Photo Story | Faroe Islands

The Fabulous Faroes

© Dennis Minty

In this breathtaking photo story, renowned photographer Dennis Minty recalls his first visit to the Faroe Islands, sharing special stories and fun facts along the way. Sheep, tunnels, waterfalls, mountains, and even giants and hags all make an appearance in this unique archipelago!

For my first ever visit to the Faroe Islands, I only had the vaguest of expectations. The Faroese fished alongside Newfoundlanders for generations and often docked in Newfoundland ports, so I suppose I thought of the people much like Newfoundlanders­—tied to the sea, but with a strong dash of Norse heritage. This proved to be a fair assessment, but I was not prepared for the overwhelmingly beautiful landscape, the prosperity, or the tunnels! There were tunnels everywhere, but I’ll come back to that.

town of Vagur Suduroy Faroes

© Dennis Minty

It was a grey, damp, and cool day for our first stop at Vágur, a small town on the island of Suðuroy. It was typical of many of the ports that we were yet to see, with an orderly, picturesque waterfront and marina—clearly a prosperous fishing town. Comfortable, cozy, and colourful homes lined narrow streets.

sheep on Faroe islands

© Dennis Minty

As we moved up from the harbour, the houses quickly gave way to rolling green, sheep-grazed slopes; after all, the name Faeroe or Føroyar is translated as "sheep islands."

Faroese aquaculture fish farms

© Dennis Minty

Not far outside of the town was a large aquaculture operation, a thriving industry in the Faroe Islands, where farmed fish (mainly Atlantic salmon) now represents half of the country’s exports. The industry is a major employer.

Curving road and waterfalls Faroe Islands

© Dennis Minty

The winding road system throughout the archipelago was impressive. Around each turn, set after set of waterfalls streaming down mountainsides came into view, hundreds of them in all.

Car entering tunnel Faroe islands

© Dennis Minty

Tunnels were everywhere, too. Decades ago, the government decided to remove physical barriers (as much as possible) between the numerous communities spread over the archipelago. Until the 1970s, the only way people could travel from one place to another in much of the Faroes was by foot over high, windswept mountains or by boat.

Faroe road through mountains

© Dennis Minty

Now bridges and tunnels provide local connection and global access. Aside from eighteen kilometres of tunnels through mountains, they also go undersea to join islands. At the time of this writing, there are more than twenty-one kilometres of subsea tunnels. Together they reduce travel time; increase mobility for people, trade, and industry; and foster a sense of cultural unity.

Mulafossur waterfall Gasagalur

© Dennis Minty

One of the tunnels on the western island of Vágar took us to the tiny hamlet of Gásadalur, with its famous and spectacular Mulafossur waterfall.

Bour Vagar Faroe Islands

© Dennis Minty

Also on Vágar, we walked through the ancient hillside town of Bøur with its sod-roofed houses, cozy church, and narrow streets.

Sod roofed house

© Dennis Minty

Everywhere in the Faroes, sod-roofed houses—some old, some new—were a common site. They are traditionally built in layers with sloped boards at the bottom, followed by waterproof birch bark, and topped with turf, including live grasses and herbs. In the modern versions, plastic has replaced the birch bark layer.

Faroe islands mountain valley

© Dennis Minty

We saw great U-shaped valleys such as this one, evidence of the work of glaciers thousands of years ago.

Panorama torshavn streymoy faroe islands

© Dennis Minty

About 20,000 of the Faroe Islands’ total population of 48,000 live in Tórshavn (meaning “Thor’s Harbour”), the capital on Streymoy.

traditional boats in Torshavn

© Dennis Minty

The old town beside the modern harbour is a both a mariner’s and photographer’s delight. Traditional and modern vessels line up before the colourful old merchant buildings.

red government buildings Faroe

© Dennis Minty

Since around 900 CE Viking parliament met at Tinganes, on a peninsula that divides Tórshavn’s harbour into two parts. The cluster of old, red buildings there still serve as the seat of government.

Nordic house Torshavn Faroes

© Dennis Minty

Nordic House, considered one of the most beautiful public buildings in all of Scandinavia, overlooks Tórshavn. It was completed in the 1980s under the direction of Norwegian architect Ola Steen, with the aim of supporting and promoting Nordic and Faroese culture, both locally and throughout the region.

Nordic house amphitheatre

© Dennis Minty

Inside Nordic House there are exhibit spaces, a café, and a magnificent, recessed amphitheatre.

Saksun Streymoy home and waterfall Faroe Islands

© Dennis Minty

Also on Streymoy, the enchanting, hillside village of Saksun is home to about fourteen residents and plenty of sheep.

Gjogv mountain town

© Dennis Minty

Meanwhile on Eysturoy, the dramatic settlement of Gjógv, surrounded by mountains, sits beside a two-hundred-metre-long gorge thrusting inland from the open sea.

Panorama funnigur highest mountain faroe islands

© Dennis Minty

The Ocean Endeavour anchored offshore from the village of Funningur, which sits at the base of Slættaratindur, the highest mountain (882 metres) in the Faroes. We negotiated a series of switchbacks to drop from the high ground back to sea level and board our waiting Zodiacs.

Funningur church Faroes

© Dennis Minty

Dating from 1847, Funningur’s church is among the ten oldest in the Faroes.

Giant and the Hag rock formation Faroe Islands

© Dennis Minty

With names like “The Giant and the Hag” (Risin og Kellingin in Faroese), you just know there must be a good legend to go with these rock stacks. Once upon a time, so we were told, the giants of Iceland were envious of the Faroes and wanted to claim them for themselves. So, a giant and his hag were sent to do the job.

Giant and the Hag Faroes sunshine

© Dennis Minty

Working through the night to avoid the sunshine, they lassoed the northernmost mountain to haul it back to Iceland on the giant's back. However, the mountain split off and the pair failed to fulfill their operation before sunrise, when the warm rays of daylight turned them to stone and fixed them in place.

Western cliffs Streymoy

© Dennis Minty

Finally, as we left the Faroes, we sailed past the western cliffs of Streymoy, five hundred metres high and shrouded in cloud.

Northern Gannet seabird nesting material

© Dennis Minty

Seabirds like the Northern Gannet nest here and cruise the coastline on long stiff wings. This one is returning to the colony with nesting material.

Western cliffs Streymoy waterfall

© Dennis Minty

As we caught the last glimpses of the cliffs before heading northwest towards our next landfall—the Westmann Islands of Iceland—I overheard many references to The Lord of the Rings in the deck chatter amongst the excited guests and staff. Indeed, this journey to the Faroes was an epic one!

About the Author

Dennis Minty

Dennis Minty

Photographer, Wildlife Biologist

Dennis has been working with Adventure Canada since 2002. Dennis’s path—from his small island roots in Twillingate, Newfoundland to his current career as a photographer and eco-tour leader—has taken him through more than three decades of local and international work.

For him, nature and photography are inseparable. Dennis immerses himself in nature through photography and seeks to inspire in the viewer a deeper connection with the natural world. Dennis has authored nine books on subjects such as environmental science, his home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and his photography.

To see more of Dennis' work, visit his website.

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