Exploring the Faroe Islands

Photos, videos and words by NorthSouth

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Sitting inside a cosy old pub on an archipelago somewhere in the North Atlantic, I’m beginning to realise that we’ve just arrived in one of the most bizarre places left on the planet. Outside the window a row of brightly coloured Viking-style huts line the street, with their distinctive grass–clad roofs catching the last rays of the day.

Inside the pub, locals chatter excitedly in their strong Nordic accents and the scent of free-flowing all-malt lager fills the air. If it wasn’t for our brand new road bikes lying seemingly abandoned on the opposite side of the road you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a scene from a recent Vikings episode.

Anywhere else in the world and a couple of unlocked bikes on the side of the road would be gone within a matter of minutes but the dishevelled looking character behind the bar assures us that crime doesn’t exist in this part of the world. “You can even leave your keys in the car here in the Faroes”, he tells us, struggling to hide the pride in his voice. “But if you’re still worried, you can take them down the road to the hotel”.

Having just made the 51-kilometre trip from the airport, hauling a kayak, kiteboard and film gear on our bikes, our bodies have decided that they’re not moving any further until they’ve been properly nourished – and the foreign smells coming from the kitchen are too good to refuse.

And so it begins. We start our 51-kilometre ride from the airport to our accommodation in Torshavn, the capital city of the Faroe Islands.
Left: Beautiful scenery on the road into Torshavn but with almost 50kg of gear on our bikes, neither of us is in the mood to truly appreciate it. Right: After what was probably the hardest 3 hours I’ve ever experienced on the bike, we finally arrive at our Airbnb in Torshavn – home for the next 14 days.

Created by volcanic eruptions some 55 million years ago, the Faroe Islands are an archipelago of 18 spectacularly crafted igneous rocks that rise high above the ocean somewhere between Scotland and Iceland in the North Atlantic. Originally settled by the Vikings in the 9th century, there are now roughly 50,000 of their descendants living on the islands along with 100,000 sheep and one of the most diverse bird populations in the world.

Due to their geographical isolation and relatively small population, the Faroe Islands are arguably one of the most unspoiled landscapes left in the world. For me, it is undoubtedly the most moodily beautiful place I have ever laid eyes on.

Riding into the capital city, Torshavn, on what was apparently one of the more unremarkable roads, it was impossible not to become completely overwhelmed by the huge moss-green landscapes that surrounded us. Emerging from the sea of low-lying mist that seems to perpetually engulf the Faroes, a series of dramatic treeless precipices soared towards the sky and filled us with excitement for the next 14 days that we were going to spend exploring.

Climbing out of Tjørnuvík on our first morning in the Faroes. The two rock formations on left of the photo are known colloquially as the Giant and the Witch. The story goes that they were turned into stone as they were trying to steal the Faroe Islands and bring them back to Iceland.
Our first midnight ride of the trip – here we are at Gásadalur on the western side of the island of Vagar.

Deep ocean tunnels connect some of the 18 islands that make up the Faroes but many of them can only be reached by ferry or helicopter, making a cycling trip around the islands a logistical nightmare. To solve this problem we decided to bring along a kayak and kiteboard that we could use to make the crossings between the islands where and when it suited us – weather dependent of course.

Up until the 20th century, the Faroese people could only move around on foot and in small wooden rowboats so it seemed entirely appropriate that we too would be exploring these mystical islands using only human power.

It didn’t take long for the strange mix of sporting equipment lying in front of the pub to attract the attention of the locals. Before finishing our meals, we were joined by a couple of local fishermen, curious to know what we were up to. We told them of our plan to bike, kayak and kiteboard around as many of the islands as possible in the next 14 days and asked them if there was anything we should be worried about. The bewildered look on their faces said it all.

We begin our first crossing of the trip from Gjogv, on the northern tip of Eysturoy, to Kalsoy – one of the most remote islands in the Faroes with less than 100 permanent inhabitants and ferry access only. Midway through the 12-kilometre crossing I’m really starting to regret not doing more kayaking before the trip. Riding bikes is a piece of cake compared to this!
After a 12km kayak, 20km road ride and 2km MTB ride we finally reach Kallur Lighthouse on the northern tip of the island of Kelsoy. Not many people get to see this part of the Faroes but it’s definitely worth the effort!

