When it comes to dramatic landscapes they don’t get much more impressive than the Faroe Islands. Paul Kirkwood enjoyed the views.
I thought that only TV presenters went in helicopters on holiday but in the Faroe Islands everyone can travel in the ultimate style for the cost of the previous night’s pizza. My son and I had taken a bus and an hour-long ferry trip to the remote island of Fugloy, the most north-easterly point of the wild North Atlantic archipelago, for a walk and caught a chopper back to our start in the islands’ second town, Klaksvik.
Watching the helicopter appear in the far distance, knowing it was coming to get us was truly thrilling to say nothing of the unforgettable 11-minute flight that followed.
As the figurative credits rolled at the end of our week’s holiday we were treated to a parting view of the layer-cake mountains and cliffs that, along with the turf-roofed houses, so characterise this freakish landscape.
Claiming the highest wi-fi speeds in the world, the Faroese pride themselves on their levels of connectivity. Perhaps being so far from their roughly equidistant neighbours, Iceland, Scotland and Norway, makes the need for internal connection all the stronger. The helicopter fares are so cheap because they’re subsidised by the government and, since the mid-2000s, the principal islands have been connected by tunnels up to four miles long and with others, even larger, under construction. Dimly lit and with roughly hewn rock walls, driving through them takes some getting used to which was why I was stopped in the middle of one by the police shortly after departing the airport for driving too slowly. If you’re not stuck behind me you can drive from one side of the islands to the other in less than 90 minutes.
The Faroese’s passion for tunnels is matched only by their zeal for football grounds. The country’s population of 50,000 could fit inside Anfield yet the nation still boasts about 20 first-rate stadia that would be the envy of many top non-league sides in England. The pitches, invariably boasting artificial turf and spectacular settings, are among the few flat areas of ground in these precipitous isles and, for a football fan like me, provided plenty of extra points of interest.
Braving the somewhat moist elements and getting up into the hills and onto the cliffs is what this holiday was really all about, though, as we found out in particular during a day exploring the western island of Vágar. We walked above the shore of Lake Sørvágsvatn to the top of the 367 metre-high cliffs. With the wind whistling around our tightly drawn hoods, we felt very on edge in more ways than one. The view inland was bizarre. The lake appears to end abruptly as if it’s an infinity pool next to the sea. Closer inspection revealed the thundering waterfall that provides the connection. You feel very small in spots like this.
In the afternoon we visited another, even more remarkable location, Gásadalur, a tiny farming community located in a bowl between two mountains and, again with a spectacular waterfall, linking freshwater to brine. Until 2004, the only access was via the postman’s track over the cliffs or, being in the Faroes, by helicopter. A single-track tunnel with passing places (I didn’t enjoy driving through that one either) has since been constructed through the mountain. Gásadalur may no longer be remote (it’s only 20 minutes by road from an international airport) but is certainly remote-feeling. Time and again on this trip we found ourselves remarking that, while yes, it is possible to live in these places why would you want to when I imagine most people don’t need to? On the island of Mykines, famed for its bird life and which we visited the following day, new houses are under construction in the sole settlement, a smear of red on the greenest landscape. Strangely, many houses also lay empty.
The capital, Tórshavn, has the size and feel of a market town to it. While we were eating fish and chips on arrival I read the guide book to realise only then that we were sat in the heart of the city, yards away from the inconspicuous city council and parliament buildings as well as the lawn where the national festival, Ólavsøka, is launched every July.
“I recognise those English accents,” said a chap approaching us. (You don’t get many Brits in the Faroes). “Do you know that the Danish royal family are here today? Their yacht is in the harbour. You must go and see it.”
And so we did. The Faroe Islands are part of the Kingdom of Denmark and the royals were making one of their four-yearly state visits. Our unexpected brush with royalty came when the motorcade of the Crown Prince and his young family passed us while we were waiting for our bus back to the hotel.
Their itinerary included a cruise to Fugloy and an ascent of the same peak that we scaled on our last day, all of which explained the paper Faroe Islands flags unceremoniously stuffed into the bin of the small office that served as an air terminal. A yacht? Pah! We had a helicopter.
North Yorkshire-based travel company Inntravel (inntravel.co.uk, 01653 617000) offers self-guided walking holidays to the Faroe Islands from £1,140 sharing, including seven nights’ bed and breakfast accommodation in characterful hotels, three dinners, seven days’ car hire and walking route notes and maps.
The only flights to the Faroe Islands from the UK depart from Edinburgh twice weekly in the summer for about £250 return. You can also fly to the islands via Copenhagen. atlanticairways.co.uk.