“The view from our prison is the best in the world.”
Our taxi driver was pointing out local landmarks on the drive from Vagar airport to Torshavn. With grey rocky hillsides covered with rumpled grass broken by mountain streams, and views of a rainbow chasing us across the sea it was hard to disagree. But only those guilty of minor offences get to enjoy the view from the prison. Those sentenced to more than a year are sent to Denmark. The view from our hotel, set on the hillside above the capital, Torshavn was even better: the play of light over the island of Nolsoy across the bay provided endless variation to tantalize any photographer. We were visiting the Faroe Islands in early October, too late in the year for the seabirds that attract most visitors, but we still found plenty to see.
Nolsoy is just a short ferry ride from Torshavn harbour. The village is small, with brightly-coloured houses, and an arch made from the jawbones of a sperm whale by the harbour. It is very quiet. Apart from the sound of the occasional quad bike hauling a trailer of sheep, we heard little but the lapping of the water by the harbour, interspersed by the occasional sheep. By the ferry terminal is a row of brightly-coloured wheelbarrows fixed to the wall and a notice saying “Borrow a wheelbarrow. Please put the wheelbarrow back as soon as possible and be sure to attach it properly to the wall. Thank you.”
A bus took us along narrow roads from Torshavn to Kirkjubour. Our first stop was the whitewashed St Olav’s church, which was erected in the 13th century to be the cathedral of the Faroe Islands. It’s very plain, inside and out. It became a parish church at the Reformation and is the only medieval church in the Faroe Islands still in use. Its magnificent carved pew ends were taken to Denmark in 1874 and only repatriated in 2002. They can now be admired in the museum in Torshavn. Part of the old bishop’s palace still survives as the basement of a farmhouse. Close by stands the imposing ruin of St Magnus Cathedral. It was built c. 1300 but never fully completed. The walls stand to their full height, with gothic windows and Maltese crosses.
We booked a tour to the Northern Islands. The weather was cloudy and misty, but despite that we were able to see quite a lot and the weather made for some atmospheric photos. Our route took across ‘the only bridge over the Atlantic’ onto Esturoy to see the village of Gjójv (meaning ‘gorge’) where the harbour is set in a deep natural gorge. We drove through some very narrow tunnels to get to Klaksvik on Borðoy, the second city of the Faroe Islands and the centre of the fishing industry. After a tasty lunch of line-caught fish and chips we continued to Viðoy and the most northerly village, Viðareiði, with a picturesque house and adjacent turf-roofed vicarage where the heroine of the novel Barbara lived. The church has a collection of silver donated by the British government after the people rescued the crew of a wrecked ship in 1847. Our guide’s grandmother used to live in the village. In those days, catching puffins was a source of income – they could catch up to 100 and it was her job to remove the feathers for sale. Now of course ‘puffins are cute’ and provide tourist income instead.
Visiting in October, we didn’t see any puffins, but the islands themselves were definitely worth the trip.
Note: We had been fortunate enough to win a trip to the Faroe Islands in a competition run by Regent Holidays at the Destinations Travel Show in 2019. The prize had to be taken before the end of the year and we had already booked two other foreign trips, hence our October visit. It was still definitely worth it.