** FAROE ISLANDS & ICELAND 2017 - WEEK 1 **
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CAMPING IN FAROE ISLANDS 2017 - Journey out via Germany and Denmark, voyage to Faroe Islands, Tˇrshavn and Northern Faroe Islands, on-going voyage to Iceland:
The journey begins, out through Germany and Denmark: as the overnight Harwich~Hook of Holland ferry pulled away from the quay, we toasted the start of our 2017 travels to Iceland (see left), just 45 years since our 1972 back-packing venture. We planned to make the most of the week before our onward ferry from Hirtshals in northern Denmark to Tˇrshaven in the Faroe Islands, by staging our journey across Germany with visits to the M÷hne and Eder Dams in western Germany. Sunday morning traffic was light, and we made good progress across Holland, passing Arnhem and soon entering Germany. Our route took us just north of the Ruhr, past Essen to turn SE past Dortmund towards Kassel. Over high plateau land, minor roads led us down into the Ruhr river valley to reach a parking area by the M÷hnesee reservoir, and there through the trees was the colossal curving wall and towers of the M÷hne Dam (see below left and right).
The M÷hne and Eder Dams in western Germany, target of the Dambusters raid in May 1943: Operation Chastise, the attack on the M÷hne, Eder and Sorpe Dams in western Germany, was carried out on the night of 16~17 May 1943 by RAF 617 Squadron, especially formed for this mission with hand-picked experienced aircrews led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson. 19 Lancasters, modified to carry the Upkeep 'bouncing bomb' specially designed by Barnes Wallis to attack the dams, carried out the raid. Suspended on mounts beneath each Lancaster and back-spun by an auxiliary electric motor at 500 rpm, the drum-shaped mine was designed to bounce across the reservoirs in a series of skips over the protective anti-torpedo nets which spanned the lake. On reaching the dam wall, the residual spin would cause the mine to run down the inner surface where a hydrostatic fuse would explode the charge against the dam wall, harnessing the pressure of water to breach the dam.
The crews had just 8 weeks to train for the mission from the time the decision was taken for the raid to mid-May when water levels were at their highest. The mission required night time, precision low-altitude flying at 60 feet and 240 mph, bombing at a strictly defined distance from target; all of this and in the confined topography of the Ruhr and Eder valleys. Apocryphal or not, Y-shaped pieces of wood with 2 nails to line up on the dams' towers at the precise bombing point along the reservoir, and spotlights under the aircraft's nose and fuselage aligned to converge on the water's surface at 60 feet flying height, were the Heath-Robinson devices concocted to help crews achieve the precise bombing requirements.
From their base at Scampton near Lincoln, the 19 aircraft flew in 3 formations, one to attack the M÷hne and Eder, the 2nd the Sorpe, and the 3rd a mobile reserve to fill in losses and attack secondary targets. Several aircraft were lost on the low-level outward flight, but formation 1 arrived over the M÷hne to make the attack. Gibson made the first bombing run in Lancaster AJ-G-George followed by 3 others; flak guns mounted on the dam towers damaged several of the attacking aircraft. Finally Maltby in J-Johnny made the 5th and successful bombing run which breached the dam. Gibson and Young now led the 3 aircraft with remaining bombs to attack the Eder. This dam was not defended, but heavy fog and the complex topography of the surrounding high hills and narrow valley made the approach to the Eder difficult. After 6 runs Shannon attacked but failed to breach the dam; Maudsley's bomb struck the top of the dam wall and severely damaged the aircraft. Finally, with the last Upkeep, Knight's aircraft breached the Eder. Of the 2nd wave, only McCarthy survived to attack the Sorpe but the dam was scarcely damaged.
Despite the technical ingenuity and heroism portrayed in the 1950s Dambusters film, in terms of casualties the dam raid was costly and the direct results questionable: of the 19 aircraft that took part, a total of 8 were lost, and 53 of the 133 aircrew were killed, a fatality rate of almost 40%. The floods from the M÷hne breach caused some 1,600 civilian deaths; many were Soviet forced labour POWs from camps along the valley. The 2 direct hits on the M÷hne resulted in a breach of the dam wall 76m wide (250 feet) and 89m deep (292 feet); some 350 million tons of water flooded from the breached dam, sending a 10m high torrent surging down the Ruhr valley. Mines were flooded, factories and homes destroyed or damaged along with roads, railways and bridges, with the floods spreading for some 50 miles. The M÷hne reservoir dropped to a quarter of its normal level. The Eder drains eastwards into the River Weser, the dam's reservoir supplying the Mittelland Canal, but the flood from the breach scarcely caused any damage to Kassel 35 kms downstream. In strategic terms, the dams raid success was in its indirect value, diverting considerable labour and material resources from other war work such as construction of the Atlantic wall to restitution of the dams and flood damage. The Germans gave priority to repairing the dams using 1000s of forced labourers, so that by September 1943, the breach in the M÷hne was repaired and the reservoir refilled. The morale boost from the raid for the Allies however was significant, and enhanced Churchill's standing with the Americans at a critical stage in the war.
Our visit to the M÷hne dam, and camp at the M÷hnesee reservoir: and here we stood 74 years later, gazing up at the M÷hne dam's monumental wall which towered 40m above us (Photo 1 - M÷hne Dam). Built in 1913 with titanic granite block construction, the dam curved around 650m across the valley (see above pictures). On a sunny spring afternoon, the M÷hne dam was now a local attraction with many families visiting its landscaped surrounds, or taking pleasure boat cruises on the M÷hnesee reservoir. We joined then, strolling across the top of dam wall, through the towers which had served as range markers during the 1943 raid, taking our photos from the far side looking around the curvature of the dam wall. We camped that night on the shores of the M÷hne reservoir. Camping Delecke Suedufur M÷hnesee was a large site with many statics but the best lake-side pitches reserved for visitors. At this spot on a moonlit night 74 years ago in May 1943 (see right), we could have watched the Lancasters of 617 Squadron roaring past low over the lake to release their bouncing bombs on their attack against the M÷hne dam. We settled in for the first night of the trip; it was good to be back in George.
On to the Eder Dam: the following morning, we turned east along the shore of the M÷hne reservoir and upper river valley over high forested ground, eventually winding down to the Eder valley. The road wound around the north shore of the Edersee reservoir to reach the Eder Dam where we parked. The lake filling the Eder valley was surrounded by high hills sloping steeply down into the narrow valley. Today the sky was mistily overcast with a bitterly chill northerly wind blowing from across the lake. As we walked across the top of the dam wall, from this viewpoint it was evident just how difficult it must have been for the aircrews in May 1943 to locate the reservoir and identify the dam in this narrow, winding valley. It would have been challenging for pilots to drop steeply down from the surrounding hills, and turn sharply to level out at 60 feet on the bombing approach over the water. Although the dam was undefended, with no flak to contend with, we could see that the Eder's topography would have been a severe test of the pilots' flying skills. Across on the far side of the dam wall, a plaque on one of the towers commemorated the dam's official opening by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1914. A viewing point gave the perfect angle for photographing this enormous dam's curvature with its towers and the generating station way down below at the foot of the dam wall (Photo 2 - Eder Dam). Across the lower Eder valley, we reached Edertal village and tonight's campsite, Campingplatz Ideal, set on the banks of the River Eder. But the campsite's name was a misnomer; it was far from ideal, wretchedly crammed full of statics leaving meagre space for visitors, and poor facilities; its only saving grace was the birdsong which filled the air, but it served as a staging camp.
North through Germany and a night's camp in Schleswig-Holstein: today's long drive took us 260 miles north through Germany. Passing through Hamburg, with its city-scape seemingly filled with container lifting cranes and port installations, the autobahn dipped down into the 3km long tunnel under the River Elbe to emerge on the northern side of the city, and 60 kms further into Schleswig-Holstein, we turned off near to Bordholm to find tonight's curiously named campsite, Campingplatz BUM. We had little expectation of the place other than as a staging camp conveniently located close to the autobahn, but the owner was welcoming, the price reasonable, with good facilities, free wi-fi and fresh bread in the morning, and a small, peaceful camping area separate from the statics reserved for visitors down by the lakeside (see right). Despite our misgivings, Campingplatz BUM proved a gem of a find, with swallows swooping low over the lake, grebes paddling in the shallows and sandpipers pecking around our pitch (see left). And we were now just 80kms from the Danish border.
Into Denmark, and a night's camp at Darum Camping near Esbjerg: continuing north beyond Kiel, we crossed the wide Kiel Canal, and close to Flensburg turned off onto minor roads to cross into Denmark on the western side. Danish Route 11 took us northwards through a series of places familiar from our 2007 Danish trip - T°nder, SkaerbŠk, Ribe - as we headed toward Esbjerg. Esbjerg was a port-town familiar to us from the many times we had arrived or departed from there on visits to Scandinavia, but this was the first time we had returned there since the DFDS Harwich ferry ended in 2014. We shopped for provisions, startled at current Danish food prices, and returned down the Wadden Sea coast to peaceful Darum Camping. The same couple, Birgitte and J°rn Pedersen, still kept the campsite and recognised us from the many times we had stayed previously when the Esbjerg ferry was operating (see right). Darum Camping is a lovely campsite, which sets a standard of excellence that other campsites could do well to follow, and as we sat eating breakfast, hares skipped and bounded among the trees; such a pity that the direct ferry to Scandinavia no longer operates.
