The Faroe Islands appear suddenly, a jutting interruption in an endless carpet of rolling clouds. The plane circles the islands during the descent until everything is blotted out, the blue gradient of the sky and the jagged peaks vanishing into a churning greyscape. We’re spat out under the clouds, bumping down onto the runway and emerging into a muted summer landscape.
Tórshavn, the islands’ capital city, is a forty minute drive away, through a distinctly miniature world. The villages we pass on the narrow coastal roads are mind-bendingly small. Most are a few streets of colourful houses, and perhaps a gas station, a store, and a football field, and then we’ve already left over a skinny bridge or through a rough-hewn tunnel towards the next one.
The ferry to the sparsely populated southern isle of Suðuroy leaves from Tórshavn harbour, with its maze of Eimskip containers and a marina with ranks of small, bobbing boats. A medieval sea fort sits nearby, and across the colourful rooftops we can the western edge of Tórshavn—the city ends where the valley gets too steep for buildings. We board the Smyril Line ferry, and take a seat on the deck beneath a flapping Faroese flag for the two-hour journey southward.
The capital city is soon claimed by a rapidly encroaching fog. Sea weather rolls in continually in the Faroes, swamping the islands like they’re barely there. Bands of clouds pass over the ferry, regularly engulfing us in thick mist. We catch glimpses of the hulking shapes of the other islands; first, the gentle slopes of Sandur with a scattering of houses, then the vague shapes of the hulking twins, Stór Dímun and the uninhabited Lítla Dímun, which wears a halo of dramatically swirling clouds. Finally, Suðuroy. The sky clears as we chug past basalt cliffs into Trongisvágsfjørður, landing at the Krambatangi dock in bright sunshine.
The high road
Suðuroy is a 45km drive from end to end. We check in at the hotel in the nearby village of Tvøroyri (population: 844), which has one main street lined by a gas station, a charmingly retro café, the supermarket and a grass-roofed local history museum containing the antique leftovers of a doctor’s surgery. The islanders we encounter are friendly and smiling, and we have a lunch picnic at a picturesque viewpoint overlooking the fjord.
After a quick drive through the rolling countryside to the tiny northern villages of Hvalba and Sandvik, the southern route presents two options—the speedy tunnel, or the old mountain road. In the winter, the tunnel is the only safe option, but in summer, the high road offers views over the glittering ocean. It winds around the top of the mountain, through surprisingly verdant fields; we pass a pair of handsome Highland cows, and a flock of haggard-looking sheep, many with their tattered fleeces hanging off and dragging along behind them.
A gap in the clouds
There are several towns and villages along the southern route. The first is Hov, a tiny hamlet and the site of two Viking-era burial mounds; next is Porkeri, in which the biggest building is a red, grass-roofed school. The charming seaside town of Famjin is a worthwhile detour over a high mountain pass—the village church proudly houses the prototype edition of the Faroese flag.
Vágar is the island’s largest settlement, with a bustling harbour, a strip of shops, an information centre, and a museum dedicated to the portraits and landscape paintings of local artist Ruth Smith. At the western edge of the town, out past the football field and a small lake, there’s a large cove called Vágseiði with a rocky beach and, after a short climb, a view over the surrounding mountains. The weather changes from moment to moment, and the vast cliffs melt in and out of view amongst an ever-changing mass of wisps, sheets and tendrils of cloud.
End of the road
After passing through a single-lane tunnel, we pause in the peaceful village of Sumba and have a coffee sitting outside the local bodega. We watch a couple of guys painting a house at a leisurely pace while local kids run around the pathways that meander between the brightly coloured houses. Sumba is so small that it almost feels like a model, and as we watch the world go by, I find myself having difficulty inhabiting the idea of living in such a remote and tightly-knit community.
At the southern tip of the island lie some high cliffs that are draped in fog as we arrive. There’s a viewing platform that looks out to the lighthouse, where me meet a man named Sammi. He lives in Sumba, and walks up here every couple of days for the exercise. We chat for a while about the weather and the World Cup, and he enthuses about the Beinisvørð cliffs that sit near the roadside on the northward mountain road—although, he says, we might struggle to see anything in this fog.
We decide to take a chance, and follow the mountain road up through some wild grassland. After ten minutes, there’s a humble gravel layby with a rough walking trail that peters off uphill into the light mist.
Our luck, it turns out is in—after a few minutes, a taut sea breeze comes in, lifting the fog and revealing the towering peaks of Beinisvørð. The distant shrieking sea birds wheeling around the jagged 470m summit are tiny dots, and the drop to the sea is dizzying, with various protruding headlands offering wide views over tall sea stacks and the tumultuous seascape below.
This memorable spot is the jewel in the island’s crown, but it’s so unceremoniously presented that it still feels wild—if we hadn’t been told about it, we could have missed it. As we trundle down the hill and back towards Tvøroyri, I feel a renewed sense of curiosity about what lies at the end of every sideroad of this cloud island.