The morning of my 30th birthday began in the company of a witch and a giant. With the Faroe Islands now basking in warm sunshine – the gales and cold rain long gone – the weather seemed ideal for a little magic hunting. Risin and Kellingin – the Islands’ resident witch and giant– were not difficult to find. Stranded off the coast of Eysturoy, in the cold shallows of the North Atlantic ocean, they can be found next to the great cliffs of mount Eiðiskollur. Originally from Iceland, this giant and his wife were on a mission to steal the Faroe Islands and to return it to Iceland, where a crowd of envious giants were waiting, ready to claim the many Faroese mountains as their new stomping ground.
After successfully managing to loop a rope around the peak of the soaring hills, Risin and Kellingin pulled as hard as they could, hoping to drag the islands onto their backs. Their plan, however, was thwarted, when the mountain fractured. Despite working through the night, desperate to shift the mountain even a few metres, the sun eventually rose and Risin and Kellingin’s fate was sealed: they instantly turned to stone.
Standing in the sunshine, overlooking mount Eiðiskollur, I could clearly see the witch and the giant, looking longingly back towards Iceland. With her peaky tip resembling a witches’ hat and the enormous bulky giant ahead of her, I felt a little sorry for the giant and his wife; forever frozen in the shadows of Eiðiskollur and victims of the salty sea that was slowly eroding them.
I’m sure they wished they had stayed in Iceland.
After quietly photographing the giant and his wife, and enjoying the perfect stillness of the warm weather, it was time to leave them behind. For many, beginning your 30th birthday with a giant and a witch, is perhaps a sign you’ve peaked too early; the highlight of the day complete. But not when you’re on the Faroe Islands. With the sun warming our backs, we were headed to the Faroe Islands most Pinterest-worthy sight: the heroic waterfalls of Gásadalur.
These falls – a perfect stream of frothing water – fall from the greenest of cliffs into the bluest of sea waters, complete with a picturesque village perched above them. Something of a Pinterest sensation, I wondered if the twenty or so villagers who inhabit Gásadalur know that their homes are shared across the globe. Given their remoteness, perhaps not. Gásadalur – or ‘Goose Valley’ – can be found on the west-side of Vágur, sitting snugly in the bed of the Árnafjall mountains. Permanently shrouded in swirling sea mists and low-lying clouds, the residents of this village could, until 2004, only access their village by undertaking a strenuous 5k walk over hilly mountains or by tiptoeing precariously along cliff edges.
However, in 2004, I imagine that the postman could take no more and a tunnel was blasted through the dense rocky mountains, finally linking Gásadalur with the rest of Vágur. Today, this isolated village is a photographer’s Mecca; a place where the residents quietly go about their lives whilst tourists arrive to gawp at a sight that for them, has become commonplace.
Arriving in Gásadalur, we parked in the small car park created for visitors, complete with a toilet that reminded me a small alpine lodge –further evidence of Faroese hospitality. The village was quiet, aside from the sound of two men steadily retiling a roof; the sound of their hammers echoing around the bowl-shaped valley where the village lies. Ahead of us was a traditional black, wooden hut, and hanging from it a row of drying fish, swinging in the wind. Behind us, an imposing wall of mountains, with the sunshine squeezing through their peaks and troughs.
I suddenly heard a bell and the sound of galloping paws. I turned around to see a beautiful border collie hurtling towards us. Tongue flapping in the wind and ears back, he seemed ecstatic to welcome the new visitors to his village.
Wagging his tail and licking us at any opportunity, this little dog was the village tour guide. After looking expectedly up at us, he suddenly started towards the hilly cliffs, looking over his shoulder to make sure we were following. We dutifully set off, walking in the sunshine across grassy hills filled with daisies. Eventually, we reached the cliff edge and looked ahead at the beautiful sight of tumbling cliffs and open sea. The dog sat down next to a small wooden bench and looked proudly ahead of him. We sat with him, enjoying what I assume was his most favourite view. We sat quietly as a three for a while, taking photographs and watching the waves. As a former owner of a border collie, this made my birthday.
Suddenly, a short, sharp whistle came from the village and the dog was gone; flying across the small streams back to his owner. Maybe it was lunchtime, or perhaps he had fulfilled his tour guide duties, but we didn’t see that little dog again.
Walking back towards the village, it was finally time to see the ever-popular waterfall. Following the sound of crashing water, they were not difficult to find (close to the tunnel where you enter the village). Occasionally, the reality of something you have seen repeatedly on the internet can be disappointing: the victim of imaginative photoshopping. This was not the case for these particular falls. Running from a stream past the village, the water abruptly falls from the cliff, crashing into the sea below. Following this gentle stream, it seems that even the water is a little surprised by the sudden drop: transforming from bubbling brook to thunderous falls in a matter of seconds.
Unsurprisingly, the scene is unimaginably beautiful. Above the sea begins the mountains; trails of clouds hiding their peaks. The mountains give way to sloping green hills, leading to the small wooden houses of the village; plumes of wood smoke leaving their chimneys. Below this is the running stream and sudden waterfall, falling into the dark ocean below. The scene looks artificially composed; faked by a Nat Geo photographer in search of the perfect shot of Mother Nature. If you visit the Faroe Islands, it goes without saying that spending some time watching these falls is a must.
The morning gone, our next stop was another internet hit: Saksun. Found back on Eysturoy, the journey takes around forty minutes and guides you along the Faroe Islands proudly named ‘Buttercup Routes’. These are scenic drives filled with daisies and unsurprisingly, those little yellow flowers. Here, the narrow roads wind through mountains and streams; over small bridges and past endless sheep and cottages. A photo opportunity at every turn, a 600m road can take you hours to travel down.
Arriving in Saksun, a small hamlet of huts and a glistening white church meets you. Ahead is a narrow valley of mountains and in the middle, a lagoon that fills and empties with the tide. It’s stunning. With the sun now shining brightly, we took off our waterproof gear and wandered around the traditional turf-covered lodges in just our T-shirts. Behind the huts lie yet more waterfalls, with ponies grazing next to them and dazed sheep warming themselves in the sunshine. Again, it was incredibly peaceful here and ludicrously idyllic. We sat on the banks of the waterfall, looking down at Saksun and across the lagoon, taking it all in.
Warm, a little sleepy and having been met by more friendly tour guides (two more border collies), we reluctantly made our back to Torshavn, to have a birthday dinner at one of the capital’s many delicious restaurants.
That night, we sat happily inside Áarstova: a warm restaurant set inside a traditional turf-covered house. Filled with candles, soft lighting, creaking wooden boards and plenty of taxidermy, we shared an enormous leg of salted lamb, potatoes and red wine. It was the perfect end to not only my 30th birthday, but to our time on the Faroe Islands. Isolated, remote and enigmatic, the Islands are also friendly, culturally fascinating and most obviously, stunningly beautiful.
When we visited the football match the night before, I listened as the Faroese sung their national anthem. I later looked up the lyrics, which referred to a land where summers made the hill-tops fair, and winters, which drove men to despair. It includes references to lives lost at sea, snow covered mountains and a country of sheep. But above all, it mentions the magnificence, beauty and magic of the Faroe Islands; a beauty the Faroese vow to protect. I couldn’t think of a better summary of the Islands: a place of incredible vistas and beauty, inhabited by proud and welcoming people.
Oh, and the best tour guides you’ll meet in the world.
Thank you so much to Visit Faroe Islands for making our trip unforgettable.