Population: 1443 Area: 122 km2
Villages: Skopun, Sandur, Skálavík, Húsavík, Dalur, Skúvoy. Besides there is Dímun with one farmstead.
Soft Islands with a Sharp Edge “It might look as if God had just returned from a women’s party when he formed the island,” the poet Heðin Brú wrote of his island of birth, Sandoy, and called it “the virgin of Faroe.” It is the absence of black mountain tops, the many small lakes, and the soft rolling hills which have called forth this womanly imagery in the author’s mind.
Sandoy is the largest of the three islands, Sandoy, Skúvoy and Dímun. The population hovers around 1.500, spread over five villages. The people mainly make their living out of fishing and fish processing, but Sandoy is still perceived as the island of farming. The good sandy soil, well suited for growing potatoes, is found around the village of Sandur, which is the central settlement on Vágoy is rich in history, tales, legends and invites tourists on a historic round trip or at least a visit to Kálvalíð.
On the history trail it is possible to experience the varied natural scenery and the villages on Vágoy.
One should first go west to Gásadal. After that to the pretty and cosy village of Bøur with its turfed houses and old wooden church before moving on to Midvágur, passing Sørvágur on the way, then Leitisvatn, which is the biggest lake in the country. Make a stop at Gróthústangi with the walled up stone houses under whose turfed roofs in days gone by people stored peat for the winter.
Miðvágur has one of the oldest houses in the country at Kálvalíð. Here the ministers’ widows lived in olden times. The best known of them was Beinta, who was the model for Barbara, the main character of Jørgen Frantz Jacobsen’s novel.
The age old cottage at Kálvalíð is now a village museum and since 1968 owned by the Miðvágur Town Council. It was the first village museum to be opened in Faroe. In 1632 the property at Kálvalíð was added on to the vicarage, and later, in 1673, it served as the abode of clergymen’s widows, who moved from Jansagerði (the manse) and were given a livelihood.
Several stories are told about clergymen’s widows living at Kálvalíð. The best known are about Beinta who was a clergyman’s wife at Viðareiði before marrying the minister at Miðvágur.
At Sandavágur we may visit the church with its big runic stone, which proves that Sandavágur is one of the oldest settlements in the country.
A monument there commemorates the birth and childhood of W.U. Hammershaimb, father of the written Faroe language.
From Skorum the view of Trøllkonufmgur and the islands to the south is quite spectacular.
the island. But Heðin Brú is right — Sandoy is on the whole a soft, green and lush island. Except for the western side, which — like most of the west coast of Faroe — is a vertical basalt wall that only seabirds know how to inhabit.
The centre of the isle is the village of Sandur. When talking about traveling between the various villages in Faroe, one often uses words like “north to Skopun” or “south to Tórshavn”. On Sandoy one says “home to Sandur” — even if one doesn’t originate from there. It is a sure sign that the village is the eldest on the island and that the other villages have been founded by tenant farmers or “emigrants” from the central settlement.
10 years back archeologists discovered a number -of interesting graves near the church at Sandur. They date back to the Viking Age.
Within the past two years a major archeological dig has been undertaken. Preliminary results indicate extensive habitation at Sandur in the early Viking era, around 800 A.D. The excavations have been done at Junkarinsfløttur, near the village church.
The Icelandic Sagas say that Snæúlvur lived at Sandur — a Viking who had come here from the “Southern Isles”, i.e. either from the Hebridies, Orkney or Shetland.
Sandur has the biggest beach in Faroe which in summer is much used by the locals and visitors. This is the only place in Faroe with “marhalm”….? and consequently sand dunes, which the roots of this plant cause to be formed. The first weekend in July the beach and area around it are the natural stage of the island’s music festival, MjúS. From its start it earned the nickname “the prettiest festival” in Faroe. The MjúS Festival has offered national as well as international musical events, and it is a unique crucible of hospitality, magic nature, zest for life and musical experiences.
Sandur has a small, but most intriguing art museum. It is a gift from Sofus Olsen, who collected art throughout his long life and as one of his last gestures of generosity bequeathed the collection to his place of birth. The museum holds works by many of the most cherished and well known Faroe artists, amongst them Sámal Joensen Mikines.
In the middle of the old quarter of the village there is another museum, Sands Bygdarsavn, where one may see how people lived 150 years ago. The house itself is a restored dwelling, built in 1812. The museum has an interesting collection of work tools and relics from the days of old, which intensify the feeling of visiting a family who lived more than a century back.
Sandur is by Faroe standard a medium sized village with a school, community house (with the only eating place/bar in the island), shops and a fish processing plant. The village church is a beautiful wooden building, one of the top tourist attractions on Sandoy.
Skopun is the youngest village on the island, founded in 1833. From the days of old Skopun has been a place where boats were kept. It was a “traffic junction” connecting Sandoy with the “mainland”, and from Skopun the men rowed to Tórshavn for the doctor or to meet with senior sivil servants. The first settlers at Skopun tended these duties besides being enterprising fishermen. With time more and more fishermen’s families moved to the village. The crofters’ enclosures around the village belonged the King’s farmers at Sandur, so the settlers at Skopun for their sustenance had to rely mainly on the expertise of their fishermen out at sea. The village is still a fishing community with many of the menfolk either engaged in fishing or crewing international freighters, many as officers.
Today a modern car ferry runs across the fiord to the “mainland” (Streymoy) many times a day. When visiting Skopun one ought to inspect the big blue thing visible from the ferry, namely rhe world’s biggest mailbox according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
The church at Skopun holds a very special place in Faroe cultural history. It was here that the first sermon was preached in Faroese since the Reformation. It happened just over a century ago, when the romantic national revival was a young popular movement and when the church language was still Danish. The church at Skopun was consecrated in 1897.
