BootsnAll Travel Network

Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands have got to be the most unusual place (terrain wise) that I have seen on my trip. Not only is the complete and utter lack of trees striking enough (even deserts have small shrubs, but not here) but the lack of variety of other flora is also unusual to me. The whole island is covered in a type of grass which now is brown but in the summer must turn the islands emerald. (It reminds me of a science fiction story I once read. An alien that came to Earth was amazed at the trees as it’s planet had only grass.) Outside of the capital of Torshavn (which is the largest city about 20000 in a nation of 48000 and sits in a broad plain) most of the the towns consist of 1000 people or less. It sits at the ends of fjiords or in small flat areas on the water that back up into steep hills (mountains highest point is 2894 ft). Torshavn is just now starting to develop a small suburban area as people move here from the outer villages. The villages are full of single or double story brightly colored wooden buildings. Each village also has an old wooden or stone church with an attached graveyard.  The people all speak Faroese language which is descended from Old Norse. Their alaphabet has a few extra characters like ø, æ, å which I have great trouble pronouncing along with lots of accent marks. Due to the rugged terrain, the road system that connects the islands consist of steep two lane roads and many  long tunnels. There are also ferries to islands not connected by tunnels.

Now that you have a good background on the island, back to me. When I finished at the library, I decided to take the tourist office lady’s advice and do my first hike (7 km) that afternoon to the town of Kirkjubøur as the weather was good. Here that means partly cloudy and not raining. I took a bus to the start of the trail which started out as a cement path through a sheep field. The path soon ended and had mud tracks going off in several directions with no indication of which way to go. The first one I picked ended in the middle of the field. I had better luck with the second that headed up the grass covered hillside. Soon I came to some cairns that marked a path that seemed to go in the right direction. The path led up over the hill to the top. I got great views. I could see the snow covered mountains of the nothern part of the main island of Streymoy. In front of me was the island of Hestur with a narrow strip of ocean between it and me. The entrance to the waterway between the islands was guarded by a small island that consisted of a single mountain peak rising out of the ocean. The path soon descended down the hill to Kirkjubøur. I somehow lost the trail and had to navigate through a series of fenced in sheep fields to get down to the town. The town consisted of a few houses. The main attraction here is the remains of an old cathedral that was started in the 13th century. It was never finished as the country converted to Lutheranism during the Reformation. There is no roof, but there is some old stone artwork still visible. The setting is quite dramatic with the ocean and cliffs in the distance. I got a ride back into Torshavn with some of the workers doing restoration work on the cathedral. I went to bed early that night as I wanted to catch an early bus the next morning.

In the morning, I left the hostel around 7:00 and walked to the bus terminal which is also the ferry and international ferry terminal. At 7:55 I boarded a bus heading for Oyrarbakki where I would have to change buses to reach my final destination of Gjogv. The ride out to Oyrarbakki was very scenic, traveling along the edge of a fjiord and then through a very long tunnel. Once we exited the tunnel, I could see the snow capped mountains of the northern parts of the islands. Once in Oyrarbakki I had a six hour wait for my next bus. I could have taken a later bus, but I wanted the chance to look around a bit. Leaving my bags at a gas station. I walked down through the small town to the old church on the edge fjiord and back to the gas station. This killed about an hour. Back at the bus station, I saw another bus and its driver just hanging around. I found out he was going to the village of Eloi 12 km away on the edge of the fjiord. Looking at my bus schedule I realized that I could go there and be back in time to catch my bus. I told him I would go and since I was the only passenger I got on and we left. The bus did stop later to pick up one girl. I spent the next 4.5 hours in Eloi looking around. The weather had cleared up and I got some stunning views looking out over the cliffs at the fjiords end. You could hear the ocean pounding upon them. Looking the other way down the fjiord I could see the highest peaks in the Faroes covered in snow. My last hour in the town was spent watching some workmen build a new harbor for fishing boats. I then took the bus back to Oyrarbakki.

