I don't often need encouragement to go for a walk, but sometimes the thought of pounding the streets on a dull gloomy miserable day is hardly appealing. But, when I was offered the chance to head to the wet wild and windy Faroe Islands on a walking and wildlife trip, I couldn't don my hiking boots quick enough.
Set in the wild North Atlantic, mid-way between Scotland and Iceland, these 18 former volcanic islands are still off the tourist radar. But travel here, and you will discover you are surrounded by a dramatic mix of mountains, rugged landscapes, vertical sea cliffs, historic buildings and picturesque villages and hamlets.
Thanks to regular air links and good a ferry system, island hopping has never been easier.
During our visit, we went island hopping using the island's capital Tórshavn as our base. Proudly named after the Norse god of war, this city is home to the ancient Viking parliament, Tinganes.
A meander through the town around the ancient buildings, churches, and wooden houses with turf topped roofs, is a great start to absorbing its history and culture before heading off into the more rural parts of the islands. And to give you a taste of what's to come, the small “national forest” sculpture park Viðarlundin, where redwings, collared doves and blackbirds are among species not normally found on the islands, is a great place to start.
The weather can be unreliable here at the best of times, so you need to be ready to adapt your plans. But the good news is that conditions in the middle of the Atlantic change fast and there's always a promise of brighter skies.
Hiking in the Faroe Islands
If you're looking for a relatively easy hike, then you should consider venturing from Tórshavn to Kirkjubøur. The two hour walk takes around two hours. Despite unpredictable weather when we ventured on our hike, the fresh air and the sounds of gulls and oyster catchers (the national bird) flying overhead made it all worth while.
Kirkjubøur, regarded as the cultural capital of the Faroes, is widely accepted as the place where the first settlers arrived in the 9th century. The first settlers established a monastery and later the Vikings made their mark before bishops in the 12th century slowly built a community, asserting their dominance by building St Olav church. The church stands strong today. Interestingly, a patched up hole in the wall, which allowed lepers to hear the services from outside, can still be seen from the inside.
Explore the islands by boat
Birding enthusiasts will love the boat trip to the bird cliffs and grottoes near Vestmanna - a busy modern fishing village. We took a tour boat to Saksun (a two-hour journey), which allowed us to get up close and personal to the soaring cliffs of Vestmannabjorgini. I marvelled at how our guided tour boat even expertly weaved in between sea stacks and narrow rock walls and dark echoing grottoes. Here we witnessed numerous birds, including puffins, razorbills and guillemots.
Cuisine of The Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands are well known for whale meat and pan-fried puffin breast, but there is a lot more to their cuisine than these unique dishes. During our visit, we had ample opportunity to sample a variety of restaurants around the islands including Aarstova (their slow roast lamb is divine), and Barbara (famous for horse mussels, blue mussels and bacalao).
But it was the "Heimablídni” (dining Faroese-style in people’s homes), that got my taste buds flowing.
We were invited to lunch at Anna and Óli's home located in the village of Velbastaður. Our hosts treated us like family and served us a series of small dishes including raw pickled herring and red cabbage, fried fish and Ræst (fermented lamb), among other dishes, with our hearty meal enjoyed with locally brewed beer for good measure. As there's always room for dessert, we enjoyed rhubarb cake for dessert too. It doesn't get much better than that.
For more information on Visit Faroe Islands http://www.visitfaroeislands.com/. For flights, visit Atlantic Airways.