Sunday, July 27, 2014

Visiting the Faroes--Grass-covered Hills and Marsh Marigolds in the Sheep Islands

Faroe Island view
Faroe Island rainy morning, through the bus window
The Faroe Islands are in the North Atlantic, between Norway and Iceland. (See map. ) I visited them about the first of June on a tour with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, organized by Academic Arrangements Abroad. There are 18 islands, 17 with at least one inhabitant. 

It was cool and raining when we arrived. On the same latitude as the middle of Hudson Bay, the Atlantic's Gulf Stream keeps the temperatures mild. Average highs are about 51 ( 11 C) in summer and 37 (3 C) in winter. It rains more than 16 days a month all year round, though the rain may be a passing shower or a day of drizzle. Total annual rainfall varies between islands but in the capital, Tórshavn, it is about 50" (1280 cm).

Faroe Islands

The Faroes were settled about 800 AD by colonists from Norway. The islands were uninhabited when the colonists arrived, but overrun by sheep. Archaeologists think the islands were settled at least twice before the Norse arrived. Possibly St. Brennan of Ireland reached the Faroes, but even if he wasn't there personally, Irish monks were. Someone undeniably brought the sheep. The colonists from Norway were happy to have the sheep and called the place the Sheep Islands (Faroes).

The climate is too cool to successfully grow most crops. The Faroese lived on sheep, fish and wild birds. Fishing and salmon farming are among their 21st century occupations. The total population is about 48,000. They are a largely independent province of Denmark and use the Danish krone. The language, however, is a distinct Scandinavian language, Faroese, derived from Old Norse.

Beautiful islands

Faroe Islands

low clouds, Faroe Islands
low clouds, Faroe Islands

Many houses have shingle roofs and white paint, but the traditional house continues to be built. The dark walls absorb heat (too hot is really not a Faroe concept). The grass roofs are practical: they insulate the house extremely well and most of the time require no maintenance. If there is a week or so without rain, though, owners do need to water their roofs.
traditional architecture, Faroes
traditional Faroese house: grass on the roof, black house
The hillsides are covered in green with lush grass, well-suited for the sheep (second photo.)
grassy hillside, Faroe Islands
grassy hillside, Faroe Islands

sheep on the hillside, Faroe Islands
sheep grazing, Faroe Islands
The most visible wild flowers while we were there were marsh marigolds, Caltha palustris (Ranunculaceae), the national flower of the Faroes.

field of marsh marigolds on the Faroes
field of marsh marigolds on the Faroes

marsh marigolds in a glass
marsh marigolds in a glass; they made excellent cut flowers
The other wild flowers we commonly saw were buttercups (Ranunculus, several species). Both marsh marigolds and buttercups are not edible to sheep. Over the centuries the sheep have eaten everything they could reach and only the grass endured it well. The islands are generally open range for sheep. People fence the sheep out of the yards around their houses and their vegetable gardens. 

When we visited Gjógv, where there's a deep and very scenic ravine, suddenly there were all kinds of different plants--out of reach of the sheep.

diverse plants on a steep cliff, Faroes
diverse plants on the steep sides of the ravine, Faroes

diverse plants on a steep cliff, Faroes
more plants on the steep ravine, Faroes

Ravine at Gjógv
Ravine at Gjógv
A starkly beautiful, very interesting place!

waterfalls, Faroe Islands
rain running off as waterfall

Faroe Island coastline, with bird watchers
Faroe Island coastline, with bird watchers
Comments and corrections welcome.

Proctor, J. 2013. Faroe Islands.  3rd ed, Bradt Travel Guides, UK.

Kathy Keeler

1 comment:

  1. Faroe Islands is the most beautiful island I have ever seen after the visit of niagara falls boat tour us side. Each destination over there is able to visit. I still never saw this complete island but wish to visit there soon again and travel around these awesome attractions. I really enjoy to read your blog.