Slaettaratindur Mountain, The Faroes
I have written a fair few blogs about the Faroe Islands recently, but I hope that my incessant whingeing about their ‘out of capital’ public transport system hasn’t put people off visiting this picturesque place! There really is more to this group of eighteen islands than meets the eye.
For example, the Faroes won a major ‘sustainability’ award as recently as 2015. One magazine named them as one of the Top 10 island locations to visit in the world, and during our eleven-day visit Jen and I crossed paths with writers and photographers from both Lonely Planet and National Geographic, who had come to document some of the country’s natural wonders.
There is a tradition in the Faroes that on the longest day of the year, June 21st, people head up into the mountains, scale the highest peak, and then party and play music while watching the sun set… and rise again about three hours later! Jen and I ourselves were on our way to the top of the highest mountain (Slaettaratindur, 882m) and witnessed some of the most incredible scenery and views on that very night.
In our case, as we’d chosen an unconventional route from sea level to the summit, Jen and I did not make it in one day. We were also climbing straight on the back of our longest jaunt to date, having just finished a 43-km hike from the northern to the southern tip of Suduroy, the Faroes’ southernmost island. In fact, I would guess we completed around 80km of mountainous hikes during our eleven days on the islands, but the views were simply so stunning that even with aching bones and muscles it was hard to resist going out again!
It came as something of a shock to me just how steeped in history the Faroe Islands are, and really how odd it is that they still appear to operate under medieval laws. The total islands’ population is a mere 40,000 people, with around 26,000 of them living in the capital. But in 2015 the island was effectively hit with a landslide of tourism, as it was one of the best places to view the total solar eclipse (20 March, 2015), something we had witnessed in the UK back in 1999 in Devon and Cornwall. This phenomenon, guaranteed to draw a global audience, nearly crippled the Faroes Islands’ infrastructure which is simply not equipped to cater for double or triple the usual number of people.
I am guessing that the 2015 eclipse, aside from putting the Faroe Islands firmly on the map, prompted the government to invest heavily in their islands. Putting aside for a moment the haphazard service Jen and I experienced as tourists there, the ‘quality’ of the logistical machinery – buses, ferries and helicopters – is really quite amazing. I think the challenge they face is simply drawing in the expertise to make it all gel. In my own humble opinion and that of a few journalists and islanders we spoke with along the way, currently it simply doesn’t.
Both the islands and the Faroese people are quite amazing and once you touch base with them they seem to have an innate inclination to assist with anything one needs to know. Whether offered by people we stayed with, managers at hostels or simply nearby individuals who noticed our occasional vexed ‘lost tourist’ looks, help never seemed far away. Also the islanders, who primarily speak Faroese and Danish, have a great grasp of the English language, especially in the capital, Torshavn.
As well as being a fantastic spot to watch the solar eclipse, the Faroe Islands are a great place to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) during the winter months. In summer there are many other reasons to go – maybe not for the weather (!) but for the incredible scenery or indeed the wildlife. The island of Mykines is a puffin breeding ground, and whilst people are asked to stay away from nesting areas, it’s almost impossible to hike to Mykines holm lighthouse, the westernmost point of all the Faroe Islands, without having close encounters with these wonderful creatures.
Indeed, adrenaline junkies might also wish to go to Mykines purely to experience the ride on the tiny ferry that transports tourists to the island! Mykines is home to a population of just 12 people, so the ferry is a lifeline to the islanders and manages to stick to its timetable in some incredible sea states.
The Faroe Islands’ history, from sport to literature and everything in between, is very well documented on Wikipedia.
The country has been the home of world-class athletes and writers during its recent history, despite having such a small population. Indeed, as we found out whilst touring the islands, almost every village seems to have its own football pitch, regardless of whether or not there are enough inhabitants to put together a team! And in 2014, as a full UEFA member, it created one of the biggest upsets in football history by qualifying for the championships after beating Greece in a qualifying match!
Will I return?
I don’t quite know, as there are so many countries and places around the world I would like to visit. But as they say; “Never say never!” and I would certainly like to remain informed about how the islands’ travel network will be developed over the next decade or so. Perhaps as a transport operations manager I was just expecting too much. Perhaps I should give them a hand!
But ultimately Jen and I were there to explore, hike and expand our horizons, and I think in that respect the Faroes are an incredible place!
For the hiker, whether alone or in a group, it is a perfect spot for ‘thinking’ time, as one can literally travel village to village over numerous mountains without encountering a soul. Also, for an insomniac like me it is ideal place to visit in summer, where for several months the sky remains light 24 hours a day!
Simon Duringer is an award-winning blogger, interviewer and author. His own books can be found on Amazon too by clicking any of the following icons…