Eating a rather superb breakfast at the hotel early the next morning, I suddenly realised that I could see my destination for that day: the isle of Mykines. Under low grey skies and an ominous sea.
It’s a sliver of bright green grass that juts out of the wild sea, the westernmost island and the home to hundreds of thousands of seabirds. Just a handful of people live here, in grass roof homes. The BBC was there back in 2011. And again here, just after I got off it. I met several of the people interviewed in the second one. The BBC has a strange relationship with the Faroes – ever so often it seems to assume they’re part of Scotland, and published a news article on them as if it were domestic.
From the hotel you can see the island jutting out of the sea, at the end of the long valley where the airport is located. Since I had a couple of hours before the helicopter departed, I wandered down to the nearby town of Sorvargur. A nice modern place, with a good supermarket which seemed to open at 7am. I purchased supplies.
For a while I was followed by a flock of chickens. Happy little fellows. They lost interest when they realised I wasn’t going to share my bun, and pottered off home.
I read somewhere that the Faroes claim to be the “trampoline capital of the world”. There certainly were a lot of trampolines in Sorvagur.
And with that, back to the airport for the early morning commuter flight to Mykines. The cost is about €13 for a helicopter flight. The Danes subsidise the cost of the helicopters, but to stop tourists taking advantage insist that you’re only allowed to fly one way. So my intention was to fly to the island, spend the night at Katrina’s guesthouse and take the ferry back in the morning.
At the airport, a sad group of Chinese tourists were being turned away because the afternoon ferry wasn’t running due to the high seas. They would have been stuck on the island. I smugly got onto the bus which would take me out to the helicopter. Surely the weather would be better tomorrow?
As I climbed aboard the empty 16 seater helicopter, the Captain confirmed with me that I didn’t mind being stuck on the island. Nope, I said, I was staying over night and coming back on the ferry the next day. He took a look at the sky, smiled, said “Then I expect I will be seeing you on Friday when you catch my flight back” and slammed the door.
The helicopter arrived in Mykines, and took a strange sweep around over the village. I realised later that this was to scare the birds away from the landing strip before heading in. Man, there were a lot of seabirds around there. Mykines village looked lovely from the air, spoilt only by some gas tanks.
As I headed away from the helicopter, the departing passengers fled past me to embark. It seems that some of them were Korean: they’d flown from Korea just to go to Mykines, and were planning to head back to the UK that evening. Hell of a long way to fly just to take some photos. In what I was told had been bad weather all week.
I wandered off into the village in the search for Katrina’s guesthouse. With no mobile and no internet (roaming charges are astronomical), I really did feel cut off. There was a small gaggle of villagers taking things off the helicopter, but other than that Mykines village seemed deserted. I found a tourist map on a wall of the airport hut, but it didn’t say where the guesthouse was.
There was something disorientating about the village. The problem was that all the houses were built away from the sea. So as you walked down the streets, one side would have front doors are normal – the other side of the street, the one facing the sea and the wind, would be blank. It was a bit unsettling.
I came across a couple of elderly ladies who directed me to Katrina’s. Katrina, a lovely lady, quickly got me settled in and I set off to explore the island. And the puffins.
Ah, those puffins.
I’ve travelled extensively to see puffins, and never had much luck. From the Scottish isles to Iceland, I keep missing them. Here, you couldn’t move for the little blighters. Thousands of them, busy building nests.
Mykines village is built in a valley between two high peaks. The meadow sweeps up to the highlands, and to leave the valley you have to climb steep fields. If you go left you go up a high cliffs (kindly signposted to stop you wandering over the hay crop) up to a monument. You then go over the top, along some frankly dangerous paths (slippery, in a high wind and with a 200 metre sheer drop to the sea) and eventually come to a high gorge that splits Mykines from a smaller island. To get to the lighthouse at the end of this islet, you go over the “Atlantic bridge” and over more steep fields.
It wasn’t really cold. But man, was that sea rough.
By the early afternoon, I had torn myself away from the puffins and got up to the lighthouse. That was windy. The lighthouse, I noticed wryly, is securely attached to stop it blowing away. It seems that during WWII, the Germans used to fly out and bomb it, as it was an important navigation aid for the US – UK convoys. The family that looked after it had concrete bunkers to hide in when they got radio warnings from the RAF.
I spent some time up there taking photos of the sea stack with a colony of gannets on it, before realising that it was far too windy to be up there. I threw an apple core straight up in the air and the wind had it away and out of sight before I could blink.