Making it just in time for my bus transfer, I boarded, this time a minivan, for the small town of Gjogv. (Just so I won’t overuse the words stunning, magnifcent, beautiful, I will just say that there are no bad views here and just from now on say mountain or cliff.) The road wound its way up a mountain and then through a tunnel The tunnel exited into the interior of Eysturoy which is the island on which Gjogv sits. We then turned off onto a small road which climbed back up into the mountains into the snow zone before descending once again into the U shaped glacial formed valley in which Gjogv sits. I got out of the bus and checked into my hostel, which I found out is no longer a hostel. Prices have been raised accordingly making this the most expensive night on my whole trip so far (about 58 dollars and this is after the owner gave me a discount). The dorm was interesting though as it was arranged in what was a traditional Faroese style. There was a large central area and individual sleeping compartments built into the wall with sliding wooden doors for privacy. The Internet was free as well. After checking into the hostel, I set out to look around the town. As I said before, the town sits at the edge of a U shaped glacial valley on the ocean. The peaks that make up the top of the valley are covered in snow. In the distance another island can be seen with steep snow covered cliffs rising out of the ocean. (It is apparently unusual to have this much snow in April so I am lucky. It is all at the higher elevations so I can enjoy it without having to walk through it. I got enough wet shoes from walking in snow in New Zealand.) On the edge of the town was a path leading up through some sheep and fields (the islands are full of sheep) to the edge of a cliff where one could see birds nesting in grottos. The way was steep though and I slipped on the way back down.  I then headed to a small canyon on the edge of the town. (The name of the town means canyon) There is a railroad track laid down into it on which boats are brought down. The surface beneath the water in the canyon was so pretty I just stared at it for a while. I never did figure out exactly what could make it so blue. It almost looked painted. The water was clear, but the stone bottom looked to be made up of blue stones. This was probably a trick of the light and water though. It was now getting late so I returned to the hostel to eat. As the hostel no longer had a self service kitchen (and I had brought food to cook), I ate a bowl of  thick asparagus soup and bread for supper from the restaurant. My eating was interrupted when the hotel owner pointed out that the cliffs on the nearby island were turning red in the setting sun. I ran outside to take some pictures as the effect didn’t last that long as the sun slid behind the valley.

Even though I had orignally planned to stay two nights in Gjogv the costs I was racking up persuaded me otherwise. I started the day at the breakfast buffet which was included and filled up on fresh baked breads, various salamis, and the first milk that I have drank in nearly 9 months. (Asia really doesn’t do dairy very much.) I went outside again to look around the town  as the bus back to Torshavn wasn’t leaving until 3:30 pm. The sky was nearly cloudless which I think is a rare sight here in the islands. The blue sky stood out in a very nice contrast against the snowy peaks. I spent most of my remaining time reading at the hostel or walking around on the rocky beach. I did return to the canyon a few times to stare at its amazing bottom. The bus arrived on time and I and another guy who I had met on the Norrøna got on for the ride back to Oyrarbakki. This time the bus took a different route back over the mountains instead of through the tunnel. We passed right by the island’s tallest peak. One can normally climb to the top and this is actually a very popular thing to do in Gjogv, but as it was currently covered in deep snow I decided against it. In Oyrarbakki, we changed buses and arrived in Torshavn in the evening. Before returning to the hostel I went to the tourist information office and made a reservation at the hostel on the southernmost island of Suouroy in the small town of Øravik. (population about 60. For those who know some French ø is prounounced like ouef in French meaning egg. There really is no English word I can think of that has this sound.) I decided to go to this island as it appeared to offer some snow free hiking and had a hostel that was open and actually still a hostel. I also got some maps of trekking routes on the island. After the tourist office, I went by the bank to try to make a money transfer to pay for shipping my camera, but it was closed. My evening was capped off with a walk through the oldest part of Torshavn where the government offices sit. Many houses in the area have sod roofs. In the small park at the end of the pennisula, there is a picture of what Torshavn would look like if all of Greenland’s icecap melts. It looks to me that mostly just the government offices would be flooded. Maybe a good thing depending on who you ask. I also stopped at the Red Cross Book Exchange and got some more books to take with me to the island.

