Issue Twenty Seven

FAROE ISLANDS

Archipelago Tours And Brews

WORDS x Thomas Hill
PHOTOS x Sam Needham

1 November 2017
Part One

Laughter

It was an hour or so since we last stopped.

We’d been cruising alongside wild, yet sheltered coast, on an agonisingly perfect stretch of road. Incredible rock formations jutted out of the flat ocean, corduroy ripples on the surface the only indication that sea breezes have no obstruction for hundreds of miles in any direction. The precipitous island rock faces on one side were contrasted by grassy skate ramps on the other. I was lost in the view, vaguely aware of the chatter around me as we rode on in our tight group of four.

The call went up; it was a familiar one that was repeated frequently on our short visit.

“Brew?”

Brakes on and time to find a convenient rock, with an appropriately epic view. It was fairly likely that Toby would have all the brewing kit in his bombproof army surplus-style panniers. His bike carried most of our stuff – all the food, both tents, and every spare. Or at least you’d have thought so if you listened to him. He didn’t like to complain, you understand. To be fair, “Tobes” did have a huge plastic Thor’s hammer though; thank you Faroese supermarket randomness. Anyway, back to the brew. Unpack. Try to remember if mug is in the left or right front pannier. Towards the end of the week we had a system; mug and toilet roll were always stashed front left. The “Brews and Poos” pannier as it became. Anyway… spark the stove into life and observe time slowing down as the gas roars. Crack open a packet of Scandinavian biscuits while the water rolls to a boil.

I’m not sure why, but our conversations changed pace when we stopped. It’s not like we were heads down and racing when we were pedalling, but the simple act of stepping off our bikes gave us time to breathe and absorb where we were. However, if I have one memory of the most beautiful place I have ever been, it was not of the views or the landscape. It was of the laughter – aching, painful laughter. Giggles long after the joke has been told. Eye-contact induced hysterics. The kind of jokes that only seem to get funnier on each repeated telling.

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Part Two

Which Way

We had arrived at the tiny airport terminal of Vágar in the Faroe Islands, a self-governing archipelago which is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, with little in the way of a plan. We re-built our bikes in a hurry, high on the excitement that was to come, as well as the lingering adrenaline that the landing delivered. Our plane’s wings seemed inches away from slicing the hillside, surreally close to the scruffy and bare valley sides. Our faces had been plastered to the windows as we began our descent. From our puffin’s eye view, the detail of this magnificent archipelago opened out below us. Land, sea, land, cliff face, brightly coloured roofs, switchbacking singletrack road and whole load of absolutely nothing; it cried out to be explored.

We didn’t even know whether to turn left or right out of the airport. We first unfolded our map in arrivals and we somehow settled on right. We rode back in the opposite direction a couple of hours later. It mattered not a jot. I want to describe every incredible sight we saw but it wouldn’t be doing them justice. It was simply an honour to move between them and feel part of the landscape for a few days. It would be easy to treat the Faroes like a sightseeing tour. Visit one iconic (and spectacular) location, pack up and move on to the next. By riding, it felt like we got to experience the bits in between that would normally rush by in seconds as you sit in a car.

It wasn’t always interesting. It was often remote, bleak and featureless, but no less beautiful and no less worthy of spending time. The beauty of travelling isn’t necessarily seeing the new. It is the change in mindset that being somewhere new brings. We had stepped away from the daily routine, only to create new ones. Wake early, cocooned in sleeping bags, unzip tents, and take the time to lie there, soaking in the changing view. Golden early light, becoming richer and more blue as the sun rose. Fire up the stove, wrapped in down, while tending boiling water; cold air creeping under collars. Pass steaming mugs to extended hands and slowly ease into sleepy conversation. Official campsites are few and far between on the Faroes, and wildcamping is not strictly permitted. We couldn’t find anywhere that said it was banned though and we took a punt and selected relatively remote spots to pitch, and weren’t once disturbed. We could take our time over breakfast; we never needed to hurry.

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Part Three

Scale

We were caught out by the size of the Faroes early on. Sure, there was a scale on the map, but it didn’t quite click mentally. We’d schedule three hours to reach somewhere, and arrive 30 minutes later. We crossed three islands in a day, despite multiple coffee stops, too many photo opportunities to count and an unhealthy number of petrol station hotdogs. We were always excited to see what was around the next corner, and were never disappointed, but maybe there are only so many times you can have your mind blown in a single day? It was impossible.

Our pace slowed, our breaks got longer, we settled into touring mode. Paper Faroese flags fluttered from our racks until one by one the Atlantic winds stole them, leaving sorry white plastic rods standing to attention. Our panniers swelled with local snacks (tempted by the dried fish-skin crisps? Don’t be), kitsch souvenirs (aforementioned hammer included) and camp food supplies.

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Part Four

Local Knowledge

Newsflash: The Faroe Islands are surrounded by water. Historically, this meant that villagers travelled to their neighbours by boat. We had dreams of exploring tracks and trails, leaving the road behind, but the reality was there were few opportunities to do so. We grabbed perfect slices of singletrack where we could, but spent the majority of time on tarmac. Anywhere else and I might have been disappointed. Here, we were simply enchanted. Rolling into the Faroese capital, Tórshavn, we had found one of the few gravel tracks on the island. It spat us out on the outskirts of the city and we followed our noses into the centre (if in doubt, go downhill). We were quickly joined by a local cyclist, ecstatic at the opportunity to sing the virtues of his beautiful homeland, if a little bemused as to why we were choosing to cycle-tour here.

Our two-wheeled buddy pointed us to his preferred bar, which just so happened to have a fish and chip shop next to it. It would be rude not to. It was already growing dull enough that we put our lights on when we eventually rolled away with full stomachs. This was to be the only camp spot that felt like a roll of a dice as we headed in what felt like the direction most likely to deliver a quiet spot with a view. We promptly ended up on the local model aircraft landing strip. The club members appeared to not be entirely impressed, but as we chatted we discovered that they were more surprised than annoyed. The, quite frankly, bonkers Chairman of the club gave us a hot tip for a spot around the corner and warned us about the ‘mad’ local shepherd. Ok…

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Part Five

Last Nights

Pitching our tents with a burning sky to our backs, it was hard not feel as though we were somehow the only people in the world. Never mind that we could look across to the island of Nólsoy, with a scattering of lit houses and the ferry moving across the near black bay. Dusk seemed never ending. Intense oranges became reds and eventually pinks, purples and imperceptibly darkened to inky blues. There was still a hint of light in the sky when the cold air eventually drove us under canvas. We had one entire day of riding to go, one more night on a hillside under big skies. It would be a ‘very best of’ return leg, passing some of our favourite spots, the happy consequence of so few roads to choose from. We would miss a free seafood festival, console ourselves with more hotdogs, drink near alcohol-free beer and catch wild trout against another flaming sky. As far as last days go, this was as special as each preceding one.

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Part Six

parfum en de toulet

Re-entry is always painful and sometimes more so for those around you. We would like to extend our sincere apologies to our fellow plane passengers. Even Sam, with a change of pants for every occasion, was beginning to smell a little less fresh than his usual sweet self. Our hearts could feel the wrench of home but were still tugged by an almost magnetic attraction to simple living somewhere so beautiful. The cabin crew rattled down the aisle.

“Brew?”

“Yeah, brew.”

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Thanks
Issue Twenty Seven
x

A $30 (USD) donation to the Eskapee Carbon Offset Fund was made to offset the plane trip used for this trip.

The End
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