Into The Wild – Part 3
For those who have been following what should have been a single blog piece, namely: Into The Wild, about the longest hike (43km) on the island of Suduroy, Faroe Isles. Well, this is finally it!
For those who haven’t read the previous pieces, please feel free to refer back to Into The Wild – Part 1 and Part 2, where you will discover why we’re doing this, what has happened so far and how we got to this point in time, i.e. hiking about 15km, each with around 17-20kg of rucksack on our backs, without yet crossing the starting line!
The good news is that we are still talking, discovering, enjoying, yet ultimately, a bit more frustratingly, we are aching!!
Having woken up weary and tired (well, I did anyway) we breakfasted in the wild outdoors, enjoying the view from our lovely not-quite-campsite, before setting off for the start line at Sandvik. Slightly perturbed by the less than up-to-date tourist maps and the apparent ‘black magic’ approach to finding buses, we sensibly decide to swing by the information office first, and subsequently the small village dock to buy camping gas for the trip…
The Faroe Islands aren’t exactly huge; there are eighteen islands in all, total population forty-ish thousand, of whom around twenty-four thousand live in the capital Torshavn. The islands are joined in some cases by bridges or subsea road tunnels, and there are also plenty of ferries. There is even, as we were later to find out, a helicopter taxi service which is almost as cheap as one of their elusive buses!
On this day, however, Jen and I had just one simple goal: to finally get started and to be ready for anything once we were on our way Into The Wild! Our fortunes soon looked a tad brighter after a chat with the owner of the gas store, who happened to be the president of the Runavik boating association. Meeting him was one of the first tasters we had of Faroese hospitality; whilst buying gas we were offered (and accepted!) a much-needed free cup of coffee, and were invited to fill our water canisters etc. as we sought advice and information from him. On the down side, and without wishing to demean his extended hand of friendship, the hospitality was so good that we almost missed our bus!
But for those of you who have made it through the previous two blog pieces about this, our tiny adventure, you’ll be glad to read that we didn’t miss it; in due course a bus driver rolled up, stopped, informed us he had to drop some people somewhere else, and assured us he would be back in half an hour or so *groan* to take us to said destination. The good news? He did actually return, and we hopped aboard like excited schoolchildren, as it seemed the never-ending list of setbacks might finally have been put behind us!
The bus driver, another pleasant chap, finally dropped us off at a very scenic village named Sandvik, where there were great views across the ocean. Sandvik has grey sandy beaches, similar to those in Tenerife except here they are totally tourist-free! The time was 1340hrs (1.40pm) and given that we had a 15-hour hike ahead of us, I found myself feeling glad, for the second time, that I’d carried full camping gear on my back through four countries. Until now it hadn’t been necessary, but I knew all that gear was about to prove essential! Even with 24 hours of light this hike simply wasn’t going to happen in a ‘regular’ day.
Jen had already foreseen this likelihood of overnighting somewhere, and looked ahead at where we might stay. In fact, looking back, other than my own general state of fitness, it would seem that everything was planned to perfection.
The beginning was a gradual incline on tarmac, so not the steepest of walks, and as we began to get into our stride the logistics of getting thus far seemed well behind us. The walk started at sea level, and the first peak of the day was Skalafjall at 374 metres. On ‘alien’ terrain we were not the fastest and a fair bit of map-checking took place on the way. We reached the ‘end of the road’, a gravel farmer’s track, in fairly good time, checked the map again and then glanced upwards to the peak… Now, 374 metres may not be far in a straight line, but on a steep gradient it looks rather daunting. To be fair, this wasn’t the most difficult we have ever climbed… probably about half that (I’m thinking of Scafell Pike, England’s highest peak), but there was no questioning the distance, as we were starting within a pebble’s throw of the North Atlantic shoreline!
One hour and thirty-five minutes after leaving that most friendly, and now distant, bus driver at Sandvik, we had scaled our first peak and I was literally floored…
It is amazing how fast time flies when you are trying to persuade your body to return to an appropriate heartbeat and breathing pace, and what appeared to be five to ten minutes later was actually an Ecoffee mug of stove-fuelled coffee later. Having regained my composure I persuaded Jen to relinquish the map for a moment so I could congratulate myself on the vast distance we had travelled… Ermmm, it was disappointing! Lol… A mere 1-1.5km from the start point. Agreed, it had been mostly straight uphill, but the maths just didn’t add up… If this 42km walk theoretically takes 15-16 hours, we should have been 4-5km into it by now.
So, undeterred, I/we get up… we have to move wiser and faster. Both determined fighters, we jump to our feet. (Can one tell when a blatant mis-truth is told in my blogs?)