In the morning, I headed down the ship/bus terminal to take the 9:30 am ferry to my next destination. The ferry was quite large and looked to be maybe a third of the size of the Norrøna. The trip took nearly 2 hours. The day was nice and I got good views of several of the smaller islands as we passed them. (Some of the 18  islands of the Faroe Islands are just single mountains rising out of the ocean also covered in grass, but no sheep.) The ferry docked in the town of Tvøroyri which is the second largest town on the island (population 1100). I had about an hour before catching the bus to Øravik. Finding a bank that was open, I made the money transfer. I then sat to wait for the bus. After speaking with a driver on another route, I found that my schedule was no longer valid and the bus was twenty minutes later than my schedule showed. I passed the extra time getting a new schedule printed for me at the bus office. I also discovered that the next day was a holiday and all buses would run on the Sunday schedule all weekend. This meant my sightseeing plans would have to be somewhat curtailed. My bus finally came and I checked into the hostel in Øravik which also has a hotel section. The hostel is actually a detached house with numerous rooms. I had the whole place (the whole hotel in fact to myself.)

As the weather was nice and it was still early afternoon I decided to try to do one of my planned hikes. It was supposed to take four hours and start in Øravik. As with all my hikes I have done here it took a while to find the beginning as it wasn’t well marked. I had to ask a local before finding the start. There wasn’t really a path to walk on and I had to follow stone cairns that had been set up along the way. The first part of the walk went through sheep fields and involved a 1500 foot climb to the top of a ridge of Øravik. The walking was hard as the ground was still soft from all the recent snow melt. The last part of the climb to the top of the ridge was pretty steep. Once at the top, I stopped for a while to let my heart stop pounding in my chest and looked out over the ocean. The next part of the walk involved a descent from the ridge into a U shaped valley and a walk out between two small lakes.  I made the steep descent okay, but soon realized that I was following the wrong trail of rocks when I noticed I was heading away from the lakes instead of between them. I saw the rocks I was supposed to be following and romped across the fields with sheep bouncing  indignantly out of my way to get back to the right path. I walked in between the lakes (which were artificial and created for power generation.) and began a 600 or so foot climb up the other side of the valley. In the distance there was a mountain topped with a rock formation that looked like a castle. The trip to the top this time was more difficult than before as it was rocky. Once at the top, a small plain spread out in front of me. Despite my coming to the south island to avoid snow hiking, I managed to get some in my shoe anyway while walking across a small remaining patch. At the end of the plain, the terrain dropped sharply down to Vagur the largest town on the island (population 1400). The steep descent took me past what was to be the only clump of trees that I saw on the island outside of yards. They weren’t even really trees more like gnarled shrubs and were planted there for some unknown reason. Once in Vagur, I caught a bus back to Øravik.

The next day didn’t quite work out the way I planned. My original idea was to head toward a town called Hvalba and do a hike that was recommended to me. I had to wake up early to catch the only bus to that town from where I was staying. The weather which had been great was starting to take a turn for the worse and it was windy and cloudy. I waited in the wind, but the bus never came. I waited until the hotel opened and asked one of the staff what schedule the buses were using. It turns out that they were running the Sunday schedule on Friday as well. I decided I would try to hitchhike to the town. For those concerned, the island is small and has not many people. It would be hard to drag me off somewhere unknown as there aren’t many roads. I waited outside in the wind. Cars were sparse and all seemed to be going in the other direction. When one finally came my way and didn’t stop, I decided that doing the hike wasn’t worth the trouble and spent the day reading an interesting book. That night in the hostel, three other people showed up. They were brass band musicians going to a brass band convention/concert the next day. For those interested there are 8 brass bands in the Faroe Islands (it might be a Trivia Pursuit question).

