IF THERE is anything predictable about the weather in the Faroes Islands it is its very unpredictability - a place where four seasons can arrive in a day. But there is one constant. The wind. And when it blows hard, you know all about it.

Situated between Norway and Iceland, the remote archipelago is at the mercy of the elements, battered by weather belts sweeping across north Atlantic. Our first taste comes as we leave the shelter of our car to walk down a valley from the lagoon of Saksun (population 30) to the sea. With shores filled up with sand from a tsunami which swept in during the 1600s, it's lower reaches are only negotiable at low tide.

The wind behind us, going down is a veritable breeze, as we soak in the beauty of the glacier-worn valley, its thin layer of soil clinging to the volcanic rock and scoured away in places by rivulets from previous storms. Returning, however, we feel the full force of the wind as it whips into our bodies with a raw power that is quite literally breathtaking. Drops of rain, mingled with fine sand, spit into our faces as we lean 45 degrees into the gale's embrace. A tantalising slither of blue sky opens, only to be swallowed as quickly by swirling clouds. At the head of a lagoon, a waterfall tumbles down. The fact that the water reaches the bottom at all is an indication the wind is not really blowing that hard, according to the Faroese.

Loading article content

This is definitely not a day for a fair weather Sunday afternoon walker. But then that is the point. The exhilaration of experiencing nature at is rawest is part of the attraction of these barren islands. Our brief foray from the shelter of our car is one of the many highlights of a brief visit.

An invitation to these far flung isles – courtesy of Visit Faroes and Atlantic Airways – was an opportunity to be seized. As a lover of wild and unblemished places, birds and the exotic, the Faroes always have always had a mythical allure for me and a trip here is just the ticket.

One of the last scraps of land to be inhabited by man, the Faroes were debatably first reached first by Irish monks in the 500s and then settled by Vikings, in the 900s.

As our plane dips below the clouds after a comfortable flight from Edinburgh, the Faroes are revealed in all their glory. The islands comprise basalt rock laid down in four geological periods, giving the landscape a clearly layered appearance. They were locked under a thick sheet of ice and moulded and sculpted by glaciers, leaving deep valleys, craggy peaks and vertiginous cliffs.

Today, in a nutshell, the Faroes are a self-governing country within the Kingdom of Denmark, with a population that has only just passed 50,000 - living on 17 of the 18 islands. All are connected by a modern network of tunnels, snaking roads, ferries and helicopter.

The language is Faroese - related to old Norse and Icelandic - with between three to five dialects. The main industries are pelagic fishery, deep sea fishing and salmon farming and the religion is Evangelical Lutheran, which enjoys a high observance.

Our first port of call is the capital of Torshavn, named after the Norse god of War. A compact city with a population of only 20,000, it is easily explored in a few hours and has much to offer. Its charming old quarter features a labyrinth of narrow streets lined by black-tarred wooden homes topped with turf roofs. All roads lead down to what lays claim to being the oldest parliament meeting place in Europe, where the first Ting met to debate matters of state in 900. The site remains home to Faroese government, housed in what were wooden sheds. Unlike the impenetrable 10 Downing Street, one can stroll with ease past the prime minister’s office, marked only by nondescript sign.

The old town is surrounded by modern grid of streets, with contemporary architecture that blends seamlessly and sensitively with the old. It has an intriguing mix of shops. If music is your passion the Tutl is a must. The small store houses an incredible collection of Faroese music, from folk to rock and on to classical. And if you are after a “Sarah Lund” (aka The Killing) jumper you can find them in a number of stores. The art gallery, surrounded by a national forest sculpture park with an arresting body of work by Hans Pauli Olsen, is well worth a visit.

On our first evening we are introduced to Faroese fare at the Aarstova restaurant. The star of the menu is leg of lamb, cooked for 12 hours at 90 degrees.

The first full day takes us along snaking roads to Kirkjubour. The cultural capital of the islands, it features remains of St Magnus’ Cathedral and Roystovan, the oldest inhabited wooden house in Europe. The occupant Joannes Patursson, whose family have lived here for 17 generations, regales us with facts about life as a tenant farmer. Part of his tenancy agreement is the requirement to look after 333 and one sixteenth sheep, five and a half cows and two horses.

We then travel on to Vestmanna. Its Saga Museum, depicts a realistically gruesome account of the history of the Faroes and is not for the faint-hearted. A prime attraction of the Faroes is a boat trip to the bird cliffs. During the two-hour voyage we pass sheep perched precariously on slithers of pasture sandwiched between cliffs. Farmers lower and lift them by rope to exploit the pastures. The bird cliffs are awe-inspiring. Thankfully the wind has abated, allowing our skipper too edge the boat between mighty sea stacks and into rugged alcoves.

The following morning we find ourselves in Vioarioi with a picturesque view across the noses of the islands of Borrooy, Kunoy and Kalsoy, all shrouded in thick blankets of cloud. Our last supper is at Torshavn's restaurant Barbara, where we feast on horse mussels (so-called because of their size), blue mussels and bacalou - a dried and salted cod which has been rehydrated and desalinated before being cooked.

A four-mile hike morning hike, from Torshavn to Kikjubour, takes in stunning views across to the islands of Sandoy and Hestur (population 15). The culinary part of our adventure is crowned by a visit to farmers Anna and Oli Rubeksen, who offer hospitality known as Heimaablidni. They own 150 sheep of the island’s 80,000 sheep and use authentic recipes handed down over the generations. The nibbles come in a steady flow. Sheep sausage, richly-textured lamb liver, raw herring with red cabbage and beef. Raest, or fermented lamb, has has heady aroma and quite distinctive flavour which lingers on the palate and is surprisingly pleasant. The whole is washed down with Rinku Steiner, flavoured with from heated volcanic rocks.

Because of the wind, little grows above ground. But rhubarb there is aplenty and our meal is rounded off with a rhubarb sponge cake to remember.

One other thing is predictable about the Faroes. Having savoured a taste of these delightful islands and its food one will be left with an insatiable desire to return.

FACTFILE

Gavin Engelbrecht visited the Faroe Island Atlantic Airways www.atlantic.fo and Visit Faroe Islands www.visitfaroeislands.com with special thanks to Stan Abbott at Gravity Consulting www.gravity-consulting.com

The 4th edition of Faroe Islands by James Proctor published by Bradt www.bradtguides.com is an indispensable guide to the islands.