The day I almost fell off a cliff in the Faroe Islands

justine.kiblerAdventure, Hiking1 Comment

kalsoy island faroe islands

Several months earlier I’d seen a photo of a lighthouse set on the edge of a dramatic green island. A stunning balance between nature and humanity, it had captured my heart immediately. After some research I discovered it was Kallur Lighthouse on the Island of Kalsoy, part of the unknown and enigmatic Faroe Islands, and through a short flight, a series of buses, a boat, and a small hike, I could reach it. I knew I had to go there.

Jump to: How to hike to Kallur Ligthouse (properly) 

kalsoy island faroe islands

On arrival Kalsoy Island looked more menacing and a whole lot higher than it did in the pictures, the clusters of houses dominated by the surrounding peaks. The little bus fought its way through them and around them, heading to Trøllanes, the northernmost village and my lighthouse stop. A handful of people had joined me on the bus initially, but by the time it reached Trøllanes I was alone.

Trøllanes, hemmed in by steep jagged mountains on three sides and the dark ocean on the other, is the most stunning village of Kalsoy. But on this grey evening it was anything but inviting; it felt uncomforting. The bus pulled away, snaking up the mountain sides and disappearing into the tiny tunnel – the only way out of the village. The land was silent and empty, and somewhere behind these peaks the lighthouse stood. I couldn’t see any signs, markers or obvious start point for the hike, though. Apprehensive but undeterred, I set off in the direction I thought it to be.

kalsoy island faroe islands

Up and away

The ascent was deceptively steep – I could basically walk on all fours. I slowly trudged up to where the breeze became cooler and livelier. I met two locals who had hiked all the way from the other end of this long thin island. They were so light-footed and capable, and me so loud and cumbersome, that I hadn’t clocked them until they were right beside me. Tired of camping, tonight they were going to knock on a door in the village below and stay there. It was the Faroese way of doing things, apparently.

Not long later I saw a mast poking above the top of the mountain. The lighthouse! I hung my head over the brow of the hill expectantly, anxious to see what the view would be, wondering what it was going to look like from this angle. This is what I saw:

Trollanes kalsoy island faroe islands

A 400m drop to the ocean! I gawped down with a strange combination of terror, fascination and achievement. But more importantly it meant I’d overshot things. To my right I could see some higher peaks that had flat land on top, so I decided to go up them and see what was there. If the lighthouse wasn’t there I’d surely be able to see it – it had to be close by.

kalsoy island faroe islands

On the edge

I never thought that clouds could be terrifying. They’re innocent and fluffy, making shapes and patterns in the sky, or adding flavour to a sunset. But these clouds came over me with a violent whoosh and engulfed my world in thick featureless grey. I couldn’t see anything beyond a few footsteps. The Faroe Islands have a unique ability to ruin even the hardiest of travel plans, as I had experienced first-hand all week, and it was happening again. But I was determined to not let it happen this time. Not to the lighthouse. No, this time I was going to carry on. I’d reached a set of rocks that led to the top and when the fog thinned out a little I climbed over them.

The wind pushed against me and cold drizzle hung on my eyelashes. The land was indeed flat, though my vision was so limited I couldn’t determine anything else. I continued with naïve ambition. But within five minutes or so the fog ahead of me started to grow brighter. At last! It was finally thinning out and maybe the world would open up to me again. A startled puffin flew up from just in front of my feet. A faint outline along the ground grew stronger. The penny dropped.

I was steps away from the edge of the mountain and I’d only just noticed.

I knew what was beyond those two steps, I’d seen it earlier; about 500m of nothing. The promise of the lighthouse could take me no further and I turned back.

It wasn’t long, however, before I reached another cliff edge. Horrible, silent edges that gave you no warning of their existence until you were almost on top of them. I turned again, walked for another few minutes, only for the same thing to happen. And again. Soon I had absolutely no idea of where I had come from or been. I was lost, I could scarcely see past my own feet, and the edges were everywhere. I sat down and decided that waiting it out was my best option. But as the wind and rain continued to lash against my little shelter, and I felt the warmth from my body fade away, I realised that I wouldn’t be able to do this for long. A horrible heavy feeling of terror started to grow.

Don’t panic!

I knew I couldn’t let those feelings overcome me. If I was just more systematic I would surely find the way down again. It wasn’t a huge area of land, after all. There was a lot of white sheep’s wool on the ground, which I started to collect. Each time I saw an edge I put a piece down as a marker to indicate that it was an edge and also that I’d been there. Then I walked a short distance to the left and repeated. It was kind of funny how in the 21st Century I had to resort to such a basic idea, I thought, but my terror stopped me gaining any pleasure from it.

