On Friday 2nd April 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. A reporter on the streets of Britain asked people “Do you know where the Falklands are?” A large proportion of those asked answered “Off the top of Scotland?” Funny (Someone might have noticed an Argentinian advance towards the north!) but interesting, as somewhere in their subconscious was a vague awareness of some islands beginning with the letter F close to their Northern shores.
Prior to my first visit to this beautiful place I scarcely knew more about the Faroes than did those questioned in the 1980’s vox pop, surprising as I grew up in the North of Scotland and the Faroes lie about 200 miles off the UK's Northern coast. So having been invited to film ‘Fletta’ the Faroese social event based around the annual sheep slaughter, I headed off to visit some of the 18 islands that make up the Faroes. And so a love affair began...
As a photographer and filmmaker, I was blown away by the quality of the ever-changing light. Camera permanently in hand, the distinctive beauty of the remote islands began to unfold. The dramatic landscape of basalt volcanic rock is breathtaking. Every winding turn of road reveals majestic views over deep green pastures and shimmering fjords to the rising swell of the Atlantic Ocean beyond. Tiny villages dot the coastline, with many of the colourful wooden houses topped with grass roofs. “Would you like to interview our Prime Minister Emma? He can tell you about his own grass roof.” The relaxed way in which this appointment was arranged is indicative of the Faroese approach to life.
Prime Minister Eidesgaard and I met for coffee overlooking the harbour and enjoyed a discussion on environmental issues and life in the Faroes. The overall message from him was that Climate change issues should be considered prominently and constantly.
Faroe Islands translates into 'Sheep Islands' and the wooly critters are everywhere! Surprising then that there are no slaughterhouses. Each year at ‘Fletta’, families and friends gather in the mountains for the annual sheep slaughter. A festival atmosphere prevails as the sheep are butchered and their fleeces cut. Dumping my tripod and with can of lager in hand, I chased local farmer Heini Hatun up the steep hill and received an education on the skillful art of catching the rams by their horns. Slatted sheds and empty basements are used for the slaughter and butcher of the animals and the end is swift and humane. Every bit of the animal is used. Not all islanders are sheep farmers but most families will keep a few sheep in the mountains for their family larder. Islanders believe that their closeness to the foods they eat keep them in touch with nature.
Another tradition, the annual Whale Slaughter is much more controversial. Since the 10th century the hunt has taken place and today the practice is regulated by the Faroese authorities and the whaling commission. Non-commercial and organised on a community basis, many Faroese consider Whale Hunting an important part of their food culture and history, others, however, choose not to take part.
Time to leave and the views from the air confirm just how lonely these islands are. I returned to the Faroes time and again and will continue to do so. The islands and their hospitable people are life-enhancing in every way!