On day four of our Faroese adventure, Katrine and I decided to head to Klaksvík, the second largest town on the Faroe Islands, to attend the festival Summarfestivalur over the weekend. We camped at a camp site just outside Klaksvík and spent four amazing days on the north islands (Norðoyggjar in Faroese), where the long summer evenings were spent hanging out at the festival and at the camp site with our new Swedish friends, and the daylight hours were spent hiking on Borðoy, Viðoy and roadtripping through Kalsoy.
On the first day, we decided to go on a hike on Borðoy to the abandoned village of Skálatoftir. Ever since I explored Skarð, an abandoned village located right across the fjord from Skálatoftir on the island of Kunoy, last year, I’ve wanted to visit Skálatoftir as well. There is a lot of information about Skarð online, but hardly any on Skálatoftir, so while I wanted to explore the place, I also set out to find out what happened there, and especially what led to it being abandoned.
The two Swedish guys, Anton and Simon, who we met on Mykines a few days earlier, decided to join us on the hike and brought along some Faroese beers for us to enjoy while walking. We set out rather late at 5 PM, but because it was summer in the Faroe Islands, the days were long and the sun wouldn’t set until 10 PM, so we had plenty of time… or so we thought.
Because things didn’t turn out quite the way we thought they would, but when I go hiking, they never really do.
The hike was nice and easy on this mild summer evening. Skálatoftir is located about three hours north of the dam from Borðoy to Kunoy, where the hike begun, and there’s a well-trodden path all the way along the coast on the west side of the mountains of Borðoy.
We had a good speed on, and despite us starting a bit late, I was sure that we would make it there and back before it would get dark. The hike was beautiful and offered amazing views of Kunoy and its fantastic mountain range ending in the impressive promontory, Kunoyarnakkur, on the northern tip of the island.
During the entire hike, I could see a green piece of land in the distance, which I was almost certain was Skálatoftir, and we later found out that it was. It’s amazing how you can still see from afar that there has been a human settlement.
During the hike, we met several nosy sheep, who would come up to us, which is very unusual. Sheep in the Faroe Islands are usually very shy and will run away as soon as someone approaches them, but not these sheep. I guess they miss human contact since they’re stuck on a remote and rather unknown hiking trail, where almost no one goes, so they wanted to talk. It was a nice surprise!
After talking to the sheep, Anton and Simon decided to go back to Klaksvík to attend the festival, while Katrine and I continued. It was getting late and I also wanted to go to the festival, but I just had to see Skálatoftir now that we were so close.
About an hour after we met the curious sheep, we arrived in Skálatoftir, where the original houses are gone, presumably looted, and only the old stone foundations as well as a ruined concrete house remain.
While exploring the abandoned village, I felt like a child. I ran from house to house, touching everything, taking pictures of everything, trying to remember every little detail from every building that I saw. Exploring Skálatoftir was something that I had wanted to do for so long, and now I was finally there. It was amazing to be able to see it in real life! For some reason, I just love abandoned villages – especially the Faroese ones!
From Skálatoftir, we could see straight across the fjord to Skarð, the other abandoned village, on Kunoy.
For the last couple of days, I had been feeling a constant pain in my left knee, which only got worse while hiking. It was something that I could live with and still hike with, but while running around Skálatoftir, the pain suddenly got worse. I’m not sure what happened exactly, but it got so bad that I almost couldn’t walk.
Since we were three hours away from civilization and it would be dark before we could make it back with my now slow-paced walking, we saw no other option than to call for rescue. We got in contact with the Faroese PSAP, who sent a rescue boat out to get us. We had to wait a couple of hours for it to get to us, so when it did, it was already dark. I was so grateful that we didn’t have to walk back in the dark, and although I felt stupid for calling with such a minor injury, I’m sure it was for the best.
The trip with the rescue boat was an experience in itself. We sailed around Borðoy, Kunoy and Kalsoy, until we got to Klaksvík about an hour later. The rescue guys were really nice and talkative, and they even told us some of the local myths and legends as we sailed past the islands.
When we got to Klaksvík, an ambulance was waiting to take me to the hospital, where I had my knee checked. A little fluid in the knee was all I had, and it actually went away a few days later.
So for calling the rescue boat for the smallest injury ever, I felt slightly embarrased, but at least we got home safely, and we’re now one experience richer.
Little is known about Skálatoftir and its people’s fate. Skálatoftir is an old village that was first mentioned in a source in 1584. It’s the northernmost village on Borðoy, an island that is home to Klaksvík, the second largest town in the Faroe Islands, but then not much more, apart from Mulí, another abandoned village on the other side of the mountains from Skálatoftir.
According to online sources, the last people moved from Skálatoftir in 1914, but prior to that, the village had already been depopulated several times. A local man told us that one of these incidents was in the 1820’s, when 12 children and teenagers died in a capsizing accident.
I asked around a lot in the local area for information about Skálatoftir, but only a few people seemed to know something about its story, but still, I couldn’t put the pieces together. Another local man told me that the people of Skálatoftir suffered the same fate as the people of Skarð, where most of the village’s men capsized on December 23rd 1913, which led to the village being completely depopulated by January 26th 1919. But in the case of Skálatoftir, that story doesn’t make any sense to me. The story about the capsizing accident in 1913 is usually only connected to Skarð; I’ve never heard Skálatoftir mentioned in this context before.
But it’s a fact that Skálatoftir was completely depopulated in 1914, the year after the capsizing accident in Skarð, but five years before Skarð was completely depopulated. So the way that these two villages were abandoned may very possibly have a connection, but I’m curious about exactly why Skálatoftir was abandoned, unless they also lost all of their men on the same night as the capsizing accident in Skarð? Personally, what I think happened to Skálatoftir was a gradual depopulation, which probably had its beginning after the accident in Skarð, since the people of Skálatoftir now saw that, across the fjord, the people of Skarð began to leave, and then got the same idea themselves.
Skálatoftir is very secluded and it takes at least three hours to walk to the nearest village, which is also small, so living there was definitely not easy. Eventually, the modern times caught up with the village, and the village was abandoned because of the lack of interaction with the outside world; a world that the villagers knew existed, but were never a part of.
So how come the story of this village has been forgotten by so many? There must be more to the story and I want to find out all of it. Next time I’m in Norðoyggjar, that will be my mission.