Before I begin gushing profusely over puffins, puffins and more adorable puffins, I’ll start with a little background information about the Faroe Islands.
Comprising of 18 islands, the Faroes are owned by Denmark but geographically closer to Scotland and Iceland. They are also visually reminiscent of both these countries so that might give you a better idea of what to expect. If you’re a die-hard fan of Iceland like myself then the likelihood of feeling a similar way about the Faroes need not to be questioned!
By any standards, the Faroes are undeniably beautiful – wild, remote and windswept. Deep valleys absent of trees, craggy inlets, towering cliffs and often bizarre angular mountains reveal a landscape shaped by volcanic activity and ever-changing weather. Located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, you’re never more than 3-miles away from the sea.
This is a place that particularly appeals to people who love being outdoors and close to nature, and there’s nowhere on the Faroes that can quite trump the breathtaking scenery that can be seen from Mykines, the westernmost of all the islands and only accessible by boat or helicopter.
Surprisingly, travelling by helicopter is more affordable than you’d imagine, a one-way ticket from Torshavn to Mykines will set you back less than £15. That’s not a bad price to pay when you consider the average price of hopping in a helicopter would usually set you back over £100 in most countries.
The reason for this affordability boils down to the locals. The helicopters are used as a mode of transportation for residents and the price doesn’t get pimped up for tourists who wish to follow suit. In other words, a helicopter is not seen as a frivolous holiday activity but rather an essential means of transportation for local commuters. There are no cars on the island.
I was tempted to get the helicopter to Mykines but I was advised by a young woman in Torshavn Tourist Information Centre to take the boat. The helicopters go less frequently and the spaces fill up really quickly so the best guarantee of reaching Mykines is to get the boat she told me.
We listened to her advice, and she booked the tickets on our behalf.
It was a choppy 50-minutes boat journey from Sorvagur on Vagar nearby the airport to Mykines, and due to my susceptibility to motion sickness I could not have got off the boat any quicker than I did. But if anything can cure an unsettled stomach it’s filling your lungs with fresh Scandinavian air, feeling an upsurge of wind pushing against your stride, and most of all, clapping eyes on this other-worldly landscape.
Just looking out at the cliffs I could see birds flying everywhere, big and small ones, black and white ones, all kinds of species. Along the cliffside bird colonies could be seen as white clusters which were likely to be herring gulls.
There’s only one small boat, carrying approximately 50 people departing to the island everyday in the summer so this means we, humans, do not overcrowd this special island. An island where only 12 people live (!).
Though the birdlife is extremely rich and varied on Mykines, the main reason why I wanted to go was to see puffins (Lundin in Faroese). It is reportedly the best island on the Faroes to see them from. This proved to be true. As I hiked further up and away from the sea where the boat had docked, puffins began to emerge from behind the veil of thick fog surrounding the island, my ability to spot them aided by their colourful beaks.
But there were times when the fog would pass and I’d be able to see them much more clearly.
Due to the uneven surfaces and rock formations I would suggest taking a hiking stick if you can. Sometimes the paths can get pretty precarious, if not muddy and slippery…
During the summer months, hundreds of thousands of puffins flock to the island where they dig nesting burrows inside steep, grassy slopes. This came as a big revelation to me as I never knew it was in a bird’s nature to burrow tunnels in the soil like woodland creatures do.
I know it might sound very naive but I thought all birds built their own nest from nearby resources such as twigs, but then it dawned on me – the Faroes don’t have trees so that’s not possible.
I found out something else about puffins – did you know baby puffins are called pufflings? How cute is that?!
They live pretty long lives too, usually 20 years or more. Spending time on land during the summer whilst they breed and the rest of the time they’re bobbing up and down in the ocean far away from land.
For me, this is why I travel, to open my eyes to what is beyond my usual everyday life and provide a deeper interest in the subjects I encounter. I’ve never taken a huge interest in the life of birds but now I’m ready to buy my first pair of binoculars! It was a shame I didn’t have any for my trip so I really suggest you do, these incredible birds are such a pleasure to watch.
Seeing these all these birds is an experience I’ll never forget. These last photos give you an impression of how densely populated some of the areas are with puffins.
Further reading: Travel Guide to the Faroe Islands – Everything You Need to Know.