Fabulous FaroesAuthor: David C. (More Trip Reviews by David C.)
Date of Trip: July 2008
Where?-- you may ask. It is certainly not a convenient destination for American members. You can get a good approximation by looking for a point in the north Atlantic approximately the same distance from Reykjavik [Iceland], Bergen [Norway] and Lerwick [Shetland Islands, UK]. http://home.worldonline.dk/raf/Faroes/Fomap.html provides a good map of the different islands. Streymoy, which includes the capital, Torshavn, is the largest island both in square mileage and in population. It is linked to the next largest, Eysturoy, by 'the bridge over the Atlantic' [sounds grand but is one of the least spectacular thing in the islands] and to the third, Vagar, that holds the airport, home to the Færoes own Atlantic Airlines, by a tunnel. Sudurøy, Hesdur, Sandøy and Nolsøy are connected to Streymøy by ferry, Mykines and Koltur only by helicopter. Sandøy and Skuvøy are connected to each other by ferry. Eysturøy is connected to Bordoy by tunnel, Bordøy to Kunøy and Vinøy by causeways and Kalsøy by ferry. Fugløy and Svinøy are reached by ferry or helicopter. There are good bus services but both buses and ferries to the more remote places do not have a constant daily time-table.
We were lucky! A friend took a large apartment in Torshavn, the capital, for three weeks, after raving periodically about the Færoes since she went there four years before, staying in hotels. She planned to have company for most of the time but her brother’s arrangements changed so that she would have had the last ten days alone. She asked us if we would like to stay during that period. Well, would you have turned down an offer like that?
The Færoes are subject to Denmark but are completely self-governing and they are Associate Members of the Nordic Council in their own right. They were occupied by Britain on the day after Germany occupied Denmark in the second world war but reverted to Denmark after it. I don't know the situation post credit crunch but the cost of living may well have been the highest in Europe in 2008, when we were there, according to people coming from Iceland, the country that was generally reckoned to have the highest.
Tunnels are of top importance in the Færoes. This may be illustrated by the situation in Gasadalur on Vagar, which had to wait until this century for a tunnel connecting it to Bøur. Prior to this access was by boat or on foot over the mountains-- the latter being the daily route for the postman. In 2008, only four years after the opening of the tunnel it seemed that every house had a car. Only the two under-sea tunnels are subject to toll that can be paid within the next three days at any garage in the islands! Some of the free underground tunnels have frequent passing places marked by large Ms; here the traffic in one direction has priority and that going the other way has to use the Ms -- a bit scarey at times.
Streymoy is the largest of the Færoes and contains the capital, Torshavn. This is where the ship that travels between Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the Færoes has its port. It is Færoes owned as is the airline that does all the flights to Vagar airport on that island, Atlantic Airways. Torshavn can be regarded as a rural city as it has a surprising proportion of farmland. There are excellent museums and they are rightly proud of their Art Gallery. The Outdoor Museum is unlike others in Scandinavia in that it does not consist of various buildings brought in but of a single farm, including the farmhouse, outbuildings and small boat facilities. The other really impressive building is the Nordic House, given to the islands when they joined the Nordic Council. More interesting to visitors, however, is the small peninsula of Tingenes. This is the old part of the city that has no straight lines and where the buildings have turf roofs. They include the Prime Minister's Office, as unlike the White House or Downing Street as you can imagine.
One day early in our visit we went to Kirkjubøur, the former capital and site of the partly constructed Magnus Cathedral. Sadly the funds dried up and the small church of St Olaf's continued to serve as a cathedral. It's very plain inside now but there are superbly carved pew ends from the church in the main museum that were in Copenhagen for many years. There are also a farmhouse museum and a clothing shop.
Another day we went to Vestmanaa on the north-west of the island, which has two separately owned boats taking tours to see the nearby bird cliffs. The birds-- skuas, puffins, guillemots, razorbills with fulmars, kittiwakes and numerous varieties of gulls and terns-- would justify the trip on their own as would the cliffs, where the boat sails into caves, through arches and around stacks. The combination makes the trip quite exceptional On the way to Vestmanaa the small village of Kvivik lies in a loop below the road. Here there are the foundations of a Viking homestead, this being the earliest settlement yet recorded in the Færoes. There is also a sad but striking memorial to the crew of a lifeboat-- the first three coming from that tiny village and having the same surname. It is hard to envisage the effects on a small community.
