Being a photographer with an interest in all places wild and remote, I wrongly assume that everyone knows of the Faroe Islands? Apparently not, when mentioning my trip many people asked where it is, often asking if it is anywhere near Egypt? Well I guess that could be an easy assumption to make! The Faroe Islands position actually lies in the North Atlantic Ocean, approximately halfway between the Shetlands Isles and Iceland (I visited the Shetlands earlier this year too, as part of this project, see blog here). The Faroe Islands comprises of 18 volcanic islands, a self-governing archipelago, part of the Kingdom of Denmark. With a population of around 49,000, infrastructure is good, connected by a series of very impressive tunnels, as well as ferries, causeways and bridges.
I was embarking on this tour with my good friend Paul (Foxgrove Photo), we also had Paul's friend, Paul, along for the ride, although being a non-photographer, Paul 2 as he became known, was mainly concerned with drinking whisky and reading (alright for some!). Departing from Edinburgh airport at 2:30pm on the 18/05, we endured an easy flight of about an hour, arriving at Vágar airport, the most stress free airport I've ever encountered. Stepping off the plane on a sunny day, the air fresh and clean. Our accommodation was situated in the small village of Kollafjörður, on the largest of the Faroe Isles, Stremoy. Our first night involved pizza and a few beers at restaurant a minutes walk away, followed by more beer and whiskey back at the ranch, a theme developed here!
19/05 - On the first morning we climbed up a waterfall at the back of our house with a slight hangover, what better way to rejuvenate? Mid afternoon we popped to the very pretty capital, Torshavn. Spending the day settling into to the Faroese capital, visiting the tourist information etc, before returning to our house and finalising which locations to visit. The weather was atrocious outside, lashing with rain and windy.
20/05 – Waking up to bright skies, we’d decided to visit the little village of Saksun on the northwest coast of Stremoy for our first outing, around half an hour’s drive from where we were based, roads quickly turn very narrow, occasionally quite precipitous but with plenty of passing places. Driving down into the valley where Saksun is situated is incredibly beautiful, the focal point being the church set in spectacular surroundings. Around ten minutes after setting up for the shot, a farmer drove past in his tractor, he was ‘muck spreading’ as we call it here in Yorkshire, in a manner that seemed to be aiming at us! With the fertilizer falling a few feet from our tripods. Said farmer then jumped down from his tractor and strided over to us looking a tad angry, he then demanded 200DKK (around £24) for trespassing. We had stepped over a small fence and walked about fifty metres behind the church, apparently there were signs warning of trespassing but we saw them after this confrontation. It's a fair cop I thought and handed over the 200DKK, the farmer then seemed to lighten up a bit! His words something along the lines of "There are no wild places on the Faroe Islands, everywhere you go, you are tresspassing!". This is of course untrue, there are plenty of amazing locations that are accessible to all, with no such problems, although the farmer did mention that there is much friction between the farmers and the Faroese tourist board. I have to admit that in all the research I'd done, I'd not heard any such stories regarding access, but then most of my info came from the 'Visit Faroe Islands' tourist board who obviously are not going to share such information. Our confrontation with the farmer was fairly tame looking back, however we had heard stories from fellow travellers that were much more concerning. One example being a couple of chaps hiding in a cave for 45 minutes as a farmer had chased them with a gun, they were headed for the classic Faroese destination of Drangarnir, which looks out through a spectacular sea arch towards the island of Tindhólmur. This particular location was high on the the list of places that we wanted to photograph, but access to this location seems to have become somewhat prohibited quite recently, requiring a guide, the guide then handing over a few DKK to the landowner.
Church at Saksun
A typical Faroese scene at Saksun, sheep and waterfalls.
After the morning shoot, we had a great drive over mountain roads and stopped off for lunch at Gjógv, located on the northeast tip of the island of Eysturoy, with the imposing landmass of Kalsoy across the water. A typically pretty and idyllic Faroese village with colourful houses and rooftops making for great middle-of-the-day subject matter.
The colourful rooftops of Gjógv
A secluded inlet at Gjógv, looking across to the island of Kalsoy.
In the evening we'd decided to visit one of the more iconic locations, or certainly one of those scenes that becomes well known among landscape photographers. This is Múlafossur waterfall with the village of Gásadalur tucked away between lush green fields and soaring mountains. Around another eight photographers turned up, reminding me a little of the last time I was at Neist Point on the Isle of Skye. I wasn't too sure we were going to get a great shot at first as we had completely clear skies, but as sunset neared a few clouds appeared, adding interest to the sky, in fact perfectly positioning themselves.
21/05 - We'd spent the morning driving around the islands, a bit of recce time and looking for another classic spot, which is the view over Funningur. Having found what we thought was the carpark with correct trail heading to Funningur viewpoint, we marked it on the map and decided to head back in the evening. For the afternoon we headed home for a mid afternoon power nap to recharge our own as well as the camera batteries. Driving back we noticed a lot of cars parked up by the roadside, slowing down we also noticed lots of boats in the harbour. It was then that Paul shouted with horror 'They're killing whales!', I looked around and the sea was red with blood. We had all been aware prior to the trip that the Faroese hunted whales, but to actually witness this really brings home the reality. I don't want to dwell on this subject, I just want people to be aware of this practise if they intend to visit the Faroes. I have a degree in conservation and my own views, however, I also appreciate the traditions of other cultures; some people obviously feel much more strongly than this.