Up the North-West Jutland coast to Hirtshals: with time for a leisurely journey up through Denmark before Saturday's ferry from Hirtshals, we followed minor roads through Hvide Sande along the coastal sand-spit dividing the North Sea from Ringk°bing Fjord to reach Thorsminde on the narrow strip of dunes separating Nissum Fjord from the sea. A little further north we pulled in by the high wall of dunes and walked through to the long, exposed and deserted stretch of typical West Jutland beaches backed by the dunes (see left). At Thybor°n, we crossed the mouth of Limfjorden on the little Agger ferry, and further up the coast turned off into Stenbjerg village for a night's stay at the delightfully straightforward and peaceful Krohavens Camping (see right); it was a joy to stay here again and we should return on our homeward journey in September.
The following morning, we called in at our favourite North Jutland Fiske R°keri (smoke-house) at the little fishing port of N°rre Vorup°r for their delicious smoked salmon fillets and fiskedella (fish-cakes); their motto is Alt godt fra havet - Everything good from the sea. On such a beautiful sunny morning, we had to walk down to the beach to photograph the fishing boats drawn up on the sands (see left) (Photo 3 - N°rre Vorup°r fishing boats). Continuing northwards along this delightful coast road through the dunes plantations, with a brisk NW Jutland breeze blowing off the sea even on such a sunny morning, we passed through the more work-a-day fishing port of Hanstholm, and crossed to the ubiquitously flowing Limfjorden to pause for our lunch sandwiches at the Vejlerne Nature Reserve bird hides. At L°gst°r, we turned into the town to stock up with foodstuffs for the 2 nights ferry crossing to the Faroes and to fill George with diesel, before continuing northwards for the final stage of our journey up to Hirtshals for our pre-ferry campsite at Tornby Strand, just 10 minutes from the port. From past experience, we had no great hopes for this over-priced, statics-filled mega-holiday camp, and sure enough it was even more pricey than ever. You would only choose to stay at an alien place like this the night before catching a ferry from Hirtshals, just to charge everything up and prepare kit for the ferry.
Smyril Line ferry crossing on M/S Norr÷na to the Faroe Islands: today marked the end of our leisurely and enjoyable initial week's 'holiday' which had made the most of our 950 miles outward journey; the work started here with the next phase of our travels, the 2 night ferry crossing of the North Atlantic to the Faroe Islands. The pre-ferry morning was spent sorting kit, filling bread rolls and preparing the foodstuffs we had garnered for the crossing, to save on the undue cost of eating in the expensive ferry cafeteria. At noon we drove down into Hirtshals ferry port and were soon checked in to pass through to the main Smyril Line queuing area where vehicles were sorted according to destination, Faroes or Iceland (see right). Only drivers were allowed to stay with vehicles; passengers were bussed around to the ferry to board separately. We had been warned by fellow travellers Kathy and Rick Howe, who had made this journey in 2015, to expect vehicles to be crammed in more tightly than even on a Greek ferry; and sure enough they were! Up the steep ramp, George had to turn on the confined car deck to face outwards for disembarkation at Tˇrshavn, with minimal space for drivers to squeeze out. On a 36 hour crossing and uncertain of the North Atlantic weather, we were thankful to have incurred the extra expense of window cabin, and having stowed our food and kit, we rushed up to the outer deck for photos departing Denmark (see left). At 4-00pm (3-00pm ship's/Faroes time - Norr÷na is a Faroese ship with Tˇrshavn her home port - 1 hour behind Danish time and the same as BST), M/S Norr÷na pulled away from the quay and eased out of the narrow harbour into the open sea, and crossed out into the Skagerrak following the coast of southern Norway on a WNW heading of 290║ at a speed of 16 knots; we were off (Photo 4 - Leaving Hirtshals).
The weather forecast for the 36 hour crossing to Faroes was for gentle easterly winds and calm seas, but stronger winds and heavy rain to greet our arrival at Tˇrshavn at 5-00am Monday morning. The sea remained calm overnight with minimal turbulence, and the following morning, with the weather fair, remarkably little wind and sky bright, we ventured out onto the open deck where many of the passengers were sitting enjoying the sun (see above right). We also sat in the bright sunshine, enjoying this unbelievable weather and unexpectedly calm North Atlantic; gannets soared overhead (see left) and a little wagtail skitted around the deck. Early afternoon we could make out land on the distant skyline, and the ship's PA system announced that the ferry would shortly be passing through the Yell Sound between the main group of Shetlands Islands. We rushed out onto the outer deck in time to watch as Norr÷na passed remarkably closely by the islands and skerries of the Shetlands. We could make out lighthouses, crofts and a harbour (see right), but the weather had now changed drastically from earlier; the wind had picked up, the sky was now heavily overcast, and chill driving rain was starting. Oblivious to the weather and with cameras getting a soaking, we stayed on deck to photograph the passing islands (see below left). This spectacular transit of the Yell Sound's narrow channel between the northernmost parts of the British Isles had been had been an unexpected bonus, and one of the ferry crossing's highlights; such a pity that the weather changed so drastically.
After such excitement, we returned to the lounge to follow the ferry's course live on Maps-Me and the GPS compass as we cleared the northerly passage through the Shetlands Islands sound out into the North Atlantic, now in poor visibility, while a rowdy party of German coach tourists finished their bingo session totally oblivious to the spectacular views from the stern windows (see below right). The bright sky of earlier was now replaced by murky gloom which obscured the horizon, but at least the wind was still and the sea calm. It has to be said that the Smyril Line staff were remarkably obliging, turning a blind eye to those like us who borrowed their cutlery and glasses for our own food and drink. Before turning in for the final night at sea, we confirmed timings for wake-up call prior to tomorrow's 5-00 am disembarkation at Tˇrshavn. With all the distractions of the exceptionally fine weather and transit of the Shetlands straits, the 36 hour ferry crossing had been a rewarding experience.
Arrival at Tˇrshavn and Tˇrshavn Camping: from our cabin window, we were awake in time to watch the dawning sun rising over the southern Faroe Islands as the ferry eased its way on the approach to Tˇrshavn (Photo 5 - Dawn over Faroes). Down at the car deck, George was hemmed in by other vehicles but the crew efficiently organised extricating ourselves to drive down the ramp out onto Tˇrshavn quay. In early morning Tˇrshavn traffic, we made our way out to the municipal campsite which was set in the eastern outskirts of the town on the shore-side looking out across the sound towards Nˇlsoy Island (Photo 6 - Tˇrshavn Camping overlooking Nˇlsoy Sound) (see left). To our surprise, the campsite was open early on weekly ferry arrival mornings, and the lady warden greeted us with truly welcoming hospitality and slices of home-made chocolate cake. She showed us the facilities, which were brand new, and gave us details of local supermarkets and parking by the harbour. Still slightly bemused by the early start (it was still only 6-00 am), we set up camp in bright, hazy early morning sunshine, to sort kit, make coffee, and take stock. This was a such delightful welcome to begin our week-long Faroes venture, especially in such untypically un-Faroese weather (Photo 7 - Tˇrshavn Camping).
Our day in Tˇrshavn: we set off at 8-30am for our day of exploration in Tˇrshavn, and found the harbour-side car park; it was still bright and sunny but with low cloud clinging to the surrounding hills, as we ambled around the marina taking our photos (Photo 8 - Tˇrshavn waterfront) (see right); Norr÷na moored at the neighbouring dock towered over the port (Photo 9 - Norr÷na towering over Tˇrshavn marina). Steeply uphill to Vagli, what elsewhere would be called the main square, though in tiny Tˇrshavn it was no more than a quiet meeting of streets, the turf-roofed book shop supposedly housing the Tourist Information Centre was closed. A sign pointed along Niels Finsens G°ta, (in Tˇrshavn the 'main shopping street' was little more than a quiet lane), to a new TIC where we managed to get a town plan, despite the surly and unhelpful staff. We returned down to the waterfront to find Tˇrshavn's tiny cathedral, Havner Kirkja (Photo 10 - Havner Kirkja), an unassuming little wooden church where the Faroese Parliament opening service is held on St Olaf's Day (see left). We wandered among the alleyways of Undir Ryggi, site of Tˇrshavn's original settlement, passing the conserved black-tarred wooden cottages with their turf roofs (see right), and out along the headland of Tingranes which projects into Tˇrshavn bay (Photo 11 - Headland of Tingranes), separating the commercial harbour of Eystaravßg from the ship-yards and marina of Vestaravßg. The flat rocky outcrop of Tingranes was once the meeting place for the Faroese ting (assembly), the forerunner of the parliament, and is now covered with a maze of alleyways and picturesque maroon-painted wooden warehouses of the former trading station which now serve as government offices. Through gaps between wooden buildings and alleyways, we could see Norr÷na moored at the opposite quay. We wandered among the Bakkapakkhusi complex of former wooden warehouses which now serve as offices of the Faroese Prime Minister (see left). No need here for intimidating armed guards; it was all peaceful and low key as we stood by the door taking our photos, as you might once have done outside Number Ten (Photo 12 - Offices of Faroese Prime Minister).
