The Faroe Islands

In the middle of the North Atlantic ocean lies the Faroe Islands. A destination that has always resembled something magical to me, both with its remoteness and it's treeless landscape. During my years of studying landscape architecture I've become close friends with Casper, a fellow landscape student and just as much of a nature lover as me. He spent 2 years of his childhood on the Faroe Islands with his family in the early nineties and hasn't been back since. In the recent years he must have felt an urge to return and he began talking about this with me. In December 2015 when collaborating on an landscape architecture project, we collectively decided that we'd go and experience The Faroe Islands together. It was not until the airplane escaped the thick fog and the green and rocky land appeared below us that we realised - we are here. 

 

 

 

Day 1 - Tórshavn & Velbastaður

Although we arrived in the afternoon, we still like to call it our first day. From the airport in Vágar we took a shared cab and got dropped off in Tórshavn to pick up our car - the most important asset to the trip! From here, eager to explore, we drove up past the house where Casper grew up and then continued down one of the many curvy roads, all of which were almost entirely concealed by the heavy fog. We stopped to gaze at a waterfall or a vivid stream, which we later found was Kaldbaksbotnur. I won't forget that feeling of standing there on the soft moss, inhaling what has got to be the worlds freshest, purest air. 

We drove to Argir, a little community next to Tórshavn where we'd spent the next 5 days in the home of friends. After dinner we drove to Velbastaður where we encountered the first herd of sheep. There are many stories of the sheep here, but a fact is that there are more sheep than there are people on the Faroe Islands. Another one concerns the name of the islands, which comes from the Old Norse word for sheep - Fær. So Faroe Islands means the islands of sheep. 

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Day 2 - Kvívík, Vestmanna, Sørvágsvatn & Gásadalur

After a perfect sleep, a fresh shower and a strong cup of coffee we set off on our first real day of exploration. We brought with us packed lunch, actually we'd bring one every day, since we'd find ourselves pretty much in the middle of nothing around lunch time. All around the Faroe Islands there are pretty much only one main road, snailing around the edges of the coast or through long narrow tunnels, that allow you to pass from one side of the mountain to the other. En-route to Sørvágsvatn we drove by Kvívík where two geometric cabins are hiding a few hundred meters off the road. We made a stop here, circling the houses at a distance, in respect of the people who'd supposedly rented them. We drove on and made around 5-6 stops more before reaching our hiking path. There are just so many scenic places everywhere and not knowing better we'd stop every time we saw something of interest. I personally really like the freedom of doing this and loved how we both wanted to drive and stop, drive and stop, drive and stop - all the time. Never in a rush on the Faroe Islands.

               
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We hiked to Sørvagsvátn, an easy route marked by a narrow trail for the first passage. Getting closer the path slowly fades out, however at this point you're right in front of what you came to see. This place is best described as a floating lake and it is crazy amazing. Casper is afraid of heights, so naturally he'd walk with great caution and a good 10m distance from the edge. However, one really has to pay close attention around here as falling off the edge could easily become a reality. We ate our packed lunch in the open and took the same way back as we'd come from, this time walking along the lakeside. 

In the car on our way to Gásadalur I started to think about the the Faroese landscape. What is it about this nature that is so captivating, so different, so drawing? Like I already said, the Faroes are stripped of trees. According to Casper, the sheep are to blame. As they were brought to the islands a long time ago, they lived of the bark, slowly killing all trees. This might be true, because the only places where we've seen trees are in fenced patches of land, where trees are safe from these hungry animals. But the most amazing thing about there not being trees is, that the landscape is totally revealed. It's naked. Exposed. One can see every little crack and every folds of the hills. Traces that in most other cases either are non-existant, due to urbanisation or covered in dense woodlands. Here it's raw and pure. Knowing this however, there are only two percent of the land fertile enough to grow crops. This is why vegetables and fruits in the supermarket are only fresh once a week when they arrive from Denmark by ship. Besides the nudity of the landscape, what I also found myself fascinated by, was the colours of the landscape. It ranges from lush green to a warm yellow to a crisp curry to a range of beautiful browns. It's Earthy and faded, and there are no huge bridges, neon lamp posts or other destructive elements around to break the serenity of this colour palette. And frankly, the white clouds and the fog really have a way of interacting with this whole perception of the Faroese nature.

