Exploring the Faroe IslandsPhotos, videos and words by NorthSouth
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.
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.
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.
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.