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Great Drives: Bentley Bentayga on the Faroe Islands, which quit the EU in 1973

bentley bentayga - faroe islands
Is there life after Brexit? A tour of the Faroe Islands - which are physically closer to Scotland than mainland Europe - shows that going it alone need not be a catastrophe Credit: Mark Fagelson

On the date that Boris Johnson intended the UK to depart the EU, we visited the islands that are part of the Kingdom of Denmark but left the European trading bloc in the early Seventies.

The United Kingdom isn’t the first country to opt out of the European Union. Forty-six years ago, the residents of a wind-battered archipelago 200 miles north of Scotland became the first people to say goodbye to their continental cousins.

The Faroe Islands are a self-governing state in the Kingdom of Denmark with a proud independent streak. Stoic islanders wear thick woolly jumpers and rely heavily on the land and the sea. The prospect of foreign fishing boats plundering rich waters around their coast was simply too much to bear.

There was an almighty fuss at the time but the Faroese are living proof that even a small island can go it alone and survive. As Britain approaches the Brexit deadline, perhaps we could learn a thing or two from them about taking back control?

I recognise some of the creatures moving on my plate, but not all of them. Dinner at remote Koks restaurant starts with an educational tour of the sea, presented live at the table before a Michelin-star chef transforms it into edible fare.

Scallops, langoustine, mahogany clam and blue mussel were all brought ashore that morning by local fishermen. Hauled up the side of a mountain in a four-wheel drive, they will be part of a 17-course tasting menu that can include skerpikjot (wind-dried mutton), raw sea urchins or freeze-dried cod bladders.

Hope you like seafood... the fare at Koks, which became the Faroe Islands’ first Michelin-starred restaurant three years ago Credit: Mark Fagelson

British epicureans have been making the journey to this restaurant on the edge of the world since Koks became the Faroe Islands’ first Michelin-starred restaurant three years ago.

Closer to Scotland than mainland Europe, it’s easy to understand why most people have no idea where to find the Faroes in an atlas. Sometimes the archipelago is missing off maps altogether, much to the annoyance of the Faroese. At least they can complain to the Prime Minister – his telephone number is in the phone book.

There are no elves or Hobbits here but JRR Tolkien might have found inspiration for his mythical stories on this North Atlantic outpost. This is real-life Middle Earth – complete with grass-roofed houses, plunging waterfalls and vistas that turn a 90-minute drive across the islands into a day-long adventure.

The scenery is spectacular - it's a place where you can really lose yourself Credit: [email protected]

It’s the sort of moody location to stand on a windswept headland, look out to sea and selfie your own U2 album cover. With up to 300 days of rain a year and a “sweltering” July average temperature of just 13C, perhaps it’s no wonder Faroese folk rarely remove their woolly jumpers.

Tourists buy plenty of them in Torshavn, where I’m starting my circumnavigation in a four-wheel-drive Bentley Bentayga. This particular V8 model has been ferried in from Iceland and cost almost £200,000 with options.

Torshavn is one of the world’s smallest capital cities. Named after the Norse god Thor, it shelters a bustling fishing port and acts as a refuge for mad ‘yachties’ who make the 200-mile sail north from Scotland.

The old town behind the harbour is tiny – a couple of streets of stone and timber shacks that house trendy art galleries and coffee shops. On a (rare) sunny day, locals and travellers alike will soak up the rays and pay £6 for a coffee, or half a pint of beer. The cost of living is through the grass roof, although city buses are oddly free of charge.

The author at Koks restaurant which, like most of the islands' buildings, has a grass roof for insulation. The ever-present sheep keep them trimmed Credit: Mark Fagelson

From the window of Havgrim Seaside Hotel the magnificent views disappear to a distant, waterlogged horizon. A mermaid could appear on the rocks below and I wouldn’t even notice. The rooms are boutique in a Scandi, minimalist sense and the obvious question to put to the multi-national staff at breakfast is quite how they ended up here in the first place.

Stuck in the middle of the Gulf Stream on a continental shelf, key industries are fishing and agriculture. Officially part of Denmark, it’s best not to mention the Danes too much in conversation – the locals see themselves as a nation apart and clearly can’t understand why the British are so nervous about leaving Europe.

I had expected the upmarket Bentayga to be the first Bentley ever on the Faroes. But word of our visit has already spread fast among the 50,000 islanders. Within hours of my arrival word reaches me that the island’s newspaper owner once drove a 1950s model here.

Not surprisingly, fishing is a key industry. You're never more than three miles from the sea on the Faroes Credit: Rex Ziak/Getty Images

There are only three sets of traffic signals in the Faroes, all in Torshavn. With the lights in our favour, we are soon blazing a trail to Velbastaour and the hillside home of Anna and Oli Rubeksen. The couple keep 150 free-range sheep but also welcome tourists into their home to sample local cuisine and culture.

The views south across Hestur island over lunch are even more mind-blowing than my hotel. We eat lamb and fish that has been air-dried in hjallur sheds by 120mph winds, Oli and I discuss Brexit – “What is the fuss about?” - and then I discover now sheep are used to “mow” the roof. I could stay here for days but there are islands to explore.

Streymoy is the main one and the three key roads are the 10, 50 and 40. No point in the Faroes is more than three miles from the sea, so around every corner appears another vista of epic proportions. Head to Nororadalur for a switchback road that slides down the mountainside like a winding snake, or the tiny town of Kirkjubour, which has a cathedral built in the Middle Ages.

The ruins of St Magnus Cathedral at Kirkjubour, which is the old capital of the Faroe Islands. You're never far from a spectacular vista here Credit: Justin Leighton

Six of the 18 islands are connected by road, usually a long tunnel that exposes the bare rock above. The more remote islands of Mykines, Sandoy or Suouroy require a ferry – the former is of the best places to view puffins during the summer months, nestled on craggy sea cliffs.

Gjogv is the most northerly village on the island of Eysturoy, with less than 50 inhabitants living in turf-roof cottages. The scenery is otherworldly and there’s the obligatory teashop, where the owner shrugs his shoulders when I mention Europe. There is also an angry farmer who manages the area astride a quad bike and will impart a lesson in local vernacular. He should have been our Brexit negotiator.

Otherwise, the biggest danger on the well-kept roads here are sheep. They far outnumber humans and over the centuries have mastered the art of walking along a cliff edge in a gale-force wind. Their skills have now been put to good use for motorists via Sheep View 360.

You're never far from sheep either. They constitute the main hazard for Faroese drivers Credit: Bob Strong/Reuters

Frustrated that the islands were not served by Google Street View, islanders created their own version of the global mapping system, using cameras mounted on the back of sheep. The tech giant finally relented and the Faroes are now part of the Google network but perhaps it was never on their map at all.

Back in Torshavn, the islands’ only two fast food restaurants have opened for the night – it’s one of the few places in the world where you won’t find a McDonalds. The fairytale scenery is fading to darkness as I watch and wonder at such a marvellous, relaxed place.

It’s a long way to come for a lesson in opting-out but as the Faroese proverb says: “Betri er mogur forlikun, en feitur process” – better a lean settlement than a fat litigation.

Visitfaroeislands.com

THE FACTS

Bentley Bentayga V8

PRICE £136,200 (£193,585 with options)

ENGINE 3,996cc twin-turbo V8

POWER 542bhp

TOP SPEED 180mph

ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 4.4sec

FUEL ECONOMY 24.8mpg (EU Combined)

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