The trouble with lists is that I enjoy ticking them off and sometimes the list becomes more important than the thing itself. A short four hour working morning gives me ample opportunity to explore things close by.
Hitching is not so easy today, I reach the post office without a lift so first tick on my list, stop to post postcards. birds for Edward, the bird fan and puffins for poppy who has just seen discovered them. Is there a Faroese theme there by any chance? I ask in the post office if there is a bus timetable but have to resort to taking a photograph of the tattered times sheet I am shown.
Back on the road I nearly exit the village before an air hostess picks me up and drops me off at the airport. Second tick on my list tourist information. I collect a glorious map of the island and find it sprinkled with flowers, buttercup routes, nine of them, tiny roads with scenic views. I love this, not that they are tourist routes yet precisely BECAUSE they are tourist routes! Roads too small for much general traffic, single track roads, not really hitchable but suddenly they have become transformed with hitching potential because of the buttercups!
I leave the airport to hitch or walk six kilometres to Bour, supposedly the best coastal views of the island, but more importantly for me, to view Mykines, the jewel of the islands in Vagar area, without shops or supplies, fifty people live there. My host has property there.
Yesterday, I asked if I might go there alone to stay for a few days, yes, she said, but not yet. When, I asked but my question hung in the air unanswered, like a bad smell. My tally is now twenty six and a half hours. Twenty five hours earns two days off. It is good we have begun this discussion, she now has half agreed something I really want and I have the beginnings of a plan to bank days off and use them in a block. At the same time I am building exit plans. I need some time off soon. And so it is that looking at Mykines from afar feels very important to me right now. I want to view, for then i will be able to walk away without fretting over opportunities I had missed.
I walk and hold out my thumb, turning to smile at drivers so they can consider whether they might pick me up. A battered car driven by an old man stops. The back seat is littered with tools and an unrestrained child seat whilst the passenger seat holds a young man. Unceremoniously the tools are cast aside and the old man asks of my journey. The young man asks if I’m planning to go as far as
Gásadalur, a mountainous five kilometres further, no, I say, it’s too far to walk as it is if I don’t get a lift. Instead of taking me two kilometres to my turn off they generously take me nearly the whole way to Bøur. Later, when I study my map, I discover that the entire route as far as Gásadalur is a buttercup route.
Through the front windscreen I can see an island, Mykines I ask? Indeed it is and alongside it, the uninhabited, and surely much more attractive, Tindhólmur and Gáshólmur. The guys drop me just before the settlement of Bøur and I walk in, noticing as I do so the higher road leaving the hamlet that I will need to reach to view Mykines properly.
Mykines not yet in view but uninhabited Tindhólmur and Gáshólmur draw my attention.
Wandering through the hamlet of Bøur, (tick number three), its just me and the birds, I now know the call of the arctic tern, the whimbrel and oyster catcher. Gulls or gannets torment smaller birds, and I first hear, then see, a small grey peeping bird that I’ve now grown fond of. I walk on, enjoying a mass of yellow and pink blossom beside me in the blooming grass and I yearn to cut it, to try to make hay from it or to see someone doing so that I might ask them. I have found reference to hay but with persistent rain I can’t see how they dry it. I wonder if it might be in the slatted sheds they use to ferment and dry mutton.
Later in the day I will find an old man who, when I ask, will tell me there didn’t used to be so much rain, it used to be possible to make hay he will say, but it’s difficult now. it’s not possible to use the slatted sheds he says. I think of the last two days, both dry and relatively sunny and wonder how long it might take. Making and turning hay as a child I know that a couple of good days will see it dry enough to mound in case of wet weather, to spread again on the next good day. Just as twenty four hour days mean good growing conditions for potatoes perhaps it might also hasten the drying of hay. In his eighties, the old man has many stories of the old days. Stories always give room for a margin of error. I will watch carefully for signs of haymaking.
I can see a house I love, a house I would like to live in and I draw closer. I want to show you yet also want to keep it a secret, my own special place. Good sturdy sward roofing and black timber walls with white paint. The chimney is short, unobtrusive yet promises warmth, there must be a good draw coming in with the wind. And at the top, a skylight, a roof room. That room would be mine but I want to turn it and send it facing seaward.
