The Faroe Islands once more

I have to start by saying that I am not given to hyperbole. Understatement may not be my strongest suit, but I try to stay pretty close to the truth, and having said this, I need to explain a lifelong love of The Faroe Islands.

In about 1968 or 1969 National Geographic magazine published an article about The Faroes; I was mesmerised. As a pre-pubescent boy, National Geographic, as it landed on the doorstep was a must, as from time to time, naked female breasts, still a mystery and wonder to me, were displayed. This month, however, it was about remote communities, whale hunts, air-dried lamb, remarkable landscapes and the ancient turf-roof houses of Torshavn, the islands’ capital city. From that moment on, I was captivated by the islands, and, in fact, still am.

Tonight, I am in Gjogv; an utterly remarkable village in a picturesque valley to the north of the island of Eysturoy. The hotel I am staying in, the Gjaargardur Guest House, is wonderful; perfectly appointed, friendly beyond need and absolutely lovely; the evening is perfect.

Snow dusts the mountains that converge here, and while the village is cosy and secure tonight, it was built in the days that cosy and secure were the only elements of life that counted as the village’s economy relied on men heading out to the wild North Atlantic to fish; perhaps they still should be, and Gjogv still is, and although its population has declined from about 80 to about 40, it still has the air of prosperity and a continuum that will attract folks back to it yet

I am here, in theislands, with our Chicago-based publicist with whom we have worked closely for fifteen years or more. It is my belief, and I
have to be honest, my commercial hope, that the Faroes will be the next “big” destination, and to this end, we are here for four days to enjoy ourselves; and astonish ourselves.

The islands are small, and with a community of only 50,000 one does not expect to find a symphony orchestra; yet here one is, and tonight its director, Paul Jakup Thomsen, spent an hour talking about the culture of the islands. That over 5,000 people regularly watch the symphony, yes, 10% of the population, is exceptional; that their number includes several European prize winners is remarkable, and that their repertoire includes among an orchestra’s standard, Leroy Anderson’s Typewriter Symphony and David Shaffer’sSandpaper Symphony is astonishing; astonishing, perhaps only without an awareness of these islands.

It is an island where culture means much, and is displayed every day. When Paul asked his class of ten or so young women to sing us a song, they immediately did so; it was a lullaby, and judging from their snickers and grins, the lyrics may not have been entirely appropriate to sing to a 55 year old man, but the thought was there. And not only that, they sang beautifully and spontaneously, used to communal singing for many reasons, odd or conventional.

Lying half way between Scotland and Iceland, the Faroe Islands are inhospitable, gorgeous, stubborn and probably my favourite place in the world. Their livelihood comes from fishing, as well as a pretty eclectic mixture of businesses ranging from clothing design, computer software and tourism to the general support businesses that any community needs. They are unutterably gorgeous, noted by National Geographic as the most desirable tourist destination in the world. For those interested in scenery, hiking, birdlife, history, culture and finding the elusive “peace and quiet” so often sold by tourist destinations, the Faroes should be on the list.

So here we are. Surprised by a blizzard that howled through last night, and dusted the islands with white, we will wander from the north to the south and the east to the western extreme (the island of Nolsoy) and wonder about this rather unusual land for the next three days.

I am not sure why the National Geographic article so attracted me, but now, on my fifth visit to these islands, I know why I want to come back.