The Faroe Islands: High drama in the North Atlantic

Stranded between Iceland and Norway, these tiny islands are the perfect escape

It was not until I got back to the top and stood looking down, alongside a trio of unconcerned puffins, that I fully realised what I'd just done. I had climbed down and back up an almost vertical 150m sea cliff, a vertiginous route of rough paths, ropes, ladders and a precipitous grassy slope made manageable only by stepping in old puffin burrows. It used to be the only way on to this island – and then only if the unpredictable North Atlantic would allow a boat into the narrow rocky inlet below. For someone who doesn't like heights, it was an achievement.

Today, access to the smallest inhabited Faroe Island is exclusively by helicopter. The 20-minute flight from the tiny coastal heliport in the capital Torshavn (subsidised by the government, so costing under £15) is a treat in itself.

The archipelago is impressively isolated, caught midway between Norway and Iceland, yet under Danish rule. As we rose into the air, the turf-roofed ochre-red buildings of Tinganes, the old Danish trading centre and first location of the Viking "Thing" (the parliament – still in operation) grew smaller and smaller until they gave way to a map-like scene of green islands and blue sea. Tiny settlements of brightly coloured houses and whitewashed churches huddled between the mountains, looking impossibly cut off. But even those communities regard my final destination as remote.

As we approached, Stora Dimun looked uninhabitable. Its treeless top – just two-and-a-half square kilometres in extent – was surrounded by sea cliffs up to 400m high. It was beautiful, but daunting.

As we flew along the cliffs, a narrow stretch of lower ground came into view, with a few buildings and a helipad. I was received – along with the supermarket shopping – by Eva Ur Dimun (the family is named after the island), the charming English-speaking farmer and mother of two young children, whose family has farmed this island for eight generations.

My temporary home had a traditional turf-roofed and black-tarred exterior, but was modern, warm and comfortable inside. The family had only recently finished building it. They'd done it by hand – with all the raw materials flown in by helicopter – to house their children's teacher during term-time and paying guests in the holidays.

This is the ultimate get-away-from-it-all destination. The air in the Faroes is incredibly fresh, its cleanliness borne out by the profusion of orchids (wherever the sheep can't get to) and lichen-covered rocks. "The Road" on Dimun is a zig-zag path up the steep grassy slope towards the top of the island. Here you can almost smell the freshness as great skuas circle overhead, snipe rise from their nests and shaggy Faroese sheep observe the scene dispassionately. On a clear day you have a stunning aerial panorama – as good as the helicopter and much more peaceful.

The cliffs – viewed from outcrops above or close-up from the base of the cliff path – are home to hordes of nesting seabirds: kittiwakes, guillemot, puffins and more.

The sound they make is extraordinary. However, these days, the family told me, the noise is nothing compared to what it used to be: seabird numbers are rapidly diminishing in the archipelago. The only benefit from this decline is that men no longer die clambering down the cliffs on ropes to collect the birds' eggs. Eva's grandfather, a twinkling character, who at 88 still strides the island's slopes, is the first Dimun farmer to survive into old age.

Later, I was invited to join the family for dinner and eat some of the lamb from which they now make most of their living. It was utterly delicious – though I have to admit the dried version was stronger than I could take. The kitchen was modern, with just a few telltale signs that this is not Copenhagen or Stockholm, particularly the drying sheep's bladders that were hanging from the ceiling, which are used as children's balls and popped at New Year.

As we sat chatting, a starling flew in, followed by the eight-year-old daughter of the house. Dogg (meaning dew) introduced us to her pet, which perched first on her head and then on mine. The bird flies free each day but always returns. Such pets are one of the benefits of their unusual lifestyle, said Eva. The family's lives are tied very closely to nature, yet they are also only rarely far from their house.

Eva's husband Jogvan Jon then looked at his watch and leapt up: he was late for milking the cow. Gerda had to be rounded up from wherever she was on the island before we met in the tiny cowshed next door and I "helped" – definitely in inverted commas. In the end, though, a large bucket of foaming milk was carried back to the kitchen, with some of it poured straight into our after-dinner coffee.

I noticed that Eva sported a covetable Sarah Lund-style jumper. Those worn by The Killing's detective, like Eva's, come from Torshavn, and seem to be day-to-day wear for the Faroese. Eva also showed me their national dress, still worn for special occasions: her son Sproti's silver-buttoned blue jacket and embroidered red shirt, and her own full skirt, laced top and shawl. In the Faroes, tradition is not for tourists, it is lived.

There is a saying in these islands: "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes." The sun was shining as I gathered up my belongings on the last day of my visit – but I found myself hoping that the clouds might descend so that the helicopter would have to leave us here a while longer.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Juliet Rix travelled as a guest of Faroe Islands Tourism (00 298 556 138; visitfaroeislands.com). Atlantic Airways (00 298 341 000; atlantic.fo) flies twice a week flights from Gatwick starting in June, until September. Other options are available via Copenhagen.

Staying there

The house on Dimun (sleeping six) costs DKK1,000 (£114) per night, plus DKK100 (£11) per adult and DKK50 (£6) per child (00 298 371 260; storadimun.fo/english  dimun@olivant.fo).

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Manager - Holiday Homes - £100,000 OTE

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + £100,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: Birmingham, Derby, L...

    Investigo: Finance Manager - Global Leisure Business

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in their fiel...

    Investigo: Senior Finance Analyst - Global Leisure Business

    £45000 - £52000 per annum + bonus+bens : Investigo: My client, a global leader...

    Investigo: Financial reporting Accountant

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: One of the fastest growing g...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game