Travels in the North

Musings on arctic holidays

BBC short film about reclining sea ices levels in the arctic

Interesting clip from the BBC’s John Hammond about arctic sea ice, set to shrink to a record minimum sometime next week. Summer in Britain has been a bit of a washout, the place to be was obviously 70 degrees North…


Reliving an old trip – 23rd June 2005 – Seyðisfjörður, Egilsstaðir & Mývatn

As the snow capped grey mountains of East Iceland come into view on the horizon I reflect on my good fortune at having another incredibly smooth ferry crossing across the North Atlantic. The sky is also completely clear and a magnificent, rich shade of blue, which I haven’t seen for a few days having had a rain end to my week in the Faroes.

The mountains of East Iceland

The mountains of East Iceland

Eventually we entered Seyðisfjörður itself, after travelling down a magnificent fjord. Seyðisfjörður is quite a small town, in some ways not dissimilar from a lot of the Faroese villages I’ve seen over the last week. I was given quite a hard time at customs, which I hadn’t expected, was questioned about my itinerary and what I was doing in Iceland and had my luggage searched. Still, as a single young male with a backpack who hadn’t shaved for three days perhaps they thought I was smuggling drugs or something.

Approaching Seyðisfjörður

Approaching Seyðisfjörður

From Seyðisfjörður I caught the connecting bus to Egilsstaðir. I had several hours here before my next bus to Reykjahlíð – although quickly realised this was going to be more than enough. Despite being billed as the “transport and commercial hub” of East Iceland in my guidebook, there’s really very little to the place. A few facilities (a supermarket and a bank), and a church which I took a quick peek in.



It was a glorious day in East Iceland so I headed back to the campsite which is where my bus was leaving from, and sat enjoying the sun for a couple of hours.

Church in Egilsstaðir

Church in Egilsstaðir

The bus ride to Reykjahlíð on the shores of Lake Mývatn was incredible, we drove through a real desert looking landscape with patches of thin grass surrounded by vast expenses of barren rock and gravel, with snow capped mountains in the background. The road had yellow posts at the side of the road at 20m intervals, presumably so you can find your way in the winter when they must get a lot of snow here. Despite being “Route 1” which is the main ring road around the edge of Iceland, it was untarmacked in places, and at one point the driver had trouble getting sheep on the road to move out of the way for us. Approaching Mývatn we passed a couple of geysers, quite an amazing sight,and a strong stench of amonia filled the air.

After the bus dropped me off I walked to the campsite and was immediately set upon by mosquitoes, Lake Mývatn literally means “Midge Lake” and I can see why. They didn’t seem to be biting, although perhaps tomorrow will tell.

I bought a few supplies at the local shop and was horrified by the cost, two tins of tomatoes, a tin of sardines and six breakfast bars cost 900ISK (2012 edit: this was about £8 at the time, before the financial crisis that bankrupted Iceland, the same amount now would be less than £5). Still at least by camping I was keeping the cost down as much as I could.

Reliving an old trip – 22nd June 2005 – Laundry and Ferry

Bit of a nothing day today. Got up late feeling rough, hungover for the second time in my week on the Faroes. Managed to find a laundrette in town and did some washing 😐

By the time I’d done this, got back to the campsite and packed up my tent it was already 5pm and time to head off to the ferry, I was catching the Smyril line to Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland that evening.

I board the ferry, the Norrona (the same ferry that brought me here from Shetland this time last week) and settle in to the canteen. I’m struck that there are more signs around telling you not to eat your own food than there are menus or useful signs telling you stuff you can do.

Reliving an old trip – 21st June 2005 – Graduation party with Faroese trumpet players

Today is the longest day of the year, and also marks the half way point of my three week break in the North atlantic. The week I’ve been in the Faroes has flown by, what a place.

Having given up on making it to Mykines I set today aside to check out the rest of Torshavn. I started in the Føroya Fornminnissavn (historical museum), which had lots of “how we used to live” stuff, an interesting history of the Faroese flag (the old Ram and Oyster catcher flag was replaced by a Nordic cross, designed by Faroese students in Copenhagen. The nordic cross presumably being a prerequisite for any self respecting Nordic nation) They had the old pew ends from the Magnus cathedral which I visited a few days ago. I also checked out the open air museum, there wasn’t much to it but it was interesting enough looking around a house made up in old Faroese style, and I saw the national football stadium.