The area north of Skopun is well suited for country walks. A popular hike starts from the northern tip of the island and continues south along the edge of the impressively high bird cliffs to Søltuvík, a cosy little cove where one may see seals curiously watching the guests ashore. Skopun is a real sailors’ village. Many of the ladies work at the modern fish processing plant, Sandoy Seafood.
On the east coast of Sandoy there are three villages, Skálavík, Húsavík and Dalur.
Skálavík is an old farming village, and it is easy to see that agriculture has been important. Most houses are built on a ridge surrounding the old village and sloping down to the middle of the valley, where the old fields are. It is said that when in the late 19th century the village needed a school, it was built on the edge of the tilled land as the villagers didn’t want to waste productive soil on the project!
At Skálavík one of our great authors, Heðin Brú (1901—1987), also known outside the islands, was born and grew up. Many of his novels and short stories centre on the little community of Skálavík. In particular his descriptions of the child’s world view as seen from this little village have made him dear to many hearts. A little statue of the author has been erected at his childhood home.
The church at Skálavík is a white stone building decorated inside with remarkable and beautifully crafted woodwork by a local amateur artist, Tróndur á Trøð.
Skálavík has a promontory to the east called Skálhøvdi, which offers a splendid walk. The hike north from the village over the low grassy mountains is also well worth the experience.
Faroe families with children have long since discovered that this village is a gem. There is a sandy beach, ancient houses, in short a peaceful and play friendly environment.
The ruins in the middle of the village date from the 14th century when a stately lady by the name of Guðrun Sjúrðardóttir owned Húsavík. She hailed from a wealthy Norwegian family that owned property in Norway, Shetland and Faroe. She erected a fine farmstead here in Húsavík and was called the Lady of the House at Húsavík. Her farmyard, barn and gates are still extant and good condition. There is a little school house in the village. It only has one class room and is now restored and typifies the Faroe village school house of more than a century ago.
The oldest known artistic painter in the Faroes was Díðrikur á Skarvanesi (1801—1865). His remarkable paintings of birds are on display at the Art Museum at Tórshavn.
This island is the heart of the Saga of the Faroese — the history of the Viking Age in Faroe. Sigmundur Brestisson’s gravestone still stands on Skúvoy. He was the chieftain of the island and has gone into history as the man who christened the Faroes. He brought the new faith from Norway. His first attempt at converting the Faroese from their belief in the old Norse gods to believing in White Christ failed. But when he had defeated Tróndur í Gøtu, the powerful magnate on Eysturoy, and had him forcibly baptised, he was more successful at introducing the new faith.
The episode at Gøta led to Sigmundur’s tragic though heroic death. Tróndur wanted revenge and attacked Skúvoy at night with three Viking ships. Even if everybody on Skúvoy was asleep, including Sigmundur’s wife Tóra, they woke up in time to resist Tróndur with arms. Sigmundur eventually had to flee his burning farm with two kinsmen. But Skúvoy is not big and soon they faced the choice of jumping into the night-darkened sea or dying at Tróndur’s hands. Sigmundur chose the sea and managed to swim to Suðuroy, though loosing both his cousin and retainer on the way. He was found in the morning on the beach at Sandvík by Tórgrímur (the Evil) and his two sons. As forewarned by the Norwegian king the massive gold ring around Sigmundur’s arm was the cause of his death. Tórgrímur with the help of his sons beheaded the exhausted Sigmundur on the beach and took his ring. But Christianity remained the religion of the Faroese, also after Sigmundur’s death, as the old saga narrates.
Today one may go to Skúvoy to see the headstone and a statue depicting Sigmundur as a boy. But Skúvoy is also known for its present can be seen in the middle of the village near the church. It is made of wood and is considered one of the prettiest and biggest of this type. This little village has about a hundred inhabitants.
You drive on a narrow road blasted into the steep mountain side to the southernmost village on Sandoy, Dalur. It is well known for having fostered many good “kvøðarar”, expert actors/artists at the traditional ancient long ballads chanted with the Faroe chain dance. Do these people know their scores, thousands of stanzas by heart! The villagers have preserved this cultural heritage and are often invited to lead in the traditional wedding dance and ballad with religious content.
Dalur has less than a hundred inhabitants and is located, as the name implies, in a charming and cosy little valley.
The village of Skarvanes died out about a decade ago and is now the charming stage of a conference centre. Most houses are kept in day inhabitants. They are among the foremost experts at the high- risk traditional venture of collecting birds’ eggs and culling the guillemots nesting in the precipitous bird cliffs. These trapeze artists are tied in a rope and lowered by their fellow fowlers sitting at the cliff’s edge hundreds of feet down on to the ledges below to collect eggs and birds to sustain the population with food in winter. On Skúvoy they have maintained this traditional balancing skill and courage from the age old Faroe way of eking out a living to survive.
On a grassy plain over 100 metres over sea level you will find the world’s loneliest farmstead. The 400 metre high isle of Dímun is inhabited by one family who run the family farm. A couple of times a week a helicopter connects the family with the outside world. In former times the people of Dímun depended upon the whims of the sea. It meant that they often had to wait for weeks or even months for the surf to settle and permit the use of a rowing boat. Nowadays one sails to Dímun just for the sake of enjoyment and only in dry and calm weather. These trips start at Sandur. Dímun is in many ways a fantastic and remarkable place and it too plays its part in the Saga of the Faroese. On this inaccessible — or easily defended island, as they would have thought then – Sigmundur’s father and uncle were killed by Tróndur í Gøtu. Dímun was taken over by Havgrímur and his son Øssur, who was later killed by Sigmundur.