The shoreline of the Faroe Islands is almost entirely composed of steep and dangerous cliffs. For most of us, these dramatic rock faces are something to take in at a distance, but traditionally they’ve been active sites of hunting and foraging. Fowlers climb up and down, using massive ropes to reach fulmar and puffin nests. Although no longer a necessary food source, collecting eggs and netting birds on these cliffs is an important part of Faroese heritage. A couple of years ago, the clothing brand North Face sponsored a trio of professional climbers on a trip to Cape Enniberg, one of the tallest sea cliffs in the world. The resulting movie contains beautiful scenes of the Faroe Islands and touches on some of the traditional climbing practices.
This blog comes from a fascination I have with people and places of the North: isolated islands, extreme landscapes, remote villages, and people that have found a way to live and even thrive in those environments. I find inspiration in travel, but also in the stories that other people document and share about these places. I recently discovered a book that could not be more perfectly aligned with these interests: Faces of the North by Ragnar Axelsson. Through stunning black and white photographs, and richly concise essays, this book documents the lives of people in Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland.
The sale of alcohol was banned in the Faroe Islands until 1992, but today it’s home to one of the coziest tap rooms I’ve ever visited: Mikkeller in Tórshavn. The Copenhagen-based micro-brewery has locations around the world, but almost all in large cities like Berlin, Oslo, or Stockholm. By contrast, Tórshavn is Europe’s smallest capital with barely 13,000 residents. The bar is housed in a beautiful 500-year-old home with low beams and a turf roof. Just steps from the harbor, in an old part of the city, the light brown exterior stands out from the cluster of black buildings nearby. Together they make up the Heima í Havn area, a restaurant group featuring some of the best dining in the country.
When I told a colleague I was planning a trip to the Faroe Islands he had two questions for me: 1. Had I seen their insanely picturesque football fields? and 2. Did I know about The Faroe Islands Podcast? Both were news to me. By the time I learned about the podcast it was already nine years old, having begun in January 2009 after the journalist Matthew Workman noticed a visitor to his blog from a country he’d never heard of. It was all down the rabbit hole from there. The internet didn’t have that much content about the Faroe Islands back then, at least not in English, so Matthew started blogging and podcasting about it.
There’s something wonderful about putting a name on a letter and knowing it will find its way to a remote destination, passing hand-to-hand until that person can open it. Of course today we send messages around the world in micro-seconds, but for me that only heightens my wonder of the physical post. It’s not just a technical feat, but a complex set of systems and people overcoming geography, weather, and Murphy’s law; there are many steps and many people holding that letter along the way. I want to share more about my love for the post, including how I started collecting Faroese stamps. But today I want to point you elsewhere, to a beautiful story the BBC published in 2018 called “Tales from the far-flung Faroes (The people who live on remote rocks in the North Atlantic) by Christian Petersen”
We only had a week in the Faroe Islands, when we visited in summer of 2018, but I gained a good sense of the country by traveling to its farthest corners. We went to places at the extents of the cardinal directions, like the westernmost island of Mykines, home to a single village where fewer than a dozen people live year-round. We visited Suðuroy, the southernmost island, plunging downward through mountains to find the comparative metropolis of Sumba, housing 240 people at the bottom tip of the country. The northernmost settlement is Viðareiði, nestled in a mountain basin on the island of Viðoy, with stunning views of its neighboring isles to the west, their finger-like tips extended in procession. All of these are remote places, but nothing compared to the one point on the compass we didn’t manage to reach: the easternmost village of Hattarvík, on the island of Fugloy.
The Fair Folk podcast, hosted by Danica Boyce, is “devoted to bringing folk tradition to life” and features numerous episodes on the traditional music of Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and other places of interest to this blog. It’s not her first, nor her latest, but as an introduction to her work I would suggest The Wailing Of The Old Timers – Tvísöngur and Iceland’s Hidden Folk Music Past as an example of the deep research Danica shares with her listeners.
The concept behind Lawrence Millman’s book Last Places: A Journey to the North is such a perfect fit to my interests, and this blog, that I knew I had to read it. Millman endeavors to follow the trail of the Vikings, traveling from Norway to Newfoundland via Shetland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland, mostly via sea and foot, camping along the way. It’s a personal travelog, from an opinionated and seasoned traveler with lots of stories to tell. It’s not his first time in any of these locations, which is perhaps what frees him up to seek the most remote, difficult, or forgotten corners of these already far flung islands.