Seemingly everywhere you look there are birds: in the air, on the cliffs and hiding in nesting burrows on the hillsides.
Mykines really is something special. Geographically the Faroes’s most westerly (and driest) outpost, this rugged isle, barely 10km², is certainly the most enigmatic of the 18 Faroe Islands and the one that ranks, time and again, as the absolute favourite among Faroese and visitors alike.
Looking down the fjord from Sørvágur its craggy cliffs and hills rise precipitously out of the sea in a wall of lush green, turquoise and steely grey, the winds hurrying the clouds across the sky, changing the island’s aspect as frequently as the light.
Depending on the prevailing weather conditions, Mykines can seem bright and inviting or, at other times, sombre and threatening. Approaching across the turbulent waters of the Mykinesfjørður, which separates the island from Vágar, Mykines can appear totally inaccessible, the south coast a remarkable series of unapproachable sheer cliffs and rocky clefts. High above this wall of rock, the peak, Knúkur (560m), bears down over the eastern end of the island, from where two rocky valleys, Borgardalur and Kálvadalur, tumble down to the sea drained by several serpentine rivers.
As the land falls away to the west of the mountain, the rocky outcrops of the interior give way to a luxuriant valley of the deepest green that leads down gently to the island’s only settlement.
Some 150m below the village, hemmed into an alarmingly narrow cleft full of jagged reefs, the landing stage is regularly battered by the crashing Atlantic surf and surging waves; arrival in Mykines is not only an adventure but also something of an unpredictability, since, with southwesterly winds, the ferry may not be able to steer into the tiny harbour despite having sailed from Sørvágur with that very intention. It’s not unknown for the island to be cut off for days, even a week or so, during particularly stormy weather.
Charming though Mykines village is, it’s the tremendous profusion of summer birdlife that is the real draw here. Seemingly everywhere you look there are birds: in the air, on the cliffs and hiding in nesting burrows on the hillsides. Indeed, the western point of the island beyond the harbour, known as Lambi, is a favourite location for puffin who gather here in uncountable numbers between mid-April and mid- to late August to hatch and rear their young – Mykines is the only place in the Faroes where they are protected and cannot be hunted.
Beyond here, a narrow footbridge leads across to the neighbouring rectangular islet, Mykineshólmur, where the rock stacks, Píkarsdrangur and Flatidrangur, and surrounding cliffs are home to the Faroes’s only colony of gannets. The gannets are present between late January and October, after when the young birds migrate to Morocco for the winter, the older ones preferring to winter out at sea closer to the Faroes.
Incidentally, the correct pronunciation of the island’s name is ‘mitchiness’ and not ‘mikiness’; armed with this fact you’re bound to impress the locals.