Sunday, 10 July 2016


Farming  10.07

I am sitting high up on a hillside above Gásadalur. Few people come this way. I am writing longhand and will transcribe later. Writing laying on the grass is an easy thing to do. For the first time yesterday I began to think about returning in August after my journey home. Just a stray passing thought but I noted it nevertheless. It is easier to write nonsense when writing freehand. It feels more personal,more private, less committed.

I have just passed small turfed buildings, traditional sheep drying sheds and given their smell, I suspect they are still used for that purpose. I've not seen such meat yet, nor been offered whale blubber or dried fish but am in no rush to do so. Around these small tarred, slatted sheds are the remains of a cultivated patch of angelica. I have seen much growing wild but this is the first clear indication of it being grown. Behind these sheds a family of ducks play hide and seek, cheeping in and out of tall grasses and two young bullocks skit and play. I have seen cows only once previously in my time here.

I meet a farmer, a young woman who farms with her boyfriend at the Saksun rural life museum. Situated in an old farmhouse built and rebuilt over many years the roykstova (kitchen, workroom and living room centred around a fireplace with hole in the roof) is the main room you enter and she sits and knits, happy to answer my questions.

A smoky smell lingers and mixes with the resinous aroma of pine clad walls. I am intrigued that in a country where wood must either be gleaned from the shore or imported, so much building here is of wood. I wonder what they burned? Cow dung? Seaweed? Turf? Probably all of it. Trees cannot grow here without intervention, tar is used to protect wooden buildings against the sea air. The long haired young woman in jeans knits as she tells me it is thought that the Vikings learned their building skills before arriving on the islands and copied known building patterns rather than experiment with stone. I have noticed much new build is either wood or concrete or a mixture of both.

The animal stalls are low and she talks about Faroese ponies, too small to ride and only used as workhorses. I learn that when making hay, it is stored wet in bales, that it is not hay in the way I know it, yet not quite silage either. I have since seen an Allen scythe in use and grass being turned with a familiar long handled haymaking rake such as I used as a child since I have been on the look out for hay.

Much here in the museum is familiar, the tools, the cooking pots, the cot beds are no different than at home. Spinning wheels, though, require one to spin with the left hand whilst turning the wheel with the right. No treadles in the Middle Ages here. She points out six spivots on the walls, this small room as well as kitchen and living room was also home to six spinning wheels. I can feel that my legs are damp as I lie on the grass and record my thoughts. High on the cliffs, after three dry days, yet the ground remains damp.

All sheep grown on the islands she says are cured in the traditional fermentation and mould method but a far greater quantity of lamb is imported, the country not being able to produce enough for it's needs. I ask about the sheep which I see, dripping fleece behind them and the amount of wool left lying on the hillsides. Few sheep seem to be shorn. She says there is no market for the wool, little point in shearing only to exchange for woollen commodities. She goes on to say that this year the government have introduced subsidies so that farmers can earn 20 krone for every fleece, £2. European support, from Denmark, I imagine.  I forget to ask where the wool comes from that she knits with. Wool or yarn is available in every grocery store, more colours and types than one might find in many wool shops at home, perhaps I might look to see if it is wool or acrylic and if its country of origin is listed.

There is a grinding stone yet I have seen no grain being grown, there is remarkably little agriculture around at all, a few potatoes here and there. She tells me they are experimenting with varieties of rye, they think it was the crop that used to be grown. I am very interested in this little working farm museum, with experimental historical crop development but again think this sounds like EU money, but somehow forget to ask. I would like to understand the countries desire for full independence yet denial of their need for financial support.

I get a chance though to ask about cutting turf rooves, I notice the rooves here are supporting sedges I've not seen before on roof turf. She explains they have self seeded and although I worry that they seem to be taking over, she says they are not concerned, that the turf will grow, whether mown or not, whether grass or not. I can't help thinking that perhaps the modern replacement of plastic, instead of birch bark, for the under layer of the turf roof might explain some of her lack of concern.

The roads infrastructure and transport network is extraordinary given the size of the country. Busses connect with planes and with ferries, bus routes connect with bus routes. Pensioners get half price fares. The roads are empty and potholes rare. That the islands are joined as they are, by an efficient network of roads is little short of a miracle. The cost of maintaining this infrastructure is beyond my imagination and I have many questions I would like to ask of those who say that Denmark does not support them financially. Out walking, gates frequently look newly installed and uniform. Whilst the path may not be clear, or even a well trodden path, the gates at either end are new. On a busy day I might see six other people over the course of a two hour return walk, at the height of the season. 

Lying on the grass, careful to keep to well worn paths, so as not to damage potential hay, I am surrounded by a mass of purple yellow and white blossom that carpets the ground, interspersed with tall flowering grasses and plantain seed heads. As a child at primary school, I remember collecting and naming as many different flowering grasses as I could find one summer holiday. I loved grass then and I love it now. I picked some yesterday to make a card for Marit when she returns and I am gone.

I notice a large group of people walking across tracks down the mountains towards me. I decide to leave my isolated patch rather sooner than I would like to as I don't want to be caught up amongst them. I pack and meander down to the car, only to be circumvented by them having taken a shorter route. I could have stayed where I was. A group of scouts, being guided by women wearing traditional costume, but smoking cigarettes! I remember seeing military precision in the pitching of tents back in Sorvagur as I came through, this must be their base. I wonder about scouting, I can't be done with God save the queen but think I might enjoy the rest of it. Perhaps I ought offer to go when my brother camps at some point, see what it's all about.

Sunset this evening is particularly spectacular. Starting early at around 11:15pm, I expect it to be the glimpse of colour that I have seen other evenings but for half an hour the clouds move steadily across the sky providing a kaleidoscope of oranges, yellows and blues that stretch, not just in one direction but across the whole expanse of the sky all around me.