Faroese National Football Stadium

Faroese National Football Stadium

I then went to Vidarlundin park, where I was struck by the huge number of trees. This may sound like an odd thing to say for a visitor to a park, but given the Northerly latitude coupled with the winds they get on the Faroese archipelago (gusts of up to 200mph are not unheard of) not many trees ever get the chance to grow. Quite a big effort has been made in the park to plant and protect the trees, but even so there were several that had almost been uprooted by the wind. In the park was an art gallery, lots of interesting Faroese art, much of it understandly heavily influenced by the landscape (fishing and religion also featured farily heavily)

I bought dinner in the supermarket in the SMS shopping centre, and headed back to the campsite where I met a couple from North Wales who were cycling round the islands.

I headed into town for a few beers in the evening and met an English guy from Queen’s Park in London. We chatted away until the pub shut at midnight, and left looking for somewhere else to drink. We randomly bumped into some people on the street who were heading to a graduation party on a beach in Southern Torshavn, so we headed down there and sat round a huge bonfire. Music seems to be a big thing in the Faroes and I met a couple of trumpet players who were studying at music colleges in the UK. After several hours round the campsite we all headed to a club, but I fell foul of the “your name’s not in the list so you’re not coming in” rule, seems it was graduates only that night. Still it was 3am and I was just about ready for bed, although it’s remarkable how much easier it is to stay up all night when it never really gets dark.

Reliving an old trip – 20th June 2005 – The Queen of Denmark and Nolsoy

For the second day in a row I slept through my alarm, missing once again I’ve missed the bus and connecting ferry to Mykines. It was blowing an absolute gale last night so I console myself that the ferry crossing (supposedly notoriously choppy) would’ve been a bit of a nightmare anyway.

I decided to go to Nolsoy instead, the island immediately East of Torshavn which supposedly makes a good day trip. There was noone around at the campsite but a note at reception said the Queen of Denmark was visiting the Faroes today – which would no doubt explain the cannon firing I’d just heard.

Niels Finsens Gota

Niels Finsens Gota – the main shopping street in Torshavn, decorated with flags for the visit of the Queen of Denmark

I walked into Torshavn, there were lots of Danish and Faroese flags flying and quite a few Faroese people in national dress. I saw the Queen walk down one of the main shopping streets, it was refreshing how little security there seemed to be.

queen of denmark visits torshavn

Terrible picture but you can just about see the Queen’s left arm (in white)

Royal Excitement over I left for the ferry to Nolsoy. The wind was still quite strong at this point, and even though the crossing was just 20 minutes I was very glad to reach dry land. I walked from Nosloy Village to the lighthouse at the southern tip of the island at Borðan, a 6km walk each way. It was an impressive lighthouse, helped by the remote setting. Unfortunately the visibility had dropped and I couldn’t even see as far as Streymoy where I’d just come from. On the walk back to Nolsoy village I stopped to sit down but was immediately set upon by large sea birds swooping down, not sure if they thought I was dead or were trying to attack – but it meant I couldn’t really take a break and had to keep walking.

The lighthouse at Borðan on Nolsoy

The lighthouse at Borðan on Nolsoy

Back in Torshavn I was shattered, had some fast food at a place called City Burger which was pretty horrible,  before heading back to the campsite for an early night.

Reliving an old trip – 19th June 2005 – Driving Vagar, Streymoy and Eysturoy

There’s something of a “morning after the night before” as I wake up at 11:30, feeling like death warmed up. Maybe it was the whale meat I ate last night…or the copious amount of beer I drank I’m not sure. Either way I’ve comfortably missed my 8am ferry, with connections carefully planned to visit Mykines, the remote island in the West of the Faroese archipelago.

I couldn’t face doing much, but did manage to turn my radio on, I must have tuned it into Radio 4 long wave last night as that’s what came on, and it was cricket commentary from a one day international in Bristol between England and Australia. A few references were made to the heat in England, a whooping 30 degrees, I still hadn’t opened the curtains but was fairly confident it was significantly less than that here. I love holidaying in the arctic 🙂

After a bit more cricket commentary and a bit more feeling sorry for myself and my hangover, I look at the ferry timetable and decide to go for the 14:45 back to Eysturoy (and then Torshavn via bus).  After packing up my stuff I bumped into Valti again (the Icelandic fisherman I’d met the night before) and he offered me a lift as he was “going for a drive”. I still felt like death, but given my lack of transport and desire to see as much of the Faroes as I could I took him up on the offer.