My third cup of coffee and I think back to a travel writing course I went on in london some years ago, Write in the morning, explore in the afternoon and sift in the evening he said. I find it hard not to sift and edit as I go along. I think I may be too relaxed a writer, I love to sit curled up in a chair or, as I am now, laying in bed. My fingers stray and accidentally touch the screen. I find I have inserted hay making in the middle of Mykines and don’t know I’ve done so until it’s frustratingly slow to pick out and move, inserted words splitting other words in half. Typos and autocorrect already make my writing at times difficult to interpret, and I think a detachable keyboard would be useful.
I digress. Feeling prickly at the tone of, ‘not yet’, in response to my query about going to Mykines, I’m happy that I’ve now seen it and I know I could move on from the area without fretting about not having been there. There will be many more such islands. I slept a full seven hours last night, I’ve worked a short day and whilst walking, I’m contemplating my departure.
Walking up onto the high road out from Bóur I am once again dive bombed, this time by Arctic terns. Carry a stick my host has told me, wave that around over your head, don’t shout at the birds. I look around me but immediately know the fruitlessness of doing so. In an island where there are no trees, how might I stumble upon a stick? I try making pretend helicopter hands but prefer to watch carefully and then explode my fists at them. Many have said they will not harm you and I suspect they are right about these terns but later, the old man will tell me that oyster catchers are actively dangerous with their long sharp beaks. I leave the birds in peace at an uninviting pull in off the road. It’s clearly a stopping point for tourists and thankfully the birds have not nested here. I don’t like it as a nesting place anymore than the birds do but settle for it and take my picture of Mykines.
I lean against the grey metal barriers that prevent me tumbling over the edge and wist for a comfy seating spot or patch of grass. Instead of gazing seaward at the beauty of Mykines I perch and consider the cacophony of bleating from the hillside beside me. Gentle slopes become high rocky pasture and sheep there are clearly distressed. I passed a building earlier and hearing anxious bleating, I remember noting momentary alarm, as a man erected waist high boards, wondering if slaughter were going on. It is not the month for the sheep harvest though and for a while I’ve stopped wondering about the noise. Now I take the time to look, I can see that adults have been sheared, lambs still carry their woolly coats. Both mother and child are confused, unused to their new, skin to skin, feel.
It is early, not yet three pm, I wonder how far it is to Gásadalur but not having seen any cars I know I cannot reasonably expect to reach it and return without more miles than I am able to walk. I’m sticking to tarmac today, my right thigh is stiff from my tumble when the Arctic Skuas were attacking me and I’m unsure what surfaces lie ahead. Again, I look for a stick or alternative, but find nothing. The day is mild and whilst the terns are alarming I don’t fear them as I did the skuas and begin to descend.
Bóur is even more attractive on the return journey and miraculously, the birds leave me alone. I wonder about finding a spot in the hamlet to sit and write, i recall a bench but dismiss it remembering it neither faced the hills or the ocean.
I hear the rumble of a cattle grid and turn to look as a car appears. I put out my thumb and French tourists stop to pick me up. No idle time in the village for me then. I decide to go whereever they are going and retrieve my map. Speaking French comes easily. No doubt it is poorly constructed but they are pleased to speak French rather than stumble in English. Or at least she is, he less so I think and I wonder whether he wanted to pick me up or whether she had persuaded him.
He explains they are going to Tórshavn, but very slowly. I say speed is not my desire but neither is Torshavn. I predict that their journey will take me back though Midvágur but I am not yet done for the day and ask instead for Sandvágur. I’ve been wondering what lies over the hill ever since I arrived. She chatters and I do my best to respond appropriately saying bien sur or peut etre, when clearly a reply is required yet I’ve only a small idea of what she is saying. He suddenly decides the journey has ended and pulls in at a supermarket. I thank them and return to the road.
Hitching works best I find, if one walks purposefully and turns to face the cars, swapping hitching thumbs, just before they reach me. Four, maybe five cars and I am now sitting in the back of a small saloon with a young man and his mother. My brain is confused, I begin conversing in French, struggling to remember that English is now needed. For a while I persist with frenglish until my brain has quietened. They are driving all the way Oyrarjgógv and I am tempted to say yes please but decide that my legs are tired and it’s is not the time for unresearched exploration so ask again for Sandavágur just a few miles down the road.
Conversation inevitably centres on where I am from and they just can’t resist the by now tedious quip about having lost at football to Iceland. I equally can’t resist a friendly retort about the Faroes having lost to Belarus yesterday. To my surprise I discover that they are on their way home from Esturoy, the young man was one of the players in the match with the Irish referees. I slightly regret my cheeky retort and asked him how the referees did and whether it was a tough game. We have no more conversation and I am dropped off as requested at Sandavágur.