Working our way down Gogin to the Eystaravßg harbour, we walked around to the ferry terminal where we had arrived earlier, and where now vehicles were awaiting Norr÷na's afternoon's onward sailing for Iceland. We clambered up onto the rocky headland to the lighthouse by Skansin fort which once guarded Tˇrshavn harbour. Crossing back along Havnarg°ta, we ambled up an alleyway past the memorial garden to Dr Niels Finsen (1860~1904), Faroese Nobel Prize winner for his development of radiotherapy treatment of skin cancer and tuberculosis lesions (see right). Ever upwards through the steep hillside streets, we climbed up to Kongaminni (King's Memorial) crowning the hill-top, not for the obelisk commemorating the visit to the Faroes in 1874 of Danish King Christian IX, but for the panoramic views over Tˇrshavn and its harbour (see below left) (Photo 13 - Panoramic view over Tˇrshavn and harbour).
A visit to the L°gting Faroese Parliament: returning down hill through the maze of narrow streets, we reached the L°gting, the Islands' Parliament, an unassuming wooden building where the Faroese Parliament has met since 1856, and now rather dwarfed by the unsightly modern glass block housing its administrative offices. The building was locked, but with nothing to lose Paul rang the bell, asking if, as visitors from England, we could see the L°gting (see below right). To our amazement a detached voice responded 'Yes, I'll open the door' We were in fact received by the Director of the L°gting Secretariat, who showed us the parliamentary chamber. We discussed with him the Faroese constitutional status vis-Ó-vis Denmark, attitudes towards full independence, and the issue of fishing and the EU. He told us that, as part of a policy of achieving greater self-sufficiency short of full independence from Denmark, the Faroese had reduced Danish subsidies to 8%. He also said that a parliamentary session would begin at 1-30pm and we were welcome to attend. This was an unexpected opportunity, too good to miss.
The L°gting is regarded as one of the oldest parliamentary assemblies, dating from the earliest Viking settlement of the Faroe Islands around 800 AD. During the 17~18th century period of Danish Trade Monopoly, the L°gting fell into abeyance, but as pressure for home rule increased during the 19th century, the Danish authorities conceded the L°gting's re-establishment as a consultative body in 1856. With the achievement of home rule after WW2 in 1948, the L°gting assumed full legislative parliamentary powers governing the Faroes, with the Danish Parliament only retaining limited control of justice, policing and defence. The 33 members of the L°gting are elected for a term of 4 years, and since 2007 the islands have been a single constituency, with currently 7 parties represented in the parliament.
At the start of the session, we took our seats at the rear of the small chamber looking over the L°gting members seated in rows facing the Speaker's dais and podium from which a minister addressed the parliament (Photo 14 - L°gting (Faroese Parliament) in session) (see left). Although we could understand nothing of the Faroese, it seemed that the behaviour of members was as undisciplined as in most parliaments. MPs seemed to take little notice of the minister addressing them from the podium; some wandered around, even speaking on their mobile phones or chatting in huddles, despite the Speaker calling for order ringing his bell. Whatever the subject of debate, it was clearly a matter of heated emotion: one of the members now addressed the L°gting from the podium, emphasising his points with sweeping gestures (Photo 15 - Impassioned debate in the L°gting) (see right). We sat at the back observing the session and were even able to take photos of the proceedings. What surprised us was, despite the evident strength of feeling that the matter of debate aroused, there was no evidence of press attendance. After some 30 minutes, we withdrew, and talking afterwards with the Head of Secretariat, learned that the chairman of a select committee had been addressing the parliament on proposals to review the Faroese criminal law on sexual assault and rape by extending the law to cover gay rape; this explained the level of feelings that the matter had clearly provoked particularly with the Christian parties. Our chance opportunity to visit the L°gting and to witness the Faroese Parliament in session had truly been an unexpected privilege.
First experience of Faroese food prices: we now had to turn our attention to more practical matters like buying food, and worked our way over to the main S~N road, R C Effers°es G°ta to find the SMS shopping centre. What was said to be the largest supermarket in the Faroes seemed poorly stocked by European standards and the prices staggering. Clearly all the food was imported; shopping for food this week was going to be an utterly depressing experience! Around the Eystari Ringvegur, we found the supposedly better value Bonus supermarket (identifiable by its Pink Pig logo) in search of better prices and more variety, and failed with both! Next door at the Faroese state monopoly alcohol store (R˙sdrekkas°la Landsins), beer prices even for Faroese brewed beer were also high. After a fine day, the sky was now darkening; with wind now getting up, we returned to the campsite, struggling to pitch with nose into the chill, gale-driven rain. What a change in the weather, but doubtless more typical of what we should expect from North Atlantic weather. Exhausted after this morning's early start and our full day in Tˇrshavn, we sat looking out over the grey, stormy sound with gale-driven breakers crashing onto the rocks below, and later battened down for a rough night with little change in the weather forecast for tomorrow.
The medieval Cathedral of St Magnus at Kirkjub°ur: the gales eased during the early hours, but this morning low misty cloud still covered the hills and obscured the coast of Nˇlsoy (see above left). The air was still full of rain; it was a miserably wet morning. Down into Tˇrshavn, we followed the main streets around to the western side passing the unsightly and over-large Vesterkirkja with its pyramidical tower, heading over to the isolated hamlet of Kirkjub°ur at the extreme southern tip of Streymoy to see the remains of St Magnus Cathedral and the medieval farmstead. The weather was still murky misty with low cloud clinging to the hills obscuring any distant views. In the outskirts of Tˇrshavn small-holdings lined the road, with sheep, lambs, goats and geese grazing the outfields. The road climbed steadily, contouring around Kirbjub°reyn mountain bringing us into misty cloud, then began the descent on the far side down towards the sea. Beyond a side-turning down to the tiny harbour of GamlarŠtt, from where a small ferry crossed to the outer island of Hestur, a single-track lane descended steeply ending at a parking area by the farming hamlet of Kirkjub°ur, with its red painted wooden farm cottages roofed with turf. We kitted up fully against the rain to explore the village.
Kirkjub°ur was first settled around 800 AD by Irish monks eking out a hermit existence here, using driftwood to build shelters and seaweed to fertilise the poor soil. With the arrival of Norwegian Viking settlers the monks fled, and with the Faroes firmly under Viking control from around 1000 AD, Kirkjub°ur began to flourish, with wealthy farms and landowners and, with the conversion to Christianity, a first church. The first bishop of the Faroes, Gudmundur, arrived around 1100 AD and Kirkjub°ur's strategic role in Faroes history was strengthened as the Church, from its base here, asserted its dominance by seizing land across the islands. The most powerful of Kirkjub°ur's medieval bishops, Erlandur, built the monumental stone Cathedral of St Magnus during the 13th century, but a combination of peasants revolting against the bishop's extortionate taxation and poverty brought by the Black Death meant that the cathedral was never completed.
There are now 3 elements of Kirkjub°ur's historical past visible: the medieval farmstead of Roykstovan, once the residence of the powerful bishops of Kirkjub°ur, the 11th century Church of St Olaf standing by the shore-side, and the conserved remains of Erlendur's St Magnus Cathedral. We walked over to get our bearings, with the sturdy Roykstovan farmstead covering a large area up the hillside. With the imposition of the Reformation in 1538, all the Church's extensive land-holdings were seized by the Danish crown amounting to half the land in the Faroes. The largest parcel of the so-called King's Land was here at Kirkjub°ur, having been the former bishop's residence, which is now owned by the Faroese government. The Roykstovan farmstead has been rented out to the Patursson family and the land farmed by them for 17 generations. Roykstovan was still clearly a working farm (see above right); its sturdy looking, turf-roofed wooden buildings had once stood at Sognefjord and were transported here piecemeal. One of the oldest of the decorated timber log buildings is set out as a museum showing a typical Faroese farm house (see above left). Down at the shore-side, we walked over to St Olaf's Church. This ancient church, which once housed the carved pew ends reported to have been brought from Bergen in 1400 for St Magnus' Cathedral and now in the Tˇrshavn National Museum, was now furnished with plain wooden seating. From outside in the graveyard, we could look across to the Roykstovan farmstead and cathedral ruins (Photo 16 - St Magnus Cathedral ruins at Kirkjub°ur).
