Did You Know This? Quirky Facts About The Faroe Islands

Sunday, 17th May 2020

Will Gray

faroe islands eysturoy gjogv village istk 2

It’s challenging enough to even find the Faroes on a map (look for 18 specks midway between Iceland and Scotland), and harder still to comprehend that, here, in the middle of the North Atlantic lies a thriving island community, steeped in history and teeming with wildlife. You need to read our Ultimate Guide to the Faroes for essential information on everything from birdwatching and hiking to how to reach this far-flung, yet irresistible destination. But for all those little-known, quirky, eyebrow-raising or downright unbelievable facts about the Faroe Islands, read on for our round-up of the weird and wonderful.

They have living roofs – and living lawnmowers

You probably know that sheep outnumber people in the Faroe Islands (by around 70,000 to 50,000) – but did you know that these woolly jumpers come in useful for keeping the grass trim on the island’s traditional turf-roofed houses? It makes more sense than trying to get a lawnmower up there. Birch bark and sod roofs have been used in the Faroe Islands (and throughout the Nordic countries) since the Middle Ages. While they’ve been largely superseded by slate and corrugated iron, several traditional farmsteads have been preserved – there are more turf-roofed houses in the Faroes than anywhere in the world. To maintain this ‘living history’, thick turfs with deep root systems are cut from pasture land, each square foot of sod laid over birch bark. You can see turf-roof houses in Á Reyni and Tinganes (the oldest parts of Tórshavn), Kirkubøur (a traditional Viking farmhouse), Bøur (a village on the way to the Múlafossur waterfall) and Dúvugar∂ar in Saksun.

faroe islands faroes sheep in sun adstk

Sheep put the Faroes on Google Street View

Sheep have all sorts of uses in the Faroe Islands – from grass-roof mowers to hand-knit jumpers (and there’s no denying the lamb tastes delicious). But few could have foreseen the woolly wonders would cause a tech revolution. The Sheep View 360 campaign was launched in July 2017 by Durita Dahl Andreassen, who wanted to share the beauty of her native islands with the rest of the world. After fitting a few friendly sheep with solar-powered cameras, Durita let them roam the islands, collecting images that could be uploaded to Google Maps. She also petitioned Google to have the nation included on Google Street View. Of course, not wanting to have the wool pulled over their eyes, the tech giant thought this was ‘shear brilliance’. They supplied the Faroese with a Street View Trekker and 360-degree cameras so that residents and tourists could help the sheep in capturing even more images of the beautiful archipelago, using everything from bikes and kayaks to horses and wheelbarrows. That’s how the Faroe Islands were well and truly put on the map.

Find out more about Sheep View 360 here.

You can let a remote-control person guide you round the Faroe Islands

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the innovative folk of the Faroe Islands came up with a brilliant idea to allow people – anywhere in the world – to continue exploring the archipelago as virtual tourists. Using a mobile, tablet or PC, the Faroes’ rugged mountains, cascading waterfalls and grass-roofed houses can be experienced – live – using a local islander as your eyes and body on a virtual tour. Equipped with a live video camera, the local allows you to not only ‘see the moment’, but also to control where and how they explore using a joypad to turn, walk, run or even jump.

Join a tour here.

You can see albatrosses in the Faroe Islands

Well, let’s refrain that slightly – you could see one, lonely, very lost black-browed albatross if you happened to be in the Faroe Islands in July 2019. Blown way off course, the oceanic wanderer is usually restricted to the southern oceans, breeding in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands. How it found its way so far north is anyone’s guess, but it must have made an impressive sight, soaring on its 2.5m wingspan against the dramatic backdrop of the Faroe Islands’ towering sea cliffs. Wings outstretched, you could fit five puffins, flying in close formation, across the back of a black-browed albatross. Now that really would be something to get twitchers flocking to the islands. It’s worth remembering, however, that although an albatross is not a common sight in the Faroe Islands, arctic terns make the momentous 30,000km round-trip between the Antarctic and the Faroe Islands to nest each summer. And no-one even bats an eye lid.

Read our Ultimate Guide to Birdwatching here.

faroe islands kalsoy coastal road istk

Therianthropy is rife in the Faroe Islands

You’ll be pleased you read this far because the next time you’re asked ‘What is therianthropy?’ in the local pub quiz, you will now be able to answer, “It’s the mythological ability of a seal to take on human form by shedding its skin’. Legend has it that when the seal people gather along the coast of Kalsoy in the Faroe Islands, they shed their skins to become human and dance through the night. When a local fisherman stole the skin of a beautiful seal woman and claimed her as his wife, he locked her seal skin in a chest so that she could never return to the sea. But one day, the selkie (seal person) did manage to retrieve her skin and become a seal again. Years later, when the fishermen of Mikladalur planned a seal hunt, she returned to the man in his dreams, begging him not to kill the bull seal and pups who were now her husband and children. But he ignored her and killed all the seals. The selkie then appeared as a terrifying troll, cursing the man and the village. “Some will drown at sea, others will fall from the cliffs,” she prophesied. “And so it shall continue until as many have perished as can link arms around the island of Kalsoy.” A statue of Kópakonan, the Seal Woman, was raised in Mikladalur on the island of Kalsoy in 2014. Emerging from the sea, against an imposing backdrop of mountains, the 2.6m-high bronze and steel statue is one of the most enigmatic sights in the islands.

Five more quick, quirky facts about the Faroe Islands

  1. You probably know that Vikings once lived on the Faroe Islands… but did you know that it was Irish monks that first settled there?
  2. Perhaps not surprising on an island where walking trails outnumber roads, there are only three traffic lights in the Faroe Islands – all of them in Tórshavn.
  3. Tinganes, where parliament sat for the first time in the year 825 is thought to be one of the oldest parliamentary meeting places in the world still in use.
  4.  You can find the phone number of the Prime Minister of the Faroe Islands in the phone book.
  5. Gunnar Nielsen is the only footballer from the Faroe Islands to have played in the English Premier League, signing for Manchester City in 2009.

Feeling Inspired?

Want to find out more about the Faroe Islands? Read our ultimate guide to find the answers to your most commonly asked questions about the fascinating Faroes. Or learn more about our collection of holidays. 

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