Faroe Islands Special: Nólsoy

August 2019

This week is another special post from my holiday in August 2019 to the Faroe Islands.

Easily visible from the capital of the Faroe Islands, Tórshavn, the island of Nólsoy is only a couple of miles away, separated from the capital by the Nólsoyarfjørður, a short ferry crossing is all it takes to get there.

Today was Saturday and after breakfast at the hotel I headed down to the bus station, which is also alongside the ferry terminal from where ferries go to many of the islands that are south of the capital, including Nólsoy. Nólsoy has a population of 227 (in 2018) all of whom live in the main village on the north east of the island. The lower house prices and 20 minute ferry ride from the capital mean it can be attractive to those who want to live somewhere less built up but still accessible to the capital.

As this was a weekend the ferry service is more limited so I took the first ferry of the day which was at 7:45am, the next one not being until 12:30. Whilst waiting for the ferry I picked up some sort of free newspaper which was also in English. On the front was the headline “Strandfaraskip ferries need replacing”. Strandfaraskip being the name of the public transport operator on the islands, who run the buses and ferries. Underneath was the picture of Ternan, the ferry that serves the island of Nólsoy. Built in 1980 the ferry was now almost 40 years old and the story stated.

On Wednesday, the crew of Ternan noticed that the hull of the ferry had started leaking due to corrosion but there was no imminent danger for crew or passengers because the ferry is double hulled meaning water only leaked into a sealed compartment and not into the rest of the ship. (You can read the full article, in English, here).

So the ferry I was about to get on was corroded so badly it was leaking and badly in need of replacing. That’s exactly the sort of thing you don’t really want to read just before getting on the exact ferry in question. Oh well, I wasn’t going to abandon my plans despite the apparent poor state of the ferry.

The ferry was very quiet. Myself included there were 8 passengers and 1 car! So it didn’t take long to load up and we were soon on the move. There was an outer (open) deck on the top, which I went out onto a few times but it was very windy and cold so not somewhere to linger. Here is the view departing from Tórshavn.

Tórshavn harbour

Inside the ferry were some tables and given how few people there were each party could have a table to themselves. I sensed everyone else on the ferry was local and several were knitting!

Soon we were approaching the island and it looks rather spectacular. (From this angle, it actually reminded me a little of Worms Head on the Gower peninsula in South Wales).

Nólsoy

The crossing was smooth, it being a calm (but cloudy) day and so soon the ferry was pulling into the harbour on the island of Nólsoy and I was relived the ferry had not sunk on the way!

The harbour was pretty with the colourful houses of the village right behind the harbour.

Nólsoy harbour

Nólsoy harbour

Nólsoy harbour

Here is the ferry, safely arrived at the harbour.

Ternan, the Nólsoy ferry

I started by looking around the village and my first impression was how quiet it was. Other than the small number of people on the ferry, there was no one about.

Here is the post office and shop (closed at this time of day) with it’s colourful tables outside.

The shop, Nólsoy

There was also a helpful sign directing me to the apparently large number of attractions of the island.

Nólsoy signs

This is a small island and the village only occupies a small part of it, so the scene beyond the harbour was dominated by the large hill that occupies much of the island.

Nólsoy harbour

The church was a simple but attractive affair.

Nólsoy church

The buildings were mostly wooden framed, though often with stone foundations, some with grass roofs.

Nólsoy

Nólsoy

However at this time on a Saturday morning, everything was closed and there was no one about, so I didn’t spend long in the village. Instead I had planned a walk. As I mentioned in previous posts about the Faroe Islands, unlike much of Scandinavia there is no “right to roam” and a lot of the paths that exist are private which has led to a lot of landowners charging a “hiking fee” in order to use them. These paths are primarily circular routes or those to specific beauty spots. However routes that link communities (or historically did) are classed more as a right of way (I don’t know the exact laws) so there is a right for the public to use them for no charge. That was the case with the main path and the one I intended to follow, which runs more or less the entire length of the island to the lighthouse at the far end, Borðan. Once a few people lived there but it’s uninhabited now.

