One crisp October day on a near vertical mountain side, two men with a rope and a large black sheep are struggling to reach the top. That is, the men are struggling to get the angry sheep, a fully grown ram, up while the animal is fighting to go back where it came from; the grassy fields far below. Somewhere further down the rope, photographer Jette Jørs is clinging on for dear life with one hand, while clicking away on her camera with the other. And high above it all I look down, my back slap up against the side of the mountain while my stomach churns with equal parts vertigo and wonder at the scene unfolding. Abseiling on a mountain with a horned animal in tow will probably never become a universally recognized pastime, even among lovers of extreme sports, but this is, incredibly, a fairly normal Saturday on the Faroe Islands.Two days earlier, I arrive on the Faroe Islands, land of beautiful fiords and perennial green mountains, located squarely between Norway and Iceland in the North Atlantic. Føroya in the local tongue, Sheep Islands, consists of a cluster of 18 islands made up of rocky cliffs and rolling hills, which have been under the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Denmark since 1814. It is a country of ever-unpredictable weather conditions, cool summers and long winters, and is often encased in an almost mystical fog that has inspired Nordic folk tales of strange supernatural creatures living here.
I have made the two-hour flight from Copenhagen to witness a several-hundred-year-old tradition that is still today very much part of the Faroese identity: the herding of the last sheep before the winter sets in. It is impossible to talk about the Faroe Islands without mentioning the Faroese people’s unique relationship with their sheep – and even more impossible to visit the island country without encountering countless of the woolly things yourself, if only in every backyard, clothes shop, and on every restaurant menu. They do after all outnumber the human Faroese population almost 2-1.