Faroe Islands

Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands are just a teeny tiny dot on the world map, and since tourism hasn’t taken off a great deal yet, it can be difficult to find practical information online about travelling here. Adrift in the frothing swells of the north Atlantic, this mysterious 18-piece jigsaw puzzle of islands is at once ancient and very modern. Multicoloured cottages and grass-roofed wooden churches add focus to the grandly stark, treeless moorlands. Timeless networks of cairn-marked footpaths crisscross craggy layer-cake mountains. But even the tiniest once-inaccessible hamlets are now linked by a remarkable series of road-tunnels. And even as you bob around the dramatic fjords on a 70-year-old wooden sloop, your mobile phone is never likely to lose its signal.

Visiting this northerly destination requires a decent amount of planning; if you rocked up expecting to walk straight into a hotel and land yourself a bed without booking in advance, there’s a high chance you’ll find yourself uncomfortably waking up with a flock of sheep. Faroese people are warm and helpful, but they’re also characteristically relaxed, with blasé being a more fitting description for some. House and car doors are often left unlocked, and it’s easy to get the impression if you lost your wallet you’d find it back in your hands before you knew you’d even lost it. There’s a firm sense of ‘If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ that comes with living in a small community. I think their relaxed disposition might have something to do with living on nature’s doorstep. They don’t have the stresses of living in a modern city, the excess congestion, people, noise, pollution, consumerism, and endless other distractions.

The Faroe Islands were associated with Norway and remained so even after the more southerly Shetlands and Orkneys were firmly established as part of Scotland. When Norway fell under Denmark, the Faroe Islands did as well. During the Napoleonic wars, Great Britain occupied Denmark to keep out the French. Denmark entered the war on Napoleon’s side and their Nordic rival, Sweden, then joined the anti-French coalition. Losers do lose and Denmark had to cede Norway to Sweden. The Faroe Islands were left behind with Denmark, as were Greenland and Iceland.

In the second world war the United Kingdom occupied the Faroe Islands the day after the Germans invaded Denmark and held them until the end of the war. They were then returned to Denmark but by this time there was a major movement for independence. After one election they declared independence but the Danish king dissolved the Faroe Islands Parliament and the new one revoked the declaration. So the Faroe Islands remain subject to Denmark but they enjoy a high degree of self-government, they are an associate member of the Nordic Council, with their own representatives and they are seeking full membership. With Greenland and Iceland they form the West Nordic Council and they have a very wide-ranging free trade agreement with Iceland. Unlike Denmark, the Faroe Islands are not part of the EU; entry would be pretty dodgy for a fish dependent economy.

The Faroe Islands are located about 250-300 kilometres north of Scotland and together form around 1,400 square kilometres of landmass, located in the northern Atlantic Ocean. The islands consist of steep cliffs, rocky towering mountains up to almost 900 metres above sea level and apart from the last 200 metres or so they form a green carpet layed out over the islands. Lakes, rivers and trees are almost non-existent. Only Lítla Dímun is an uninhabited island, the other 17 are inhabited, albeit some only by a few dozen people or even just one single family (Stóra Dímun). There are more smaller rocks and seastacks located offshore though and all the islands together have well over 1,100 kilometres of seashore, mostly rising steeply out of the ocean.

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