It is high time that I return to the Ewe Turn. The absence of a recent post is solely due to my travels. In the depths of last winter I was inspired to plan a trip to the Faroe Islands. For those not familiar with The Faroes, they are a group of tightly clustered islands, volcanic in origin, located in the North Atlantic, roughly mid-ways between Iceland and Norway. The Islands are a semi-autonomous region of Denmark. The Faroese language is part of the Scandinavian language group and is most closely related to Icelandic. Aside from just being fascinated by the Islands and their culture, my primary goal for the visit was 1) to visit a number of seabird (especially Puffin) nesting sites at a time when the birds were present and numerous, and 2) to get a close look at the local sheep. Leaving the farm in mid-July was not a good time, but Gretchen was very generous in letting me go.
I left home on July 15th. I should have looked out for signs of travel problems even before I left, since the company that provides my international phone service let me know two days ahead of my departure that they were upgrading their service and that I needed a new SIM card. There was not time to obtain the card, so I knew I would be without phone communication. Dear United Airlines managed to mess up my flight from Green Bay to Chicago enough that I made my connection with SAS to Copenhagen with 5 minutes to spare and the hunch that my suitcase was not traveling with me. The bag finally caught up with me 5 days later thanks to diligent efforts by SAS and Atlantic Airlines (the Faroese airline). The luggage delay left me with no other choice than to purchase some clothes when I got to the Faroes. My hiking boots were in the lost luggage and as a result I had to scale back some of my planned hikes for my own safety until the boots rejoined me. On a positive note, SAS upgraded me to First Class, both coming and going (for what reason I have no idea). On another negative note, one of my two hearing aides failed me 5 days into the trip. Upon my return home I found that my computer was starting to act up again and the decision was made to get a new one. On top of everything else, I am now making the switch from PC to Mac, which for this old guy is presenting some challenges.
So I have now gotten rid of the “dirty laundry”. The remainder of this narrative can be devoted to the trip. I am planning on writing this narrative in at least three parts. This decision is due partly to the number of things about which I wish to write, and partially due to the number of photos I wish to include (I am in the very early stages of sorting and editing nearly 1600 images). This first installment will cover my first 7 days, much of which was spent on the island of Mykines.
I left home around noon on July 15th; caught a flight from Green Bay to Chicago, transferred to a fight which left Chicago at 10 PM and which arrived in Copenhagen the next day early in the afternoon. Instead of relaxing for a few hours in Copenhagen I sought out a place to purchase an inexpensive phone which I was assured would work in both Denmark proper and in the Faroes. (It failed to work in the Faroes!) The next day I turned around and flew 2 hours and west to the Faroes. Once there I made the unplanned drive into Torshavn, the capital, to make my emergency clothing purchase. Finally, by the afternoon of July 17th I could spend some quality time, devoted to the Faroe Islands. Since I had to rent a car early to get to Torshavn, I also used it the explore part of the island of Vagar, the home of the airport. I stayed in a very pleasant hotel walking distance from the airport. That convenience was part of my original plan. The next morning I had reserved a seat on the local helicopter flight to the island of Mykines, the most westerly of the major islands. It was there that I planned to spend three days amongst the seabirds and sheep (and the few people who permanently occupy the island).
The helicopter ride was dramatic and afforded a wonderful view of much of the southwestern coast of Vagar and the southern coast of Mykines. As is often the case in the Faroes views are often obscured by clouds and fog and this day was no exception. I never saw the upper half of Mykines. At least the western type of Vagar was clear. This is a view of the tip and the very small village of Gasadalur, which huddles to the far right, under the massive cliff face.
Mykines is the next island to the west. Currently their are two means of reaching Mykines, either by scheduled helicopter or by a rather small personnel ferry boat. The reliability of both means of transport is very much subject to the whims of the weather. Luckily for me the helicopter was able to fly that day. This is the view that greeted us as we approached the village of Mykines. The helicopter pad is just below the village in this view. The boat landing is in the narrow slot, barely visible to the far left. The highest portion on the island, straight ahead and to the right, is obscured by a low cloud.
Despite the gloomy appearance of the island in early morning the 18th proved to be a beautiful day. I got my meager and limited possessions deposited in the small 4 room inn that I was to stay in. I then headed off to the western tip of the island (which is actually a smaller island separated by a narrow gorge and the North Atlantic that flows through it). The smaller island, Mykinesholmur, appears “under” the tip of the helicopter’s tail. The entire western end of Mykines is the location of the largest Atlantic Puffin breeding grounds in the Faroes. It is also the only nesting site for Gannets. The hike was strenuous, especially in my shoes not intended for the rough terrain, but it was worth it.
One needs to climb to the top of the ridge that runs east to west on the island. The view is spectacular. Here it is back to the east and the vertical coastline of Vagar. From a photo it is difficult to judge the massive scale of the cliff faces. The drop from where this photo was taken is about 400 feet. Just a little ways down the slope a small group of Puffins can be seen gathered on a grassy ledge, a site of some of their nesting borrows. The distant peaks on the western edge of Vagar top out at just over 2100 feet.
Once reaching the top of the ridge on the west one must hike back down, nearly to sea level, to reach the small bridge built across the gorge to Mykinesholmur. By this point I had joined up with a group of Danes. Here they proceed me down the south face of the island. By this time of the day the view had cleared enough to see Vagar and the next islands to the east.