Trips to the north-eastern part of the island were also highly rewarding. Saksun, the terminus of one small road, is a wonderful place. An inlet from the Atlantic feeds into a picturesque lagoon and the small settlement is above it, with the church on one side of the road and the houses, which include a farm museum on the other. I have my photograph of the church and lagoon with adjacent mountains to greet me when I switch on my computer. The farthest north-east of all is the little village of Tjørnuvik. Little tracks wind between turf-topped houses. From the road into the village you can look over to the second island of Eysturoy across narrow straits and see two large sea stacks, Risin and Kellingin, whereby hangs a tale. Risin the witch and Kellingin the giant were sent by the Giants of Iceland to bring the Færoes nearer to Iceland. Risin fixed a rope to the highest mountain and Kellingin pulled. However she had fixed it wrong and, although the mountain developed a crack, the Færoes moved not one inch nearer to Iceland. Then, having made a pig's ear of their job, these two were careless enough to be caught out by the Dawn. The penalty for that, as everybody knows, is to be turned into a stack. It must be true-- you can still see where the mountain cracked!
The crossing to Eysturoy over the 'Bridge over the Atlantic' is unimpressive because, at that point, the islands are so close together. However it is not to be missed for North Eysturoy is as scenic as anywhere in the Færoes and it is also the only way of reaching the wonderful north-eastern islands. Our first trip across was to see the north of Eysturoy and we started by driving north up the road parallel to the one to Tjørnuvik on Streymoy. This took us to the small village of Eiði. I am told that from the top of a hill near the village you can look vertically downwards to Risin and Kellingin – not for me these days! The truth is that we didn't make the most of Eiði because the weather was going off and we wanted to be sure of visibility on the mountain road to Gjogv. We were just about successful at this and a splendid road it is – I have never seen so many hanging valleys anywhere as in North Eysturoy and in one place there is a free telescope to view – that's right – Risin and Kellingin.
The word 'gjogv' in Færoese means 'cleft' and the village of Gjogv could hardly be called anything else. The cleft provides a harbour for small boats. This is about as near as the Færoes come to a tourist trap – there is a hostel, a cafe/shop and boat trips! Looking across the cleft we had a close view of puffins. We took other delightful roads through the mountains to see more villages on the east coast with views towards the north-east islands.
Another day we went to the furthest point reachable by car from Torshavn without using a ferry. This is Viðareiði, a village at the end of Viðøy, reached via Eysturøy, an undersea tunnel, Borðøy and a causeway. The route is as delightful as the village of Viðareiði itself. At Viðareiði the road cannot reach the tip of the island because there is a cirque of mountains. However the island is narrow enough here to make access to both coasts easy-- and what a difference! On one side the sea was almost placid and the view was of the village church and the tips of Kunøy and Kalsøy. On the other the Atlantic looked like-- the Atlantic, with huge breakers lashing the shore and Fugløy and Svinøy looking most inhospitable in the mist. Apparently the ferries to them are often affected by the tides. Our friend had recommended a trip there and back to Kalsøy on the way back from Klaksvik on Bordøy. Klaksvik is the second town of the Færoes and can be regarded as its fishing capital, Torshavn being a comercial port. It was indeed a great trip and we discovered that among the terribly high prices of the Færoes two things are cheap, ferries (at least for the ancients!) and cups of coffee – when you can find them. Viðareiði actually has two places selling it - possibly the competition accounting for the low cost.
Another trip worth mention was that to Sandøy by car ferry. One of the main features of the trip was the exquisite view of other islands-- Hestur and Koltur to the north with Vagar in the background - and Sora Dimun and Littla Dimun to the south with the much larger island of Suðuroy in the background. Sandur is less mountainous than the other islands and more agricultural but it lacks nothing in beauty. The ferry from Streymoy lands at Skopun, an attractive little harbour village. From there we went to Sandur in the south where the ferry to Skuvøy runs. Just before Sandur there is a (sort of) road to the right signed for Soltuvik. (Sort of) in the Faroes means something and at times the road is rough and calls for a cool head but Soltuvik is a beautiful uninhabited cove. On the way we went past a lake with two flocks of geese of different species and then highly 'puffinated' cliffs-- to use a word I coined!
Lastly we made a trip to Vagar. It would be a sad mistake to dismiss this as just the 'airport island.' Beyond the airport the road leads on to Bøur and Gadalasur, where there is some of the very best stack and small island scenery that we saw anywhere. On the way you pass Sørvagur where the ferry goes to Mykines. I should love to have gone to this island where our friend's brother and his partner had taken marvellous photos of puffins and skuas at unbelievably short range. Unfortunately my heart no longer lends itself to the steep upward pull to reach them and I had to be contented with the view from Gasadalur.
Even given that and the fact that we never reached some of the other islands, Suðuroy in particular, it was a wonderful ten days.
[For those interested the letter eth (ð) is practically silent, ø is like 'or' in 'work' and 'k' is pronounced as 'ch']
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