Far out in a radiant ocean glinting like quicksilver there lies a solitary little lead-coloured land. The tiny rocky shore is to the vast ocean just about the same as a grain of sand to the floor of a dance hall. But seen beneath a magnifying glass, this grain of sand is nevertheless a whole world with mountains and valleys, sounds and fjords and houses with small people. (from The Lost Musicians by William Heinesen)
If you set sail in a modern ship from Shetland and head towards Iceland across the North Atlantic, after about a day you will see some green mountains rising straight out of the sea, with small colourful villages dotted around the coast. These islands are thought to have been first settled by Irish monks, followed soon after by vikings from Norway more than a thousand years ago.
The Faroe Islands are a self-governing country of about 48,000 people and officially part of the Danish Kingdom. But because of their isolation in the middle of the ocean, they have retained much of their own culture, including their own language - Faroese, descended from Old Norse and closely related to Icelandic, and traditions such as ring dances and ballads, which have been passed down through generations, virtually unchanged since medieval times. Even the small wooden boats still resemble those made by their viking ancestors.
The sea still provides the majority of wealth and employment for the islands. The windswept land is not fertile enough for crops, however, apart from a few plots of potatoes. But from the earliest days of settlement, the grass-covered islands have been home to large numbers of sheep. These sheep have been a vital part of the history of the Faroe Islands, providing meat for sustenance and wool for warmth.