It was in May 2006 when I got on the aircraft taking me to Copenhagen and the further on with the local carrier to the Faroe islands. This group of islands are scattered about in the north atlantic. If you draw a line from the northernmost point of Scotland straight to Iceland you will find the Faroes in the middle of this line roughly. Or you may explore them on this map here.
The name is Old Norse and means ”sheep islands” which is a very descriptive name. The language is a branch of Old Norse, grammatically close to Icelandic but when spoken reminds very much of some western dialects of Norwegian. I saw Faroese and Icelandic people speak with eachother and did not have much trouble understanding each other. I had quite some problems understanding spoken Faroese but written was easier and some words, though no longer in use in Swedish, were very similar to the dialect spoken in the part of Sweden where my father grew up which I learned to speak when I was 9.
Even though the Faroes are now Danish and Denmark is part of the European Union the Faroes is actually not, when Denmark entered the Faroese declined and remained outside the union. In this matter they are independent and people I spoke with said jokingly that this was due to the fishing restrictions put on by the European government wich would spell disaster for the Faroese people who has it as their main income source. Apart from fishing there are sheep farming and that is about it. Most other people work with supporting the fishing industry one way or another and there are very limited other natural resources on the islands that could sustain their economy.
In the whole Faro islands there are less than 50 000 inhabitants. All villages and the city of Tórshavn is located along the coast lines. The islands are quite mountainous and inhospitable and the wind is a constant reminder of the harsh climate. However, because of the sea the temperature is very moderate both in the summer with cool breezes and rain and in the winter the temperature drops but never hits the really cold temperatures that we sometimes suffer here in Scandinavia. On the average winter temperatures are around 5°C and in the summer they lie around 10°C so you see people wearing the traditional wool sweaters not unlike those of fishermen in the north of Norway or Russia all year around.
The weather is constantly changing it is like it goes through phases and likes to throw tantrums. One day we were driving back from the job and the car was suddenly hit by a wind gush from the side and with it came driving rain. It rained so hard that the road was difficult to see even though it was broad day light. The next day in the paper we saw that a lorry had blown off the road in the place where we passed. As we drove the other way we saw the people trying to salvage the lorry, it had fallen off the road onto a spread of land just below. The driver was apparently a little shook up but otherwise unharmed. He was lucky though, had he gone through the fence in any other place he would have ended up falling 30-50 meters straight into the cold water of the north Atlantic. This is a serious hazard that actually kills a number of people every year in the islands.
They had the same saying here as they had in the north of Norway in Narvik when I was there, ”if you do not like the weather, just wait five minutes”. And it was true of course, we had during one days rain, cloudy, sunny, calm, very windy and then a rain storm and in the evening we had nice and calm weather again. Very interesting.
Hiking the hills of the islands is quite popular both with the locals and as tourists. Though the winds may pose a hazard there are not very many other hazards you could encounter and it is a great opportunity to take some brilliant landscape photographs. However you should be aware that a reasonable physique is required to climb the Faroese hills, they can be steep and challenging. The old people there has a special walk where they keep their hands on their back and never walk directly in the direction of the incline, instead they walk in S shaped curves slowly scaling the hills and once up they love to have a coffee.
A lot of people keep sheep and apart from fish sheep meat is the main source of protein in the Faroese diet. Whale meat and blubber is also traditional but not as common any more perhaps of the restrictions of whaling (or just because the taste is a bit… difficult unless you have grown up to like it).
The flight was great, when we were about to land we flew in through this canyon-like gorge between two of the islands and then landing on Vágar airport, the only international airport in the Faroes. From there I got picked up by car and we drove to Tórshavn, the capitol city in the Faroes. Tórshavn literally means ”the harbour of Thor” and it is the main city of the Faroe islands. The Vágar airport is located on a different island and was built by the British troops during the later part of the WW2 when they occupied the Faroe Islands in an attempt to establish dominance in the north Atlantic sea.
The landscape is very different from the forests that I was used to. There are virtually no trees, the few I saw was planted in gardens in Torshavn and in the countryside there are grass, moss, lichen and shrubbery mainly. Perhaps a few other plants and flowers and the rest is taken care of by the grasing sheep. It is a common sight to see people break for sheep on the roads. The sheep don’t seem to mind the cars much at all they just wait for them to go past.
In the last years the focus on infrastructure has been high and several tunnels between the main islands has opened. There are two mobile telephone operators on the Faroe islands, FT (Faroe Telecom) and Kall (pronounced roughly ’kathlh’, the double-l sounds is very distinctive in Faroese).
The driving rain and the darkening sky, in the afternoon. The sun should still be up for several more hours but the weather is really bringing everything down on us now. On the Faroe Islands the ran does not fall from the sky above, it is driven by the wind side-ways and hits you from all directions at once. In some ways it is like being inside a car wash when it goes of. Freezing chilly north atlantic water dashing from the side. An umbrella is of course totally useless, you need layers and layers of good clothing and nice sweaters. And stay indoor in the worst.
The rain is like thick velvet curtains and a thousand needles at the same time. As soon as we step outside the car the door is grabbed by the wind and almost ripped from our hands.
Still the water is not angry or upset, we look at it for a few moments, not sure what to think. The next though that enters our head is that we have in 3 seconds gone from cozy in the car to soaking wet even with our trusty Gore-Tex clothes. The only thing keeping us warm now is the traditional wool sweater.
The temperature is not that bad actually, around 12C but the wind makes every raindrop feel like a needle of ice. Too many of those and not enough fireplace and you’d be done with.
We start hoping the car won’t break down before we get back to Torshavn and the nice hotel with the lovely lady in the reception. And the chef who wants us to try his seven course menu. The thought of this drives us back in to the car, wiping down the camera with a towel and laughing.