Journeys, &c

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Tag: scandinavia

The Last Puffins of Gjógv


Last light. Last day of the trip. Despite the rain, it’s been a good one. So why was I running full speed away from the splendid view and back to the hotel? Because of something that happened ten years ago. Or, rather, didn’t. I saw a puffin.

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The Vestmanna Cliffs and Streymoy


I learned a few things about birdwatching on the Faroe Islands. First, it’s actually pretty cool. Second, you don’t need an enormous lens to get some nice photos. I also discovered I can actually go on a boat without instantly getting seasick.

But what was really awesome about this leg of our Faroes trip was the dizzying sea cliffs at Vestmanna – the Vestmannabjørgini. (No, I have no idea how to pronounce that). Hundreds of meters of black volcanic sea cliffs, speckled green with outlandish tufts of bright turf, itself munched on by even more outlandishly surefooted sheep. Though we were late in the season, still scores of seabirds swooped and swirled around the cliffs, our boat, and us. Add a salty fresh sea breeze off the North Atlantic and one of the very few appearances of the sun, and the island of Streymoy gave us a few of our most memorable Faroes days.

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The Many Faces of Nólsoy


is so pretty
they say
every day
because they have
nothing else
to look at.

…Oddfríður Marni

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The Lost Village of Skarð and the Wild Lighthouse at Kallur


Sadness pervades the whole story of Skarð. A hundred years ago, 1913 to be precise, it was a hard-scrabble fishing village like so many on the Faroes. No roads linked it to larger settlements, just a dangerous walk over the rocky mountain ridge to Kunoy on the other side, or a path down the fjord to Haraldssund several miles south. The land scarcely supports the grass the sheep graze on, so fishing was the villagers’ main source of food and income. Just 23 souls lived here, and only seven were fishermen.

Two days before Christmas that year, the seven set out in their boats as usual. In those days of course, fishing boats were sailed or rowed. There was no radio, radar, GPS or EPIRB. Just a man, his wits, and his raw strength stacked against what Shackleton called “the ocean that is open to all and merciful to none, that threatens even when it seems to yield, and that is pitiless always to weakness”.

They never returned. Lost with all hands.

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Tórshavn – the windswept capital of Føroyar

With luck and a lot of clothes, you can enjoy the summer sun in Tórshavn...

With luck and a lot of clothes, you can enjoy the summer sun in Tórshavn…

For me, said my wife afterwards, the Faroes isn’t so much a place to do things as it is a place to feel. “I just enjoyed the different soundscape – the sound of the wind, the sea, the birds. The rain, the roar of the sea. Breathing the sweetness of the fresh air. Drinking live water, straight from the earth. It seems like there’s not much going on, but there’s actually a lot going on if you just open your senses. What’s going on in Tórshavn? Not bars and cafes or any of that, but the smells of nature. Constant movement in the weather. The walk back to the hotel past that little brook”.

She’s right. Fog, wind, rain and lush green mountains with so many waterfalls they don’t even bother to name the big ones. You feel alive, part of nature instead of separated from it by seven ring roads. And that’s how it felt nearly the whole time we were there – to be alive in a place that was alive.

Welcome to Føroyar – the Faroe Islands.

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Northern Iceland: Whales, Basalt & Conspiracies

"Eight bells and all's well, ha-haargh..."

Dolphin watching is really cool – when you’re looking for dolphins. But when you go whale watching, you’re really after something bigger. You know, like a whale. These guys had a great guarantee – see a whale or your money back*. Being (back then, in 2005) smart lawyers, we checked the small print under that asterisk. “Whales includes dolphins”. Hmmm. Well, we’re here now, we thought. It’s the last day of the season. Maybe we’ll get lucky.

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Icebergs and underground hot springs – Eastern Iceland

Gore-tex is no match for Icelandic rain

I don’t think we’ve ever been as wet as we were in Iceland. Or as cold. Or hungrier, more tired, or dirtier.  I formed this judgement only two weeks in to a six week trip on a day it rained so hard for so long that I thought I would never be wetter than this. Late next night, as we moved our tent from a pool of water, beside a lagoon full of icebergs, I realised I was completely wrong in assuming that was the wettest as I’d ever be. No. With every new day, I was going to be wetter yet.

Even our Gore-tex wasn’t keeping the rain at bay. Would I ever be dry again?

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Åland Autumn: Wind Jammers & Windbreakers

Oslo subway: freaky

Åland is one of those great places one’s never heard of, and doesn’t know how to pronounce. Tiny, clean, and not much to do but enjoy the fresh air and beautiful autumn. On a humid and high-pollution Beijing day, it certainly seems like another world. Click through for some pictures, and a few views of Oslo’s quirkier side.

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Seven Days Trekking in Iceland


Got a bit of puppy fat? Wanna lose it? Try this hike. I went in weighing 74kg. Seven days later, I was 62kg. In between, I’d lugged 30 kg up and down mountains, through rivers, across snow fields and volcanic plains. I’d eaten anything I could lay my hands on, including fish served through my tent window by an Icelandic child in the middle of a downpour. We saw sun, wind, rain and snow, just on the first day. And in all that time, I only had one shower. It was three minutes long and cost about five bucks. Welcome to the Laugavegur – Iceland’s famous and awesome trek.

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