A Short Walk to Kirkjubor
Despite my rasping lungs and screaming leg muscles I am happy. The day is just beginning to get warm and the early morning mist is just beginning to burn off the turquoise sea hundreds of feet below me. The sculptured islands of Koltur and Hestur are nudging their heads out from the clouds.
For the last seven or so miles, because it is Sunday, and because I feel in tune with the universe, I have been blasting out my entire repertoire of hymns. I am, for once, in fine voice. There is no one around to complain and apart from a few concerned looking sheep I haven’t seen a soul since I left Toshaven. Hoisting my bag onto my shoulders and with a rousing chorus of, ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your skirts and sing…’ I hike off across the ridge and continue on my way to Kirkjubor. Occasionally I stop to pass the time of day with a sheep and tell them about the ice-cold beer I am going to drink at the end of my walk. They knowingly bleat back that I am mad. I am as happy as I can ever remember being.
I didn’t expect to find such serenity in the Faroe Islands. The eighteen islands which float like a poet’s lost ideas in the story North Atlantic might just be the Shangri-la of travel in these turbulent days of the early 21st century. Modern day trials and tribulations seem largely to have passed these sunny isles by. Some villages can still only be reached by a two day walk across fens and down dales and the people are happy and friendly. However, this might be something to do with the incredibly large subsidies Denmark pumps into their former charges each year. I prefer to believe living in the midst of such beauty has rubbed off on the islanders.
Finally, cresting the last ridge before the drop down into the quaint little town of Kirkjobor I come upon a cairn. It’s little more than a simple pile of rocks originally put down to mark the path but over the years passing travelers have added their own symbolic stones so that today it’s a sizeable monument to one of the world’s most lonely and beautiful places. I dump my bag and scramble about the hillside looking for my own stones:
This one, which looks like polished mica, is for my son: may he wander far from home but always come back to share it with me.
This one, which feels like a frozen tear, is for the GHG: may she always be so kind and loving (and not complain when I am away from home too often).
This one, a big black lump of basalt, is for my family: a rock from which I have been able to strike out from.
This one, which looks like a pre-historic egg, is for my friends on the road: May they all feel as happy as I do…
And so on until my arms ache from lugging bits of geology up and down scree slopes and the cairn resembles the great pyramid at Giza.
I had been kicking around the Faroe Islands for a few days and had pitched up in the capital Toshaven the previous night. After spending the obligatory ten minutes wondering how difficult it was to have to mow the grass on roofs of the pretty little coloured houses and working out that a meal in a restaurant was way beyond my means (the GHG had given me a budget of US$10 a day and most of that went on beer) I felt I had exhausted all possible sources of amusement.
The kind lady in the tourist office had suggested that, despite being a lard-ass, I might enjoy the short walk over the fens to Kirkjubor (which is pronounced nothing at all like it is written. In fact, nothing is pronounced like it is written in the Faroe Islands – which can lead to some interesting conversations). After weighing up the options – going for a walk or walking around the world’s least happening capital again (sorry guys, I really liked it there but its never going to be the new Club Med, is it?) I opted for the walk. Perhaps, if I had realised that the word fen (which means flat land where I come from) means bloody great hill in the Faroes, and short means anything approaching 25 km I wouldn’t have been so enthusiastic and might have even set out with more than a handful of sweets and half a stale loaf of bread (which was so hard I used it to put a dying lamb out of its misery).
The path down from the newly enlarged cairn was easy to follow and despite the lack of people around (I saw three the whole day, and one of those was deaf) was well trodden. The sun was just warm enough to stroll along without a shirt (I felt newly confident about this since a recent dose of salmonella had seen me loose 40lbs of flab), the sea a few hundred feet below the cliff edge I was following was just the correct shade of turquoise for my liking and the grass was just the correct shade of green as to be aesthetically pleasing. Even the clouds were my favourite kind , those little fluffy bobs of cotton wool that are probably called neo-cumulo- something or other. It was as idyllic as I could ever possibly hope for. I stood for a long time gazing out to sea, lost in my thoughts and thinking: this is how life should be. Eventually, after raising my hip flask to the sky and toasting this magnificent day, I dropped down into Kirkjobor. The hills echoing with my singing:
Who will buy this beautiful morning?
Who will buy this wonderful day?
Of course, happiness is transient and comes at a price. However, I put aside, for a brief second, the feelings of longing for home and my family and basked in the glow of walking hard in a beautiful land with no-one but myself to please. Chatwin, that most ephemeral of wanderers, claimed that if man walks hard enough there is no need for God. I have to agree and there is simply no better feeling than to be free in a strange land with no time constraints and an optimistic outlook. Days when I am surrounded by such beauty and am out walking alone in high places make me believe that the kingdom of heaven really is within.
