A BLOG only works so long as you keep blogging so I'm told, so here goes with a mix of wildlife, music, rugby, art, photography, food and wine, with a chunk of European Travel to take part in all of the above but not necessarily in that order. I recently visited the Faroe Islands with one of my twin sons Culain. The following was a double page spread in the Manchester Evening News and many more titles.
If a certain drinks company did 'first impressions', then the view as we slipped out of the clouds for our first sighting of the Faroes Islands, would be right up there. It just wasn't what I was expecting, a full smack in the face cinema-scope panorama of rocky islands, jagged mountain ridges, gleaming fjords and the overriding sense that this was a special place, and only two hours from Stansted Airport with the Faroese Atlantic Airways.
The runway on the Island of Vagar was originally constructed by the British Army during the 2nd World War, when it was thought that the German Forces would annex the islands after they invaded Norway and Denmark.
As I write there's still a sense of retrospective guilt that I had not visited before, but all being well, a return visit or two is on the cards for sure, and maybe with a couple of onward journeys to Iceland and Greenland.
As a little vignette for your imagination, go for The Land That Time Forgot, and include seventeen tunnels up to four miles long through the volcanic basalt rock, two of them sub-sea, linking many of the eighteen islands which make up this fair land.
Throw in a fathomless fjord at every turn, grass roofed houses and the fabled 24 hours of daylight in the summer and you're almost there, a special place indeed.
The oystercatcher is the national bird, and with over seven hundred miles of coastline including the tallest sea-cliffs in the Europe, it is no surprise that these orange-billed beauties have plenty of company, including fulmars, guillemots, puffins, gannets, Manx shearwater, storm petrel and black-legged kittiwake.
Mammals are are thin on the ground, with only brown rat, house mouse and mountain hare, but once you are in the water, anything can turn up, from pilot whales to fin whales and from Orca to Hooded Seals, and occasionally walrus from the High Arctic.
With moorland, in many ways similar to the Peak District, complete with bog cotton and heather, the usual suspects dominate, such as snipe, purple sandpiper, whimbrel and golden plover, but we were delighted to spot a greenshank, a vagrant to the Islands, with its unmistakeable green legs. Both the moorland tops and valley sides were patrolled by the ever-present ravens, this years young being particularly vocal with their, almost comical, attempt at a adult 'kronk', and failing miserably.
The flashing merlin, or smyril, is the only breeding bird of prey on the islands, and although we did not see one, we were lucky again with the sighting of another vagrant, a hen harrier being mobbed by our friend the raven. Truth is, I am guessing at that one, because the single track road I was driving on had a four foot drop either side, not good five miles up a remote valley, and I was concentrating on staying on the tarmac, however with a brief glimpse of relative size, shape and white tail bar, it was a good bet.
In three days we managed six islands, through approximately ten tunnels, the rest are reached by ferry or helicopter, and wait for another trip.
In the capital of Torshavn came the closest thing to city-life on the Faroes, and remember there are less than 50,000 people across the Islands, but even here it is impossible to feel crowded.
More on the Faroe Islands next week, but in the meantime please check out www.faroeislands.com and www.greengate.fo
My contact at the Tourist Board, Annleyg, pronounced 'Annalee', produced a fantastic itinerary to enable us to get the most of our three days and if any reader would a copy please email.
There were great lessons to be learned from my three days in the Faroe Islands, and in no particular order included, well insulated and grass-roofed houses as part of the landscape, as opposed to sticking out like a sore-thumb in it; all-weather pitches of all sizes in even the smallest of villages; and not forgetting the complete and utter lack of litter, it is a clean haven slotted in the North Atlantic one hour by air from that bubbling-underbelly known as Iceland.
My Son Culain, who coaches an Under 9's football team, was amazed at every turn to see the facilities for sport, including several full-size all-weather soccer pitches with floodlights, and asked the question...'Why can't we do that in England?'
Good question, and the simple answer is that, the Faroese Authorities believe in fair-play, so whether you are ten miles up a fijord, or you live in a village two miles down a corkscrew hill with twenty residents, you will 'go to the ball'.
As for the other lessons, the lack of fast food and cheap booze outlets obviously helps with the litter, and to be fair there are only 30,000 people spread across the 18 islands of the archipelago, but nevertheless the place is pristine and unspoilt.
My favourite lesson from the Faroes, is one I already knew, but there is no harm in waxing lyrical for readers, about grass-roofed and well insulated wooden houses; and with all due respect, for Town Planners who wish to make an impact, or should that be 'no impact', when they venture into the countryside.
At every turn we could see houses made almost completely from natural materials, and this included strips of silver birch bark, which were used to take water from off the roof and into the gutters.
Green roofs have been shown to impact positively on a building’s energy consumption by improving the roofs thermal performance, although the level of difference this makes depends on daily and seasonal weather conditions. Poorly insulated roofs lead to overheating of spaces beneath them during the summer, increasing the need for artificial cooling and excessive heating demand during the winter.
The skylark, a species listed on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, has bred successfully on the green roof of Rolls Royce factory near Chichester. Brenneisen studied birds, beetles and spiders associated with green roofs in the Basel area, Switzerland. A sample of 11 roofs were found to support a total of 172 species of beetle with 10% listed in the Swiss red data book. There were a total of 1844 bird sightings on the roof including Wheatear, Skylark, Lapwing, Common Tern and Mallard.