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Trip 36 — Eysturoy Walk

Day 5: Norðragøta to Runavík and around the south
Friday, 23 June 2023

Today: 37142 steps/28.87 km/17.94 mi/5h 26m
Total: 149716 steps/113.93 km/70.79 mi/22h 47m

Today's walk was in two parts: the stretch along the main road from Norðragøta to the Hotel Runavík, where I would spend the night, and the loop around Eysturoy's southernmost point. It was an easy day, during which I largely pondered tomorrow's journey, part of which may not be so easy.

I passed the horses that graze opposite the football field in Gøta and walked up toward the highway, and almost instantly I was in the fog again. The Brimborg restaurant was a black box suspended in white. The highway curled upward to the heavens, vehicles dropping themselves out of the clouds. I soon found a minor road that skirted the traffic for a while.

The minor road took me to my highest altitude of the day, and then it began to bring me down again, soon returning me to the main highway. I was on the upper road heading south along a fjord, Skálafjørður. On the opposite side of the fjord was the town of Skála.

The opposite side of the fjord was of great interest to me, because it's where I'm headed tomorrow. From Runavík I'll take the lower road north, all the way up the fjord and down the peninsula on the other side, past Skála, and then round that peninsula at its southern end and come up the western side to reach Oyrarbakki.

All of that sounds straightforward, if long. But there is a stretch on that western side that lacks an obvious connector. There is no road between Selatrað and Oyri, a distance of about six kilometers. The receptionist in Gjógv had said it was easy to find a way up the short mountain and across. On the bus ride to Oyrarbakki I'd examined the section from the other side and not found an obvious route, but I'd had just a few minutes to look.

Now was my chance to try to assess the situation as I walked along the fjord to Runavík. The slope didn't look bad, but the top was shrouded in fog. It seemed manageable but there was no guarantee that the clouds weren't concealing a top-hat-shaped cliff.

I continued downhill toward Runavík. This was the least pleasant section of road I'd walked on Eysturoy. In Runavík the traffic emerged from the undersea tunnel system that connected to Tórshavn on Streymoy, and back in Norðragøta it reentered the tunnel system to head for Leirvík and Klaksvík. Of course the traffic went in the other direction, too. Trucks came by every couple of minutes, and cars filled in the gaps. There was usually a reasonably wide shoulder to walk on, but it was absent for brief sections.

At least it was only a two-hour walk from Norðragøta to Runavík. I stopped for lunch at Cafe Cibo, where I had a spicy house burger (lots of red sauce, somewhat strangely but pleasantly on a kind of ciabatta roll) and a pineapple-mango smoothie. A place next to a fjord should have had a good view, but the water was taken up by a stack of shipping containers and they were doing road work immediately outside the entrance.

Runavík is the largest town on Eysturoy. It has one of the island's two hotels, a few restaurants, a couple of supermarkets (including an Asian one), clothing stores, florists, a bookstore, even a musical-instrument shop — and the Visit Runavík tourist office. Maybe they would know something about walking from Selatrað to Oyri.

I arrived 90 seconds before 2 p.m., which is when they were closing early for a staff excursion. But the friendly person stayed for a few minutes to give her opinion. She had never done the walk, but she didn't think the slope was very steep, and it shouldn't be too hard to find a way up from Selatrað and across to Oyri.

She also indicated a connecting path to complete the loop I had planned for this afternoon, between the village of Æðuvík and the windmill farm at Nes. It would not be necessary to omit one or retrace my steps to see them both.

I checked in to the Hotel Runavík and was given a room with a lovely view across the fjord. The clouds seemed to be lifting. Was that the top of the mountain? Not quite.

I headed south for the second part of the walk. The ring road toward Æðuvík brought me along Lake Toftir, or Toftavatn. There was a lone farmhouse, seemingly abandoned, the usual sheep, and a symphony of seabirds. The trucks didn't ply this section. It was lovely.

I'd expected Æðuvík to have only the campsite, but it was a proper village with about 25 houses. A map at the village's entrance indicated where one could find the path to Nes. But when I reached that point, it was the back of someone's house, next to their car. There was a gate and a path led upward, but I'd be starting from their doorstep. A wire fence would block my progress after a few steps. Was it really appropriate for me to be there?