The grassy south facing slope below this trail is one of the most heavily populated nesting grounds for the puffins. The air was full of flights of Puffins, and the grass terraces were even more populated. The population tolerated their human visitors as long as we also respected them.
Once onto Mykinesholmur, one can walk to the extreme western end. On the crest of the ridge, which falls steeply down to the ocean, is a lighthouse. The cables that anchor it to the ridge are testimony to the force of the winds that can hammer the islands.
By the time I had reached this point, the top third of the main island was still covered by the cloud that it had snagged earlier, but at least the remainder of the island was clear for the rest of the day. I spent a good amount of time at this point. The Gannet nest on to rock columns just below where this photo was taken. And yes, there were more Puffins.
The grassy slopes are also shared with the sheep. There is a sizable flock that graze on both Mykines and Mykinesholmur. The Faroe breed is not extremely skittery. While they did not come over to visit me (like our own Corriedales would), they tolerated me or, more likely, just ignored me. The breed is closely related to the Icelandic sheep breed. They come in a wonderful variety of colors and patterns. The breed is a relatively primitive breed, which means that, among other things, they shed their wool in the early summer if they are not sheared.
This pair is, on the left, a lamb born this spring following his mother, who is beginning to loose the wool around her face and neck. Most of the breed have single lambs, although I did notice a number of twins. The islands receive ample moisture and the sight of acres upon acres of lush green forage was a beautiful vision for me as a American midwestern sheep farmer. I eventually headed back toward my home base. In the late afternoon lots of the sheep found depressions partly protected from the wind and just relaxed enjoying the sunshine.
This ewe and her white and copper colored lamb seemed to have quite the spot, watching other sheep and puffins below and occasionally joined by a wandering human, like me, who had hiked up from the village in the distance. The attractive ewe in the photo below, is amazing in that she has yet to begin rooing, i.e. shedding her fleece. It may end up staying on long enough that she will get to shearing fully fleeced.
One of the joys of being as far north as the Faroes, is that the midsummer days are extremely long (the sun barely set while I was in residence). It also meant that I could spend a tremendous amount of time out hiking on the island, especially when the weather was as beautiful as it was that first day. I eventually returned to the village from where I decided to head east up the slope of the main mountain, Knukur. The grassland slopes upward at a steady, but not dramatic pace. Over the centuries the land has been fenced off, originally by stone fences and more recently by woven wire fences.
This is the view that greats you when you reach the beginning of the steeper slope up the mountain. It is looking to the west. The lighthouse stands out in the distance. To its left are the two sea stacks that support the Gannet colony. The village is hidden below the lip of the field. I was joined up here by two Faroese ponies, who eventually got curious enough that they came close for a visit.
My second day on Mykines was not nearly as sunny. The wind also picked up significantly. The conditions were not as favorable for returning to the Puffin grounds. Instead, I returned to the western slopes of Knukur. I had hopes of getting to the top, which is about 1680 feet. Unfortunately it was here that my lack of good hiking boots put a stop to the plans. The grassland became boggier and rougher. Further on it became steeper. My street shoes could not withstand the water, nor could they provide the support my feet needed to make it up the steeper rocky slope. A young couple I became friends with over the 3 days did make it to the top that day. They reported that the wind at the top was strong enough to be picking up and throwing small pebbles. As a testimony to the changing weather, this is the view from part way up the mountain 24 hours later.
In the foreground one can see some of the older stone fences that were and are still used to funnel the sheep down off the high ground to the shearing and sorting pens closer to the village. That evening the woman who runs the little inn got a call from Atlantic Airlines. She had them call me on her phone at dinner. My bag had been found and, in fact, it had made it to the airport on Vagar! That was rounds for celebration at dinner, with an additional bottle of Föroya Bjór, one of the local Faroe beers, which are quite good!
The next day greeted us with more wind, and a goodly amount of rain. I did manage to make it back to the Puffin grounds however. The weather conditions did make me appreciate, all the more, my first full day on Mykines. On the morning of July 21st, I was scheduled to take the helicopter back to Vagar. The fog was very dense and down to the water level. After breakfast it became apparent that the helicopter would not be flying. Instead, all I could hope was that the little ferry boat would still make it. By 11 AM the fog was up enough that one could see the coastline. Indeed the ferry did show up. It was bringing day trippers, along with local residents who had been off islands, and lots of goods and materials that the local residents had arranged to have delivered. Getting materials up from the water level to village level is a major endeavor, aided by a shuttle that is pulled up the steep slope by a cable and winch. The twice daily arrival and departure of the ferry is, in many ways a very big social event for the local residents, both full-time and seasonal. It is a time to gather at the landing, talk and joke, along with hellos and goodbyes.
The trip back was high speed, with a view of the lowest 50 or so feet of the island. By the time we were east of the island however the fog around us disappeared. From the dock at Sørvágur, looking west, Mykines was completely engulfed in a massive cloud.
I had a long, warm 2 kilometer hike from the dock to the airport. There to greet me was my bag! I picked up my rental car and headed to Torshavn for the second time, this time to spend the night, have a long shower and switch into better and cleaner clothes. The drive to Torshavn is exciting in that one passes through a number of tunnels including one that goes under the ocean to connect Vagar to the island of Stremoy.
I hope you made it this far in the narrative. I will return in a couple of days with more.