A new book by the author, scriptwriter and former BBC World Service correspondent Tim Ecott transports readers to the Faroe Islands, a self-governing archipelago in the North Atlantic belonging to the Kingdom of Denmark. Immersing himself in the landscape of the 18 rocky, volcanic islands, home to just 50,000 people with Viking roots, Ecott evokes the unfamiliar beauty of a world where local citizens are at one with nature, subsisting on provisions they can hunt themselves and learning to live with, not against, the difficult, unpredictable weather. At a time when the theme of isolation is all on our minds, the book offers a pertinent insight into a simpler way of life with a deep connection to our shared history.
Here, T&C shares an exclusive extract of Ecott’s book, The Land of Maybe: A Faroe Islands Year (£14.99, Short Books Ltd), which is published today.
Seventeen of the eighteen islands are inhabited, although one of them accommodates just a single married couple. Another has been inhabited by the same family for over 200 years. One, almost impossible to land on from a boat, is just for sheep, and then there are the dozens of skerries and islets, a jigsaw of lava fragments that spread east to west no more than 75km, and a little more than 110km north to south. Travelling by car means negotiating roads that wind around 250 mountains, many of them almost 900 metres high. Aside from the cliffs and the looming mountains, the sparkling streams and gushing falls, the islands are dominated by sheep. Hefted to the land, precisely numbered and individually accounted for, they outnumber the human inhabitants by half again. The 20 sheep are significant because they have been the key to survival here, in a place where little vegetable matter other than grass and dwarf shrubs will grow. And the name Faroes (until recently spelled Faeroes in English) probably derives from the Old Norse for sheep faer + islands oyar. In Faroese, the country is properly called Føroyar – pronounced furr:ee – ar.
There are sheep beside the road, in paddocks in the capital, on the mountains and in the valleys and along the shelving precipices of the cliffs, where on vertiginous slopes and dissolving scree they teeter, scrabble and climb. Sometimes you even meet them in the car park at the airport. The sheep and their bleating cry are as much the music of these green mountains as the shrill call of the oystercatchers. Those sounds are as welcoming to me as the smell of hand-cut hay spread with a pitchfork, or the taste of blackening mutton hung in a wooden shed to dry and then fermented in the wind that howls off a winterdark fjord.