A visit to the Faroe Islands mainly for photography had been on my wish list for a while and with my eldest son keen to go too, that wish became reality. So where are the Faroes? – they are a Scandinavian country about half way between Norway and Iceland, 200 miles north of the British mainland and with a population of about 50,000, about half of who live in Tórshavn, the capital. The people originate from the Norwegian Vikings, and while the Faroes belong to Denmark, they are self governing and have their own Parliament. They are not part of the EU and their main industry is fishing. The main islands are now linked by undersea tunnels and a bridge (between Streymoy and Esturoy) and some small villages are linked to the outside world by tunnels blasted through mountains making getting around by road easy. The trip had required careful planning as there is little tourist infrastructure and we nearly tripped up a couple of times as a result of this .
So to get there, we flew by Atlantic Airways from Edinburgh. They are the national Faroese airline but only have three planes and two helicopters. Edinburgh is the only place they fly from the UK and only on a Monday and a Friday. We left at 13:45 and arrived at the small airport at Sørvágur on the island of Vágar at 15:05; the much lower temperature was certainly a shock, but the weather was fine! We collected our hire car, a small Suzuki Swift and were off, driving on the right in a left hand drive car feeling quite strange. We’d decided to make for the small village of Tjørnuvik on the island of Streymoy first, a very scenically beautiful location surrounded on three sides by mountains, with views of the two sea stacks Risin and Kellingin, 71m and 69m high respectively.
We then took an exceptionally scenic road to the small village of Gjógv on the north coast of Esturoy stopping on the way to climb up onto the ridge for a fantastic view of the Funningsfjørður. Gjógv is blessed with a guest house that has a campsite nearby complete with restaurant open from 07:30 to 21:30. We put up our tents then found we were too late for dinner but did enjoy a cold platter. After dinner, there was time to climb onto the cliffs behind Gjógv and watch the beautiful sunset. It was then time to retire to our tents.
I awoke early after a fairly fitful sleep owing to the unfamiliarity of being in my tent, bird calls through the night and the fact it never really got dark. The sky was blue without a cloud and we enjoyed a pleasant breakfast at the guest house after a walk around the village.
It was then time to drive up to the pass on the road to Eiði so that we could climb the Faroe Islands highest peak Slætaratindur, 882m high. The climb was hard work straight up the steep slope to start with, followed by a more gradual climb contouring across the slope, culminating in a bit of a scramble at the end. The effort was well worth it as the views across the whole of the northern Faroes were exceptional. We had the summit to ourselves and stayed there some time drinking in the view and taking photographs. It’s obviously a popular walk as we passed quite a few people going up as we headed down.
With most of the afternoon left, we decided to drive through Eiði to the village of Saksun on Streymoy, a beautiful village hemmed in by mountains. We walked past the freshwater lagoon to reach the open sea but not wanting to be cut off by the tide didn’t linger too long.
It was then time to drive to Klaksvik, the second largest place on the Faroes, and where we wished to spend the night. This entailed driving through the 6.3km long undersea tunnel linking Esturoy with the island of Borðoy, an interesting experience. We’d intended camping at Klaksvik, but the site was closed. With only one hotel in town, our only option was to try there and to our dismay was told it was full, as was the nearest hotel about 15 miles away. Luckily the receptionist took pity on us and offered us a basic room, which wasn’t normally used. It was fine though and a bit of a lifesaver as in the Faroes you can’t just pitch your tent anywhere and have to use designated campsites for camping. There are very few restaurants in Klaksvik, but we found a steak house for dinner then drove up a hill west of Klaksvik to see the amazing views of the island of Kalsoy, our destination the next day.
After a good night’s sleep, we had a nice buffet breakfast in the hotel then decided to go to Kunoy village on the island of Kunoy before catching the ferry to Kalsoy. This involved driving through a 3km single track, unlit road tunnel bored through the mountain, a slightly nerve racking experience! However, like in all such tunnels, one direction has priority and a vehicle going in the other direction has to pull into one of the passing places provided if necessary. Kunoy village was tiny, hemmed in on one side by soaring mountains and the sea on the other; there were good views across the channel to Kalsoy. We were back in good time to catch the 10:00 vehicle ferry to Kalsoy; it was quite small and we had a few anxious moments as to whether we’d get on. Luckily all the waiting vehicles just fitted and the 20 minute crossing soon passed. Kalsoy is thin, about 17km long with a chain of mountains down the middle that have been eroded into cliffs on their west side. It just looks as though the island has been sliced along its length and its west side removed. There are four tiny villages, with a total population of about 70, and the single track road linking them passes through four road tunnels along its length. We drove to the second village Mikladalur, notable for its seal woman sculpture anchored to rocks on the sea shore.
Then through the last 2248m road tunnel to Trollanes where there were children playing in the street. From here, we hiked to the lighthouse at Kallur on the northern extremity of Kalsoy and admired what must be some of the most spectacular views anywhere in the world. This required care as there were some incredibly high vertical drops to the pounding Atlantic Ocean below. The cliffs were a mass of nesting seabirds wheeling around.
On return to Trollanes, we bought coffee and ice cream from an unlikely refreshment kiosk that opened ‘on demand’ and drove back for another look at Mikladalur. On the way, we couldn’t resist stopping deep in the 2248m long tunnel to take photographs, a slightly surreal experience with the car headlights illumintaing the road ahead.
We caught the 16:40 ferry back to Klaksvik and drove across the Faroes to Miðvágur on the island of Vágar and our campsite for the night, attached to a youth hostel. This proved to be something of a bargain as our tents had a lovely sea view and we could use all the hostel facilities. Finding somewhere for dinner was a challenge, but we happened upon a pizza restaurant, which at least sated our appetites!
Another beautiful start to the day and probably the best day of the trip. We walked out to the spectacular cliffs at Trælanípa and then scrambled down over rocks to the Bøsdalafossur, the waterfall that drops to the sea which is the outlet to the large freshwater lake Leitisvatn. The lake has the illusion of being at the same height as the sea but its level is in fact some way above it, hence the waterfall. The whole area is spectacularly beautiful and we lingered long to drink it all in.
By now clouds were gathering as we hiked back to the car and we resorted to visiting the nearby war museum while we decided what to do. I hadn’t realised that British forces were stationed on the Faroes in WW2 and they in fact built the runway, which later became the airport. By the time we left the museum, the weather was fining up; it changes amazingly quickly in the Faroes! We drove to the picturesque village of Bøur with its view of the sea stacks off Drangarnir and the strange sharks fin of an island called Tindhólmur. Then through the long tunnel only opened in 2006 to the small village of Gásadalur and its incredible waterfall plunging into the ocean, probably the most iconic view in the whole Faroes yet inaccessible by road until the tunnel opened. We took some very steep rather exposed steps with a loose and corroded handrail down to the rocks below for other views.
Afterwards, we walked along the cliffs into the village where we were pleased to find a cafe serving tea and cake. Driving back to Sørvágur, we found a decent restaurant that provided us with the best meal of the whole trip. Then it was back to our tents for our final night.
Incredibly we woke to another beautiful day, slightly saddened that this was the day we were going home. Our plane to Edinburgh was not until 12:25 so we had time to drive to Bøur to see the sea stacks off Drangarnir and the island of Tindhólmur in the morning sunshine. We took off on time with many a regret that we had not seen everything, but then we were never going to in the time we had available. A notable omission was not visiting the Faroes capital, Tórshavn; we preferred instead to concentrate on the more mountainous areas in the north where the best photography was likely to be had.