 

Day 3 - Mykines

Friday was our long planned Mykines day and we were incredibly lucky with the weather. We went on this trip in May, which is normally quite a good month to go, weather-wise. On the day that we went to Mykines it was particularly good, having all blue skies and full sun for the entire day. And what a beautiful day it was! Initially we'd hoped to go to Mykines by helicopter, however there were no seats left for the two of us. Instead we went by a little ferry, passing Tindhólmur on our way. The Atlantic ocean is a powerful one, and during the 45 minutes of sailing, the waves took us for a rollercoaster ride that left me a bit on edge. However, arriving at the foot of the harbour, seeing the roofs of the houses reflecting the sunshine and the green hillside raising in front of us, I soon forgot everything about my unforeseen sea sickness. 

Mykines is a true gem with trails leading to and from the infamous 100 year-old lighthouse at the tip of the most Western point of the island. But what really makes this island special is the puffins - the cutest little creature with bright orange beaks and black baffling wings! 

 

Day 4 - Hósvík, Æðuvík & Nes 

Hósvik is one of them little villages you pass by. It is right on the edge of the main road when heading towards Eysturoy. It has perfectly aligned little boathouses, wooden pillars in the water placed in a small grid and a mole where one can look over to Eysturoy. Of course there are other roads to venture out on than the main ones. When picking up a map at the tourist office, several routes are highlighted as 'Buttercup routes' and marks the more scenic drives through more narrow, sometimes just gravel roads. What's so nice about these is the way they look at a distance. It sometimes looks as if the asphalt has been rolled out across the terrain, following it's curves and bends. 

 

Day 5 - Eiði, Funningur & Gjógv

On the tip of Eysturoy lies a small village named Eiði. This is a place where locals go with their campervans and it is a very popular one actually. I understand why. It is absolutely breathtaking. There is a small fjord cutting off the village of Eiði and the camping site and when standing by the seashore looking onto the countryside, the church guards the place. To the Faroese this camping site is set in a very scenic environment yes, but they're so used to these views. Now what makes this camping site better than the rest of them, is the green fake grass that provides an underlay for it all. It is located on an old football pitch. It is interesting to think that Faroese people, who are ever so used to these entities of fresh green everywhere they go, find a fake green field appealing. It's steady, free of sheep crap and it's a solid green with no natural nuances or small rocks peeping up. Now that's luxury to some. I just loved the contrasts there - a solid green plastic field with the hillside as a sort of background.

 

Being the landscape architects that we are, we were eager to go see Gjógv. It has one of the best natural harbours in the Faroes, located in a gorge in between the steep moss-covered cliffs. The main land at the top and the surface of the water at the bottom is initially connected with concrete steps, turning into a ramp, consisting of wooden beams with narrow iron tracks on the side of it. At the foot of the harbour the underlay is paved and a little nook shapes a perfect place for a little rest. We stayed here for a good 20 minutes, hiding from the rain, drinking a cup of hot coffee, whilst watching the waves knock on the sides of the gorge. 

On the image below you can see the ramp leading down to the harbour, but most importantly you can see how it is situated in the gorge of the cliffs. 

Besides the spectacular natural harbour, Gjógv has the most adorable village with multi-coloured houses and there is a small stream running down the middle of the village. I think Gjógv has got to be my favourite village of the Faroes. The church too is very pretty with a bright green roof, however it is situated right next to a concrete warehouse making it less picturesque, compared to other churches weave encountered. Gjógv also draws hikers to the place. A trail leads one all the way up to the very top - a route which is both scenic and safe - a fence marks the edge of the cliff. When hiking here I got this speciel feeling of being very much present in the now, feeling both very tiny and very free. A feeling that sums up what these islands are to me.

