Weather permitting, state-funded helicopters are the way to travel between islands (they are said to be among the cheapest in the world) and a number of islands are connected by dark, eerie sea tunnels. You can try the small ferry boats too, but as with the helicopters, these can be delayed or cancelled if the wind picks up. We soon discovered this on a trip to the western-most isle, Mykines, where all manner of sea birds can be viewed up close and personal on a cliff top hike to the sole lighthouse. Oyster catchers, puffin, fulmar, gannet and great skua pictures aplenty for me, but no boat to get us back to our homely guesthouse on Eysturoy. Just nine people live on Mykines in the winter and it’s pretty remote; thankfully we were well looked after by our hospitable guide who took us to his summer house to enjoy coffee and cake before the boat turned up two hours later.
The Faroese are an understandably hardy bunch – they are fiercely independent and protective of their cultural heritage. Puffin, fulmar and whales are all on the menu in this harsh climate where very little grows, but they are careful not to deplete stocks – whale meat is shared among the villagers and is not sold for commercial gain. Don’t let this put you off – the food on the islands was surprisingly good – warming fish soups, dried lamb and rhubarb desserts and preserves (rhubarb grows well here) were all very tasty, plus vegetables and fruit are of course now imported. In Torshavn, we were treated to a gourmet dinner at newly-opened Aarstova where delicious lobster bisque can be found on the menu.
Torshavn is the capital and home to almost half of the island’s total population. Here, the pace of life is a bit livelier, especially at the weekends in the summer. There is an old town, with protected timber houses that date back to the Middle Ages, and the only shopping centre on the islands. A highlight is the contemporary Nordic House, with its slick Scandinavian design, which plays host to a number of cultural events annually.
The Faroes are known as the land of maybe – ‘maybe the boat will come, maybe it won’t’, ‘maybe the weather will change, and maybe it won’t’. ‘Maybe’ does not apply when it comes to the unforgettable scenery and proud national identity of these atmospheric islands.