Okay, so I roll onto my front, lever myself onto my knees which simply want to collapse back down again, and slowly rise up bleating the word “Baaaaaah” on my way back up to human height. Then of course I realise that the 20 kg still perched on the peak also needs to come with me, on my back! There are a few moments in my blogs that I simply can’t describe 100% truthfully for legal reasons, and my utterance as I looked down at my bergen at this point was one of them!
It is 1547hrs (3.37pm) and we are on our way again! It has to be said that the views, once I’d got myself upright, were breathtaking (excuse the pun!).
Suddenly, the aches and pains gave way to a sense of achievement and renewed enthusiasm. It’s funny; one would now have expected the downhill stretch to Hvalba to have been a relief, but despite the incredible views all the way down, the terrain was rough and VERY steep, and with the burden of equipment bearing down on my knees I developed ‘wobbly knee syndrome’. This almost amusing state of being is not quite pain, but the feeling of joints physically gyrating, making it rather awkward to stand up or make one’s legs move in the direction the brain is telling them to. But we soldiered on and after exactly one hour reached Hvalba, where we decided to stop for a bite to eat. By now it was 1647hrs (4.47pm) and I’d been getting a little concerned on the descent – as if I needed another reason to fret – that nowhere could we see anything resembling a shop, campsite or water stop!
Of course I was over the moon to discover my suspicions were correct… *Doh*. Did we miss the “village centre”? I think not – the place really was tiny. So we continued to walk until I saw what I am fairly certain was a new house build. And where there are cement mixers and builders’ equipment there is generally water (other than the salty kind that surrounded us on two or three sides!). There also happened to be, on this lifeless site, a couple of walls down to the sea which provided a perfect wind break.
“Yup, it’s time for tea!”
This was a delightful moment, which turned into a delightful two hours..
We cooked with the sun on our backs, shaded from the wind, and were able to refill our bottles with life-giving fresh water. It was a five-star picnic next to a calm Atlantic ocean bay. To be honest we could have stayed there all night, but with time pressing on it was back to the maps and a realisation that two hours was a fairly long break on such a hike. Now we had to get moving in order to make the campsite.
A second realisation was quick to follow… if we hiked the ‘tourist’ route, we simply weren’t going to make our destination in time. We required a shortcut. Yes, yes, I know that sounds like a cop-out but we were back at sea level, and more climbing lay ahead. We discussed it for a while and ermmm 30 seconds after the discussion started we were on our way.
Destination: the official route up the “Prestgata” (= Priest’s Path) which would lead us about 380 metres above sea level… again!
The odd thing about my body is that it lies to me. It says things are OK when in actual fact they are anything but. Mentally my mind is now telling me that perhaps a tad more research might have been useful before setting off. What I’d assumed would have been a great day’s hiking was rapidly turning into a Scafell-esque climb with the exception that we were each carrying almost 20kg on our backs.
If somebody had outlined such a proposal to me prior to the climb, I might have laughed, reminded them of my age, probably made an appropriate, yet sarcastic remark such as: “I could if I wanted to but don’t fancy it today”, and then fished out my phone to call a taxi.
But my body was actually urging me on and somehow!
Two hours later at 2040hrs (8.40pm), we were at another peak on the Prestgata where we stopped, dumped our bergens down next to a cairn like irritated teenagers, put water on to boil for a fast caffeine hit, and looked back at the awesome climb we’d just achieved up gravel, rock and scree. Without entirely knowing beforehand what the day had in store for us, we had ascended the same vertical distance as Scafell Pike, which I might add we have never done with so much kit! *Yayyy*. It was a euphoric moment, and now nature, as if to say “Well done!”, rewarded us with a jaw-dropping panorama that I shall not forget in a hurry.
Well, that’s the upside. The downside is that it was getting late, there wasn’t an official campsite for a few kilometres yet and this hike was turning into something of a life challenge! With few alternatives and a strong desire for a shower, we set off again towards our next “milestone” town, ironically the one we had set off from that very morning! However, if we had made it all the way there again to reclaim our random grassy camping spot, we would have been horrendously behind schedule. It was already 2240hrs (10.40pm) so Jen and I decided that instead, the campsite marked on the map at Oravik, approximately 4km further on by road, would be our evening’s resting place.
We had discussed the water situation, you know, just in case the ‘official’ maps were wrong or facilities were not available at the campsite… so as we headed along the road we kept a keen eye out for water, of the fresh, cold and salt-free variety! We stopped at the Krambatangi ferry terminal and had a nose around for free-standing water pipes. Annoyingly, I found one… I say annoyingly as neither Jen nor I could extract any water from it, so with the terminal building itself locked up for the night we soldiered on! I guess it was about two hundred yards further up the road when I nudged Jen… I don’t think Jen, who is the most patient of individuals, actually appreciated the reason for that nudge until I pointed out what I’d seen next to us in a driveway… A HOSE PIPE!
