Virtue-signalling is the last thing you want to see from a travel journalist. Let’s be honest – my annual Air Miles stack up higher than Sajid Javid’s in-tray but I do my best when travelling: I use public transport and eschew car-hire, I take trains and ferries whenever I can. And this is what brings me to the seaport of Hirtshals in northern Jutland, after an assignment in Denmark, to sail onwards to my next job in the Faroe Islands.
Smyril Line’s regular departures aboard the ferry MS Norröna to the Faroese capital of Tórshavn offer a North Atlantic voyage that is epic enough to gain a nod of approval from Njord – the Viking god of seafaring.
If I’d flown to this faraway archipelago, the journey would have taken just two hours and 15 minutes from Copenhagen. Instead, my ferry ride will clock in at 31 hours. Even with the carbon saving – my calculated footprint of 116kg of CO2 is around half the amount I would have produced had I flown – you might well be wondering why I would fritter away two precious days of holiday on a boat?
Worthy intentions aside, I’ve missed being at sea during the pandemic, and the Norröna is a 10-deck ferry with all the trappings of a cruise ship. My love affair with this civilised mode of transport reignites after a pre-boarding PCR test, the results of which come through the first evening on board. The ship has provision to isolate any positive-testing passengers (and not in life-rafts to be cast adrift).
Travel journalists often bang on about the joys of “slow travel” but for me a sea voyage offers a measured, unfolding appreciation of where I am heading. It bears little comparison with the unsatisfying haste and stress of flying: those lengthy queues at check-in and security, killing time by overspending on overpriced food you don’t really want and staring aghast at departure boards and wondering why your flight always seems to be delayed. Travel by ferry and all of these emotional stresses dissipate. And isn’t de-stressing a key part of why we choose to have holidays in the first place?
I love the anticipation and then first sight of my cabin: in this case, a lovely Nordic deluxe berth on deck 8, en-suite and a large rectangular window and double bed. I don’t care if the departure is delayed. I’m too busy spreading out, filling the drawer space with my underwear and hanging up my shirts – unnecessary for just one night at sea, granted, but it’s my expression of feeling relaxed. And, rather than being strapped into an aircraft seat and contemplating if my neighbour has coronavirus, I go up and down the internal stairway, scoping restaurants, potential entertainments and spaces on the top deck where I can enjoy ocean views without being blown overboard.
I also appreciate the chance to organise my day as I see fit when travelling by sea. My skeletal template is three meals per day and an evening drink. Never letting seasickness get in my way – hello Dramamine pills – I enjoy fashioning the sort of travelling experience that I want. When you fly long-haul, it’s business class or sardines. The former is nice but eye-wateringly expensive, while the latter is increasingly stifling. On the Norröna, I have the space and facilities to sculpt my journey.
For families, there’s a PlayStation room, the wifi’s cheap, there’s a five-a-side football pitch and chips with everything in the cafeteria. My requirement is more adult. I begin my evening with five-course Faroese fine dining at the silver-service Munkastova Restaurant, watching the Atlantic slip by with a crisp white, the perfect accompaniment to scallops with walnuts and gooseberries. I fancy a beer after dinner but the main bar heaves with Danish football fans and the beer is flying when their third goal (or was it fourth?) goes in past Wales. Thus I gravitate to the open-air Laterna Magica bar, on deck 10, for a dark Faroese stout and acoustic music. There’s a blazing sunset around midnight – or is it sunrise? It’s hard to tell in perpetual daylight. It gilds the cloud bases gold and is best enjoyed from the seawater hot tub on the deck below.
Eventually, at around 9pm the next evening, the Faroes appear on the horizon. The 18 islands’ existence is wedded to the water. They live off the sea’s harvest and were for centuries accessed only by the boats of Vikings and madcap Irish priests. I soak in this marriage of place and existence as we turn into Tórshavn Harbour, inhaling the sea air and processing every crag entering the capital’s fjord. Rather than a bump of wheels on Tarmac, more immigration queues and an overpriced taxi to a hotel that could be anywhere, I arrive invigorated and happy, already feeling connected to my destination. There’s a spring in my step – my footprint, whether carbon or physical, feels refreshingly light.
The ferry from Denmark to the Faroes costs from €80 (about £68) one-way; visit smyrilline.com.
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