North with Atlantic to Faroe and Iceland ......

A Busman's Holiday in the Faroe Islands in 1998

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Hendan sÝ­an vÝsur gamlar tÝ­arŠtlanir og ikki tŠr i­ eru galdandi n˙.
        Denne side viser gamle k°replaner og ikke de aktuelle tider.

Glasgow Airport on a Monday in July. I've just arrived by British Airways from Southampton. Now it's time to fly with Atlantic Airways to the Faroe Islands. Their twice weekly flights from Scotland are new this year. Already they have proved so successful that the operating season has been extended to the end of October. The aircraft is a BAE 146 chartered from Sweden. Atlantic's own 146 is fully committed on their twice daily flights to Denmark. Happily, the Swedish aircraft is properly painted in Atlantic's livery.


Settling in my seat, the in-flight magazine tells me all about Atlantic Airways tenth anniversary this year. The flight north is full, mainly with Faroese ladies returning from shopping expeditions by the merry sound of the clinking of bottles in the duty free shop carrier bags! I'm immersed in a sea of Faroese conversations. But how pleasant it is to be whisked north to Faroe in just an hour or so. The last time I came on Smyril from Scrabster, fourteen long long hours at sea overnight.


So on to Vagar - where we're all a bit surprised as the captain announces a ten minute delay during which our plane has to circle as there is another flight to land ahead of us. Air traffic delays? This isn't Heathrow, you know! Landing is from the west over Mykines. Out of the plane into the sunshine - the weather was very kind throughout my visit. The policeman at the control desk in the terminal is somewhat bemused by the sight of a lone British passport in the midst of a sea of Faroese ladies. But now at last I have a Faroese stamp to show in my passport - a souvenir that I didn't manage to get when I came by sea before.


Then straight to the airport information desk to buy my seven day visitor travelcard for the buses and ferries, Next outside to join the three blue Bygdalei­ir buses lined up outside the terminal. Trust me to get on the only one of the three buses that is only going to Vestmanna rather than Tˇrshavn, but the mistake is soon rectified.

airport_bus    Bygdalei­ir Volvo bus waiting at the airport

I travel in a new Scania Carrus coach, and as we leave the airport the driver plays a multi-lingual tape welcoming us to the Faroe Islands and telling us about the arrangements for hotel transfers after the bus arrives at the Tˇrshavn terminal. Through Barbara's island past the multi-coloured assortment of sheep (handy for knitting Faroese sweaters?) and down to the ferry - but it's Ternan waiting there, not Sam as I expected. Dry land again at Vestmanna and then quickly to Tˇrshavn - what a difference the Kaldbaksfjordur - Kollafjordur tunnel has made to the journey time from the airport.


So after dropping most of the passengers at the harbour terminal, there are three of us left, one for each of the three hotels in Tˇrshavn. We get the grand tour of the town thrown in for free as the driver decides to go to the Hotel F°royar first, on the hill overlooking the town. Soon I'm settled in to room 310 at the Sjˇmansheim. Unfortunately no view of the harbour - all the single rooms look over the town rather than the sea - but I have got a view of Jacobsens bookshop, which I visit in the morning. My favourite flower shop with the turf roof is also in sight, opposite the Hotel Hafnia, as is the Byra­. And it's a view I can enjoy until midnight and later as the summer days are long in Faroe.


One of the main reasons for my visit is to reacquaint myself with the Faroese transport network. Public transport within Faroe is provided by Strandfaraskip Landsins (SL), who operate the inter island ferries and the blue country and interurban Bygdalei­ir buses. Many of the buses are provided by contractors, mainly owner-drivers, whilst about a dozen are directly owned and operated by SL itself. The latter park overnight in the open on the quayside in Tˇrshavn, and operate primarily the journeys that used to be provided under contract by the Bil company when I last visited in 1992. (The old Bil depot near the SMS shopping centre is now a brightly painted Baha'i church). With a government controlled national public transport network, everything is co-ordinated and all the routes connect with each other, be it ferry or bus. A little different to the deregulated bus operations in the UK!


