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).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Print Designer - High Wycombe - Permanent £28K

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + 24 days holiday, bonus, etc.: Ashdown Group: Print...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager

    £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager required for ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator

    £25000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator A...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones