat.
But next morning, there was disappointing news at the Sorvag harbour. It was too windy to dock the boat in the island’s narrow harbour so the sailing was cancelled. Not only that, the next day’s sailing was fully booked and it was the last one in the season.
We were turned away with the other disappointed tourists, though the prospect of an extra sailing being laid on was dangled. Check the website, we were told.
Now with a free day in hand, we went for a hike along the old village path to the village of Gasadalur. The route started just past the village of Bour…
..and travelled along the cliff path ….
….with beautiful views over the sea..
…and past landmarks from the time when this path was the only route to the village. The island helicopter service there didn’t start till the 1980’s and the tunnel was not built until 2004 to give access by road. One of those landmarks was the cheerily named Corpse stone because at one time it was the only spot where pall bearers carrying a coffin from the village for burial in Bour could take a rest on their journey across the mountain.
We had the mountain to ourselves, apart from the occasional sheep…
…and seeing these tufts of wool on the grass, we recalled that embarrassing exchange with the woman in the War Museum. We had seen somewhere in a guide advice that if we found clumps of wool, we should distribute it….
…which was a bit baffling ‘Was that to distribute it to the knitters on the islands?’ we asked her. Showing remarkable restraint in not laughing at the ignorant tourists, she explained the advice meant that hikers should pull any tufts they find into smaller chunks so birds don’t get their feet caught.
And finally, we reached the summit…
….then descended into the little village of Gasadalur where we really hoped there’d be a cafe. Based on our experience so far on the islands, we didn’t think it likely….
..but, hurrah, we were wrong.
After a stroll around the village….
…and a photo stop at the waterfall, we trudged back over the mountain.
Next day, we were in luck. A second sailing was laid on to Mykines.
The boat ride gave us a bird’s eye view of where we had walked the previous day.
…and when we arrived at the harbour…
…we understood why it was so difficult to navigate in high winds.
Only 10 people live on the island year round…..I guess here’s one of them with his new washing machine.
In the summer, the population swells so there’s one shop and one cafe to service the stream of tourists coming to follow the trail to the lighthouse in the hope of seeing the puffins.
The advice warned that the walk was not suitable for anyone with vertigo. Still I’d had a few CBT sessions before this trip to tackle fear of heights. This was the time to use all that training. We headed off, got to about here….
….and I turned back.
Stuart kept going, down the narrow path by the cliff edge…
..and over the bridge..
He had a relaxing afternoon out by the lighthouse…
..with a picnic lunch of salted dried mutton from Norway….
…and some bird watching. But the puffins had by now all left the burrows on land where they come to breed…
…and these dots on the water was the closest he got to them.
Meanwhile, I headed back to the village…
..for a less healthy lunch…
…then sat outside for the afternoon, enjoying the warm sunshine. The weather here is unpredictable as we expected but it’s surprisingly not cold. Even in the depths of winter the temperature is kept to a manageable 5 degrees by the Gulf Stream.
Then it was time to get the boat back to Vagar..
…and there were a few more opportunities to spot puffins.
We spent the next few days exploring the islands….here’s one of the campsites we stayed on. It’s on an old astro turf football pitch though it’s of a quality which would be the flagship of many a town in the UK. Here on the islands with lots of money sloshing about, the islanders passion for football means their facilities are world class.
And it was at the campsite, we were again astonished at a way of doing business that relies on trust.
Will that change as tourism continues to increase? It’s a conversation we had with Finn, a local we met in Klaksvik, the second biggest town on the islands.
We got chatting in the reception area of the local leisure centre where I had gone looking for the two essentials of campervan life – the loo and wifi. in a wonderful gesture of Faroese hospitality, that conversation turned into an invitation to come back to his home to meet his wife Sólgerð and their two daughters – one born just three weeks ago!
We had a wonderful evening with them and hopefully can repay their hospitality some day.
Heading back towards the capital Torshavn next day, we stopped off at Gjogv.
….which took us on a spectacular route of hairpin turns.
To celebrate Stuart’s birthday, we booked the Katrina Christiansen restaurant for a delicious meal of Faroese food served Spanish tapas style. Here are the mussels and langoustine.
Here are the croquettes with prawns and a scallops. And this was followed by lamb meat balls.
It’s probably the best food we’ve had on the whole trip
So now we have arrived back at the harbour in Torshavn, about to board the ferry to Iceland and start the final leg of our journey.