A tiny 18-island archipelago roughly halfway between Iceland and Scotland, with nearly twice as many sheep as people, the Faroe Islands have a romantic appeal for travellers looking for a remote, back-to-nature experience. In March, the islands will be one of only two places in the world to see the total solar eclipse (the Norwegian islands of Svalbard being the other).
It’s a great reason to visit the Faroes – a magical world of waterfalls and fjords and huge bird colonies. There’s a vibrant cultural scene, too – festivals and boat races in traditional Faroese boats fill the summer months – but among the most intimate and left-field is Hoyma, a new music festival held each November, which takes place in locals’ sitting rooms. Most hotels are booked now for the eclipse, but there are still B&B and camping options: see solareclipse.fo. Flights are via Copenhagen or Oslo with Atlantic Airways.
The Faroe Islands lie roughly half way between the Shetland Islands and Iceland – so not the warmest nor sunniest place to visit! The economy is based on farming (and eating) sheep, catching fish and, when they’re unlucky enough to be passing, pilot whales are driven ashore and hacked to pieces on the beaches.
All in all, not an easy place to be veggie, even harder for a vegan like myself! And considering the islands epic reputation for foul weather, camping was never going to be the easiest of options. Welcome to the world of “extreme-endurance-holidays!”
Despite these obvious drawbacks the Faroes do have a few things in their favour; rugged and beautiful scenery and more seabirds than people. The first thing you have to do as a vegan camper is work out the Danish words for things like meat / whey / milk / eggs etc so you’ve got a fighting chance of getting suitable foods in the supermarket. Thankfully, arriving on a ferry from Scotland means you can take along a few ‘safe’ foods – rice, veggie stock powder plus dried soya mince are good staples. Don’t even think of walking into a restaurant or fast food outlet and finding something vegan although you might just get something veggie.
Once you’ve got your basketful of goods get ready to pay double the UK rates for groceries, but its a holiday, so why not! Then heave your 20kg ruc-sac down to the ferry terminal to catch a bus (but spend £1 on a timetable first!) An hour long ride will cost you about £9 one way and if you’re lucky you might get to see some of the fabulous scenery, that’s if its not raining or you’re travelling through a 3 mile long road tunnel.
Once you get off the bus your holiday really begins. You’re hopefully looking forwards to climbing a particular mountain or visiting some spectacular bird cliffs by the sea. You’ll first need to find a scrap of flat land to pitch your tent on – but all the flat land is given over to sheep farming and is privately owned, so its time to start knocking on doors and in your very fractured Faroese ask a local if you can sleep in his soggy field for a night or two. Thankfully the Faroese are for the most part very accommodating – so long as you don’t mention the traditional whale-hunt!
Once the tent is up make your way to the highest mountain peak to be stunned by the incredible view from the summit. There aren’t any footpaths or way markers as we know them in the UK so just do your best. A couple of hundred metres from the summit you hit a bank of mist. Considering that steep, knife-edge ridges are the norm in the Faroes you really don’t want to walk a ledge that’s as precarious as a tightrope in the dark with a half mile drop on one side. So you wait for the mist to clear. You sit and eat your nuts and chocolate and admire what little view you do have. The mist refuses to budge so you head back to the tent getting soaked on the way and then lie there for a few hours reading a damp paperback, all the while telling yourself you’re having fun because this is a holiday.
Faroe Islands mountainYou wait three days for the weather to improve so that you can negotiate the dangerous mountain headland and get to ‘Enniberg’, which at 750m+ are Europe’s highest sea cliffs. The mist doesn’t clear, the rain never stops, you’re running low on rice, fuel, dry books to read and sanity. The local shop is tiny and sells leg of lamb, bread that’s looks as though its made from bricks and, for some reason, bow-ties!
In the end your patience is rewarded and the weather breaks. You make a sprint up the mountain confident that Enniberg is now within your grasp! Just then a friendly but insecure sheep dog takes a liking to you. You throw a stick to buy yourself some time to do a runner and lose him but he just brings it back with a look of longing in his eyes and then begins to follow you up the mountain. You try to ignore him but he’s hot on your heels, then you consider how perilous the headland is and what would happen to the poor dog if the mist rolls back down and he gets separated from you! Will he find his own way back or end up as snack food for the gulls when he tumbles 700m down a cliff? You sit down and weigh up the options – this would be so much easier if you didn’t give a damn about animals!
In the end after much lip-chewing and head scratching you do what’s best for the dog and retreat from the mountain, taking him back to the village, hoping from there that he’ll make his own way home. Then, like an unfaithful partner the little Judas does a runner and sucks up to a new batch of holiday makers that were foolhardy enough to come to the Faroes, leaving you all alone! You look back up the mountain and the mist has returned. Then you go back to your tent and get an early night because tomorrow you have to pack up a wet tent before a six mile road walk to the next village which is the only place you can catch a bus from on a Sunday. The bus is due at 09.00 so you work out the start time!
Repeat this process for about a fortnight and you have the prefect vegan camper ’s holiday. When you get back to Torshavn, the capital, you tour the streets before boarding your ferry home and by chance spot a scrap of graffiti in local dialect. The word ‘vegan’ is sprayed onto a wall in the centre of town. Your heart is lifted – you’re not alone on these islands! Then you make your way to the ferry where you’ll share a four berth bunk with three smelly strangers and live off peanuts and crisps for the next 48 hours – god bless duty free beer!