The highway tunnel to Gásadalur was constructed 15 years in the past. Till then, residents of this tiny village on Vágar, one of many Faroe Islands, relied on intermittent boat entry beneath the cliffs or, extra generally, braved the 45 degree-slope of a slim observe that climbs 500 metres over the mountain south of the village. The postman needed to make the climb 3 times every week, making him one of many fittest males within the Faroes.
It wasn’t simply the postman who made that trek, coffins have been carried over the mountain to the cemetery at Bøur 5km away, as have been sick individuals who wanted the physician. Solely 11 folks dwell in Gasadalur in the present day, and with out the tunnel it might in all probability have turn out to be one in all Faroes’ deserted villages. Right now, I’m doing the climb with a number of native males, plus three mathematicians from Washington DC, a pharmacist from Glasgow, a civil servant from London, two Finnish college students and two biochemists from Bratislava. They’re all volunteers who’ve come to the islands as part of a tourism initiative that declared the nation “closed for upkeep” for one weekend final month.

Vacationers volunteered with locals to create strolling paths, erect signposts and protect nature sanctuaries. {Photograph}: Tróndur Dalsgarð
“As quickly as we heard about it we signed up,” mentioned Rachel Levy, one of many American volunteers who travelled right here along with her husband Sam and their college-age daughter Miriam. “It’s positively the best way we wish to journey, assembly native folks and feeling we’ve made some type of constructive contribution.”

We “voluntourists” (as Go to Faroe Islands calls us) have the duty of clearing unfastened stones from the trail, and hammering picket stakes into the grass to mark a secure, simply seen route over the mountain. Traditionally, clearing unfastened stones was achieved by the villagers, however because of the highway they not often stroll over the mountain today.It’s being refurbished primarily for the burgeoning numbers of vacationers who discover this archipelago of rugged mountains, prolific seabirds and wild-looking sheep. Gásadalur additionally has one of many Faroes’ most-photographed sights: a waterfall that gushes straight from the cliff face into the Atlantic beneath.
We attain the ridgeline after 50 minutes of laborious climbing, and the wind is so robust everybody huddles behind a stone cairn to keep away from being blown over. These islands are recurrently blasted with the very best wind speeds in Europe.

A spot of path upkeep close to Gásaladur. {Photograph}: Lavur Frederiksen
One of many masterminds behind this weekend is Jóhan Pauli Helgason, growth supervisor for Go to Faroe Islands. He says the challenge had a number of strands: “Sure, it was a advertising and marketing marketing campaign however it was additionally about making real enhancements to the vacationer expertise, and offering guests and locals with a correct cultural change. We see that as a extra sustainable model of tourism for a rustic with simply 50,000 folks.”

Helgason managed the logistics, getting 105 volunteers from 25 nations safely in and overseas and distributed throughout 10 tasks chosen in collaboration with district councils. The websites included the puffin colony on Mykines island, the pure rock harbour at Gjógv and – the Instagram favorite – the excessive cliffs at Trælanipa, the place the archipelago’s largest lake appears to drift a whole lot of metres above the Atlantic. One batch of volunteers additionally went to the southernmost island of Suđuroy (a two-hour ferry journey from the capital, Tórshavn) with everybody staying in guesthouses and native houses. Crucially, nobody fell off a mountain or twisted an ankle within the mud.
Making the paths clear and secure was a necessary. At Mykines and Trælanipa particularly, the delicate grass and skinny northern soil has suffered erosion and turn out to be hazardously slippery underneath elevated foot site visitors – not stunning in a rustic with 300 days of rain a yr. The place as soon as solely shepherds and their flocks walked, there may be now a big improve in hikers and sightseers. Minimising the impression of walkers is a critical ecological problem. At 62° north, vegetation recovers slowly, and far of the outfield gives necessary nesting websites for floor species like snipe, oystercatchers and skuas.

Puffins on Mykines, the north-western extremity of the Faroe Islands. {Photograph}: Nicol Nicolson/GuardianWitness
Footpaths join many of the settlements, and these are open to everybody, however within the Faroes virtually all mountain pasture is personal property. Some farmers have imposed charges on the preferred routes, however there is no such thing as a clear consensus on find out how to handle the deliberate improve in guests over the following few years. Presently the islands see about 110,000 guests, half of them from cruise ships that go to Tórshavn for a number of hours.

The unique purpose was to double vacationer revenues by 2020 and it appears to be working, thanks partly to efforts at making the islands a must-see vacation spot for Instagrammers and social media influencers. Go to Faroe Islands director Guđriđ Højgaard is optimistic: “We all know our islands are particular. However we consider we are able to improve our market with out damaging the essence of what it means to be Faroese.”
Jóhan Jógvansson farms the land across the historic settlement at Saksun, a location acquainted to British TV viewers from the Specsavers advert the place a short-sighted shepherd mistakenly shears his sheep canine. Hobbitish turf-roofed homes overlook an previous whitewashed church above a glittering lake accessed through a single-track highway. Jógvansson claims his farm work is interrupted by the vacationer site visitors. “Vacationers come right here for one cause solely,” he says over tea in his neat wood-panelled kitchen. “They wish to {photograph} my farm. However what do I get out of it? My tractor will get caught in site visitors jam and I’ve to test there isn’t somebody peering by way of my window once I go to the bathe.”

The village of Saksun, on the island of Streymoy. {Photograph}: Nick Fox/Alamy
The Faroese Farmer’s Affiliation desires to treatment this and guarantee its members don’t get unnoticed of the rising vacationer financial system. Sigert Patursson, a rosy-cheeked Viking with a bushy blond beard, is the chairman. He strolls throughout the fields of his farm exterior Tórshavn in a chunky-knit sweater oblivious to the chilly breeze. “We would like farmers to consider providing walkers one thing that would herald somewhat more money. They may do mattress and breakfast, packed lunches or guided excursions. It’s laborious sufficient making a residing from the land right here, and we have to ensure that we get a slice of the tourism pie.”

It’s clear to anybody from the broader world that Faroes just isn’t struggling something like overtourism. Most Faroese folks see vacationers as an asset, and are nonetheless flattered that individuals wish to know extra about their tradition. Ditte Joensen runs small-scale pictures excursions by way of her firm Veingir. “I would like guests to fulfill locals, and turn out to be pals. For me, tourism must be a two-way course of, and I hope we don’t lose sight of that as we develop.”
The “Closed for Upkeep” weekend might be a imaginative and prescient of what tourism must be like for a lot of small communities. One of many volunteers, Lene Finnestad, a health care provider from Oslo, informed me she would fortunately do such a challenge once more. “We labored in collaboration, befriending Faroese folks and different volunteers. All of us had very related values. You truly really feel such as you’ve given one thing again as an alternative of simply consuming what the nation has to supply.”
Understanding the Faroes nicely, I admit I puzzled if voluntourism would obtain a lot in sensible phrases. On the island of Nólsoy, native resident Tjóðhild Patursson was adamant that the guests had helped this small neighborhood in a tangible approach.
“Many guests take the mistaken observe throughout the mountains. In the event that they get misplaced or injured, now we have to handle them. Our native municipality hasn’t had the time, the cash or the manpower to waymark the route, although now we have been speaking about it for a few years. What the guests have achieved in simply two days is exceptional.”
• The subsequent Closed for Upkeep weekend is in April 2020 (dates tbc). Volunteers pay for his or her flight to the Faroes (about €280 return) however are given full-board lodging whereas there. Particulars at visitfaroeislands.com