The weather was still gloomily overcast, and in poor light we walked around to the rear of the farm house to find the cathedral remains. There on the hill-side just above the shore stood the bulky granite walled shell, 27m long, 11m wide and 1.5m thick, built in around 1300 AD (see above right). Various conservation measures covering the stone remains have been attempted, but today the roofless nave stood uncluttered. Some work was still in progress, but we could enter the nave with its tall Gothic window spaces, and corbels which once would have supported roofing arches carved with Maltese cross decorations (see above left). But at that moment, a bus load of cruise ship tourists arrived and soon were milling everywhere, contaminating the peace of this isolated setting. We followed a shore-side lane beyond the cathedral remains, where shaggy Faroese sheep and their black lambs grazed the hill-side path (see above right). High above rose a sheer basalt escarpment running the whole length of the cliff line; stone for the cathedral's construction must have been quarried from these cliffs slopes. The view looking back, with St Olaf's white-pained church standing by the shore, with Faroese sheep grazing by the bulky cathedral remains, and the Roykstovan farmstead beyond, all backed by the distant misty off-shore island of Hestur (see above left and right), made a perfect Faroese photo in the gloomy light (Photo 17 - St Olaf's medieval church). As we stood taking our photos of this magnificent, moody setting, the farmer drove by in his pick-up, welcoming us to the Faroes with a friendly greeting, a lovely moment.
Undersea tunnel to the island of Vßgar: back over Kirbjub°reyn mountain and through the northern outskirts of Tˇrshavn, we turned off northwards on Route 50 towards Hoyvik to begin our venture over to the easterly island of Vßgar. The weather was now filthy, with low, gloomy rain clouds covering the hills. In driving rain and late afternoon traffic, we continued alongside Kaldbaksfj°rur, but views across the fjord were now obscured by mist. At the head of the fjord, the road entered the 2.8km long Kollfjarar-tunnel, and emerged to round the head of Kollafj°rur and turn left onto Route 40. Lashing rain and heavy mist obscured any views except the broad water courses streaming in torrents down the mountainsides enclosing Kollfjarardalur. Along this long valley, the road now entered 760m long Lenar-tunnel where a prominent torrent cascaded down the hill-side at the head of the valley. A short interval brought us to the start of the undersea Vßgar-tunnel, almost 5kms in length dropping steeply down 100m under the Vestmannasund which separates Streymoy from Vßgar. Route 40 now emerged to a sharp hairpin marking the beginning of the very steep, grindingly long climb over the mountains of southern Vßgar. In driving rain George struggled up the severely steep gradient into dense cloud, and across the watershed to the equally steep descent to the little settlement of Sandavßgur which nestled with its attractive red-painted church into the head of the bay.
Mivßgur village and Giljanes Camping on Vßgar: around the bay, we passed Giljanes Hostel-Camping, our base for tonight, and in appalling weather continued to the larger settlement of Mivßgur to find the Bonus supermarket for provisions. Next door we found the Faroes WW2 Museum which tells the story of the war years when from April 1940, after the German invasion of Demark, some 5,000 British troops under Operation Valentine occupied the strategically important Faroe Islands to protect the North Atlantic convoy routes. The Faroes suffered German bombing raids and fishing boats were sunk trying to bring fish to UK. The museum presents a series of movingly evocative photos and artefacts recording the lives of British troops, their romances with local girls, and the sinking of Faroese trawlers with some 170 Faroes sailors killed. One benefit for the Faroese was that the occupying British forces built the airfield on Vßgar. British Royal Engineers also constructed the island's only road, running through the villages out to the airfield.
In such foul weather there was little point this afternoon in attempting any further visits, and we returned through Mivßgur to Giljanes Hostel (see above left). The camping area was simply part of the car park with facilities in the wooden hostel building (see left), and we pitched looking out towards the fish farms out in Vßgafj°rur bay and the surrounding mountains and distant pyramidical island of Koltur all obscured by murkily misty rain clouds (see above right). The young hostel owner arrived shortly after and gave us details on the best route for our planned walk tomorrow out alongside Leitisvatn to the cliffs of TrŠlanipa and B°sdalafosssar where the lake over-spilled down into the sea. In wet weather with the ground sodden and water courses running high, the upper route from Mivßgur church was a better made and more distinct path. On such a wretched wet and gloomy evening with rain pouring, we were snug inside George with the heater on.
A wet fell walk along Leitisvatn to TrŠlanipa cliffs and B°sdalafosssar: the weather the next morning still looked unpromising, with low cloud covering the hills and a chill southerly wind blowing from across the fjord. We kitted up in full waterproofs in readiness for today's walk out along Leitisvatn to TrŠlanipa cliffs and B°sdalafosssar. Turning off at Mivßgur church, we followed an unsurfaced lane out onto the open fell-side, parked by a barn where turf was being cut in long strips presumably for roofing (see above right), and set off for the 4.5km walk across the fell out to the lake's end where it dropped into the sea. The route initially passed through the home fields where shaggy Faroese sheep and lambs grazed. They were all patchily dark cream, brown and black, and you could see the origins of the characteristic Faroes knitted sweaters (see left), though these days the sheep are raised primarily for meat with the drop in value of wool. At the top of the slope, high above the village down in the valley, we turned off through a gate leaving behind the home fields and contouring across the face of the fell-side. Although still overcast, the sky was brighter and more promising but with the wind keen and fresh, we were glad of our windproof multi layers. The path was well-made and dry even after so much rain, and at this stage there was no problem with route finding. Crossing the many water courses pouring down the fell-side presented no difficulties. In contrast, the lakeside route which we had originally planned to follow looked indistinct and very wet. From our higher vantage point on the fell slope, we had a clear view along the curving length of Leitisvatn (Photo 18 - Fell path above Leitisvatn) (see left), and as we advanced the prominent cliff of TrŠlanipa and the gap where the lake tumbled down into the sea at B°sdalafosssar came into view on the southerly skyline. The weather at this stage remained dry with even a hint of sun. On this wonderfully solitary fell-slope, we were surrounded by bird song: the trilling crescendo calls of Whimbrels (Photo 19 - Whimbrel) and the peep-peep alarm calls of Oyster Catchers filled the air together with the pee-wit call of Lapwings. We could clearly see the Whimbrels and Oyster Catchers circling around or parading across the fell-side, and a pair of chunky Arctic Skuas standing on the fell-side below us (see above right); the Whimbrels and Oyster Catchers must have been nesting among the fell-side's tufty grass.
We advanced steadily to a point where the path crossed a more substantial water course, which had gouged out a deeper channel appropriately call Gr°v; this seemed to mark the outer limit of the anti-erosion path-laying work. From here the path threaded a less distinct line across the wet, muddy peat, which made route finding less clear and slowed our progress. The route gained height up towards the gaping cliff end of TrŠlanipa, where the land dropped sheer facing the dark cliff face across a fearsome gap. With the sky darkening, the weather was evidently deteriorating, and we sloped downwards picking out a route as best we could across the craggy outcrops towards the B°sdalafosssar lake-end. With rain now beginning, we reached the point where Leitisvatn lake finally over-spilled down into the sea (Photo 20 - B°sdalafosssar cliffs). We had expected a sudden cliff drop and waterfall, but the lake's outflow sloped down gently over some 100m length, falling no more than 20m. Rain was now falling, and visibility poor with low cloud obscuring the line of cliffs extending northwards along the coast. The North Atlantic looked forebodingly turbulent in this grim weather. We took our photographs, took careful note and compass bearings of the line of the route across such indistinct ground, and in poor visibility began our return. The route sloped steeply upwards, bringing us out at the cliff edge of TrŠlanipa, immediately above a gash in the cliff edge, to reveal the full 142m precipice with the Atlantic surf pounding against the foot of the cliffs way below (Photo 21 - TrŠlanipa cliffs) (see left and right). The name TrŠlanipa is said to mean Slave Mountain, derived from the Viking custom of pushing slaves no longer fit for work from this perpendicular cliff. We took our photos from this thrilling cliff-top eyrie, and set off again across the landward slope, making better progress now as the path became increasingly more distinct. With rain now starting again, there was little to detain us on the return leg, and in this wretched weather we made hasty progress along the final section back through the home fields.
S°rvßgur Airport: stripping off boots and our soaking outer layers, we returned to Mivßgur village to drive westwards along to the far end of Leitisvatn to reach S°rvßgur Airport, built originally in WW2 by Royal Engineers as a military landing strip. The site out here on the far side of Vßgar had been chosen for its invisibility from the sea, certainly not for its convenience to Tˇrshavn. During WW2, Vßgar was a strictly controlled military zone with passports issued to the island's civilian inhabitants. After the war the airfield at S°rvßgur was handed over to the Faroese government and later in the 20th century became the islands' civil airport. The Faroese carrier Atlantic Airways now operates services to a number of European destinations and in 2011 the runway was extended to 1800m to allow the airline's two Airbus 320s to take-off and land from S°rvßgur. The landing is still however challenging with such restricted runway length and weather turbulence, and flights are often cancelled because of adverse weather conditions.
