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The Faroes


It was the Brendan Voyage a piece of music by Irish Composer Shaun Davey that first drew Hugh Taylor to the Faroes. Davey had been inspired by a mediaeval parchment, the Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis, which tells of the legendary travels of St Brendan and a group of Irish monks sailing from Ireland to America via the Isle of Sheep.

Ffjord Faroes Stormy © Hugh Taylor

  Faroes Fjord © Hugh Taylor

Centuries later, on June 24th 1976, a strange craft, made of ox hides stretched over a wooden frame, was sighted off the coast of the Faroes. Two square sails, painted with Celtic crosses, billowed above The Brendan, a replica of the craft in which the monks had first sailed this way. Explorer and writer, Tim Severin, built her to the descriptions in the Navigatio to prove that St Brendan’s journey was possible.

When Severin made landfall in the Faroes he was keen to include a Faroese in his crew but later confessed to being doubtful when Trøndur Patursson presented himself as a volunteer.

Trøndur Patursson Artist Faroes Tim Severin Brendan Voyage © Hugh Taylor

Trøndur Patursson © Hugh Taylor

‘He could have stepped straight from an illustration in Grimm’s fairy tales. His head was encased in a mass of hair extending from his chest to an arc a good three inches from his scalp’. When he discovered that Trøndur was not only an experienced sailor and a talented artist but that his family had lived for sixteen generations in a huge and ancient log cabin at Kirkjubøur, sometimes known as Brandansvik or Brendan’s Creek, his doubts disappeared. When the Brendan sailed from Kirkjubøur, the hairy Viking was aboard.

Travel Facts


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Atlantic Airways flies to the Faroes from London Stanstead, Aberdeen and Shetland.

Entry requirements:

Residents in the EU require only a passport for stays up to three months.

Comprehensive information on The Faroes is available via the official tourism website.


The Faroes are great for walking and on my first trip I hiked from Tórshavn, the capital, to Kirkjubøur to visit Trøndur Patursson and his wife Borgny. A series of stone cairns standing like miniature lighthouses marked the route across the trackless hills. Travellers over the centuries had built them where they could be seen from afar and I was very glad of them when the fog rolled in off the sea and reduced the visibility. I stopped briefly at each cairn, as is the custom, and added a stone.

Over coffee and pastries in his cottage, above Kirkjubøur, Trøndur told me of his adventures with Tim Severin. He was the artist on The Brendan Voyage and his distinctive pen and ink illustrations captured the anger of the sea, the fragility of the craft, the effortless arch of the great whales surfacing for air and the graceful sweep of birds in an empty sky.

Afterwards he took me down to visit his family home, supposedly the oldest log cabin in Europe. Part of it, the large Roykstove, or smoke room, is now open as a museum in the summer. This is where the entire family would have eaten, slept, worked and entertained. It’s not unlike a Viking Longhouse, had an open fire for heating and cooking but no windows or chimney. Underneath in the basement is a dungeon once part of the residence of the Bishop when this was the ecclesiastical centre of the Faroes. The diocese was abolished at the Reformation but the gaping windows of the small roofless Saint Magnus Cathedral stare like wide dead eyes at the intrusion of the modern farm next door. Nowadays the Paturssons produce 100,000 litres of milk per year for the dairy in Tórshavn.

The Faroes is a collection of eighteen islands in the North Atlantic mid way between Shetland and Iceland. In 1948 they gained their independence but still remain a part of the Danish Kingdom. The capital Tórshavn is the size of a small market town with a population of around 15,000. It’s a prosperous, place with a supermarket and shopping mall but alongside are the narrow twisting alleys of the old historic district, where centuries old, tarred driftwood houses, roofed with turf crowd haphazardly together. The traditional wood interiors of the houses are simply furnished but they all have central heating and modern conveniences.

The Faroes is a land of constant contrasts between modern comforts and traditional ways. The Grindadrap is perhaps the most difficult custom for outsiders to understand. Birgir Enni the skipper of the sailing vessel Nordlysid explained it to me when I sailed with him around the islands.

‘Whenever the whales are sighted the word goes out and everyone, who can, gets in the boats and puts to sea. They herd the whales into a bay towards the beach. That’s when the rest of the village joins in, wading into the sea and killing the whales’.

It sounded a bit bloody to me and not great from a conservation point of view. But Birgir defended the practice as part of the traditional Faroese way of life.

‘Pilot whales are not an endangered species and no one is doing it for commercial gain.’

After a successful hunt the whale meat is divided up according to the number of people living in each household. They just harvest what they can eat and none is ever sold. People living in the capital only manage to get some from relatives and friends in the coastal villages.

By the time we were under full sail in the open sea with the islands of Stremoy and Nólsoy behind us, I heard the cry of ‘Grind’, over the radio. However before I could sort out my mixed feelings of excitement, dread and revulsion at the prospect of a traditional whale hunt, there was another message to say it was a false alarm.

A couple of nights later I got the opportunity to sample whale meat at the Faroese evening in the Nordic House, Tórshavn’s cultural centre. A long wooden table was groaning with all things Faroese including boiled whale meat. It tasted surprisingly like beef.

I tried mutton that had been hung in slatted sheds and wind-dried but found it tough and rank. It’s definitely an acquired taste. Dried fish and mustard was something I doubt if I’ll ever acquire a taste for but I enjoyed feasting on the pickled herring, fresh salmon and roasted puffins stuffed with sweet dough.

The food was followed by an evening of music and dancing and I was once more reminded of the long traditions of this isolated community. The mediaeval Chain Dance, once common throughout Europe, survives now only in the oral tradition of the Faroes.

The dancers in their brightly coloured national costumes were spiralling in an ancient forerunner of the conga to the incongruous sound of an unaccompanied ballad singer. Some of the ballads they dance to are over 300 verses long and have been passed down the generations.

In a typically Faroese contrast the next week was the annual international Jazz, blues and folk music festival which would draw musicians from all over the world to perform on this tiny speck on the North Atlantic.


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