Of course there was no reason to be nervous – well, maybe there was a bit as we took water that wasn’t ours. Re: where to sleep, we were both fully aware by now that maps and timetables, whilst ‘official’ printed matter, bear little resemblance to what actually exists and/or happens. So we sauntered off with full water containers and low expectations of nothing more than our comfy tent, wherever the next stop would allow us to pitch it…
Imagine our surprise… (yes, it is getting tedious and repetitive isn’t it… darned lucky this isn’t fiction!), there was no campsite at Oravik…
I should reinforce the fact that both Jen and I are usually very patient individuals! However, I must admit that now there was a distinct, unspoken feeling that we two great friends were becoming equally fed up. Out came the maps again, and we decided to keep walking and look for somewhere to wild camp along the way. It was about a kilometre later that we discovered another mini-paradise next to the sea. A bit stony, but hey… We pitched for the night at 0110hrs (1.10am) about 100 yds short of Hovstunnilin (one of many road tunnels on the Faroe Islands, this one 2435m in length).
All seemed well and even though we were in full view of the road, we were simply too tired to care! In fact we didn’t worry at all about being “caught”, but we did get a bit of a shock in the wee small hours when a bird got between the inner and outer layers of the tent and became trapped! The bird escaped, leaving both Jenny and I momentarily traumatised at the racket that had dragged us out of our slumber, but then as I unzipped the inner tent all became clear. I was confronted by the biggest swarm of mosquitoes I’d ever seen, and as I happen to be a mosquito ‘magnet’ that meant only one thing! Ten minutes later our tent was packed away, I had “gained” 20-30 bites, and we headed off at speed to a layby over the road – a far safer spot to make breakfast!
Day 2 didn’t start until noon. We had spent a fair while looking at the official route and decided to take a detour. My estimation on how fast and far we could walk had been, at best, a guesstimate based upon how fast I walk back at home over distances of between 10-20km, how long and fast I was made to walk during military training (ermmm, over 15 years ago! Lol) and how fast Jen and I have hiked up and around mountains wearing daysacks back in the UK. It seemed my estimations for THIS trek had been quite dramatically wrong. In fact it may have been more accurate to put 10 numbers into a hat and used the first one randomly selected as our speed. We simply weren’t cutting the mustard!
After consultation we decided, against my better judgement, to head straight through the tunnel instead of over the mountain through which it passed. As I have been in charge of operations for several major UK tunnels I was fairly certain that we would get through fairly quickly, probably by way of a ‘blue light taxi
I was fairly certain that we would get through fairly quickly, probably by way of a ‘blue light taxi’
(for those who are not aware I speak of our fellow servicemen in the police force or Traffic Officer Service who would, in my day, have collected “tunnel pedestrians” such as ourselves and verbally humiliated us before giving us a free taxi ride to the closest exit!). However this was not happening for us today, and whilst blushes were saved, my legs grew more tired as we simply kept walking (uphill!) and made it through to the proverbial light at the end. Total time 40 minutes on a slight incline… We were actually doing ok! Next stop ermmm Porkeri..?
Now, I do happen to believe that somebody ‘upstairs’ tends to look after me in awkward situations and when we happened upon Porkeri, another tiny village/town, our luck was so good that we were actually suspicious. Surely the man upstairs had organised this! In front of us was a food shop (trust me these aren’t as common as one might think in the Faroes!) and after the shop a sign, not only for toilets but also showers. The public facility was by no means second-rate either but brand spanking new, which might account for why it was not on any map! Believe me when I say it was like winning the lottery, the Grand National and the Derby all at once! Such a small place and no clue as to these wonderful facilities on any map, anywhere (I should refer readers back to my Into The Wild Part 1 and Part 2 blogs rather than revisit the Faroe infrastructure again!)
Of course, with such facilities at our disposal our stay at Porkeri extended from an expected half hour to a glorious hour and forty minutes. We fed, showered and even indulged in ice cream whilst soaking up the views, which it has to be said – glorious as they are – can be seen from almost anywhere on any of the eighteen islands. Then we headed off. Our target minimum for the day was the town of Vagur, and having been spoilt rotten at our last sign of civilisation we floundered slightly. Neither of us had done any writing for some time and we actually had a real opportunity for a few hours’ recovery. Arriving at Vagur we both instinctively nodded to each other; it was as though we had picked up on the speechless conversations witnessed in Norway some weeks earlier. No actual talking or negotiating was required. We simply looked at each other, gasped ‘Norwegian style’ (a little tic we’ve noticed in the locals around these parts!) and the deal was made. The last stage of our 43km was almost in sight, but the weather was due to close in and we were both becoming weary. Our umpteenth new plan was forged that afternoon!
