March 11, 2018
Words: Thomas Seear-Budd and Talia Carlisle/
Photos: Thomas Seear-Budd
Vibrant flora cling desperately to glistening black rocks as water plummets and howling cold winds sting my cheeks. The formidable power of rain and wind oppose gravity to fight the mighty waterfall, pushing its weight back up the cliff and spraying water in a spectacular fashion. A tiny village of grass-roofed stone dwellings sit by the cliffs, unfazed as the deep emerald waves of the tempestuous Atlantic smash into rocks below. I tuck my camera into my jacket and peer through water-drenched glasses to the edge of the cliff where my friends, in yellow and orange jackets, cling to a nearby fence post in an effort to combat wind-driven rain, sea spray and the upwards flowing waterfall.
This is the Faroe Islands, 18 mountainous islands situated in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and Scotland. With an 870 mile2 landmass the shape of an arrowhead and a population of 50,000, the Faroe Islands is a discrete place full of wonder, immense beauty and 70,000 sheep.
My partner Talia and I approached the islands by air. After a few violent shudders, the plane swooped below the cloud line. As the clouds parted I caught my first tantalising glimpse of the Faroes’ famous vertiginous cliffs, craggy sea stacks and barren sandy-toned surface. The clouds dissipated further to reveal the mountainous interiors piercing the sky. These steep precipitous peaks, clad in golden orange and green grasses, divide the landscape.
Winding roads plunge under the peaks into long, deep tunnels opening into cavernous valleys. Tarmac ribbons weave through carved rock tunnels linking tiny seaside villages perched on towering cliffs, tucked into sleepy bays and nestled at the end of high-walled fjords.
Having travelled from New Zealand through Lofoten in the north of Norway and home to majestic fjords and colossal stone peaks, the scale and ferocity of the Faroes caught us off guard.
Each day we woke to the subdued morning light that softly painted the capital city of Torshavn outside our wide hotel windows. No trees can survive the fierce conditions of the Faroes. At home in New Zealand, trees act as makers in the landscape allowing one to survey the strength of a breeze or stage of a season. Not here – the North Atlantic winds are far too strong. We quickly learnt that the wind was our biggest enemy. Before searching for trails and selecting our hiking attire, I’d begin my day surveying the landscape out of our fog covered window, scrutinising blades of grass for movement.
"As the clouds parted I caught my first tantalising glimpse of the Faroes’ famous vertiginous cliffs, craggy sea stacks and barren sandy-toned surface."
"To discover what it means to exist on a tiny archipelago in the North Atlantic, soar through the rolling clouds, cliffs and waterfalls of the majestic and untamed Faroe Islands."
Once fuelled with a hearty breakfast and a hit of caffeine we’d venture out into the landscape in search of unmarked trails towards the coast. Subtle tracks in the grass lead to blue lakes on the edges of shear cliffs, plummeting waterfalls fighting the winds to reach the turbulent ocean, and off-cuts of the landscape that have eroded into castle-like structures.
One particular hike began with a hidden trail behind a ship yard. The pre-pressed grass track follows the Fjord out to the coast. Abandoned farm buildings dot the landscape. Once filled with activity, they now merely act as markers in the landscape, guiding inquisitive tourists like ourselves. We passed over gentle streams and rock hopped over rivers gushing with weeks of rain. After a few hours, the Fjord opened up to the wider ocean revealing steep castle-like outcrops. With vertical sides and steeply sloped tops, these monolithic structures embody the very notion of the sublime. Standing at the edge of the cliff, looking out through the archway of the first castle, I felt like the figure in Caspar David Friedrich’s ‘Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’ painting. And like John Lewis Gaddis’s description of it I felt insignificant within the landscape, and experienced mixed emotions of exhilaration and terror.
"With an 870 mile² landmass the shape of an arrowhead and a population of 50,000, the Faroe Islands is a discrete place full of wonder, immense beauty and 70,000 sheep."
As the wind swirled around the rocky peaks I couldn’t help picturing Friedrich’s ‘Wanderer’ painting. The place felt like it had been constructed; it didn’t feel natural. A barren and dramatic landscape with no trees and overrun with sheep is an otherworldly and bizarre scene. Before landing in the Faroes I’d seen many images of the landscapes, quaint villages and shaggy sheep. But the reality of the place is far more brutal.
The onslaught of wind-driven rain and lack of shelter made it difficult to stop and consume our ham sandwiches. Excitement accelerated our wet and wild explorations through the stimulating landscapes and was broken only briefly when we retreated to our warm car or toasty hotel room. As the sun slipped behind the peaks and into the distant ocean I spent the evenings backing up photos and video footage before collapsing into pleasant reverie.
These arrowhead-shaped islands are lost to many explorers, to those without a detailed map or sense of adventure. The islands are simply blank spots on a bright canvas – a beacon for anyone wanting a journey and a chance to explore somewhere magical. To discover what it means to exist on a tiny archipelago in the North Atlantic, soar through the rolling clouds, cliffs and waterfalls of the majestic and untamed Faroe Islands. But beware – she is a force to be reckoned with.