Actually, I nearly didn’t make it to the village as I was so entranced by the view from the top of the ridge that I almost pitched my tent, started my own religion and declared this small part of the world the Independent Republic of Philipstan. Sitting, dangling my feet over the cliff edge and watching fibrils of mist roll down the banks of the islands opposite whilst the sun slowly dappled the sea and distant shore with beaten-gold light was deeply moving (though it could have well turned out even more moving as a large chunk of the cliff suddenly crumbled into the sea as I was leaving my vantage spot) and I felt deeply blessed to have both the time and opportunity to have seen it.
The village of Kirkjobor was as good as I had hoped (I shall, of course, choose to ignore the party of Japanese who had been bussed in, ruined all my photos, dropped litter everywhere and then left again) in a turfed-roof and church-by-the-clear-blue-sea type of way. I sprawled in the sun with my shirt off, listening to the sound of the surf and thinking: how terribly brilliant this is. I paddled in the sea to cool off my smoking feet, pottered around the ancient church and partially restored houses and felt overwhelmingly smug with myself.
A pretty young Danish girl with an even cuter little boy in tow stopped to chat. She told me a little about the history of the church and the village but the warm sun, her beautifully lilting accent and my general inability to absorb salient facts in the face of beauty prevented me from learning anything useful. I have the vague recollection of her telling me about the King of Iceland (or perhaps it was Norway) living there and doing something with forty fishes and a cake of soap, but I can’t be sure. I was too busy drooling over the awesome scenery to take much in and she soon dragged her son away muttering something about crazy
Turning down a kind offer from the local bus driver to drop me back in town, I once more set off for the hills. Despite having walked further that morning than I have done for years I knew that the midnight sun would mean that I could take my time on the stroll back. I was also looking forward to taking another 200 photographs on the way back as I wasn’t sure that the million I had taken on the way out were adequate to express the beauty of the place.
The climb back onto the ridge caused my lungs to scream out in protest and my feet to begin to bleed profusely. Half way up I swore that next time I wouldn’t leave my boots in the back of my car caked in mud for six months before setting off on a hike. Two-thirds of the way up I swore I would never go hiking ever again and by the time I finally reached the top of the ridge; I was on my knees and crying. Let it not be said that I am not the original hard-man of budget travel.
Once I had finally regained my breath and had a few swigs from my hip flask I finally felt a little bit better about the world. It was then that I noticed that thick swirls of mist were rolling down the ridge towards me and before I could get my bearings the world had vanished into a swirling gray haze. I sat down to look at the map and work out the best route back. I was slightly astonished to find that I had already walked about 15 miles that day (though closer inspection of my feet showed that it felt much closer to 150).
The walk back was distinctly eerie. Not only was the path difficult to find there was also the added excitement of the crumbly cliff edge to deal with. I spent a long time gingerly feeling my way along, wondering if it would be best to plunge several hundred feet onto razor sharp rocks or die of exposure amongst the sheep. Neither seemed much of a good option. Every time I stopped to get my bearings and turned around I was sure that I was being followed. Every now and again I caught faint whistling on the breeze or smelt cigar smoke wafting towards me. It was terribly disconcerting. Even a few rousing bursts of Jerusalem didn’t help.
I tried not to let the mist dampen my feelings too much. As it closed in around me like a winter duvet I realized how different the day would have been if I had spent it groping around in the mist. I would never have seen the beauty of the place or laid my stones on the magical cairn or, perhaps, even made it to the village. Perhaps, I thought, still searching for the path, this is how my life is. Surrounded by beauty but hardly ever seeing its true value. This thought made me suddenly lonely for my little family.
Hours later, with sore feet, a heavy heart and a monumental thirst I stumbled into town. I found a phone box and called home.
“I am done traveling now. Going to get a flight home. I should be back in a couple of days.”
Two days later I was sitting in my own back-garden, my son was crawling around examining the flower beds and I was sipping a cold beer. There wasn’t a happier man in England. Beauty is all around us, I thought, we just need to look deeply for it.
About the Author
Philip Blazdell has been traveling for the last fifteen years. His travels began when he followed a girl in nice purple pajamas to Istanbul and got into all kinds of trouble. He has never looked back. Philip’s pet hates are still Air Portugal and KLM, but thankfully he doesn’t have to use them as much as he used to. He still doesn’t enjoy getting up in the morning to go to Copenhagen though he is gradually coming to terms with this. When not traveling he can be found following his beloved Liverpool and is perhaps the only person in the country who actually believes they will win the league this year. On days when the Reds aren’t playing he can be found at home in a little Cambridgeshire village, cooking and drinking Tusker beer.