Eiði Faroe Islands

Taking in the view at Eiði

It was absolutely fantasic, even with my hangover. You see so much more in a car than you could on the bus and ferries. We drove around Northern Eysturoy, which has some incredibly picturesque villages including Eiði and Gjogv, the latter of which I realised I’d seen in various tourist brochures. We went for dinner in Hotel Eiði where we had a decent steak and chips and enjoyed the view down to the harbour. The service was somewhat surly, in stark contrast to the Faroese hospitality I’d enjoyed thus far.

Gjogv Faroe Islands


After dinner we drove across to Vagar (an island in the west where the airport is), through the recently opened (as of 2005) Streymoy-Vagar tunnel, paying 170Kr for the privilage which Valti and I agreed was a rip off. Still, I guess these tunnels don’t come cheap. On Vagar we got as far as Bour on the West coast before heading back to Streymoy, where Valti dropped me off at the campsite in Torshavn. By now it was almost midnight (and still light of course), but was windy and rainy and putting my tent up was difficult (my hangover still hadn’t completely surpassed), but finnaly getting into bed was heavenly. I slept like a log through the impending storm.

Gjogv Faroe Islands


Reliving an old trip – 18th June 2005 – Part Two – A night on the tiles

Being a Saturday night (and to be honest being perennially partial to a drink) I was keen to check out Klaksvik’s pub, Roykstovan. I asked Valti if he wanted to join me, and he did, again I was glad of the company. Walking in it was quite smoky, and everyone was looking at us (in a “you’re not from round here” type way), but just as I was thinking it was a bit intimidating a three people came over to talk to us and it was all good natured. A couple of them worked on trade ships and one was a fisherman. We had a few beers, talked about Chelsea, Denmark and Faroese independence, and one of the group’s family – who lived in the Outer Hebrides.

The beer kept flowing, then come kicking out time at the pub one of the group invited us back to his house. He had a shed at the side of the house where he hung up fish to dry (very typical in these parts), there are no flies in the Faroe Islands (as it’s too windy I guess) so the meat stays good. He also had whale blubber stored in a dustbin which I tried – very salty which complemented the beers we’d been drinking (better than a kebab I reckon). Also tried some of the dried fish called “Coot”, couldn’t work out what this was in English.

Faroese Delicacy

Trying the local cuisine

It was now about 1 in the morning, and one of the younger guys in the group suggested we go to the nightclub in town. The club was everything you’d expect from a small town nightclub really, expensive to get in at 80Kr, and playing pretty awful RnB type music. Everyone in there was pretty drunk, myself included, which got me through the experience. I normally hate nightclubs but it can’t have been that bad as I stayed until kicking out time at 4 in the morning. Outside it was broad daylight (and pouring with rain) which felt somewhat bizarre. All in all a top night out, was really impressed by the hospitality the locals bestowed upon me.

Reliving an old trip – 18th June 2005 – Part One – Cloudy Klaksvik

“Ridiculous” was my inital thought as my alarm clock went off at 5am.  It was already light of course, in fact it never really gets dark this far North so close to the summer equinox, but still wasn’t easy getting up and packing up my tent at this ungodly hour.

The reason for the early start was that I had a long journey ahead of me, and Faroese public transport timetables being what they are, I pretty much had to catch the first ferry back from Suðuroy to Torshavn at 7am. It got in just after 9, just in time to catch my connecting bus to Leirvik (whose name comes from the same origin as Lerwick in Shetland, the old Norse for muddy bay). Have to praise the efficient Faroese public transport here, there are only about three buses a day but they are timed to connect with ferries which makes for a smooth journey.

Leirvik Faroe Islands

Leaving Leirvik on the ferry

The journey to Leirvik on Eysturoy (the island immediately to the East of Streymoy where the capital Torshavn is) involved going through three tunnels. The Faroese have quite an impressive network of tunnels blasted through mountain rock linking communities which historically could only have been done by boat or on foot over the mountains. We also passed through several picturesque villages I was sorry not to have time to see properly. Streymoy and Eysturoy are linked by the Sundini bridge, nicknamed the “bridge over the atlantic”. It doesn’t really compete with the great bridges of the world, is no Golden Gate bridge or even Hammersmith bridge, but saves another ferry journey at least.

Leirvik Klaksvik Ferry Faroe Islands

On the ferry from Leirvik to Klaksvik

At Leirvik I did have to get another ferry, to Klaksvik on the island of Borðoy, the second largest town in the Faroe Islands after the capital Torshavn. Was a very eerie journey with very low cloud cover (perhaps about 100m) covering the mountainous islands surrounding the ferry (edit: since my trip a tunnel has since been built between Eysturoy and Borðoy).

