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The Adventure Journals

Exploring The Faroe Islands: The Loneliest Lighthouse

The Faroese are a people of the sea. It defines their past as much as their present. Rowing boats is one of the country’s biggest sports, and fishing their largest industry. Parents wait excitedly for the time they can take their children to catch their first fish on the open sea or teach them how to catch a fulmar and roast it in the oven.

Across this archipelago of 18 islands, more than 400 miles off the coast of mainland Europe, the sea can be seen from almost everywhere. When the first visitors landed on these islands, lonely and foreboding in the wild Northern Atlantic, they would have recognised that the bounty was under the ocean and not on the land. The land is rough, the result of a geological tumult that forced the islands into existence. There is nothing gentle about the Faroe Islands. Nearly all of the 1,700-kilometre coastline is sea cliffs, some the highest in Europe. The peaks are as jagged as meringue. Most roads need to be tunnelled; such is the terrain. Yet what makes poor farming, makes for spectacular hiking. More of that later, our journey begins in the sea.

Our small fishing boat pulled out of the little bay in Vestmanna on the Faroese island of Streymoy. It is lashing with rain. At the helm in a small cabin is fisherman Magni Blástein puffing on a cigarillo. The rain eases, and the water in the bay flattens: it is time to fish. Magni helps out our party of six novices, explaining the rod and loading the hook with shrimp. It’s not long before the lines start tugging. We pull up dab, a small flat fish, but it is cod we want. We shift places and lift the hooks slightly off the bottom, and then the cod start coming. The first pull on the line is noticeably stronger and it takes all my effort to haul my first cod on board. Magni is waiting with a hook. It flaps out of the water and I grab it. It’s slippery, muscular, beautifully coloured and wild-eyed. It is big, big enough for dinner tonight. With a deft cut, Magni beheads it; the drama over.

As we return, a coolbox full of for us and our neighbours, I chat to Magni. Fishing for him is not a part of life; it is life. It is his livelihood and the food on the table for his family. I ask about whether he feels connected to his ancestors by fishing, but he says not really. I ask about fulmar season, when the large chicks are grabbed and roasts and about the controversial whaling. His responses are very matter-of-fact. “No, it’s just for food,” he repeats. Seventy or 80 per cent of his food comes from the sea; supermarkets are for supplies.

I speak to more people like him on our trip and come to realise that this is a people who don’t feel the need to ‘reconnect’ with nature or their past, but live in the present. The Faroe Islands on the surface is a modern place, an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark. The cars are modern, the supermarkets well stocked, there are fancy restaurants and excellent art galleries. The country is connected to the world like the rest of Europe, but there is a distinct difference in how the Faroese live. There’s a connection to the earth, to the seasons and to the elements that I’ve rarely experienced.

The next day we drive to Kalsoy, taking car ferries and driving through dark, narrow tunnels. Our destination is Kalsoy Lighthouse. We park in the hamlet of Trøllanes, fill our backpacks and pull on our walking boots. We walk slowly, taking time to snap photos, but often we stand and stare at the Islands that surround us. There are few beaches, just sea cliffs shaped by the crashing Atlantic ravages the shore.  We climb higher along a narrow track and across the thin green land. Sheepfolds provide shelter from the wind. Onwards we walk climbing a seemingly innocuous hill, but like much in the Faroe Islands, there is drama ahead.

We don’t see the drop until we are on top of the ridge, but it takes us all by surprise. Hundreds of metres almost directly below us, the black ocean crashes against the black rock. My stomach lurches at the shock of it. Beyond, the Atlantic curves around the earth, the next point Greenland, and then Nunavut, Canada.

Here, the lighthouse shifts into focus, a beacon of light strays out to sea. A statue that represents the danger present where sea and land collide. Yet there’s a beauty in its warning. We walk, carefully, along the ridge and the clouds dissipate. Beyond, we see many more headlands, just like this, fading to darkness. We’re silenced by the beauty and terror of it all.  

On the way back we stop at the statue of the Seal Woman on the coast at Mikladlur. The nine-foot statue, made by sculptor Hans Pauli Olsen, represents a common folk tale. Legend has it, and it always does, that the seal people – Scottish fishermen would recognise them as Selkies – are humans who took their own lives by drowning in the sea. Once a year, the seal people gather on this little, storm-lashed shore. On this day, they shed their seal skins and become human again and dance the night away. On one of these occasions, a local man spotted a great beauty. He stole her seal skin to prevent her from going back into the ocean. The man locked away the skin, and they became man and wife and had children. Eventually, she escaped back into the sea.

Years later, on a night before the men of the village set out on a seal hunt, the man had a dream imploring him not to kill her or her children, but the man ignored the dream. The man ate his share of the seal. As he was eating, the seal women entered the room shouting: “Here lies the head of my mate and the hands and feet of my sons. You have had your revenge, and now revenge shall be visited upon the men of Mikladalur. Some will drown at sea, others will fall from the cliffs, and so it shall continue until as many have perished as can link arms around the whole island of Kalsoy.”

Since then, it is said a great many people from Mikladalur have lost their lives by drowning at sea or falling from cliffs, but still not enough to link their arms around the island. The curse still holds.

I paused at the statue and looking out to sea, a deep blue with violent swells. Another storm was coming in. We returned to our hut as the rain thundered down. We cooked more of the cod we caught that day and sat cosy in the warm, dry room.

Many of the Faroese would be out at sea that night. There is bounty all around this land, but it comes at a price.     

Products used in this Adventure Journal

Aeon 35

Aeon 35

35lt | 60 x 27 x 24cm | 0.94kg

The Aeon 35 backpack combines a traditional, top-loading design, rugged construction and premium lightweight materials - for days when you need to carry all the kit.

AirZone Z ND18

AirZone Z ND18

18lt | 47 x 28 x 22cm | 0.90kg

The Z ND (Women's specific) is our flagship zip-entry AirZone. This popular design includes large stretch front and side pockets and all the features you've come to expect from our hiking range.

Kulu 55:65

Kulu 55:65

55 + 10lt | 74 x 37 x 37cm | 2.10kg

A backpacking pack with patented FlipBelt technology, allowing you to stash the hipbelt during travel for faff-free ease of movement.

Aeon 27

Aeon 27

27lt | 52 x 25 x 22cm | 0.85kg

Our favourite multi-activity day pack ever. Wide zip-entry makes accessing your gear efficient, and the 27L capacity is ideal for those in need of a ‘one pack does all solution’.

Manaslu ND55:65

Manaslu ND55:65

55 + 10lt | 71 x 36 x 29cm | 2.23kg

A future classic. The Manaslu delivers serious function while looking great. Featuring Axiom 5 technology, front entry and stretch mesh front and side pockets.

AT Kit Bag 60 (25")

AT Kit Bag 60 (25")

60lt | 64 x 36 x 33cm | 0.92kg

A 60-litre kit bag is a great size for when you're going away for a week or two. Tamperproof zippers mean your kit stays safe even when out of sight and stashable shoulder straps give more comfort when carrying it longer distances.


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