I don’t think there is anywhere in the world where the people have such a deep and reverential connection with nature than here in the Faroes. Living so far away from the rest of the world, the Faroese people have learned to fend for themselves in some of the most wild and unpredictable environments known to man. They appreciate nature and what it has given them but above all, they respect its power.

Before parting ways with our new friends, we promised that we’d pay close attention to the weather forecasts and that we wouldn’t tempt fate by going out when the conditions aren’t favourable.

Apart from the precarious road tunnels that connect the islands and the notoriously unpredictable weather patterns that plague the North Atlantic, the Faroe Islands are actually a near-perfect cycling destination. Picturesque paved roads cover the majority of the islands, snaking through rugged mountain ranges and joining up the hundreds of tiny fishing villages that occupy the coastline. And as we quickly discovered, you can basically ride everywhere in the Faroes with a network of gravel tracks and sheep trails providing access to anywhere that the road doesn’t take you.

There aren’t many places left in the world as wild and as remote as the Faroe Islands and as it turns out, the bike is the perfect tool for exploring them.

One of the many switchbacks on the road out of Oyndarfjørður. The best thing about riding in the Faroe Islands is that you can ride on roads like this for hours without seeing a single car.
Another shot of the climb out of Oyndarfjørður.
As if riding through pitch-black tunnels wasn’t daunting enough, some of them are only wide enough for one vehicle so you’re forced to give way to oncoming traffic. Luckily there’s not much traffic but it’s still a pretty scary experience.
Bikiting (verb) – the action of kiteboarding with a bicycle on one’s back. After hours of patiently waiting for the wind to pick up, Dave begins his arduous 11-kilometre crossing.
Our second crossing of the trip from Vagur out to the island of Mykines. This photo makes it look easy but I can assure you that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The struggle was all worth it. Say hello to the island of Mykines – home to 14 permanent residents and about 100,000 sea birds.
There aren’t any roads on Mykines. Just sheep, puffins and beautiful single track like this.
Hundreds of thousands of puffins flock to Mykines for the summer months.
Making the most of the sunny weather on Mykines. Out of our 14 days in the Faroes, this was the only day where it didn’t rain at all during the day.
Another incredible road on the island of Streymoy, just outside of Torshavn.
Climbing out of the tiny village of Norðradalur on the island of Streymoy, one of the steepest but most beautiful roads in the Faroes (1.9km at 11.2%)
Just because the road ends, it doesn’t mean that you need to stop riding. Here we are at Sørvágsvatn Lake on the southern tip of the island of Vagur.
Our weapon of choice for our two-week jaunt around the Faroes – the 2018 Specialized Diverge. Fast on the roads but still versatile enough to take over the bumpiest of gravel tracks and sheep trails.
Riding through the beautiful hillside village of Saksun on the island of Streymoy.
After a quick visit to the beach at Saksun (only accessible when the tide is out) we decide to head back to Torshavn before the weather takes a turn for the worse.
At the beginning of our 66km loop around the island of Eysturoy – aka road cycling paradise.
A typical moody landscape in the Faroe Islands. This is what it looks like 95% of the time in the Faroes.
We should have probably turned around at this point. This particular day we crashed twice, got lost, broke a chain, broke a drone and to top it all off, we spent the final 20km getting sent backwards by a 40-knot headwind!
Dwarfed by nature on the descent into Hellurnar on the island of Eysturoy.
Hiking over the mountain between Oyndarfjørður and Elduvík so that we didn’t have to retrace our steps. You can basically go anywhere in the Faroes as long as you respect their property and close the gates behind you.
After about an hour of walking our bikes we stumbled across this amazing piece of single track on the edge of the island. Thanks to the thousands of sheep that scale these slopes, there are tracks like this everywhere in the Faroes.
Strangely calm weather conditions on our last night in the Faroes but we weren’t complaining. Off to the pub to celebrate making it out of this place alive!

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