I don’t recall details of what I planned to do here but am quickly reminded by a signpost to Trøllkonufingur, tick numb four, which will entail a four kilometre walk. I stop and consult my guidebook, glance momentarily at the church that is supposed to amaze me, imagine the ancient Viking runes and walk on. I try to work out whether I can cut short the walk to Trøllkonufingur by heading straight up the steps through several levels of housing to reach the high road beyond. I think this is the road I’m aiming for but the book is unclear and I decide it is safer to stay with the road. My stiff thigh also declines the opportunity of climbing steep steps.
Beyond the end of the road the track becomes increasingly rough but as I climb I marvel at the stacks and islands that appear. I have been glimpsing these on my wandering around the village and am pleased now to see them in full view. I look back into the fjord (I’ve been told it’s not a bay!) that I’m living beside and confirm my view that Midvágur is not the most attractive of settlements. I watch fishing boats leave the fjord but am disappointed they go to the salmon fish farms not head out to sea. I am too far away and too high to make out what they are doing but it looks as though the boat leans over to one side and a crane apparatus moves and the boat leans to one side. I wonder how they remove fish from fish farm tanks. Research will be needed.
I enjoy mild sun and little wind, peacefully alone with no signs of life, I first sit and then lay back on a bench and close my eyes listening to the sound of birds busy with their days work. I feel safe, it seems there are no marauding attackers here. I lie perhaps for half an hour considering whether to walk further on up today and wonder just how far it is to this ‘witches finger’ rock formation. I have learned to enjoy ascents, to take my time. I’ve found that as a strategy, getting where I’m going quickly is unrewarding and I now prefer to risk not getting where I’m going but to enjoy the journey.
Im almost startled but sit up just as three people appear, sauntering slowly up the slope. I decide to wait until they pass but instead they stop. An old man speaks to me in a language I do not understand. The other two look like tourists. England, I reply and I seem to have answered his question. He tells me the young woman is also from England. I say hello and ask the touristsnif they are on a guided tour but they say no, they just met at he man. He asks have I been to Trøllkonufingur yet and I say no, not yet. He beckons but I decline his invitation to join them. I work well alone, I don’t want to get bound up in idle chatter, I am probably done with making polite conversations for a few days. I puzzle over why I’m making excuses for my choices.
I wait for some time until they are gone and then continue my journey. In fact, I am pleased I have seen them, the road becomes a very rough track and soon just costal path with gates and plank bridges but no further signs telling me I’m on the right track. It is good to glimpse them as they disappear around distant corners and I hurry my pace to keep them in view.
Trøllkonufingur turns out to be the stack I had glimpsed but could not quite see on my first foray around the harbour in Midvágur and I am more than pleased to reach it, not only for that reason, but also as my legs are reluctant to walk much further. The three people stand taking photographs of each other.
The couple turn out to be French and both speak good English. There are the inevitable will you take all of us photo poses and I decline to have one taken of us all for myself. Bizarrely we are then joined by an Italian family of four. More photo shots called for of this international group. I tire but comply. Why. For what? Who wants to see pictures of strangers you happened to meet in passing and will never see again. It is the rock we came for yet somehow we are jabbering and taking group poses, hiding half of a magnificent finger that has been climbed once, by one man, who, attempting it for a second time to retrieve a lost glove, lost his life instead. Moral? Don’t grieve for lost mittens.
The old man turns out to be garrulous and loves the English. Many people here do in fact. It was in the war that the forces came, built the runway that is now the airport and stopped the advance of the Russians and Germans. The man tells of seven soldiers billeted at his house and how at seven years old in the early nineteen forties he was quick to learn English. He is well travelled and says he stayed in contact with all those soldiers, writing to them over the years and visiting each one all bar one who lived in Milford Haven. He says he tried to call in whilst at Heathrow waiting for a flight to Canada but despite phoning the soldier he was told that Milford Haven was just too far to reach!
A couple on a pension here receive 1600 Danish krone a month, the exchange rate is almost pound for krone, or was before the vote to leave the EU, I haven’t looked since. Conversation naturally falls to the referendum, it’s the only other conversation here, apart from football. The old man talks of Britain being great and how we stood alone against the Germans and keeps repeating that we have been alone before and we will stand strong again, alone. The young French couple and I are not so hopeful but we all agree that what will be will be.