 The morning the clouds were even thicker and lower, but after hanging around the hostel all day before, I really wanted to get out and do something. I decided to go to the southernmost point of the Faroe Islands near the town of Sumba. I caught a bus to Sumba. Like other Faroese towns it sat on the water at the base of hills. There was a very interesting cliff formation nearby and a rocky island off the coast. Once off the bus, I walked the three kilometers or so the end of the island. It drizzled on me the whole way and was very windy. I spent a few minutes looking at the lighthouse and the birds nesting in the cliffs and then headed back to town as the rain was picking up. Back in town, I had over three hours to the next bus (Sunday schedule; not many buses and I had planned to spend more time there, but the weather was getting worse) Everything in the town was closed so I wandered through the town a bit, I am sure looking strange, wandering up and down the streets of this small town when everyone else was inside. I finally got tired of looking at the ocean in the light rain and decided to try my luck at hitchhiking again. I was in luck and the first car picked me up. The guy was going to Vagur which was about halfway back for me. Even if I had to wait for the bus, at least there would be more to do and see. We talked on the ride back and I found out that he was a lighthouse inspector. There are three of them and they are in charge of the 27 lighthouses (another Trivia Pursuit question) in the Faroe Islands. He dropped me off in Vagur. I walked to the edge of town to try my luck again. This time it took longer (about 30 minutes, again not many cars going my way) but finally and older man picked me up and dropped me off at my hostel. I didn’t learn any trivia from him as I don’t think he spoke much English.

My last full day here started out just as cloudy as the one before, but without rain. Seeing this I decided to get one more hike in. I caught the bus to the town of Nes where the trail started. To my surprise, there was actually a signboard at the start of this hike. As I stood there reading the board, three sheep came running over to me and stopped about 10 feet from me and stared at me. This was a bit unsusual as they normally go away from me not toward me. As I started up the hill they followed me for a while. Whenever I turned to see if they were still there, they stopped and munched on grass  (sort of the sheep equivalent of looking around and whistling as if nothing unsusual is going on I guess). When I started walking again here they came. They finally got bored with this game or found some extra special grass and finally fell behind. The trail started again with a 1000+ foot steep climb out of the valley in which Nes sat. When I reached the top, a high plain spread out before me.  From here I could see several of the other islands. The view wasn’t that good though as the clouds were low in the sky. I walked along occasionally looking over my shoulder to see if the sheep were still stalking me. As before the trail was marked by a series of stone cairns. I stopped at one and ate a sandwhich I had packed with me. At the end of the plain, the trail descended steeply to the town of Tvøroyri. During the descent I heard sheep bleating from the next hillside over. I thought they might be signaling my position to the other sheep, but they never appeared. The trail ended at a gravel roadway that took me between some sheep pens. (Most of the sheep freely roam.) The pens had several ewes with lambs some just beyond newborn. Once back on the main road, I looked at my bus schedule and saw that the next bus wouldn’t be by for 4 hours. As Øravik wasn’t more than 9 kms away, it was faster for me to walk back. I walked a while and then decided to try to get a ride back. The second car picked me up. This time it was a young guy that whisked back to Øravik in about 10 seconds (not that I thought it was my place to tell him to slow down.) I spent the afternoon reading and working on the blog.

After packing my bags, eating, and cleaning up around the hostel kitchen, I headed off to the ferry landing. I had decided to walk as I still had more than an hour and it wasn’t that far. As I walked down the road the ferry was coming in and we arrived at the ferry terminal at about the same time. I boarded the boat and bought a salad to eat. The boat left on time. When we entered the Torshavn harbor, it was interesting to pass by the Norrøna which had been docked there since this morning. It dwarfed the boat I was on. As the Norrøna was in the spot where the ferry normally docks, we pulled into another slip and all passengers had to exit through the car deck. Once back in town, I set about running my errands that I needed to complete before saying farewell to the Faroe Islands. I went to the Red Cross Book Exchange, dropped off my finished books, picked up new ones, and then bought some more food for my upcoming Norrøna trip. There is a tax free shop on board the Norrøna, while still very expensive, is cheaper than buying food here so I only bought what I couldn’t find there. I am currently at the library where I am finishing up this entry. In about two hours, I will board the Norrøna for the overnight journey to Iceland where I will spend two weeks.


1. More Faroe Island facts: The islands have been inhabited for 1400 years. The first people were Irish Monks looking for solitude in the 600’s, but they were kicked out about a century later by the Vikings who stayed for good.

2. Like always, you can tell when I have access to free or cheap Internet as the entries are always long. This one surprised me at its length when I was finished.

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