There is one other bus operation, this is the Busslei­in town network serving the town of Tˇrshavn. Four contractors, each with two buses, operate the comprehensive red bus network of three circular routes This serves all parts of the town from Argir and Nor­asta Horn to Hoyvik and Hvitanes, all at a flat fare of 10 krone. The frequencies and service levels are generous, and the buses run also late evening and Sundays. The vehicle requirement is six buses for the weekday service, and these are provided on a four weekly cycle by the four contractors. The drivers work a basic five day week of straight six hour shifts, which seems less than onerous when compared to British practice.

townbus_3   Busslei­in Scania bus on town service 3 in Tˇrshavn

During the course of my five night stay I get to know several of the red bus drivers (and their buses) quite well. Some of the buses, both red and blue, I recognise from my last visit six years ago in 1992. Luckily my driver friends speak better English than my few words of Faroese. On learning of my transport work in England, they are happy to swap experiences. One driver has recently returned from a holiday in Selsey; that's about fifty miles from where I live in Salisbury - and he had visited Salisbury Cathedral as well. Also some years ago he had spent three months in Bournemouth where I lived until I moved to Salisbury. It's a small world!


As all roads lead to London, so do all bus routes lead to (and from) Tˇrshavn. One day I went to Klaksvik, riding on bus 400 through the new tunnel, over the Sundini bridge from the island of Streymoy to the island of Eysturoy and round in a U-shape to the ferry terminal at Leirvik. Immediate connection on to the ferry Dugvan, a cup of coffee and a cheese roll and I'm in Klaksvik, the second largest town in the Faroes. A pleasant hour or two are passed strolling round the town. As it's Friday afternoon as I wait to catch Dugvan back, I see a well loaded Barsskor setting sail for Kalsoy. On the way back I detour through Fuglafjor­ur, my first visit there.


Time now to make reacquaintance with an old friend: Smyril. I take a day trip out and back to the southernmost island of Su­uroy, landing at Vagur for three hours. It's a once a week opportunity that can only be done on Wednesday. It's a pleasant two and a half hour sail, passing along the east coast of Sandoy. All the passengers sit on the starboard side going out, nothing to see from portside except the sea! I can't help but feel that Smyril is a bit down at heel since I last travelled on her. Everybody sits on the cafeteria deck, which whilst at the bow has no forward view because the windows are panelled over. Top deck forward, the old bar saloon, is deserted, despite unrestricted vision forward through unpanelled windows! Sadly no bar of course in the saloon now that Smyril no longer sails in international waters.


Another afternoon I catch bus 101 to the new ferry terminal at Gamlaraett, near Kirkjubour, and catch ferry Trondur to Skopun on Sandoy, with a brief stop at Hestur on the way. No time to land at either on this occasion, but I'm getting great value from my travelcard weekly ticket!


What else did I do? Well, I met friends old and new, including the late V°gg Guttesen, the town chief engineer at the Byra­, who told me much about the town bus operations and the future plans for a new airport at Glyvurnes. V°gg was a fellow member of FISC (Faroe Islands Study Circle). I saw Finnur Johanssen again, who was managing the Bygdalei­ir buses when I first met him six years ago, and is now in charge of Strandfaraskip's education and training departments. We spent two pleasant hours in conversation together. And last not but least I spent a day with my friend Jens-Pauli Nols°e and his mother, sister and family. They made me very very welcome and I learned a lot about the Faroe Islands, plus some more words of Faroese, from my day with them. Faroese scones and Scottish shortbread and English tea - a wonderful combination. It was the first time I had actually met Jens-Pauli - we had come into contact through the electronic wonders of the e-mail and the world wide web.


All too soon it was the end of the week. Time to pack the bag with happy memories and the souvenirs bought from Jacobsens and Bˇkas°lan (I'd treated myself to a copy of the Topographic Atlas and a new dictionary). Time to pay my bill at the Sjˇmansheim. Time to walk to the harbour terminal to catch the airport bus. Now I'm on my way to Iceland for five nights in Reykjavik. As I wait I watch Smyril being loaded for a special once a year sailing to Midvagur for the festival, with many rowing boats being loaded. We were to see these people again, waiting at the road side for the carnival procession, as we drove through Midvagur on the airport bus.


Ah yes, the airport bus. Hmmm. Saturday morning at the Farst°din terminal. Fiona and Yvonne from Belfast, Sven from Iceland and me - all waiting for the 11.00 bus to the airport (which they somehow forgot to print in the timetable this year). But on Saturdays it seems the 11.00 bus doesn't go until 11.50, because the Reykjavik flight isn't due to leave until 3.10. And the plane eventually gets away in the end at 4.30, but perhaps that's another story for another day .....

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