I was using the “Hiking Guide” published by the islands tourist board, Visit Faroe Islands. This stated the return walk was 13-14km provided a basic map and directions so that would be enough for me to follow the route (I hadn’t been able to find any good walking maps, but I think this guide covers most of the main paths anyway).

The path began by climbing out of the village on a wide stony track.

View back to Nólsoy harbour

All was quiet at this time, but when I returned this area was a hive of activity with the grass being cut on the fields on either side and the cut grass being loaded into vehicles parked on this track, I think to be used to feed animals in the winter months.

I had soon passed the last of the buildings and gained enough height to get a lovely view back to the village and harbour.

View back to Nólsoy harbour

Ahead I could see the terrain was going to get more demanding. This is the mountain of Høgoyggj and the highest point is 372m.

Høgoyggj, Nólsoy

The path continued to gain height, giving me better views as it did so. The path doesn’t go quite to the top of the hill, instead skirting around it’s right hand side.

This gave good views of the island but also the other islands that surround it.

View back to Nólsoy harbour

View back to Nólsoy harbour

It is clear that the village is on a lower piece of land that is almost separated from the main island as at one point the land is only a few metres wide (an isthmus) and I’m told waves can break right over it in winter!

As I gained height so it got more windy and cold, but I was reward for that with ever improving views.

View back to Nólsoy harbour

View back to Nólsoy harbour

After a while the path levelled out (and in places was hard to spot), but was marked intermittently with some cairns.

View from the path to Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

The land around was now flat (and in places marshy), dotted with these “cotton top” flowers (I’m sure that’s not their real name).

View from the path to Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

View from the path to Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

At one point I took a wrong turning as the “path” I was following seemed to fizzle out and I realised I was too far south. I headed back to get back on course and soon I could see some buildings ahead.

View from the path to Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

This must be Borðan so I was nearing the southern end of the island (the other clue being I could see sea ahead again).

As I approached the lighthouse I was surprised to hear noise. I thought this place was meant to be un-inhabited?

Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

As I got closer, it turned out to be a diesel generator running in one of the buildings. I presume to provide electricity for the lighthouse, though I am not certain. In fact according to the guide two of thew houses here were built by the British during World War II to fool the Germans (presumably into believing this was the village). Another was a school as when this village was populated the island school alternated between here and the main village of Nólsoy, but it’s not used now.

Soon I reached the lighthouse itself, right at the very end of the island.

Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

What a spectacular location it was. I stopped here for a limited lunch. I say limited because I had to make do with what I’d bought the previous evening because I left Tórshavn before the shops had opened and the only shop on Nólsoy was also closed. I had hoped to be back to the village in time for lunch, but the walk was quite hard and had taken longer than expected so I knew that wasn’t going to happen now!

Still this was a stunning spot with the sound and sights of the sea crashing over the rocks below the lighthouse.

Now actually at the far end of the island there are two lighthouses, not one. The other is around a mile away at Øknastangi. The walking guide suggested you could walk to the harbour nearby so I planned to do that.

There was a somewhat feint path so I set off in that direction.

Near Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

Soon there was a fence and the line of the fence went down to the small harbour here.

Near Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

I followed the path beside the fence down to the harbour and on to the other, much smaller and less impressive lighthouse.

Tumbin beacon, Nólsoy

Still what the lighthouse lacked in grandeur the scenery more than made up for, as I could see right along the western coast of the island.

The east coast of Nólsoy

The west coast of Nolsoy

It looked spectacular but sadly with no path along it and no right to roam I didn’t want to risk trying to walk back along the coast.

I headed back however a little nearer the shore and here you can just see the little building at this southern “harbour” and the small slipway behind it.

Near Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

This looked to still be used though how often and for what reason I don’t know. To deliver diesel for the generator for the lighthouse is likely one reason.

Returning to the small abandoned village at Borðan. Whilst these buildings might not be lived in any more they are clearly well maintained so are presumably used for something, but I’m not sure what.