The windmills were up a hill, not far away. I walked to another house, the one closest to them. Two small dogs in the house objected until I had marched out of view. Another gate seemed promising, but again, it looked as though a fence would prevent my passage.

Someone had been working in a field a shouting distance away. He noticed me. I gestured toward the windmills.

"Can I get over there?" I asked.

He nodded.

"Do you know where the path is?"

"Just go over the fence."

"Really? I can walk there?"

"You can walk anywhere."

"OK, if you say so. Thank you."

I found a place where it was easiest to climb over the fence. This was squishy, grassy ground, but it wasn't muddy. It wasn't very steep, but sometimes I grabbed onto clumps of grass to pull myself up.

One bird seemed to be unhappy with me, so I went in another direction. It didn't take long to reach the level of the windmills. I walked around a small lake (Nesvatn), where one person was fishing, until I reached the Nes road.

There were five windmills, the new, giant, modern kind, one group of two and one group of three. I walked to the group of three and looked out. The fog had returned and I could barely see the other peninsulas and other islands. I'd lost track of where I was going tomorrow. But through it all I could just make out the buildings of Tórshavn. This was the southernmost point of Eysturoy.

I headed back toward Runavík. I thought about what the farmer had said. "You can walk anywhere." This conflicted with what Kristina from Visit Eysturoy had said in her e-mail a few months ago. When I'd asked about going from Selatrað to Oyri, she had answered: "As far as I can see, it is only marked as a village path on the oldest map, from 1900. But according to the website description, it is doable, and when it is described on this official website, it ought to be permissable as well. But....It is a very craggy, rocky area, and quite different from other areas in Eysturoy. It is not an official path, and to be honest, you would probably have to ask permission or have a shepherd or a local guide with you. On the other hand, you might want to try the paths from Selatrað to Skála and then from Skálafjørður to Oyri, which are more regular village paths."

I definitely didn't want to tread where I wasn't supposed to. But here this man had said there was no problem crossing patches of land. Of course, the fact that it was allowed in Æðuvík didn't mean it was permissible everywhere. But the receptionist in Gjógv had corroborated the notion that such walking was all right. So had the person I'd spoken to at Visit Runavík.

Whom to believe? Kristina had even contradicted herself. Was it an official path or wasn't it? I appreciated her thoughtful answer and respected all that she had said, but she seemed to be the only person discouraging my attempt.

Maybe the sensible thing to do — though perhaps it was also the most foolishly optimistic — was to discount the most outlying advice and trust the rest, much as a teacher might throw out the lowest test score when calculating a cumulative grade. Don't weigh the outliers too heavily. My mother taught statistics. She would approve.

I also thought about contingency plans. In the best-case scenario, I'd reach Selatrað, find someone, and ask the way to Oyri, and they'd point me in the right direction or say, "Why, I was just about to head there myself! Follow me!"

But the more likely scenario would be that I'd be picking my way up through the grass, much as I had done from Æðuvík to the windmills. I was glad to have had that experience; it wasn't too hard. And people seemed to think the Selatrað slope wasn't too steep. I just had to take it slowly and give it time.

If a direct route eluded me, I could go from Selatrað to Skála and then on to Oyri, as Kristina had suggested. And if those proved to be too difficult, I could go back around and find the cross-island path from Funningsfjørður to Norðskála. As an absolute last resort, I could walk the road all the way around from Selatrað to Oyrarbakki — but that would be 59 kilometers instead of eight! No, I was sure it wouldn't come to that.

I started getting advice from those who would be sure not to dissuade me: the sheep. "I can do it, can't I?" I asked of a white lamb next to the road down toward Nes village. "I'm sure I can make it. I know I can."

The lamb regarded me with a tilted head, as a good friend or therapist might do to indicate complete attention, compassion, and support. I was convinced it was agreeing.

"If you think I won't make it, say 'No,'" I said to another sheep. The sheep was silent.

The Hotel Runavík seemed to be the best place in town for dinner. After some lobster bisque and baked salmon, I went back up to my room. The top of the mountain across Skálafjørður is still hidden. But I'm sure tomorrow will be a smooth journey. The sheep told me so.

Go on to day 6