Going to and from Gjógv one passes Funningur. The road leading to the village is such an impressive sight - it's the infamous zig-zag road. The way it's been put out, emphasises the landscape and the steepness of the hills encompassing the little cluster of coloured houses. Of course we had to make a stop just to admire this sight, and then wait for a bus to get out of our picture and finally, we'd drive down the Z road ourselves. 

Being outside almost all day in such a windswept place, one feels extremely exhausted in that really great way by the end of the day. The 3 hour hike and plenty of more hours being outdoors for us that day, really hit hard and the car ride back home becomes a very sleepy one at that. We' d been recommended a seafood restaurant in the centre of Tórshavn, so after having returned to our home-away-from-home and had a quick shower and some cookies, we went to Barbara's and had a well-deserved meal. We had monkfish ceviche, kingfish and fresh new potatoes.

 

Day 6 - Saksun

After breakfast we packed our things to head for Saksun - a location I was very excited to experience. It is located at a more exposed location geographically and Faroese people say that there is a 3-5 degrees drop in temperature here and much stronger winds. The weather in general is a mystery that every Faroese person is trying to solve. It constantly changes, from one extreme to the other. So even in summer one has to pack for winter. 

We had borrowed a house in Saksun and when picking up the keys from the owner she gave us instructions as to when and when not to go for walks around the area. The tidal waters are not to be messed with - a few people have stranded further out and never made it back. So we payed close attention and noted us down the times of when to leave and when to return to the house. Also, we were given some very vague directions on how to find the house, which of course took us on a small detour. The little red house on the right was ours.

Saksun has the most beautiful black sandy beaches and tall waterfalls. The rain came as we walked out during low-tide and it was funny to see how we got completely soaked on the back, but remained dry on the front. The rain is another phenomenon, as it doesn't always fall from above. It can rain from the side on the Faroe Islands, and I've heard that it sometimes snows upwards too. Saksun doesn't have much to offer other than a few farm houses with green grass roofs, one of which is a museum, a church and the large valley. We really took it slow whilst staying in Saksun and enjoyed our view from the house. 

 

Day 7 - Klaksvík & Múli

So on this seventh day we originally wanted to head out to Trøllanes, however the weather and ferry departure times were absolutely not with us. As we arrived to Klaksvík, where the ferry was supposed to take us to Kalsoy, a thick fog covered everything around us and it started to snow. Plans changed and we went for a drive to Múli where we meet a herd of snow-covered sheep.  

 


Day 8 - Tjørnuvík

A little bit further North of Saksun lies Tjørnuvík - a small village at the bottom of a creek, surrounded by mountains. Every inhabitant has a view of the two rock columns, penetrating the surface of the sea. They are called 'Risin og Kellingin', meaning 'The Giant and the Hag' which is an old Faroese legend. At a distance they look fairly tiny, however they are actually 81 and 68 meters high! So try to imagine what the cliff next to them measure... Next to the village is a big green field with lots of wooden beams aligned in rows. I'm not sure what these were, but they looked like some sort of land-art piece.

In Tjørnuvík you'll find another natural harbour, which to us looked slightly more rough. The waves were extremely high, and it was hard to imagine being able to dock there. The rhythm of the sea is quite captivating to just stand and watch. To us, the harbour was just a framework for observing the breathing of the Atlantic Ocean.

 

It is difficult to conclude anything else but feeling completely cleansed. This trip really opened my mind as to how small we are, and how powerful and enthralling nature is. I feel both inspired and refuelled, just thinking back and looking at the pictures from this journey again. I hope that they succeed to inspire others too. All I know is that the Faroese people are kind, warm-hearted and have such a grounded energy and exactly these traits can be found in the landscape too - and eventually in ourselves. 

 

 

Itinerary

Day 1: Tórshavn & Velbastaður
Day 2: Kvívík, Vestmanna, Sørvágsvatn & Gásadalur
Day 3: Mykines
Day 4: Hósvík, Æðuvík & Nes
Day 5: Eiði, Funningur & Gjógv
Day 6: Saksun
Day 7: Klaksvík & Múli
Day 8: Tjørnvík