The isolated village of B°ur: in S°rvßgur village, we turned off on Route 452 out along the northern shore of S°rvßgsfj°rur to the tiny, isolated village of B°ur. This charming settlement, a tiny huddle of black-tarred, turf-roofed wooden cottages, is home to just 50 inhabitants. The village is perched just above the shore-side, and is towered over by the sheer 500m high mountain against whose foot B°ur snuggles. From the parking area outside the village, we walked down past the cottages. From its vantage point at the mouth of S°rvßgsfj°rur, B°ur looks out across to the hills on the southern side of the fjord, and the towering pyramidical islet of Tindhˇlmur which rises 262m sheer from the sea. Alongside it stand the isolated stack of Drangarnir with its sea arch and the outer stack of Gßshˇlmur (see above right). The village of B°ur clusters around its tiny wooden church, built in 1865 in the traditional Faroese style (Photo 22 - B°ur church in west Vßgar). Just opposite a thundering waterfall cascades down from the over-towering mountain (see left).
The runestone in Sandavßgur church: returning through S°rvßgur and Mivßgur, and before beginning the long drive over to Vestmanna on Streymoy, we turned off into Sandavßgur village to find the Sandavßgur runestone in the red-painted church. The local mother and toddler group was still meeting in the church and we had to wait for them to finish so that we could see the runestone which stood in the corner by the altar (see right). The 13th century engraved stone was found in a nearby field by a local farmer in 1917 and only saved from destruction by chance. The runic inscription reads: Ůorkil Onundarson, a man from the east (ie Norway) from Rogarland, was the first to found a home here Ůorkil was a 13th century Viking adventurer, and the stone commemorates his settlement here at Sandavßgur. Saying our farewells to the mums (one of whom had graduated from Aberdeen University) and playgroup leader after this surrealistic encounter, we set off again to face the long and gruelling ascent of the mountain road over eastern Vßgar.
Vestmanna Camping and the industrial port of Vestmanna: the descent of the far side brought us down to the undersea tunnel under Vestmannasund. At the far end, we re-emerged onto Streymoy island and turned off onto the road around the southern headland, climbing remorselessly around the face of the mountain, and eventually descending to the modern industrial port of Vestmanna which nestled down in the bay. Vestmanna Camping could easily be spotted from a distance down by the harbour; the so-called 'campsite' was nothing more than an utterly soulless black gravel parking area for 100s of static caravans parked in regimented rows, thankfully deserted at this time of year. The cost was expensive at 240 kr for such a sordidly grubby environment, but the service house was open and functional. Totally exhausted after our fulsome day, we settled in and stowed our wet kit from today's cliff-top walk.
With a population of 1,200, Vestmanna itself was a grubby industrial fishing port, curving around its natural sheltered harbour (see left and right). The docks area built on reclaimed land houses some modern industry and along with the fish factory provides local employment. The Faroes main HEP generating plant is located by the dockside with water pipelines snaking down the hillside from 4 dammed lakes up in the hills above the town, further adding to its industrial air. Before the undersea tunnel was opened, all traffic to Vßgar and the airport had to pass through Vestmanna before taking the ferry across to the tiny harbour of Oyrargjˇgv on the Vßgar side of the fjord. The tunnel's opening in 2002 put paid to this passing trade, leaving Vestmanna at the end of a road to nowhere. Today the only reason for visitors to come all the way over to Vestmanna is for the bird cliff boat trips, but the price of these is prohibitive at 295 kr each; it simply was not worth it. The following morning was bright with even some sun, which enabled us to complete drying wet kit and boots. Vestmanna Camping however was disappointing; why so many Faroese would chose to park their caravans in such an unattractive place remained a mystery. We drove around through the town which curved around the harbour, looking for a shop or indeed anything of interest, and found neither. And that was Vestmanna.
The Viking farm settlement at KvÝvik: we now had to tackle the mountain road to escape, and George put in a sterling effort for the long, sweeping climb. On a sunny morning, we were rewarded with superb panoramic views across to the bulky mountains of Vßgar, the extended cliff line of Streymoy, and the distant shapely pyramidical island of Koltur rising sheer from the sea on the southern horizon (see above left). Before re-joining the main road at the tunnel mouth, we turned steeply down hill to the coast and the little village of KvÝvik, nestled securely in a deep, narrow valley at the mouth of the Stˇrß river which cascades down from the enclosing mountains (see right). We ambled down one of the village's 2 streets either side of the river flowing down to the sea, past the trim little white church with its celebratory 1903 plaque with Danish King Christian IX's monogram on the west end wall (Photo 23 - KvÝvik church). It was here on New Year's Eve 1855 that Rev V U Hammershaimb preached his sermon in Faroese rather than Danish for the first time, causing outrage among his shocked congregation. The lowly Faroese language was considered unworthy for the church, and the experiment was not repeated. It was another 100 years before the Bible was finally translated into Faroese in 1961!
On such a sunny morning, it was simply delightful wandering among KvÝvik's brightly painted cottages with their flower gardens. Our reason for coming here was to find the excavated remains of a 10/11th century Viking farm house and cow byre, discovered in 1942. Just above the sea-wall by the rocky shore, we found the low turf-covered remains of the Viking age buildings (Photo 24 - Viking farmstead at KvÝvik). The long-house 21m long with curving walls stood alongside the byre, which showed traces of cattle stalls (see left). In this narrow, sheltered south-facing cove, especially on a sunny morning, you could understand why 10th century Vikings should have chosen this peaceful little haven as the site of their farming settlement (see right).
Kollafj°rur church: continuing over the mountain road, we re-joined the main Route 40 just where it emerged from the undersea tunnel (see left), and turned westwards into upper Kollfjardalur, anxiously looking for the service station at the exit from the second, shorter tunnel into the main valley to pay our 100kr tunnel toll. Down into Kollfjardalur beyond the junction with the road from Tˇrshavn, we turned along the northern shore of Kollafj°rur to pause at the fjord-side linear village of Kollafj°rur with its 1837 wooden church. Faroese flags in the village were flying at half-mast; there was evidently a funeral taking place at the church. The deceased was clearly a person of standing since the church was full and the service relayed to those standing outside. The sun was bright and we took our photos from across the road.
Hˇsvik village, Vi ┴ir former whaling station and HvalvÝk church: rounding Kjalnesstangi point, we continued around Streymoy's western coastline and paused at Hˇsvik with its modern church. The village was tucked away into a sheltered cove and backed by water courses cascading down the hillside. A little further, we reached the former whaling station of Vi ┴ir, built by Norwegians in 1906 and operated during the 20th century. Harpooned whales were off-loaded from ships onto slipways here for cutting up ready for export. The whale station closed in 1984, and the former derelict buildings are now being modernised as a maritime and fish-farming research centre (see right).
A little farther, we turned off onto the back road to Saksun to reach the charming village of HvalvÝk (meaning Whale Bay) set at the mouth of the Stˇrß river. Amid HvalvÝk's farms and cottages stood its little wooden church (Photo 25- HvalvÝk Church), built in 1829 from pinewood from a ship stranded at Saksun to replace an earlier church destroyed by storms (see left). We had earlier phoned the TIC at KlaksvÝk to enquire about the campsite there, only to get the disappointing news that it was currently closed for renovation. There were no other campsites over on Baroy or the eastern islands, and we needed an alternative. Before leaving HvalvÝk, we drove a short distance along the valley to locate the wild-camp spot recommended by Kathy and Rick Howe. Alongside the river which burbled gently along the pastoral valley we found this perfect little spot, off the road with sheep and lambs grazing nearby, Oyster-catchers strutting around and the trilling of Whimbrels filling the air; it was perfectly delightful and would certainly provide the alternative camping spot we needed.
The drive along Sundini Sound to Fossß waterfall and HaldorsvÝk fishing village: returning to the main road, we continued north at the bridge that crosses Sundini Sound. The narrow road, squeezed between shore-line and the towering mountain side, was lined with sheep pastures. A short way along, we reached Faroes' highest waterfall, Fossß, cascading down from the high mountain over 2 rocky, characteristically 'layer-cake' basalt escarpments, and dropping majestically into a gloomily shaded cauldron cove at the foot of the 110m high falls (see right and left) (Photo 26- Fossß waterfalls). Beyond this spectacular setting, the road became narrow, single-track with passing places, shelving high along the mountain-side which dropped steeply down to the sound. A further 3 kms brought us to the work-a-day fishing village of HaldorsvÝk, where the harbour was busy with fishing boats, and fish farms extended out along the sound. At the far end, we paused to photograph HaldorsvÝk's unique 1856 octagonal church set on a shelf above the sound against the backdrop of village and port (Photo 27- HaldorsvÝk octagonal church).
The end-of-the-road village of Tj°rnavÝk: the onward ultra-narrow lane now rose on a corniche rounding high above the sea, cut into the sheer slopes of Mount HŠystafjall with the outer side dropping precipitously to the sea; we were thankful for the safety fencing and passing places. This was the last section of Faroese roads to be constructed; before that the only access to Tj°rnavÝk was by track over the mountain. From this spectacular road, we could glance across to Eii, spread around the headland on the far side of the mouth of Sundini Sound; it seemed so close. Rounding the headland, the lane sloped alarmingly on its narrow shelf, straight down to the tiny settlement of Tj°rnavÝk which nestled above its black sand beach in the narrow inner confines of a north-facing fjord sliced into this isolated corner of northern Streymoy. This stunning setting was surrounded on 3 sides by towering mountains, with the village nestled into the confines of a circular glacial valley mouth (botnur in Faroese) (see left) (Photo 28 - Tj°rnavÝk village). The friable rock of the mountain sides had twice destroyed the settlement with rock-falls, and today the access road was protected by safety netting and the village by a network of dykes and stone walls.