Moving on from the shock of the afternoon's events we headed out to get the classic shot over Funningur. The climb was steep and after around half an hour we realised that this probably wasn't the right path, Faroese maps are not quite the standard of our OS maps. We decided to continue up this mountain path however and eventually reached the summit of Slættaratindur, when I checked the stats the next day it turned out that we had inadvertently climbed the highest mountain on the Faroe Isles, which I have to say was a most pleasant mistake. Everything happens for a reason and we were rewarded with an immense mountain vista and beautiful light, and importantly for me, something a little more anonymous from the usual haunts of these beautiful isles.
The view from the summit of Slættaratindur.
Beautiful light down in the valley, from the summit of Slættaratindur.
A behind the lens shot for the sponsors from the summit of Slættaratindur. My trustee Benro Mach 3 tripod, with the new GD3WH geared head, Sigma SD Quattro-H and LEE filters.
We hadn't expected to be climbing quite so high that particular evening, when the mist came in and the sun was heading down it began to get rather cold, there was still some snow around up there. Feeling like amateurs that we'd left our down jackets in the car, we had to head back despite wanting to stay out longer. We also met an American traveler whilst up there who looked a bit lost, he asked if he could come down with us so I guess we must have at least looked like we knew what we were doing! It seems the confusion over the exact spot wasn't ours alone. I like how a simple mistake led to possibly my favourite night in the mountains here! :)
22/05 - After the previous day's albeit pleasant mistake, we had to find the right spot for Funningur! It was the next car park along the road and an easy climb of around fifteen minutes, much more what we'd expected for this popular viewpoint. We took a few tourist style selfies in the midday sun and headed back in the evening to set up properly. As you can see below, it's quite a popular vantage point for good reason, the word epic very much applicable here. We had a long cold night, waiting for some dramatic light which never really happened, however I'm always happy with a moody grey sky if it has some structure. Being a well known spot with easy access, there was a group of cheery Swiss lads set up a camp, they turned out to be drinking Black Sheep beer to fend off the cold. I'd introduced myself as a Yorkshireman and approved their choice of ale, to which I was offered a can, alas I had to decline as I had a job to do!
The view over Funningur lake.
Taking it easy/keeping warm atop lake Funningur.
23/05 - A 4am alarm call beckoned for a planned walk around lake Sørvágsvatn, the famous lake above the sea. Having managed only a couple of hours sleep I felt like a zombie for the 45 minute hike to this famous vantage point. I was incredibly excited however to reach this truly stunning location, like nothing I've seen before and an absolute must if you plan to visit. My work in general tends to be fairly minimal, uncluttered scenes; for this view there was only one option, panoramic. I was glad to have the Benro geared head with me, I don't do much pano at all but the geared head assured that all went well, with accuracy. In fact Paul also borrowed my set up so that he could nail the shot. I'll do a full review of the geared head soon for those that are interested. Having got the pano shot in the bag we headed on to the coastline itself, again, just jaw dropping scenery.
The stunning coastline near lake Sørvágsvatn.
24/05 - I wasn't altogether happy with my panoramic composition of lake Sørvágsvatn from the previous day. I felt that this location was just so spectacular that we should give it another go, so yet again we had an early start to get to the lake. I felt much better on this particular morning and enjoyed the walk even more a second time. There is a lot of birdlife for those interested in the wildlife of these islands, the sounds of many wading and seabirds accompanying us for the walk. Upon returning home and processing the below image, I'm glad we went back to the location a second time. I always find that new locations can be quite overwhelming, especially when they are so spectacular. Locations such as these deserve frequent visitation to get the best from them photographically, it's important to get to know any location well, although this is of course not always possible on a seven day tour. This is also one of those images that probably doesn't work quite so well online and social media, it's just too vast to be appreciated and deserves large scale printing. There is just so much going on in this scene that you can't see unless you have access to the full res file, such as the little sheep dotted about and tent beside the lake.
This being our last full day we had to get out and explore as much as possible before heading back. We decided on a return trip to Saksun, to further explore the bay a short walk from the church. Again we were rewarded with ruggedly beautiful scenery and waterfalls, and uncharacteristically sunny skies, perfect for holidaying tourists but not for us picky landscape photographers! Not one to complain about conditions however I thoroughly enjoyed our last day hiking in beautiful conditions.
One of hundreds of waterfalls on the Faroes.
The Faroes did not disappoint, at times you feel as if you're driving through the north west highlands until those characteristically conical Faroese peaks appear. It is a landscape photographers dream and deserves much further exploration, away from the well known locations there has to be so much more to see, with every stretch of coastline and mountain scenery being so beautiful and rugged.
As I have mentioned, there are a couple of things that could put people off visiting and I fully understand those concerns. I do intend a revisit however as it's just such a majestic group of islands and there are a few places that we couldn't get to in seven days, ten days would be ideal to see most of the islands. If you're interested in joining me on a photo tour here next year, do get in touch.
Many thanks to Paul 1 and Paul 2 for the company, and as always, the support from Sigma UK, Benro UK and LEE filters.