Klasvik Halsur Faroe Islands

View over Klaksvik from Halsur

I arrived in Klaksvik at midday, not bad going getting from one end of the Faroes to another in five hours. I couldn’t find the campsite in Klaksvik so booked into the youth hostel where I got a single room for 120Kr. After a few nights under canvas I was chuffed with this – what luxury! Having checking in I set out on an afternoon hike up to Halsur, a mountain pass 245 metres above sea level. It was still pretty cloudy but I got some great views. On the way back into town I saw Föroya Bjór, the Faroese brewing company. There didn’t seem to be any kind of visitor centre sadly though, it was just a warehouse.

Föroya Bjór

Föroya Bjór, the beer of the Faroe Islands

Back at the hostel I turned on my radio and tuned into Faroese radio, who were broadcasting a brass band programme, featuring the Britannia Building Society band. Seems to be a real mix of music on Faroese radio, I’m becoming a bit of a fan. The hostel was pretty quiet, the only other guest I saw was an Icelandic man from the Reykjavik area, he was very friendly although his English was very limited which made conversation tricky. He offered to drive me to the island of Kunoy – drivable from Borðoy via a causeway – which I gladly took him up on.

Reliving an old trip – 17th June 2005 – Suðuroy

My ferry to Suðuroy (or Sue Roy as I think the locals pronounced it – can anyone help here?), which is the Southern most island of the Faroese archipelago, didn’t leave untlil 12:30. This meant I could leisurely pack up my tent at the campsite and have a pretty relaxed morning. Of the 4 other people at the campsite when I arrived, just 2 were left now, a British couple spending four weeks on the Faroes who I chatted to. I was jealous – I’m here for a week which is probably longer than most people get, but wow four weeks would be great. They were cycling round the islands, and as I type this up some seven years on from the trip I’m now massively into cycling myself (in fact I’ve got the highlights from the Tour de France on as I type) and perhaps I’ll have to do a similar trip soon….Anyway I digress.

I got to the ferry terminal about 10, and being the Faroes was able to leave my bag on a shelf (not even in a locker) free of charge, and I wasn’t particularly worried about it. No terrorism or theft threat here. I walked up to the Kings Monument, which was nothing special in itself, but did afford a beautiful view over Torshavn.

My ferry was called the Smyril, and used to be on the Smyril line going all over the North Atlantic. Now it just did the journey between Streymoy and Suðuroy, and was looking pretty tired, and is due to be replaced. The 90 minute journey was stunning, and worth doing just to see the small islands of Stora and Litla Dimun on the way. Litla Dimun was particularly impressive, a tiny island, just a mountain top really sticking out of the ocean. There used to be a farm on the island and it was home to around 15 people, but is now deserted.

Litla Dimun Lítla Dímun

Litla Dimun

Upon my arrival at Drelnes on Suðuroy I got the bus to the hostel in Øravík. Apart from a couple from Torshavn staying at the guesthouse next door, it was completely deserted. It was now about 3:30 and I set off on a walk to Famjin, home of the first Faroese flag, but the terrain was heavy going and my feet were still aching so I didn’t make it all the way. Back the hotel I got a takeaway pizza (it’s a bit of a weird setup with a combined youth hostel, guest house, hotel and pizza counter, I guess this is the way to do it in such a remote place). I watched a little Faroese television, some kind of quiz show was on.


Tvøroyri, seen from the ferry

I feel I could’ve planned this Suðuroy trip a little better, I’ve spent a lot of time hanging around today, and have got a very early start tomorrow to catch a ferry back so feel like I haven’t really given Suðuroy a fair go. It’s now 8 o’clock, there’s noone else here and I don’t fancy sitting at the bar on my own so it’s probably an early night, especially with my early start tomorrow. Still at least I made it here, albeit breifly, and it gives me a reason to return one day. I’d like to visit the village of Tvøroyri and also go right to the South of the island.

World’s Most Dangerous Roads

Just watching the world’s most dangerous roads on BBC2. It’s the first of a new series tonight, and Ed Byrne and Andy Parsons are driving along the road of bones in Siberia in the winter.

Somewhere I’d love to go, and far more remote than anywhere even I’ve been, Alaska included. The mining town of Ust Nera particularly caught my eye, a real “end of the earth” type place, run down soviet architecture, -50 and covered in smog. I’ll have to go one day.

Difficult not to be slightly snobby about shows like this though – at least they’ve got a 4×4, I was in Finland in February driving on what looked to be similar roads, and of course without a backup/film crew for me driving along in a Toyota Yaris 😐 (which was probably the most expensive car I’ve ever hired but that’s a story for another time…)