We edged down and parked at the entrance to the village just by the black sand beach. From here the unprecedentedly magnificent view opened up across the fjord to the twin set of sea-stacks of Risin and Kellingin at the foot of awe-inspiring vertical cliffs of Eysturoy's northern tip above the village of Eii (Photo 29 - Eysturoy's northern cliffs and sea stacks). The stacks and cliffs, lit by the afternoon sun, seemed so close across the fjord, peaceful today with just a gentle tide rolling onto the black sand beach. But one could imagine gale-driven breakers crashing onto this north-facing beach in times of storm.
A hospitable welcome at Eii Camping, the most surrealistically located campsite ever: before leaving Tj°rnavÝk, we telephoned Eii Camping to ensure they were open; although the village was visible across narrow fjord, we should need to drive the 2 sides of Sundini Sound to camp at Eii this evening. Returning around the high corniche road and back through HaldorsvÝk, we crossed Sundini bridge onto Eysturoy, following the main Route 10 steeply up on the far side. At the apex of the hairpin bend, we turned off onto the wide, modern Route 62 for the 12 kms drive along the sound's northern shore, to reach Eii nestled in a magnificent setting sandwiched between 2 hills on a narrow isthmus. The campsite owners, Martin and Hertha K˙rberg, had told us that the camping was sited on the village's former football field, and we drove around finding every corner of the labyrinthine village, everything but the old football pitch and campsite. Finally, with help from locals, we followed the lane out past Tj°rnin Lake, across an isthmus, and sure enough at lane's end we found what must be the most surrealistically located campsite ever, set on the former astro-turf football field (which the village's new stadium had replaced) and facing out northwards over the Atlantic Ocean. Feeling totally iconoclastic, we drove across the astro-turf, still with its pitch markings and goal-posts, to the former changing rooms which now served as reception and facilities. There we were greeted by Hertha who showed us around. Still bemused by the setting, George did a couple of laps of the pitch before settling in on the corner touch-line looking out to sea (see left and right) (Photo 30 - Eii Camping). Martin, the ebullient campsite owner, came round to sort out the power supply; a former member of the Eii football club, he told us more about the former football field, and recommended a walk along the line of cliffs to the north for views of the twin sea-stacks just off the mighty cliffs of Eysturoy's northernmost tip.
A cliff-top walk looking over the twin sea-stacks of Eysturoy's northernmost tip: the following morning, we kitted up fully against drizzly rain for this walk along the shore-edge and cliff tops for the distant views of Eii's sea-stacks and precipitous cliffs. Leaving George at the football pitch's corner flag, we set off across a flat-slabbed rocky shelf sloping up from the shore-line, where Oyster-catchers paraded around on the rocks with their peeping calls. Looking northwards along the line of the coast, a watercourse streaming from the higher fells tumbled over a sheer cliff edge into the sea (see left). Beyond this distant misty mountains rose higher ending in a precipitous line of cliffs. The sky was heavily overcast, and although relatively calm, the wind brought passing showers. We advanced along the now higher rocky shelf, glancing back to check if the sea-stacks were now visible beyond Eysturoy's northern terminal cliffs. With further progress now more difficult and barred by a drop, we gained height up to a dry-stone wall which protected sheep grazing the higher fells from the drop down to the rocky shore-line. As we gained further height following the protective line of the wall on its upper side, the larger and more bulky shape of the 69m high outer stack of Kellingin came into view beyond Eii's cliffs. A little more height gain, and the more slender needle-like stack of 71m high Risin became visible (see right) (Photo 31 - Eysturoy Cliffs with Risin and Kellingin sea-stacks). According to local legend, the 2 sea-stacks are the petrified remains of a giant and his troll-wife who came to the Faroes to tow the islands back north to Iceland. They tied a rope to Eiiskollur mountain, but the whole effort took longer than expected; daylight dawned turning the giants to stone, so creating the stacks. From our distant viewpoint, the 2 ex-giant stacks looked diminutive set against the mighty cliffs of Eiiskollur's northern face. A gate in the wall led out onto a prominent grassy plateau high above the shore, where the watercourse streamed from the higher fells forming the cliff-edge waterfall seen earlier. Having taken our photos of Eiiskollur's high cliffs and its 2 off-shore stacks, we worked our way back along the cliff tops to the shore-side football field. We had received such a hospitable welcome at Eii Camping; it had been one of the most memorably surrealistic stays, camped by the goal-posts and corner touch-line of what must have been the world's most scenically located if wind-swept football pitches.
The agreeable fishing port of Fuglafj°rur: leaving Eii, we returned along Sundini Sound to re-join the main Route 10, and turned uphill to enter the 2.5km long Norskßla Tunnel, which cuts through the bulk of Eysturoy's mountain spine, and emerges high in the broad valley on the eastern side. This huge open valley of Skßladalen was indeed Big Country, surrounded on all sides by over-towering mountains with their characteristic 'layer cake' stratification of volcanic basalt. The road wound down into the broad valley bottom to reach the head of Skßlafj°rur which cuts deeply into Eysturoy dividing the southern part of the island into 2 lengthy peninsulas. Part way along the fjord, the on-going Route 10 turned sharply uphill to cross the high neck of the eastern peninsula, descending steeply on the far side to reach the townships of Syrug°ta and Norrag°ta which sprawl around the head of G°luvik bay. Up from Norrag°ta, Route 65 sweeps around the shore-line of Pollurin bay down to the fishing port of Fuglafj°rur.
Tucked away, nestling securely into the sheltered head of the bay, Fuglafj°rur is one of Faroes' busiest fishing ports. Dominated by 3 massive surrounding mountains, SlŠtnatindur (625m), H˙safelli (626m) and Borgin (571m) which overshadow the town below, Fuglafj°rur has one of the islands' best natural harbours which now includes a fish-processing plant, shipyard, oil depot and trawl net producing factory (see left and right). More than 20% of Faroese exports pass through Fuglafj°rur's harbour. With a population of 1,500, the town has a purposeful and agreeable air, spread around the head of the fjord. We made our way down into the town and parked by the library-cum-TIC to shop for provisions at Haraldsens supermarket, one of 2 in Fuglafj°rur. The shop was by far and away the best stocked we had encountered so far on the Faroes, and we garnered enough food for 4 suppers, including a slab of frozen Icelandic salted lamb; taking lamb to Iceland added a new twist to the proverb! Along at the Tourist Information Centre, we were greeted in faultless English by Kristina Gry Berg who manages the Fuglafj°rur TIC; her knowledge both locally of Eysturoy and more generally about the Faroes was extensive, and we learned much factual and interesting information about life in the Faroes, and help with the Faroese language and pronunciation of place name eg Eii = something like Eye-yuh. This was a truly memorable encounter. There was no campsite in the town, but the municipality made provision for camping at an aire with power supplies down by the marina overlooking the fjord, with access to facilities in the Kultur House, all at 150kr/night; we should return to camp here on Saturday night after our day on Boroy and Vioy. Before leaving Fuglafj°rur, we drove around to the port at the industrial end of the town, and photographed the town from the residential area up on the hillside (Photo 32- Fishing port of Fuglafj°rur).
Excavated remains of Viking Age farmstead at LeirvÝk: back around the bay, the old coastal road to Leirvik was the site of another of north Eysturoy's curiosities, the Varmakelda warm spring, welling up from the sloping fjord shore. The spring is a minor residue of the volcanism which formed the Faroe Islands' basalt rock aeons ago, and the spring bubbles up at a lukewarm 18║C all year round. With time running short, we took a cursory look and continued on the main Route 70 through the 2.24km long LeirvÝkar-tunnel. At the far end, the road curved around the shore-line of LeirvÝksfjorur into the workaday fishing port of LeirvÝk. Other than its busy fishing harbour, LeirvÝk's other point of interest are the excavated remains of a 10th century Viking farmstead settlement just by the filling station at the entrance to the village. Excavation of the site at Toftanes in the 1980s revealed the stone foundations of a 20m long-house curving in shape, and similar to the one we had seen at KvÝvik, divided into a dwelling area with fire-place and a cow byre, with remains of a meat drying store nearby (see above right) (Photo 33 - 10th century Viking farmstead at LeirvÝk). We photographed the excavated remains then drove down to the harbour for photos of the boats moored at the quays against the mountainous backdrop (see left).