I didn’t exactly see the benefits of my idea; after another three or four times I saw rocks followed by land below. It had taken me about 40 minutes to find them. Could anyone be so happy at such a simple thing?

A while later there was a loud swooping sound and the clouds lifted up like a seabird gliding on the currents. I could see the world again (though the top still remained smothered), and I finally took some photos before heading down. Safe on lower ground I realised that I’d narrowly escaped from one of the most stupid – and dangerous – situations I’d ever been in. Lesson well and truly learnt.

Trollanes kalsoy island faroe islands

A new day

The next morning I was keen to reach the top again but time and energy weren’t on my side. To make it worse there was scarcely a cloud in the sky. Looking up, my destination seemed so doable but equally so high and far away.

I felt relieved more than defeated, though. I lied down in the grass and appreciated what was in front of me for once, and the Faroe Islands showed me their softer side. Only hours after being blown towards the invisible edges of cliffs, everything was bright and calm. I wandered around the green pastures where puffins rustled around in their nests and tame lambs licked my hand. It was like the night before had never happened – all had been forgiven. And somewhere behind me the lighthouse stood, unfound and almost forgotten.

Round Two

I decided to return to Kalsoy a month later and give my failure another go (it wasn’t my only defeat in the Faroe Islands, either – I got lost again, and due to bad weather I had to give up on my hike to Gasadalur and a trip to the island of Mykines). You’ll be pleased to know that on my second attempt I made it to all these places, including the lighthouse! Wahey! And yes, it was absolutely worth the effort. I watched the moon set and the sun rise and it was one of the most magical days I’ve ever had.

I can genuinely say that Trollanes / Kallur lighthouse is one of my favourite places in the world. I’ll never forget standing on the tip of this tiny island, totally alone, watching the jagged mountains and sky turn from cool blue to fiery red and orange. Travelling is made for experiences like this.

kalsoy island faroe

 

How to actually hike to Kallur Lighthouse

Kallur lighthouse kalsoy faroe islands

It’s actually very easy to hike to Kallur Lighthouse, embarrassingly. Especially compared to what I did. If you’re in Trøllanes facing out to the ocean, the track starts to your left. Walk past a little farm down a dirt track that takes you through a gate (see photo below). From here there’s no marked path and a steep grassy hill ahead of you. Simply walk up this hill, but once it starts to flatten out again make sure you walk AROUND the big peak that’s pretty much in front of you and not up it (i.e. walk slightly to the right of it). This is the mistake I made – I went up it. WRONG! You do not need to go this high! Walk around it along the gentle slopes (the only steep bit is at the beginning).

kalsoy island faroe islands

Keep on doing this and within 15 minutes or so you’ll swing to the left a little and the lighthouse will be more or less ahead of you. And that’s it. It’s the easiest hike on the whole of the Faroe Islands, and takes around 40 minutes to get there in total. I promise that won’t fall off any cliffs on this route, either!

In the image below you can see almost the whole route to Kallur Lighthouse, apart from the steep beginning bit. On the far left down behind the hill is where Trøllanes is, Kallur is on the right hand side of the photo. And the mountain in the middle with the flat top? Yep, you’ve guessed it…

kalsoy island faroe

How to get to Kalsoy Island and Trøllanes

Firstly, get yourself to Klaksvik. There are regular buses that go from Torshavn to Klaksvik you’ll be pleased to know! You can actually see Kalsoy Island from Klaksvik, and it’s only a 30-minute ferry ride away (which you can take vehicles on too). You can buy tickets on the ferry itself. At Sydradalur, the first settlement you’ll reach on Kalsoy, there’s a little bus waiting that stops at all the villages on Kalsoy, finishing at Trøllanes. It doesn’t go very often, though. You can check the bus timetables here.

If you’re relying on public transport to get to the lighthouse I strongly recommend you stay the night either in Klaksvik or, even better, on Kalsoy itself, as you won’t have enough time to fully appreciate the area otherwise. There’s nowhere official to stay in Trøllanes, but in Mikladalur, a larger neighbouring village with a tiny tourist presence, there’s a place or two. Otherwise there are some more places in Klaksvik.

Camping near Kallur Lighthouse is the best option, in my opinion. The second time around I didn’t even pitch a tent; I just stayed up all night – which lasts just a few hours this far north. The great thing about the Faroe Islands in high summer is that it never gets properly dark and the temperatures don’t change much from day to night either (though they can still change dramatically from one day to the next).

The only amenities in Trøllanes is a public toilet and a tiny shop that you can’t always count on being open – bring supplies! And please don’t go there in the fog…

 

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