We called ahead to spend a night at ‘The Scouthouse’ a quaint youth hostel (on top of the hill!) but they were full that evening… however, in true Faroese style the lady informed us we could use it the following night and she would, on our behalf, call around the locality and find us a room! *Wow!* We hadn’t banked on two nights under a real roof, but with great minds thinking alike, a challenge to complete and the weather due to close in within twenty-four hours, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to work out this plan…
We received a confirmation callback within ten minutes, and then we were off to the home of a Faroese lady called Kitty! If we had been in a fairy-tale she would probably have played the part of the fairy godmother! Although Kitty did not speak a single word of English she made us most welcome and quickly headed off to the shop to organise a veritable feast for our breakfast! Meanwhile we were hatching our plan for the next day: leave our big bags at the Scouthouse the following morning, set off lightly-laden to the southernmost tip of Suduroy, return by bus that afternoon and rest before catching another bus to our pre-booked ferry… It was a plan so cunning that even Rowan Atkinson would struggle to find a fox cunning enough to outwit it – simple yet reliant on Faroese buses… *Urghhh*.
Filled to the rafters with a fuller-than-full breakfast we climbed the steep hill back up to the Scouthouse the next morning. We let someone know our stuff was there, flexed our now-free shoulders (hooray!) and then it was time to begin the last leg of our hike Into The Wild.
I think we were both filled with incredible emotion that morning. It was the first time in days we were walking without the burden of 20kg bergens, the end was in sight (well, on a map anyway) and despite our aching legs we soon hit a ‘home’ pace. We covered 4.5km to Lopra, from sea level to around 280m, in an hour!
We moved on and detoured to a cliff face above Skarvastakkur in approximately 40 minutes of climb and reached the highest point of the day, around 470m (Beinisvoro) at about 1445hrs (2.45pm). This part of the hike was amazing, even though the views were soon obscured by dense fog! We had to reach the southernmost point, Akraberg, and go back 2km to catch a bus leaving at 1630hrs (4.30pm), and it sure looked like we would make it… It was touch and go as we followed a well-trodden path and roads on the final leg but our spirits had changed and it looked as though our perseverance would pay off.
At the Akraberg/Sumba junction we stopped to consult maps.
It would seem we MIGHT make it to the southernmost tip of the island but the last stretch of road was another sharp incline. The question was, if we pressed on to achieve our goal would we make it back in time to catch the one and only elusive bus of the day? We decided to chance it… Worst-case scenario would be a cold and dreary 18km hike back to the scout house, but we simply couldn’t come this far and not give it a shot!
Determination I guess comes in many forms. For me the ‘yomp’ mode was activated! I am told that when in ‘the zone’ I can walk long distances more quickly than others can run. Pain was put to one side and I found the ‘zone’. Jen on the other hand is a fell runner, who for the last few days had been burdened with the full weight of a bergen. With the end in sight and no such restrictive force holding her back, and perhaps also with one eye on the clock, she let me get to within a hundred or so yards of the finish before finding her ‘zone’, which quickly brought her level and cruising past me at warp speed! There were only a few moments to savour the finish, take a few pictures and soak up the view before we had to get back to Sumba and catch the bus…
Sadly, that wasn’t quite the end. Although the hike Into The Wild we had set out to achieve was completed there was a moment of realization in Sumba that no bus would arrive! As with Porkeri there were excellent facilities and I suspect that the man ‘upstairs’ was looking down on us kindly once more as, Jen, looking for the correct door to a lavatory, happened in on a council meeting regarding tourism! Yup, you had to be there to believe it!
They kindly informed us, after calling the bus company on our behalf, that the bus driver would not be coming to Sumba that day! However, they were all heading back to Vagur after their meeting and we managed to hitch a lift all the way back to the Scouthouse!
The Suduroy trek is approximately 43km long, and according to the hiking guide book one should expect to take 15-16 hours walking time to complete it. Whilst we were not really interested in timings, we did mark our stop off points and times along the way and were both fairly delighted that we had completed the task, cutting a few corners but adding several more, in 13 hours and 38 minutes. And that was hot on the heels of the two fully-burdened 7km treks we had done on the two previous days before getting started…
Our time on the Faroe Islands is now at an end and whilst there is another trekking/camping adventure that I’m sure people have guessed I plan to impart, from here we are off to Iceland…
Jen’s comments to me? “Si, we’re off to Iceland next, so is there anything in particular you’d like to do?”
My reply? “Well, there’s a trek of some 80+ km that looks like fun!”
Current status: Still under negotiation!
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…