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Faroe Islands - The author’s take
Attention all shipping. The Met Office issued the following gale warning to shipping at 17.25 GMT on Monday 23 January. Fair Isle, Faroes, southeast Iceland: northerly gale force 8 expected soon, veering northeasterly, increasing storm force 10 later.
Shipping forecast, BBC Radio
Arguably best known for their dramatic appearance in the BBC shipping forecast, the Faroe Islands are one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. Wild, wet and windy, these 18 volcanic islands, far out in the North Atlantic, are mercifully still off the main tourist trail. Travel here and you’ll discover a different world – a world of austere beauty where crystal-clear mountain streams cascade down verdant hillsides dotted with turf-roofed homes, their timber walls painted a mêlée of reds, yellows and blues; a world where sea cliffs, teeming with birdlife, plummet precipitously into the churning Atlantic below; a world where the sea is all-powerful, giving and taking away.
This geographically isolated land of towering layer-cake mountains and deep rounded valleys, sparkling fell-top tarns and shorelines gnawed into countless craggy inlets is of such elemental wonder that first-time visitors soon become ardent devotees, returning time and again to the Faroes, one of Europe’s last places. True, the weather can be unreliable, even downright inclement at times – but the good news is that conditions in the middle of the Atlantic change fast, so you’ll never have long to wait for a glimpse of the sun. There’s sound logic behind the Faroese saying: ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes!’ The quality of the light in the northern sky, which attracts countless artists to the islands, and the purity of the air are perhaps two of the most difficult things about the Faroes to qualify on paper – visit, though, and you’ll soon appreciate this most alluring side of island life.
Suðuroy © Erik Christensen
Thanks to regular air links to no fewer than five European countries and a new ferry plying the waters of the North Atlantic, it has never been easier to reach the Faroe Islands. Whether you’re looking to hike across tussocky moorland landscapes to imposing lighthouses perched on rocky promontories, watch seabirds in their natural habitat atop vertical cliff faces or simply island-hop around the Faroes exploring traditional villages and hamlets as you go, you’re sure to find an itinerary to please. This is a country where gliding across narrow sounds and fjords by mail boat or skimming scree-topped pyramidal peaks by helicopter are just two of the options for getting around. Travel in the Faroes is not only well integrated, but also incredibly good value. Given the rigours of the climate, quality of life is important to the Faroese; consequently, the islands’ infrastructure is well developed, accommodation is warm and snug and eating out throws up an array of options – everything from pan-fried puffin breast to whale meat could be on the menu alongside more conventional dishes.
As a Scandinavian specialist, I have not only travelled widely across the Nordic countries but have also lived and worked in the region. I speak several Scandinavian languages and have, over the years, developed an extensive network of friends and colleagues throughout the Nordic area. Based on this experience, it is with great pride that I recommend a trip to the Faroe Islands; this is still one of the few places in Europe where life moves at an enviably sedate pace and where the forces of nature and vagaries of the climate mean everything to the people who live here. A visit to the Faroes is a marvellously rewarding experience. All 18 islands are waiting to welcome you. Open your eyes and enjoy.
Ever since mistakenly studying Swedish at university (I actually signed up to do Spanish but went to the wrong lecture room), I have been fascinated by the Nordic countries. Although they share a common history and culture, they are remarkably different from each other and a visit to one Nordic nation only whets the appetite to learn more about the others. Despite the Faroes being the least well known of the Nordic family, like many people, I felt I somehow knew them before I even went there. Their name was buried somewhere in my subconscious after all those mentions of the shipping forecast on the radio. However, it was with a certain degree of trepidation that I approached the docks in Aberdeen one stormy afternoon in 1992 and set eyes on the alarmingly small boat that was to take me across the North Atlantic to the Faroes: all that talk of northerly gale force 8, increasing to storm force 10 later, certainly gave me second thoughts. Indeed, Smyril bobbed like a cork on the truly enormous waves all the way up to Tórshavn. After arrival, I ate dinner with friends and watched as dense banks of fog rolled their way up the street outside our window, engulfing cars and entire houses. Later, the fog was to vanish as quickly as it had appeared, giving way to brilliant sunshine which bathed Tórshavn and the surrounding hillsides in the golden light that is so typical of the northern sky in late spring. I soon realised that I was somewhere quite extraordinary; the combination of wild weather and unforgiving landscape in the Faroe Islands is like nowhere else. After that first trip to the Faroes, I soon became a devoted fan of these 18 remote, windswept islands lost in the North Atlantic and quickly added them to my list of special places.