Camping at the remote hamlet of Gjˇgv: but it was by now 5-30pm and we had a long drive to reach tonight's campsite at the remote hamlet of Gjˇgv (which we had earlier learned was pronounced Dyek-ve). The weather was breezy but still pleasantly sunny as we returned through Leirvik Tunnel, down through Norrag°ta and Syrug°ta, down to the Skipanes junction, and along Skßlafj°rur to begin the long climb up to Norskßla Tunnel, down to the junction for Route 62 back along to Eii. This was now becoming a familiar route. At Eii, the hard work now began with the dramatic road over the mountains. The single-track lane climbed steadily up onto the shoulder of SlŠtaratndur, the Faroes' highest mountain at 882m, where a viewpoint gave distant views of the Kellingin and Risin twin sea-stacks. Despite the sun being clear, with a still uncertain drive ahead over the mountains to reach Gjˇgv, we pressed on. With grazing ewes and gambling lambs adding to the need for concentration, the narrow road gained further height up to a shoulder, then descended via a couple of hairpins to a junction with the severe hairpins lane coming up from Funningur way down below on the shore of Funningsfjorur. Route 632 continued ahead gaining more height via a hairpin, before dropping steadily down the length of a long valley all the way down to the coast at the hamlet of Gjˇgv.
The owner at the Flatnagaur guest-house booked us in for the Gjˇgv campsite with almost officious formality, a total contrast with Martin's easy-going casual style at Eii; we knew which we preferred, but after a long day went along with it! The gravelled camping area was on the far side of the village, set on a wind-swept headland looking across the fjord to the distant line of cliffs of the elongated island of Kalsoy (see above right) (Photo 34 - Gjˇgv Camping). We had the campsite to ourselves, and as we settled in, a local farmer brought feed for his ewes and lambs, summoning them with a toot on his van horn. What a splendid day this had been with so much enjoyable discovery and learning, and very early the next morning, a magnificently flaring pink dawn filled the eastern sky across the cliff-lined fjord and Kalsoy island (Photo 35 - Dawn over Kalsoy).
Gjˇgv village and its natural cleft harbour: camping at Gjˇgv had been worth the long and dramatic drive over the mountains: the airy and wind-swept setting above the sea looking across to the Kalsoy cliff line was spectacular, the facilities were modern and clean, with site-wide wi-fi, and price reasonable. This morning the wind blowing briskly off the sea made breaking camp a real effort. Before leaving for our day on the islands of Boroy and Vioy and the fishing port of Klaksvik, we wanted to see something of Gjˇgv, with its natural wonder, the deep rock cleft-gorge which forms the hamlet's little harbour. At the seaward end of its long valley, Gjˇgv is dauntingly enclosed on the landward side by a ring of mountains. Most of the houses are modern and cluster along either side of the Dalß creek which flows down through the village with children's playthings scattered on the rocks. The little harbour is set in the 200m long natural cleft-gorge in the rocks below the cliffs bordering the sea (see above left) (Photo 36 - Gjˇgv cleft-gorge). Gjˇgv in Faroese means cleft and viewed from above, the village seems to cling to the edge of this rocky inlet. From the head of the cleft, a flight of steep concrete steps led down to the moorings in the gorge bottom, and a footpath gave views of the cleft's opening to the sea, with wind-driven surf crashing onto the rocks at the foot of the enclosing cliffs.
The fishing port of KlaksvÝk: leaving Gjˇgv, we returned up the long approach valley to the high point, and started down the hairpins to the Funningur junction where further hairpins fell alarmingly down to the fjord coast way below. We continued ahead over the shoulder of SlŠtaratndur, pausing at the viewpoint for photographs of the stacks which this morning were partly obscured by murky mist with a layer of low cloud covering the cliffs above. Back along Sundini Sound for the last time to Route 10, through the tunnel and down the long sweep of Skßladalen and along Skßlafj°rur, we turned through Leirvik Tunnel to enter the 6.3m long undersea Noroya Tunnel, the last link in the inter-islands driving route only completed in 2006. We emerged at the outskirts of KlaksvÝk, with just enough time to reach the Landsins state monopoly alcohol shop for beer before it closed for the weekend. KlaksvÝk with a population of 5,000 is the Faroes second largest town, and is set snugly on an isthmus between 2 fjords, the steep-sided U-shaped inlet enclosed on 2 sides by high 'layer cake' basalt stratified mountains, and the fjord mouth seemingly blocked by the massive inverted keel-shaped island of Kunoy (Photo 37 - Fishing port of KlaksvÝk). Modern ocean-going trawlers were moored at the quays of KlaksvÝk's industrial harbour along with smaller fishing vessels, which supply the town's large fish-processing factory. KlaksvÝk's rowing club was out energetically training in the choppy waters of the fjord; we later learnt that rowing, a tradition dating back to pre-motorised fishing boats, is still a popular competitive sport in Faroese towns and villages, with rowing competitions a key part of summer fairs. The F÷roya Bjˇr Brewery was closed on a Saturday so we could not visit, and KlaksvÝk's Christianskirkjan church, built in 1962 and named after King Christian X of Denmark, was also locked. The huge church's stone gable-end walls were intended to resemble Kirkjub°ur's St Magnus Cathedral and the vast ground-to-ceiling windows along the side walls to represent Faroese boat-sheds. Having topped up our provisions at the well-stocked FK supermarket, we zigzagged up the hillside to the water-storage tanks below Hßlsur Pass for the view over the town nestling in the inlet below.
Faroes' northernmost village of Viareii: back down into the town, we took the road out along the far side of the fjord, past the Kunoy ferry landing stage, and up to the 1.7km long, single-lane unlit ┴rnafjarar Tunnel, built in 1965 to give access Baroy's east coast. Outward traffic had priority in the dark, narrow tunnel, with inward-bound traffic pulling over into regular passing places. After a brief inter-tunnel interval at the head of ┴rnafjararvik, the narrow road plunged into the darkness of Baroy's second tunnel, Hvannasunds-tunnel 2kms in length and built in 1967. This also was single-track with passing places and unlit. We emerged from its outer portal overlooking Hvannasund, where the road sloped down the shore-line to the twin villages of Nordepil and Hvannasund on either side of the causeway spanning the sound which separated Baroy from its northern neighbouring island of Vioy.
Crossing the causeway onto Vioy, we headed north along the shore of Hvannasund, with the pyramidical mountain of Malinsfjall (750m) rising spectacularly ahead. We had expected to follow the Route 70 desolate coastal road all the way along to Faroes' northernmost village of Viareii. But a short way along, it was clear that the main road to Viareii now passed through a newly constructed tunnel, 1.95 km long and only opened this year, which looped inland around to the NE coast of Vioy, a route marked on our map as still under construction. With the wind strong and weather gloomy, we took the new tunnel which emerged into a wild open valley leading to Viareii. The village, scattered across a broad isthmus between 2 mountain massifs making up the northern tip of Vioy, has some of the only flat land of the islands and is therefore well cultivated. The views were magnificent looking towards Viareii's little church perched on a hillock next to its turf-roofed vicarage and facing the mouth of Hvannasund and the abandoned settlement of M˙li on the distant murky coastline of northern Baroy (see above right) (Photo 38 - Viareii village). Viareii church has a noteworthy collection of altar silverware donated to the village by the British government in 1847 in gratitude for the rescue of the crew of the brig Marwood which foundered off the northern tip of Vioy. But both the church and vicarage were locked so we were unable to see the church or its silverware.
The abandoned settlement of M˙li on NE Baroy: we tried returning around the old coastal road, but a No through road sign indicated this route was now not passable. We therefore returned by the new Viareii Tunnel route, approaching the tunnel's northern portal in the wilds of a classic botnur enclosed glacial valley (see right) (Photo 39 - Viareii Tunnel). Across the causeway to Nordepil, we turned up into the single-track, unsurfaced lane leading out 6 kms along Baroy's bleakly remote NE coast to the now abandoned settlement of M˙li. Just one generation ago, M˙li was an isolated community of 30 folk, struggling to maintain a survival living by crofting and fishing out at this exposed spot. The only access to the hamlet was by boat, and M˙li was the last settlement in the Faroes to be connected with electricity in 1970. Gradually however the families surrendered to the inevitable and moved to the security of KlaksvÝk. Ironically, just after the road shelving above the coast was built in 1998, the last of M˙li's residents, 2 elderly couples in their 80~90s, moved leaving the small cluster of weather beaten wooden cottages abandoned.
With some uncertainty, we edged along the unsurfaced broken road which sloped for 6 kms across a broad coastal shelf largely unprotected by any fencing on the seaward side (see above left); thankfully there was no corniche. Ewes and lambs were now the only occupants of this remote and desolately isolated finger of mountainside. The road eventually led down to the hamlet where the abandoned cottages were being restored as holiday homes (see right). The slopes just beyond the magnificently eerie setting were cut for roofing turf, and the only sound was the howl of the wind and the peeping of Oyster-catchers (Photo 40 - Abandoned settlement of M˙li).
Camp by the harbour at Fuglafj°rur: back along the lane, and thankful to re-join tarmac at Nordepil, we returned through the 2 single-track tunnels to KlaksvÝk. We had enjoyed another rewarding day out on this remote northernmost corner of the Faroes, and our outermost point. It was time now to leave Baroy and cross back to Eysturoy via the undersea tunnel to LeirvÝk. Here we called in at the service station to pay our 100kr tunnel toll. After the claustrophobic gloom of the narrow, unlit Baroy tunnels, the newer 2-lane tunnels seemed broad and well-lit. Through LeirvÝk Tunnel, we turned down to Fuglafj°rur to camp tonight at the aire by the waterfront. The charge was 150kr/night, and the setting was glorious looking across the harbour and sweep of the bay, with the town nestled on the lower slopes of the enclosing mountains (Photo 41 - Camping by Fuglafj°rur harbour) (see left and right). We settled in, the air filled with a salty sea tang and smell of fish. But a brisk wind was blowing across the fjord and the forecast wind-driven rain was beginning; it was going to be a chill and rough night with the wind buffeting George.
