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Away with the FAROES

Summer in the Faroes is a time to celebrate the islands’ natural beauty, ancient traditions, and a resurgence of pride in their unique culture
The view from the lighthouse of Kallur towards the northern cliffs of Eysturoy and Streymoy, with the sea stacks of Risin og Kellingin (‘The Giant and the Witch’)

FARE FACT

A local proverb says: ‘ull er Føroya gull’ – wool is Faroese gold. Sheep have always been central to the islands’ identity, and last year – impatient that the Faroes were one of the few places in Europe without Google Street View imagery – a few locals started a project to capture 360-degree images of the Faroese landscape by fitting cameras to the backs of free-roaming sheep. Google has now endorsed the effort, and provided cameras that can go on bikes, ships and backpacks – as well as sheep.

Jóannes Patursson inside his Viking-era farmstead in the hamlet of Kirkjubøur. OPPOSITE The Kirkjubøargarður farmstead from the outside; a gannet colony on Mykines

SCATTERED IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC, roughly halfway between Iceland and the west coast of Scotland, the Faroe Islands are so far out of most people’s ken that they might almost be imaginary. It’s not just their remoteness; there’s something about their strange harmony of landscapes, history and people that makes them resemble a world invented by a fantasy novelist.

The 18 small islands are angular, rocky outcrops that jut abruptly out of indigo water. On them are scatterings of petite coastal villages with dinky churches, a 6,000-seat international football stadium, and a grandiosely named but minuscule national airline, Atlantic Airways, which has precisely three planes. The entire population of the Faroes is a shade under 50,000 – about the same as Torquay.

But while the islanders are few and their homeland little, they proudly fly their national flag, hold fast to their national traditions, and speak their national language – Faroese, a diminutive Norse cousin of Icelandic. Their pocket-handkerchief of a capital, Tórshavn (population 20,000), was founded by Vikings in the 9th century. Over the succeeding years, it has spread around the sloping bay, but its prefabricated houses still look temporary beside the landscape of rock, sea and bare green hills. Its population seems to be largely composed of enthusiastic, polyglot ambassadors for Faroese culture. They’ll proudly point you towards Tinganes, the basalt promontory where the Vikings held their first parliament, or to the record shop, Tutl, which specialises in Faroese folk music’s pentatonic sounds.

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