Borðan lighthouse out buildings

I am not sure what they are I suspect one is the former school and the other perhaps was the house for the light house keepers, but there were no signs or names to give any clues.

Now I had explored the area, it was time to make my way back, soon climbing back to the marshy interior of the island.

Footpath to Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

I had seen not a single person since I left the village of Nólsoy but on the way back I did come across these sheep.

Footpath to Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

Going back seemed to (and probably did) take less time than going, as often seems to be the case.

Footpath to Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

I could also look across to Tórshavn over on the island of Streymoy.

Tórshavn from Nólsoy

I could also look over to the island of Eysturoy and I think this is the village of Strendur on the southern tip of that island.

The southern tip of Eysturoy from Nólsoy

Nólsoy

Soon I had come over the top of the hill and was looking back to the village of Nólsoy. It was only here I met other visitors, this time clearly tourists who had come over on the next ferry (at 12:30) and wanted to know if this was the right way to the lighthouse, so I was able to confirm to them that it was! It had been nice to feel like (and quite possibly be) the only tourist on the island for a few hours, but it was clear there were more people here now (I passed quite a few people walking in the other direction now, as I headed back).

Nólsoy

Now it was largely down hill all the way (this photo is looking back from where I had come).

Nólsoy

Now nearing the village here are the villagers cutting the grass, as I mentioned at the start. All seemingly done by hand!

Nólsoy

Now back at the village I could admire the stunning scenery of the Isthmus. On the right is the sea and that grey building on the left is the ferry terminal, so it is clear just how narrow the Isthmus between the two parts of the island really is.

Nólsoy

Nólsoy

Nólsoy

Nólsoy

Now back at the village there was much more activity. Importantly, this included the cafe, Maggies Cafe, where I headed now for a late lunch. This is clearly more a bar/pub than a cafe really and was looked to be set up for a band to be playing that evening (or, given the logo for the cafe is a guitar perhaps the locals play most evenings). Anyway it was nice to have a sit down in the warm and a filling lunch.

Now refreshed I explored the rest of the village.

Nólsoy

One thing that did surprise me is how many cars there are. The village is small, the population is only a little over 200 and the only roads are those around the houses of the village themselves. Most of the island doesn’t have any roads, so it seemed odd to me how most seem to have cars and there was a car ferry even though everywhere you could go by car was within a short walk. I suppose it is for commuting over to the other islands.

Having said that at the far south of the village a few of the houses are more remote, but still not a long walk away.

Nólsoy

I also found a track heading over to the south of the island, though it is not far.

Nólsoy

Once back in the village I had a look in the visitor information centre and there was also someone setting up for a film shoot of some sort in front of some of the buildings. So here are a few views of the village and harbour.

Nólsoy harbour

Nólsoy

Note on the one above the sign on the hill above the harbour “Nollywood”. I wondered if this was to do with the filming but no, it seems to be a permanent feature of the island, which I thought was a bit out of place.

Nólsoy harbour

Nólsoy harbour

Nólsoy harbour

Nólsoy

Having finished exploring the island it was sadly time to leave on the ferry back to Tórshavn.

Ternan at Nólsoy

Tórshavn harbour

Tórshavn harbour

This had been a thoroughly enjoyable day exploring this wonderful island. It was nice too to be able to walk almost the length of it and feel I had properly explored rather than just stick to the village as many other visitors do. The island was very picturesque with some very varied and rugged terrain but the lighthouse at the end, miles from anywhere else, on the remote tip of the island really had a special atmosphere about it and I was glad to have made the effort to get there.

The ferry service to Nólsoy typically runs between 5 and 7 times per day in summer and the timetable can be found here. The exact schedule varies each day and the crossing takes around 20 minutes. When I was there there was no need for foot passengers to book but whether Covid restrictions have changed that I am not sure.

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2 Responses to Faroe Islands Special: Nólsoy

  1. How lovely – and how long ago August 2019 feels! I think that plant is bog cotton or cotton grass so your name is not far wrong.

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