ANDY HOLLIS falls for the Atlantic archipelago with its rugged, unspoilt landscapes, welcoming population and array of dazzling birdlife
LYING on my stomach on a glorious morning, peering over sheer cliffs alive with nesting kittiwakes and fulmars, I was in paradise.
Actually, I was on Mykines, the most westerly of the Faroe Islands and I was on borrowed time.
All too soon, a helicopter would whisk me away from this enchanting island even though I longed to spend the rest of the day here. The previous 24 hours had been quite a test, strong winds playing havoc with travel plans, but this comes with the territory when visiting such destinations. Click here now for amazing offers to the Faroe Islands!
Jutting out of the North Atlantic, the Faroe Islands are a jigsaw of 18 huge volcanic rocks north-west of Scotland, halfway between Iceland and Norway.
The archipelago is about 70 miles by 50 miles and shaped like an arrowhead. Tunnels join the three largest islands but the rest are reached only by ferry or helicopter. With rugged cliffs, said to be the biggest in Europe, and huge waterfalls, I felt like I could have been lost in the Peak District or New Zealand.
At 62 degrees north latitude, the islands (an autonomous province of Denmark) don't get dark in the summer. Arriving on Vágar after a two-hour flight from Stansted, I checked in to the 62N hotel next to the airport. Owner Kent and his wife Maria prepared a snack but even with a full belly it was hard to sleep in perpetual daylight.
Over breakfast I spotted snipes, whimbrels and hares through the windows before setting off for Mykines, the third largest of the islands. This was a rare privilege as adverse weather often means the 40-passenger ferry cannot make the 40-minute crossing from Vágar, and many Faroese have never visited.
My guide Harold met me as I landed for a 90-minute hike to the lighthouse to see the gannet colonies and rock stacks. On top of the first hill, the wind was so strong I could lean into it. Battling the lashing wind and steep paths was well worth it when I saw my first puffin. Their bright red-andyellow bills are as colourful as their characters. Elegant on land and in the sea, puffins look more like clowns in flight with frantic flapping and clumsy landings. Want incredible deals to the Faroe Islands? Click here now...
We walked as far as the 140ft-long footbridge linking Mykines with its neighbour Mykineshólmur. The Faroese claim this is the only place where you can walk over the Atlantic.
It was like something out of an Indiana Jones movie.
There are only about 40 houses on the island and a year-round population of little more than a dozen. Traditional Faroese houses are particularly intriguing.
Originally built from driftwood washed up on the islands, they are stained black with tar and their roofs are grassed.
The island has two schools, a church, a hotel and a restaurant where I spent more time than expected. With the wind still strong, my scheduled helicopter could not land so I was stranded for the night. Luckily, the hospitality of the Faroese is renowned. Hotel owner Katrina rustled up an impromptu dinner of salmon in a hollandaise sauce and kept the bar open.
By the next morning the wind had dropped so we could get much closer to the seabirds around the harbour before the chopper arrived.
Back on Vágar, I visited the small war museum at the whaling village of Mi?vágur, its exhibits providing an insight into the British occupation of the islands during the Second World War.
My final excursion took me through the tunnel to the former ferry port of Vestmanna on the island of Streymoy, the largest of the Faroes.
After a delicious lunch of haddock in homely Restaurant Fjørukrógvin, I took a boat out for a fishing and sightseeing trip. The captain showed me and the other passengers the salmon farms and the grottos in the cliffs. He also talked about the birds and other wildlife around the islands.
We headed for home once we had all caught a cod but I gave my catch to the skipper as I was off for a well-earned drink in Tórshavn, one of the world's smallest capital cities, also on Streymoy.
Again, Faroese hospitality was exceptional, enabling me to verify that in the Faroes in summer the sun indeed never sets. GETTING THERE: Sunvil Discovery (020 8758 4722/www.sunvil.co.uk) offers four nights at Hotel Tórshavn from £689pp (two sharing), B&B. Includes return flights with Atlantic Airways (dialling from UK: 00 298 341 000/www.atlantic.fo) from Stansted to Vágar and car hire. Excursions can be arranged. Mykines island excursion, £85pp, includes guided walk to see puffins and return helicopter or ferry from Sørvágur. Three-hour fishing trip from Tórshavn, £37pp. Faroe Islands tourism: 302 425/www.visitfaroeislands.com