I wonder about hanging around at the view point but decide I can manage their company for a while and begin to descend with them. The old man fishes a key from his pocket and says we must follow him up the hillside. He points to a wooden chalet or shack some distance up across rough, hummocky terrain. He explains that this is his summer house and he wants us to see. The young couple have already been into his house in the village and we all follow. He springs up across the rough ground as though it were flat and level, much fitter and mo sprightly than me. I take my time but watch carefully to see the route they take. The young man hangs back, generously,mso that they don’t quite disappear from my view. We reach the boarded up dwelling and climb over almost waist high boards which surround it. It is then that we are thwarted. He may have the key in his pocket but he has forgotten to bring the door handle and without the handle we cannot enter. I make a mental note that hitherto I’ve not found anyone who locks their doors here, let alone locks and removes the handle.
We stand in amiable silence gazing at the horizon for a while before I start teasing him about bringing us up here. He is well worth meeting and we engage in conversation. About rabbits, just one month a year when you can shoot them he says and no it’s not good meat. About geese and how some people keep them whilst others just catch them. About the economy and how he thinks the Faroes needs more people, more workers to work in the salmon factories. He believes the Faroes must grow. He scorns the EU and the Danish and denies that the Faroes need them at all, denies that Denmark supports them financially. The young couple and I look at each other but respectfully, we do not argue.
When we begin to descend again, I decide to let them go ahead and sit again enjoying peace and stillness. Another thirty minutes or so pass before I wander slowly back to the main road and find a car with a friendly driver, sporting a smart casual look that seems to come so easily to Scandinavian women. She brings me home.
I unexpectedly have a day off and it’s six fifty am. I will make coffee and can then spend two hours planning or writing. But which? Write, explore, sift would suit me well as a pattern for today as the museum I have in mind does not open until two.
The shower curtain is one of those annoyingly thin clingy ones and I don’t understand why they make them. The rush of cascading water causing a suction that makes it cling to my body or is it just me that experiences such difficulty, as my body is too big?
I ponder how I will easily shave my legs in this cubbyhole with sloped ceiling. No room to move out of the way of the cascade, no ledge on which to prop my foot. I conclude that I must switch off the water, shave and then risk being scalded or chilled when I turn it back on. The water is generously fierce and beautifully soft. I can tell my skin appreciates a holiday from the harsh water at home but I never seem to get used to this sikiness and I continue to try to remove suds when none remain. Getting dressed is a bit like camping, sitting on my mattress on the floor getting as far dressed as I can before standing up and exposing myself to the main road as I pull up my trousers.
I tidy my belongings a little, there’s plenty I am ready to discard now: my camera, running gear, the old painting clothes I was asked to bring with me (I thought we might have had a lull with the Irish gone but we’re back to full capacity again so painting tasks are unlikely.)
A possible explanation for all these apparently unexpected guests is that Bradtt produced a new travel guide which came out towards the end of May. This guest house is mentioned in it. I don’t think Marketa liked the write up when I showed her, ebullient, they described her and it fits. When I asked her about the guests she just said, oh well, you know, you never know if people will come.
We are on good terms, I wouldn’t want you to think otherwise, I have hidden all my complaints and concerns, tucked them safely in words allowing me to be as cheerful and cooperative as I can. It’s now eleven am, time to go and see whether the reality of borrowing the car will happen.
It came about when she suddenly announced around ten thirty last evening that I could have the day off today but that she needs me working on Sunday. I expressed concern that I need to plan my time off carefully and to make bus plans and book tickets in advance. She offered her car and I jumped a little inside and told her excitedly about my desire to go to Vestmanna and to take the boat trip to the birds and the caves.
Then I became concerned that it may be busy as its a Saturday, look at my lists and decide on a much better option, Saksun, the rural life museum and as a bonus, on a buttercup route. Vestmanna can be reached easily by bus any time.
So now I’m going to see if she is for real, to see if I can really borrow the car. I look at the bus timetables and discover that I cannot get anywhere near Saksun today, I would need to leave at 8am to do so by bus. I decide I will go anyway, that the road to Hvalvik is the main route joining the southern islands to the northern and once there it just leaves me a ten mile buttercup route to get to Saksun. If I’m lucky I may manage the walk down to the lagoon as well but I hold that idea for now.
I love the code on the left x mon to Friday, six and seven Saturday’s and Sunday’s and the delightful aeroplane symbol, only on days when there are flights. So it’s easy then to manage day trips from here.