Iceland and the Faroe Islands

This summer we shadowed photographers Gemma and Andrew Ingalls as they travelled the Faroe Islands and Iceland to explore Nordic island life.

When taking a holiday, we veer toward the outer edges, places where land and sky and water overshadow houses and cars and people, bird and plant life feel prehistoric, and the landscape is central, ancient, and elemental. The Faroes are a Scandinavian archipelago of volcanic islands, floating between the Atlantic Ocean and the Norwegian Sea. Flying in from Copenhagen on a clear day, I peeked out the window at the sheer, electric green grass cliffs dropping vertically into the surf below. The next morning, exploring the island by boat, we travelled through inlets between islands to the Vestmanna Bird Cliffs. Countless birds swirled in the air above us like tiny black kites, plunged into the icy waters for catch, then returned to their nesting grounds. From the boat we spotted a shepherd, traversing a narrow sheep trail, bringing a few lone sheep back home from their perch at the cliff’s edge. The captain’s son pointed across the grey waters to a small island. A tiny white steepled church, and a scattering of three or four houses stood simply and starkly on the mounded green earth. This is a place people go to “get away,” the captain’s son remarked.

Exploring the islands, we wonder what they could possibly be getting away from. Winding our way around the ring roads by car, and traversing by foot, we pass hidden green valleys and meadows dotted with grazing sheep, horses, wildflowers, and waterfall upon waterfall, and see almost no people aside from the small groups of outlier tourists like ourselves. The traditional turf houses found in the tiny villages are painted black and have mossy, grass-covered roofs, as if they are slowly being absorbed by the lush landscape surrounding them. Many of our days are foggy and cool, and as we walk, it seems as if the water is actually creating the weather, as if the force of a waterfall plunging down a cliff face to the sea actually gathers clouds from the atmosphere, hovering above, creating a constant mist.
In Iceland, we found more watery channels, paradise for the birds that reside there: saltwater inlets filled with magnificent wild swans, cliffs sanctuaries full of puffins huddling in their nests, graceful arctic turns with their forked tails diving for fish, the fuzziest of ducklings following their mother through river mazes. We found ice: silent glacier faces joining up to black lava rock mountains, and lagoons connecting the ice to the ocean: otherworldly blue glacier ‘islands’, slowly melting and flowing into the sea. We found fire, in the form of lava rock fields, a simultaneously desolate and fertile reminder of an island dominated by volcanoes. We swam in the warm, minerally waters created by underground volcanic activity, and stared into steaming mud pits waiting for the thrill of the erupting geyser.

At the end of our journey, we realize that being ‘away’ is actually a form of coming home: to a tiny house on an uninhabited island, or a vast, unknown landscape, it allows you to look outside yourself at the larger elements: water, sky, earth, fire. To be that bird, flying away from the nest, seeking nourishment, then returning home, again and again.