I was trudging my way up the Kollur headland in Eysturoy island to see the lighthouse 352 meters high and visibility was hazy. A thick fog had settled and the vista I had hoped to enjoy was hidden.
This was not unusual in the Faroes, a huddle of 18 islands in the inhospitable waters of the north Atlantic between Norway and Iceland and not far from Shetland. And surprisingly, a mere two-hour flight from Blighty.
The weather was a chilly 9°C, warm compared to the usual 3-7°C. The skies are grey with distant mountain peaks hidden in swirling clouds. It was a foreboding rocky scene of infinite unrelenting green that gives off an almost tangible air of mysticism.
When the odd rays of sunshine doused the landscape with their yellow hues, as they did as I ambled back down, the splendour of nature’s greener-than-green tors, hills and layered-cake mountains seemed almost miraculous in contrast.
At eye level there were interesting things to see. The ruins of St Magnus’s Cathedral that was abandoned when Lutheranism became the religion in this Viking land in the 16th century. The brightly coloured buildings are fun to look at. They are made from driftwood or imported wood and finished with pitched roofs laid with grass for insulation. I visited the grass-roofed Roykstovan, the world’s oldest continually inhabited wooden house, home to 17 generations of the Paturson family.
Johannes Paturson, a farmer with 300 sheep strewn around the surrounding hills, welcomed me. Over lunch of Faroese delicacies such as whale blubber and wind dried cod – I naturally opted for the latter, he told charming stories about Huldufólk (hidden people). They say that when things go inexplicably wrong (or right) it is the work of these fabled creatures.
Life revolves around his herd. There are around 55,000 on the islands; white, black, tan and various shades of grey, outnumbering the 50,000 or so inhabitants. The sheer number of them has left the landscape treeless. The soil is thin and so trees don’t stand a chance because in any case “the sheep eat everything”.
The Patursons are of Viking descent living on the Danish owned Faroes autonomously since 1948. Legal tender is the Danish Krona but they have their own Faroese language, cuisine and culture. Being mistaken for Danish is nothing short of an insult.
It was at Dúvugarður in the picturesque though misty village of Saksun, that I got a sense of how life once was. A small house where a farmer and his family lived, has been preserved and turned into a museum for posterity. The heart was the smoke room where food was cooked and wool was woven. Wool was and still is their gold and the women would weave while their men folk tended the flocks.
And weaving wool into jumpers has brought TV fame. Though you may never have heard of the islands beyond the shipping forecast, viewers of BBC’s The Killing will have seen Sarah Lund wearing a selection of jumpers (especially the snowflake and star patterns) designed and made by Guðrun & Guðrun in the capital, Tórshavn, on Streymoy island.
They’ve made quite an impact. The Radio Times has even produced a knitting pattern and a Danish store has been threatened with legal action for selling replicas.I almost bought one until I saw the price tag — 280 euros.
Exploring the archepelago by sea is a sensational way to see wildlife. So stretching my sea legs, I set sail in The Nordlysid schooner a multi-masted tall ship, to the island of Nólsoy where a clutch of just 40 people live.
Later, I transferred to Vestmanna for a boat trip out to the island’s cliffs and narrow channels. I spotted a couple of seals but was disappointed that I only got to see the odd puffin to two, birds that famously live (and are eaten) on the Faroes. The stacks are incredibly high and the boat ventured deep into caves so we could see nesting guillemots and terns.
Faroes are not for beach lovers as there are none to speak of and the lack of sunny days does not bode well for sunbathing. But there is a small beach at Gjógv where I saw with some incredulity, a couple of keen swimmers dipping in waters no more than 8°C.
The days are long here. The hands on my watch indicated that evening had fallen but the sky did not darken. The midnight sky was bluish and clouds blushed in the pink evening light.
I was glad for the simplicity of this trip. There were no designer shops. Only those selling woolly jumpers, no spas, blaring bars and just a smattering of gastronomic restaurants.
All I needed was a good pair of hiking boots, warm clothes, stamina to climb those hills and to trek across the vast headlands just for the sheer delight of capturing nature at its purest – — and perhaps catch a glimpse of the Huldufólk too.
FLY: Atlantic Airways operates a summer from Gatwick/Vágar. Fares from £242 return. www.atlantic.fo
STAY: Hotel Forayar
PACKAGES: Sunvil Discovery offers three and four-day holidays in the Faroe Islands. www.sunvil.co.uk