Faroese history at Norrag°ta: the rain had passed during the night, but there was still a keen wind blowing across the bay the following morning. Today we should begin our return journey to Tˇrshavn ready for the onward ferry to Iceland on Monday. Fuglafj°rur had without doubt been our favourite place in the Faroes: nestled into its fjord, with its evident sense of community, it had served us well. But disappointingly the 2 supermarkets were closed on Sundays, meaning we were unable to shop for ferry foodstuffs as planned. We departed around noon to drive back up the approach road hill and turned off into Norrag°ta. Here the local football team was playing a Sunday morning home match. G°ta is a place of significance in Faroese history: it was the dwelling of Trˇndur i G°ta, a pagan Viking warrior who ruled all the islands, and one of the key figures in the FŠreyinga Saga. Trˇndur is portrayed in the Saga as the 'bad guy' who opposed the introduction of Christianity to the Faroes by a rival chieftain, the 'good guy' Sigmundur Brestisson acting for the Norwegian King Olav Tryggvason. Trˇndur is finally and forcibly converted to Christianity around 1000 AD with a sword at his neck, and founded G°ta's first church whose modern successor built in 1833 stands nearby. Our reason for stopping off here was to see the 19th century Faroese turf-roofed farmhouse museum and cottages, Blßsastova which stands near the church and fishing harbour (see left). Norrag°ta did also have one other more practical feature: its minimarket was open on a Sunday morning, enabling us to garner most of our ferry provisions there before continuing our journey.
Turf-roofed wooden churches at Kollafj°rur and Kaldbaksfj°rur: returning by the now familiar main road down to Skipanes, along the shore of Skßlafj°rur, up into Skßladalur and through the tunnel to the Eii road junction for the final time, we crossed the Sundini Sound bridge and turned back past Hvalvik; It seemed an age since we had passed this way earlier in the week. Along past Hˇsvik with its impressive waterfalls backing the village, and the former whaling station of Vi ┴ir, we rounded Kjalnestangi point to drive along the shore of Kollafj°rur and pause at the village of Kollafj°rur to photograph the church in the bright sunshine (Photo 42 - Kollafj°rur church) (see above right). Around into the mouth of Kolladalur, we turned off onto Route 50, the Tˇrshavn road, and through the final tunnel took the side turning at the head of Kaldbaksfj°rur onto the single-track lane along the fjord's northern shoreline where water courses cascaded down the towering hillside. This led in 5 kms to the scattered village of Kaldbak, set amid low, shelving green pastures overlooking the fjord. At the far end of the village Kaldbak's little black-tarred wooden turf-roofed church, one of the oldest in the islands dating from 1835, perched within a dry stone walled enclosure on a hillock above the fjord (see left) (Photo 43 - Kaldbaksfj°rur church). On a sunny Sunday afternoon, this was a truly peaceful spot, with ewes and lambs grazing the close-cropped turf and golden Kingcups growing in the moist ground. As we returned through the village, a youngster was herding a flock of geese and goslings along the lane. Driving back to the main road, the view ahead into the depths of Kadbaksdalur presented a classic picture of Faroese glacial topography: the sea had filled what once would have been a deep, rounded valley floor to create the fjord, leaving the sweeping cirque of Kaldbaksbotnur at the head of the once glacier-filled valley; it was a magnificent spectacle.
The Faroese National and Natural History Museums at HoyvÝik: in busy Sunday afternoon traffic (for the Faroes that is!), we returned along the southern shore of Kaldbaksfj°rur, rounded Sandvikstangi point, and turned off into HoyvÝk to the F°roya Forminnissavn which now houses the National and Natural History Museums. Displays at the Natural History Museum illustrated the geological formation of the islands beginning some 68 million years ago from a volcanic basalt plateau somewhere close to where Greenland is now. This drifted SE-wards as the American and European tectonic plates moved apart along the line of the Mid-Atlantic rift. Glacial action during the long Ice Ages shaped the islands, forming the mountainous topography with deep, round-headed valleys, flooded by the sea to create the fjords and sounds which now separate and indent the islands as seen today. Further displays showed the post-glacial colonisation of the islands by wind, sea and bird-born seeds to produce initial plant life, later influenced by human settlement from the 9/10th century Viking period, with a summary of the vegetation and flora seen today. One display showed 3 of the Litla Dinum sheep originally brought by the Viking settlers, which died out in the 16th century and were replaced by the hardy Shetland and Icelandic sheep seen today.
In the National Museum, fascinating displays illustrated the development of fishing, whaling, and later freight and passenger maritime lines. Although the Faroese have always been a seafaring people, the scale of 19th century fishing was limited by the Danish Trade Monopoly to purely local waters using small smacks. In the 20th century Faroese seamen served aboard British steam trawlers, and fishing only took off after WW2 when the Faroese bought second hand trawlers from UK. In the later 20th/early 21st centuries, Faroese deep sea fishing developed becoming an essential part of the national economy. The earliest passenger lines were operated by Danish DFDS, with later the Faroese Smyril Line operating between Denmark, Norway, Shetland, Iceland and Faroes, culminating with the acquisition of the new Norr÷na in 2003, competing successfully with the airlines for tourist traffic. Displays of archaeological finds from the Viking period farmstead settlements at KvÝvik and Leirvik which we had seen earlier were followed by the Museum's highlight: the 14 ornately carved medieval pew-ends from the original St Olaf's Church at Kirkjub°ur, engraved with representations of apostles and saints (Photo 44 - Carved pew end) (see left and right), together with the magnificent 15th century bishop's throne showing St Olaf and Bishop Erlender, the founder of St Magnus Cathedral (Photo 45 - Bishop's throne). These national treasures dating from the early 1400s were removed from Kirkjub°ur during the 19th century renovation, and for 100 years languished in Copenhagen, a bone of contention for the Faroese who demanded the return of these invaluable pieces of their national heritage. They were finally returned to Tˇrshavn in 2002.
Return to Tˇrshavn Camping: from Hoyvik, we approached the northern outskirts of Tˇrshavn. After all the wild and remote places we had been this last week, and all the natural beauty of the islands, it seemed so alien returning to Tˇrshavn's mini-urbanisation. Rounding the eastern bypass, we returned to familiar Tˇrshavn Camping, with the sun now shining brightly in a clear blue sky, the sea calm out in the sound, and N°lsoy gleaming on the skyline. After such a hectically exhausting week, we finally stopped. And what a week this had been: we had travelled 350 miles and managed to explore most corners of the northern Faroe Islands of Vßgar, Streymoy, Eysturoy, Baroy and Vioy; and the holes in our much-folded Faroes map showed its intensive usage.
Onward ferry to Iceland: the following morning we should move on to the next phase of the trip to Iceland, and the forecast showed a promising absence of wind for crossing the usually stormy North Atlantic. On a bright Monday morning, kit was assembled and packed and food prepared for the ferry, and at noon we drove down to the port to check in (Photo 46 - Waiting to board M/S Norr÷na). Norr÷na was moored waiting, Sheila boarded as a foot passenger, and the boarding officer waved George through to the loading ramp. Loading was far less chaotic than at Hirtshals with fewer vehicles and more space to turn and park on the car deck. We immediately went up to the outer deck for the departure from Tˇrshavn, but disappointingly the clear weather of earlier had given way to low cloud and sea mist. We had expected that on leaving Tˇrshavn, the ferry would turn north and exit Faroes via Leirviksfj°rur and Dj˙pini Sound, between Eysturoy, Baroy and Kalsoy, over the undersea tunnel to Klaksvik and passing close to Gj°gv at the northern end of the sound. With the poor visibility, we should see little of this anyway. An announcement from the captain however gave the alternative route around the southern tip of Streymoy and then NW through the Vestmanna Sound. The mist began to clear and we rushed out on deck just in time to see the ferry passing by KvÝvik to the north and the exit of the other undersea tunnel on Vßgar to the south; we could just make out the landing stage at Oyrargjˇgv where the pre-tunnel ferry crossed from Vestmanna to Vßgar. Shortly after, the ferry passed by the inlet of Vestmanna Bay with the town snuggled around the inner side, and we enjoyed the distant spectacle of the Vestmanna bird cliffs and grottoes (Photo 47 - Departing Faroes).
With the weather and wind still calm, but with the North Atlantic swell beginning to make its presence felt, we settled in for the night's crossing. Norr÷na finally turned NW-wards along the sheer cliffs of northern Streymoy (Photo 48 - Farewell Faroes) before heading out into the North Atlantic towards Iceland. But that's the story for the next episode which as time allows will follow shortly.
Next edition from Iceland to be published quite soon