On my way back, I saw a Great Skua take a puffin on the wing. Its mate quickly arrived. One stood guard whilst the other fed; then they swopped.
Their beaks were savagely swift and brutal in dismembering the bird. Not much was left after they had finished.
As I headed back into the village, I was attacked by a goose. Geese families were everywhere in the Faroes, wandering around in little family flocks. You quickly learn to sidestep them.
This is the harbour at Mykines. It’s a nice harbour, except when the wind blows from the southwest. The high seas then makes it impassable. The prevailing wind is southwest.
It’s also a long way down to the harbour. The village is 88 metres above sealevel, mainly vertically. I was told that when the winter storms blow, it’s not unusual for the sea spray to cover the roofs of the houses.
Get launched into the sea down this!
I had a walk up the other way, up a farm track towards the highlands behind the village.
And nearly fell down this cliff.
That was enough for one day. I’d done well over 20k – not bad for such a small area! -, it was getting windier and colder, and Katrina’s dinner and a beer was calling. But for a boy raised in a dry, hot desert, this was glorious.
As I made myself comfortable over a nice dinner of salmon, the geese peered in to see if I fancied sharing. I didn’t.
The next day….
Over breakfast, Katrina had some Bad News.
“The boat is cancelled” she said. High seas would prevent it from docking. There was a possibility that it would come in the afternoon. If the afternoon sailing looks precarious, they often cancel the morning sailing to prevent tourists from being stranded on the island. Katrina told me some stories of when the boat left dozens of tourists stranded, with helpful locals opening their homes to the poor souls.
Meanwhile, this meant I was the only tourist on the island, with the exception of a Danish family also staying in the guesthouse. But they seemed to know people on the island.
At first the news panicked me. Then reason set in. What did I care? At the worse, I was out one hotel night in Torshavn. I was supposed to be on holiday for heaven’s sake!
But just to be on the safe side, Katrina gave me her WiFi password so I could book the helicopter the next day. I had to sit outside her house on the other side of the village, but there was a comfortable seat. The internet, I couldn’t help noticing, was far superior to anything on offer in Almería as far as speed went.
And so an idling sort of day went. The wind had gone, but low clouds sat over the island. Although they sometimes parted allowing bright sunlight through, the clouds still sat over the highest part of the island. This prevented me from getting to the peak and over to see the basalt columns the islanders are proud of. The fog was just too dense, and there were no paths. And with cliffs like these on either side, who wanted to go blundering around in the fog?
It was whilst blundering around in the fog that a Skua got my hat. They’re big birds, and when they suddenly dive bomb you it’s enough to make a weak heart fail. Remembering advice that they always attack the highest point of a person, I took to waving my hat (Harris tweed, hard wearing) in the air. And one of the things ripped it out of my hand and flung it into a puddle.
Didn’t do it any harm of course. Good stuff, Harris tweed. Takes more than a Great Skua to upset a Scotsman’s work.
Over the highlands were scattered dozens of old sheep huts which provided handy reference points in the fog. I quickly learnt to distinguish them by their different stages of dilapidation. Sheep are still everywhere on Mykines, as they are all over the Faroe Islands (the very name means the islands of Sheep) but a dropping population on the island and modern farming methods means these old huts aren’t so badly needed any more.
In fact, they were mainly used by birds.
And so the day passed. Fog and sun. Sheep and birds. Wandering around up and down. Puffins. It was a glorious day with no pressure, no phones, just exercise and enjoyment. And peace. I didn’t see anyone all day outside of the village.
And so to bed. In a snug rooftop room, with a good heater, listening to a light rain outside.
And so the third day….
I awoke at my usual early hour, and sleepily spent some time looking at the shadows on the wall. Hang on, I realised, after a few minutes. Shadows? Sunlight?
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
You know, I liked Mykines under the sun. But it’s not its natural habitat. The clouds of the days before had shown me how the island was supposed to be lived. Maybe this was just my natural reaction, seeing as to how I live in a place with 350 days of sun a year. But it was a nice contrast. All too soon the helicopter was flying in and it was time to go.
I snaffled the good seat ahead of the Danish family and settled down for the flight. The helicopter was actually early – we arrived back to Vargur airport before it was supposed to have touched down in Mykines! I suppose they reckon that the sound of the copter is warning enough to residents that it’s time to get on board.
And so back to the airport. To pick up the car and head up towards Torshavn, the capital city. Under blazing sunshine which wasn’t to leave me the whole time I was in the Faroes. Little did I realise that the light rain of the night before was to be the only rain I would experience during the whole 10 days I was there.