Tragically enough, I like many
others, was a little bemused as to the exact location of the Faroe Islands. I
knew, as many do, that it was vaguely north of Scotland somewhere, and that
their football team had once featured a legendary bobble-hat-wearing goalkeeper,
but aside from that my mind was as blank as the grey skies that greeted us on
our arrival at Torshavn airport, an unassuming and functional outpost giving
access to the country’s islands.
Very quickly, however, on the shuttle bus
between the capital and our destination of Göta, it became clear that this is
an archipelago with much to offer.
The best word to describe the
environment, inevitably, is ‘rugged’; like its close neighbour Iceland, it’s a
volcanic, windswept country, where vegetation seems to hang off the sides of
the hills and crumpled mountains with a dogged grit that seems impossible. The
stunning natural landscape features fjords, hills, and everywhere a reminder of
the North Atlantic sea that buffets all sides of each island.
The sharing of stories
It’s also an environment in which
music is not just available but highly-prized; in a relatively small community
of natives, the ability to tell stories through song has a magic about it that
is as much part of the Faroese soul as is the magic of fish soup. It is to this
end that the phenomenal G! Festival was set up in Göta – a town, or a village,
so small that it has no hotels.
Every year, however, several
thousand people descend on this undulating melange of fields, sheep and cliffs
to celebrate music, brotherhood and musicianship, whether camping out in tents
or – like myself – bunking down with one of the locals who open out their houses
to visitors in a typically gruff and friendly way. There is a beauty to the
matter-of-fact acceptance of strangers into these people’s homes that speaks
volumes for a land where crime is virtually unheard-of and doors are unlocked
everywhere. Word quickly gets around of any transgression and it’s just not in
the national character to be anything other than honest.
The festival itself takes place on
a beach in the southern part of Göta, with a stage built on grey sand in the
heart of a fjord of immaculate and eternal beauty. It is quite simply
breathtaking, and a host of acts appear from the UK, USA and Denmark, along
with indigenous bands such as the fantastic Budam, a kind of Faroese Lord Sutch
with a polka obsession, or Teitur Larsson, an indie-folk singer for whom baring
his soul is simply a compulsion. His beautiful, vulnerable tunes float onto the
Atlantic, and somewhere a seagull croaks in duet.
And as singers go, the Faroe
Islands seem to produce some quite superbly expressive ones; Eivör Pálsdóttir,
at her most soaring, rivals Icelandic compatriot genius, Björk, for range and
invention, whilst Högni Lisberg has indie chops to make Coldplay shift
uncomfortably in their seats. The parade of musicians is in constant flow for
two days solid, and the best band in the world, Icelanders Dr Spock, make a
welcome appearance on a smaller stage on a local tennis court.
Bedingfield sings her songs
It’s fantastic, and has more than a
few surreal moments. Natasha Bedingfield unexpectedly pops up to warble her pop
hits, looking bemused by her surroundings but utterly delighted with the genuinely
roaring response from the crowd. And at midnight on day two, hot dog in hand,
we find ourselves watching a musical play led by actors dressed in cloaks and skulls.
It’s all in Faroese, which is a close relative of Icelandic and, like that
language, therefore very close to the original tongue of the Vikings.
Whilst our linguistic skills
unfortunately stretch merely to a mumbly takk fyrir (thank you), somehow the
thematic material, movements of the players and dialogue makes sense to us and
we get a real sense of foreboding, death and rebirth.
It stays with us on the walk back
to our digs (staying with a local police chief, no less.) It’s a 20-minute
stroll and gives us time to try and digest our experience a little. As we turn
a corner, roughly halfway home, suddenly the sights, sounds and smells of a music
festival fade away entirely, the rest of the lights of the town disappear, and
we’re left alone on a cliff path that’s unutterably silent but for the lapping
of the sea on the rocks 30 feet below.
It’s 2am, but not dark – not
properly, anyway; there’s merely been a thinning out of the constant light of
the summer, like the sun is stained with exhaustion. Suddenly the world seems a
very, very lonely place. Quickly, the magnificence of the landscape seems to
say: here I am, as I ever was, and as I ever will be. A shiver and very nearly
a tear fall; I stand transfixed in an ineffably powerful blend of awe and feelings
A moment passes and three young
lads come round the corner with cans of cider in their hands and a ghetto
blaster hammering out Blink 182. They nod at me as we pass on our respective
paths. For them the festival is just beginning, as the dance stage begins to
rev up in the background. I continue on my own path, and my heavy heart
lightens into a smile that doesn’t leave me for days.
Where to stay
Most people stay onsite or with
locals but it is possible to grab a hotel within about 20km if you’re determined
to do it that way. Good luck getting a taxi! Car hire is available from
Torshavn airport, though.
Hotel Torshavn: take your pick
which dramatic view you’d like at one of the best hotels in the capital – and
therefore the country too. Out front the harbour, and out back the town hall
square await your eyes. Everything the capital has to offer is in easy walking
distance. (Torsogata 4)
Hotel Föroyar: a very good
four-star hotel that features a traditional grass roof and a great view over
Torshavn. It might be a little out of town but the bracing walk will do you all
sorts of good and the air is some of the cleanest on the planet, too.
Where to eat
The best restaurant
in the Faroes is Gourmet in Torshavn (Gr Kambans gøta 13) but Hotel Föroyar
(see above) also has an excellent one. If you’re not eating on site (the food
is excellent) the nearby villages of Leirvík and Fuglafjörður should yield some
joy. A very good and special way to dine is to visit the farm in Kirkjubö. They
serve food made of lamb from the farm and tell you the ancient long history of
the place and their family. You need a big party of people and obviously booking
in advance is essential.