Why Føroyar?

first glimpse: approach to Vágar

Føroyar (literally, “sheep islands”) is a group of small islands, about 18 depending on how you count them, and not including islets and sea stacks, lying northeast of the Shetland Islands, roughly halfway between Norway and Iceland. This self-governing region within the kingdom of Denmark has been continuously inhabited since about AD 800.

Steve and I spent a few days there last month. We keep getting asked, “why?”

the sod-roofed church at Saksun, Streymoy

Lots of reasons. I’m aesthetically drawn to sparseness and desolation. I love the flora of the subarctic regions. I like visiting places that are off the beaten path, especially places that don’t suffer from American cultural imperialism. I don’t like crowds of people and I don’t like areas that are developed for tourists. And of course I love spectacular natural areas.

the sheep are just about everywhere


It had been on my mind for awhile, but I made the decision to actually go when I found out about Sheep View 360, one woman’s response to Google Maps’ refusal to provide street views for the Faroes.

I love a wacky sense of humor.

no, really, they are everywhere

The islands were formed by several sets of volcanic eruptions, and later carved by glaciers. They are rugged and sparsely vegetated (thanks to the sheep), with no trees except where people have planted and fenced them in. The weather is stormy, with rain and wind, and lots of it, but it never gets hot or too cold. The resulting landscapes are dramatically beautiful. Read about the geology here.

traversing Slættaratindur, the tallest mountain at 880 meters, on the island of Eysturoy

It’s a hiker’s paradise, so long as you don’t mind elevation changes: pretty much everything is either up or down. It’s a birder’s paradise, too. As for botanizing, well, that proved tricky. More on that, and other things Faroese, in posts to come.

sunset near Kirkjubøur, Streymoy, looking toward the island Koltur


The last plant (woolly willow) in my last post got me to thinking about other woolly Icelandic things. Like sheep, and grass.

Sheep are everywhere. On-line travel guides will warn of common road hazards, like sudden changes from asphalt to gravel, or one-lane bridges, or fords (not Fords), but they don’t always mention this common cause of sudden braking:

Sheep are as common in Iceland as functional fences aren’t. Mostly bred for meat, this breed of sheep’s double coat yields two different types of wool, which are spun together to form lopi, from which the traditional sweaters (lopapeysa) are knitted. These sweaters are itchy but incredibly warm. After two trips to Iceland I own more of them than I care to admit.

Note how bright the sky is in that photo. It was around 9:30 pm when I shot it, and it’s an accurate exposure.


As for grasses, there are a lot of grass and sedge species in Iceland, but this one is really eye-catching. It’s Eriophorum angustifolium, common cottongrass (Icelandic klófífa). It’s actually a sedge. (Some day I will write about the difference between sedges and grasses.) I saw another cottongrass, E. scheuchzeri, but never got any good pictures of it. Both are very common in wetlands all over Iceland.