A Faroe story

Ben Lane witnesses the Faroe Islands’ magical landscapes from an unusual angle as he embarks on a personal ‘triathlon’

Image supplied courtesy of Visit Faroe Islands

On paper, our plan was simple. Pop over to the Faroe Islands, walk a few hills, swim a few seas, ride a few bikes. Tour the highways and byways. Report back. Keep it simple. But, of course, things don’t always work out the way you imagine.

First things first. There are two ways to tour the islands with a caravan or motorhome. You can ship your outfit over from Denmark by taking a ferry – the Smyril Line operates a weekly ferry service from Hirtshals in Denmark to the capital of the Faroe Islands, Tórshavn, and the journey takes approximately 36 hours. Or you can fly from the UK, hire a campervan or motorhome on the islands and set off on your adventure. We took this option. 

The Faroes are a cluster of 18 islands situated roughly midway between Iceland, Norway and Scotland. Each one holds incredible beauty: sharp cliffs, sweeping glaciated valleys, narrow fjords and pointed basalt peaks that were formed by volcanic activity across millions of years.

The infrastructure across the Faroe Islands is excellent. The islands are interlinked via a network of tunnels, bridges and ferries, but do your research as some roads incur tolls or are restricted. Whatever route you take, you will never be far from the awesome beauty of the coastline or a stunning mountain vista, making any tour of the islands an epic experience. Driving is on the right-hand side, but there is very, very little traffic on the roads and getting stuck in a queue of vehicles is unheard of. 

It is important to plan where you’ll be sleeping. Wild camping is forbidden – there are several designated campsites dotted across the islands, and a full list can be found at the Visit Faroe Islands website (visitfaroeislands.com). 

The objective of our visit during a chilly long weekend in early May was to immerse ourselves into the fabric of this stunning place by swimming its seas, cycling its roads and walking its hills – a bespoke triathlon. But were we biting off more than we could chew?

Taking the plunge

The swim section was the hardest to complete. Our idea was to replicate a 2016 swim described in a blog written by journalist and fan of the islands, Anja Mazuhn: “The magnificent nine… nine men wearing suits, goggles and gloves. Nine Faroese on their way from Streymoy to Eysturoy. Means of transportation: physical strength. Only stopover: Flesjarnar, a group of skerries located between Hvítanes and Toftir. Distance: approximately 4.5 kilometres.”

On stumbling across this enigmatic prose, my wife and I immediately started devising a master plan to recreate this wonderful-sounding swim, from one Faroe island to another.

We contacted Jon Hestoy, one of the swimmers named in the blog. Jon is heavily involved in all things aquatic; he has been on the committee of LEN, the European governing body for aquatic sports, and is former President of the Faroe Islands Swimming Association. 

We connected with Jon via Zoom before our planned arrival on the islands and asked if he would be happy to help us recreate the ‘magnificent nine’ swim of 2016. He agreed. We had two months to train.

On the day of our swim, we met Jon and his friends under a chilly breeze at the beautiful harbour in Tórshavn. We hopped on a small speedboat and soon arrived at a pretty cove. From our anchor point we could just see a little skerry (a rocky island) in the far distance surrounded by the ice-blue, white-topped waves of the Atlantic. That was our first swim destination; that was our future. The skerry was 2.5km away from the boat; the swim from the skerry to the next island was a further 2km.

We plunged into the 7˚ water in our wetsuits and set off as a group, my wife and I in the middle of the pack with our new friends huddled close either side for security. It was tough going to begin with, but we soon forgot about the temperature, whipping winds and choppy water, and focused on trying to get into a rhythm. 

We ploughed on and reached the skerry. We knew we could not manage the second leg to the island. Jon could see that we were shattered and decided the adventure was over. We returned to our support boat nearby and sat quietly reflecting on the swim as we returned to harbour.

We sat down with Jon and his friends on our return, and it was then we bonded. Jon looked out longingly to sea and told us a relative had died “out there” when the boat he was sailing in capsized. “The conditions when he died that day were much like today. You can never trust the sea,” he said.

Digging deep

Image supplied courtesy of Faroe Islands Tourist Board © RussellBurton/Visit Faroe Islands

The next day we had an early start for the cycling section. Our guide and mentor was Bartal í Gongini, owner of Rent a Bike & Outdoor in Tórshavn. He met us with a cheery smile, and two high-quality road bikes. We wanted to make the most of the day, and to see as much of the islands as we could. Bartal was on board with our plan and explained the route: 70km of hilly roads, lunch and a ferry crossing, “just to mix things up”. 

We hopped in our saddles and began the long but relatively easy climb out of the capital to catch the ferry to the island of Sandoy. Cycling in the Faroe Islands is challenging; the roads undulate forever. The wind blows you off course, and you need to dig deep to maintain the forward movement. But on every turn, on every brow of a hill, you will be met with stunning views that will leave you breathless. On a bike you have the time to absorb the landscape and marvel at its constant beauty, but a ride of this distance and terrain requires good fitness. Bartal organises shorter tours around the capital and nearby countryside, catering for different abilities.

After disembarking on Sandoy we stopped for lunch at the welcoming Caféin á Mølini in Skálavík, a pretty harbour village on the eastern coast of the island. We returned to Tórshavn some six hours after our departure. It had been a stunning day, and two-thirds of our triathlon were now complete.

A natural end

Image supplied courtesy of camping.fo

The next day we were feeling the pain of our swim and cycle sections and decided to take it easy instead of embarking on a long hike as planned. The most popular activities in the Faroe Islands are, without doubt, hiking and birdwatching – people flock from all over the world for both – so we took a gentle walk around the stunning Múlafossur waterfall at Gásadalur and sucked in the wonderful clear air without guilt. 

Was this a failure? Our intention had been to experience the islands through a different lens – by bike, by wetsuit, and by foot – and we had achieved most of our aims. That was enough for us.

Our time in the Faroe Islands was well spent. It is a truly stunning destination; every turn of the road brings a new view like no other. It plays tricks with the mind, but that is what makes this place so special. And sometimes the best-laid plans will alter, and this only adds to the charm of a journey of this nature. Islands, walk a few hills, swim a few seas, ride a few bikes. Tour the highways and byways. Report back. Keep it simple. But, of course, things don’t always work out the way you imagine.



Visit Faroe Islands: visitfaroeislands.com

Campervan hire: campervans.fo

Ferry to the Faroe Islands: smyril-line.com

Bike rental: rentabike.fo

Campsites to consider

Camping Tórshavn, Streymoy

This campsite is handily located only a 15-20 minute walk from the city centre. There are plenty of excellent supermarkets and shops nearby to stock up on provisions, and a few fuel stations not far away. The site has a modern facility building and there are excellent bathrooms and showers. You can relax on the terrace with a cup of coffee and take in the stunning views over the Atlantic Ocean. 

Contact: visittorshavnshop.fo/en/camping, 00298 28 88 65

Camping Eiði, Streymoy

A campsite with a unique location on an old, abandoned football field. There is a beautiful walk to the village of Eiði, where you will find a decent supermarket. Although  quite basic, the communal area is comfortable and clean. You can rent bicycles, play mini-golf and hire a handy hot-pot.

Contact: eidicamping.fo, 00298 21 93 77

Remember that the Club organises superb worldwide tours to destinations including Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and Southern Africa. For more information see camc.com/worldwide.

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