Nordicaa: Travels in the Nordic Lands – Faroe Islands

Sleet falls from the sky and lashes at our bare faces. We wince and look for the hire car. To no avail. We return to the terminal building. A security services officer asks if we’re OK, while my wife calls the car hire firm. I cannot feel my hands. The airport is surrounded by mountains so steep and so close it is a wonder the aircraft don’t hit them during their descent. The curve of the land seems as if it has been carved – albeit by volcano and glacier – with the intention of being a flight path. Sheep walk past the entrance, on through the car park. Welcome to the Faroes; life is a little different here.

After finding the car, we took to the Faroese roads: they are smooth, modern, and free of jams and tail-backs; they are surrounded by spectacular views in every direction, of mountain, of fjord and of turf-roofed homes. The largest islands are all connected by a network of bridges and under-sea tunnels, so you can easily drive from Gasadalur in the West to Vidareidi in the East; from Gjogv in the North to Kirkjubøur in the South. However, many of those roads involve single track tunnels; we were not ready for that particular challenge. Mountain passes, we could just about do, however.

Every day, it was almost a shame to reach civilisation, after being so engulfed by the land for so long

If you want to find an enemy in the Faroe Islands, look no further than the weather. I believe firmly that there is no such thing as bad weather, only a poor choice of clothing. I must, therefore, concede that my clothing choices failed me several times, largely at Sørvágsvatn. It was a beautiful day, so we decided to go for a walk. Sørvágsvatn, said to be the largest lake in the Faroes, covers the last leg of the flight path out of the country, and terminates in a beautiful, 30m high waterfall, Bøsdalafossur.

We set off on a sunny day, only to be cast in to darkness and soaked to the skin within quarter of an hour. An hour later I was extracting my foot from a bog – the twelfth of such I had encountered thus far. We stumbled on, found a giant-sized table and benches, and caught our breath. We wondered what the weather would do next; we only had a few hours, so we eventually took the most painful decision to turn back. On the return leg we crossed many bogs and any number of small streams; on one, my trainers lost grip: I slipped and fell towards the lake. I was terrified, cold, and wet, clinging on to tearing moss. In the end, we only saw the waterfall from the window of the plane, on our way home, mud now dry on my inappropriate trainers. It was the best walk, in the nicest part of the world.

We’d made it as far as Iceland several times in the past; Iceland is resolutely uncommercial, but in thrall to the tourist. I don’t think the Faroese understand that they attract tourists; I don’t think they see themselves as worthy; I don’t think they see themselves as having anything to offer. They are quite quite wrong in each of those assumptions: Their country is utterly magnificent to behold.

We walked the streets of the capital, Tórshavn, for several hours, in the rain, looking for somewhere to buy food, and drew a blank. We had duty free with us, so we weren’t going to go thirsty, but what we needed was food. Tórshavn has some superb restaurants – we had bookings for later in the week – but we were renting a flat: we needed things for breakfast, and to pack for the day. After several abortive attempts, and much Google, we found a supermarket in a shopping centre and stocked up.

The next day we tried to get a boat – we tried several times during our stay: Sørvágur to Mykines; Vestamanna to the bird cliffs – only to find them all cancelled due to stormy seas. At least we got to visit some glorious towns, and we managed not to fall down any steep cliffs on the way in to them.

The road to Eiði took us to the brink of getting lost; the path to the cliff doubly so. You drive through a picturesque village to a football field on reclaimed land. Get out of the car and start climbing. You know that the view is here somewhere, but you cannot find it. Grass gives way to moss, moss gives way to rock, rock gives way to a cliff, falling down to a roiling sea, flinging its white spume straight upwards. A waterfall crashes in the distance. This is the top of Esturoy, the top of the world, and the crashing sea almost takes your breath away. The pain of leaving this place rips a hole in your chest.

Driving up out of Eiði we eventually found the view: Risin og Kellingin; the Giant and the Witch. Two enormous stacks, set to fall in to the sea in the next few decades. I suggest you go and take a look.

High above sea level, a snow storm hit. We pulled over on to a gravel bluff and watched the crystals swoop through the air. Blue sky peeked out and flashed on my sunglasses. Mountains deep in white: we chose to drive over the top to avoid going back the way we came. The long, twisting, falling road had been uncovered from deep snow; we counted down the metres as it swung through bend after bend, straight from the Italian Job. Funningur, and it’s straight, level road was a most welcome sight.

Over many years I have made a careful study of hot-dogs across Nordicaa; I attest here that the hot dogs found in the Faroe Islands are the best I have ever tried. The Icelandic may be the classic, with the Norwegian dog on level pegging; the Danish may offer the widest variety and the most food dye; and the Swedish is really just a sausage, unless you go to Ikea. The Faroese dog is a true masterpiece.

The difference is in the toppings. The apotheosis of the hot dog comes when bun – always toasted; do not forget – and dog come irrevocably close to drowning in all of the following: ketchup, mustard, remoulade, raw onion, crispy onion (here endeth the Icelandic and Norwegian), sliced pickle (here endeth  the Danish Ristet) and pickled red cabbage. The last element gives the Faroese dog the edge. I had two from a fish and chip shop, standing in the rain, and grinned from ear to ear throughout.

That’s not to say the Faroe Islands want for fine dining. One of the best restaurant experiences I’ve had in the Nordic lands was found in an unassuming shack, hiding down the street from the fish and chip shop. Sitting next to the home of the favourite sons of the Faroes’, the Áarstovu Brothers, we had the freshest of fish, an abundance of soured cream, and full stomachs all round. Worth a visit.