So, with ten days to play with in this beautiful collection of islands, we decided that to save on funds, we'd do lots of trekking and camping. We knew the average temperature so far north would be about 12°C, and that the sky wouldn't go properly dark at all – no problems there! However, we were also aware that the Faroe Islands – in their ultra-exposed location in the north Atlantic – are often lashed by ferocious storm-grade winds that can easily blow a tent off a cliff... making them a less-than-ideal camping spot! We were exceptionally lucky with the weather, though, and enjoyed some superb vistas from the comfort of our little tent...
We did do some long treks, including a 43-km one from the top to the bottom of the southernmost island, Suðuroy. See Simon's blog for the full story! http://simonduringer.com/on-my-travels/into-the-wild/ It was treks like these that nudged us to leave a few bags of stuff at the airport for the whole time we were there... otherwise we'd have been as weighed down as this guy:
I reckon that'll all change soon, though. When we chatted to a lady at the tourist board, we realised they're aware that a big influx of tourists may be imminent and know they need to make some changes! The transport infrastructure is excellent; travel between all the islands is possible via roads, tunnels, bridges, ferries and even helicopters (which barely cost more than the bus!). However, it’s a real exercise of coordination getting all the times to match up so you don’t end up stranded somewhere for hours, or even overnight! In fact the tourist board lady kindly gave us a lift when the last bus of the day hadn't turned up... we were waiting at a "request stop", which meant somebody needed to ring the driver in advance to ask him to come and get us.
On the one hand, that human touch is absolutely lovely; it's kind of fun to stand in the vague vicinity of a village's only bus stop and flag down the driver. And we found the Faroese people extremely kind and keen to help in any way they could. On the other... that kind of system is just not going to be able to cope with hundreds of tourists passing through every day, so fingers crossed it can be adapted before people begin to flock to these beautiful islands.
If I had to name three things that (to my mind) are very symbolic of the Faroe Islands, they'd probably be puffins, turf roofs and sheep! I believe the locals eat puffins, horrific as that is to my mind. Simon and I went to the easternmost of the 18 islands, Mykines, to camp and trek, mainly because I'd heard about the thousands of puffins that breed and nest there, and couldn't wait to see them! And goodness, they really were everywhere; we were constantly walking within a few feet of them. They're incredibly cute, grumpy I believe, and only about a foot tall... I was amazed!
The turf roofed-houses in the first three photos below are a) centuries old and derelict, b) "rustic" in a village, and c) modern (the white one), on the outskirts of the Faroese capital Torshavn. The fourth shows "Roykstovan", a 900-year-old farmhouse/museum in the village of Kirkjubøur which has been home to the same family for 17 generations, and is thought to be the oldest wooden dwelling still inhabited today. See http://visitfaroeislands.com/see-do/sightseeing/ for more details on this and all the islands!
As for turf roofs in the 21st century, it's even possible to have an immaculate lawn topping your house rather than a tangle of wild flowers, as long as you don't make the roof too steep! Sooner or later somebody will need to get up there and walk around on top with a mower... or you could get a sheep to graze up there, if your house happens to be built into a hill! And yes, we really did see one :)
Most of the houses we saw in the Faroe Islands actually had metal roofs: cheap, easily replaceable and usually painted in a nice cheerful colour contrasting brightly with the white-grey sky. The corrugated metal is MUCH lighter than turf, so for modern houses this is a far more practical option than shoring up the house framework to cope with the weight of turf plus bark plus rainwater... plus snow in winter! However, looking at some of the flimsy-looking roofs and houses, I did wonder how they withstand the ferocious Atlantic gales and storms that are part and parcel of life in the Faroes...
And then there are the sheep! Far outnumbering people (70,000 sheep for 49,000 people), and here's Simon chatting with one or two ;)
There's great potential in the Faroe Islands for exploiting tidal, wind and hydro energy, thanks to the country's high hills, windswept cliffs and many miles of coastline. There's a brand new wind farm, and there has been extensive research into the sea currents around the islands, not least by foreign investors and companies seeking test sites for tidal power projects. SEV, Faroe's main energy supplier, has its sights set on 100% renewable energy production by 2030, and won the Nature and Environment Prize in October 2015 at the Nordic Council Awards, Reykjavík, for its ambitious targets and innovative efforts in producing and promoting renewable energy. I don't know how this country will be able to generate substantial amounts of energy from tide movements while also protecting the stocks and breeding patterns of the fish that are the lifeblood of its main industry. Let's hope they'll find a way though, and then maybe other countries with abundant coastline (like the UK!) will start taking notes!