Fossa, fossa everywhere

Day 2 (part 1): Fossá and Tórshavn

Read about Day 1 here.

My good photography buddy, Stephen Wallace, is a font of some amazing information. His knowledge of locations all over Ireland is impressive for one so young. He is my go to guy for advice on the finest of craft beers this island has to offer. And he also has (and I mean this in the best possible way) a somewhat geeky obsession with Irish place names. Not only can he pronounce Gaelic (which, to my shame, is more than I can do), but he understands enough of it to be able to tell you the root meaning of the names and where they have come from.

It's a gift - but it can also be a bit of a curse, if I'm really honest. Because you can go quickly from being wowed by the mystery and romanticism of the name in Irish ("What's the Irish name for the hill overlooking Slemish, Stephen?" "Collann Mhór, Alistair.") to being brought right back down to the ground with what the name actually means ("Wow, that sounds so cool. And what does that mean, Stephen?" "Ah, that would be Big Slope, Alistair...") It turns out that us Irish weren't always the most imaginative when it came to picking our place names...

Take Tulaigh Mhór, for instance. This is a place many in Northern Ireland will have visited. In Gaelic, it has the ring of Irish myths and legends about it. A place where the very Hound of Ulster himself perhaps stood, his Irish cloak swirling around him in some gusty Irish wind, while a thick Irish mist hung low and grey in the dull light of an Irish winter afternoon.

Today, we call it Tollymore. And its meaning? Nothing to do with my imaginative scene above, it would seem. In fact, it means "big little hill". Too small for a mountain, too big for a mound. It's a big little hill. Obviously.

But why all this talk of Irish place names in a blog about the Faroes? Because it seems like the Irish were not the only ones who were more than a little but literal when it came to naming their places.



Day 2 of our trip took us to two locations, both of which boasted that most ubiquitous of Faroese features: the waterfall. Everywhere we drove over the islands during our time there, we passed waterfall after waterfall, cascading down off those steep glaciated valleys, fed by the almost constant rain that falls over the mountain tops all around.

But we were starting with the most famous and the tallest waterfall in the Faroes: Fossá. It falls over 140m in two sections; the upper one is split in two and has a great notch carved out below it, and the lower one joins the upper two together, falling off the edge of the cliff before bubbling over the rocks in the river below into the fjord. It was truly amazing to see this. And the name - Fossá. What deep and profound meaning lay behind the Faroese's tallest waterfall, I wondered? What ancient Faroese myths and legends are tied up in such a name as this...? Ah, but Fossá, it turns out, simply means 'waterfall'. Being from Ireland, I guess that should have made me feel right at home!

This was my first visit to a proper waterfall anything close to this scale. So the first thing I wanted to do was to stand and take it all in. Although the flow of water was quite subdued by Faroese standards, still this was an epic sight. The basalt cliff made a natural amphitheatre around which the noise of the falling water reverberated. I don't know about you, but I find that kind of white noise very therapeutic. The scale of this place was amazing. But I found it incredibly tranquil, and I quickly settled into a relaxed and happy time there, shooting away.


It being my first visit to a 'real' waterfall, I was happy enough to embrace the cliche and to go for a selfie in front of the falls.

A word on the processing

You may notice that I have processed these photos a bit differently than I normally would. The main reason for that is that the light when we visited the waterfall was just okay. It was late afternoon and the sun was behind the falls, creating harsh shadows in the ampitheatre, and bright light above it. My normal processed shots were looking too much like snapshots and I was struggling to capture the mood of the place as I experienced it.

So I thought I'd try for a more moody fine art approach - converting to mono and really pushing the contrasts, allowing the blacks to be black, so that the ethereal waterfall would stand out more.

To get this effect, I used a plugin for Photoshop called Silver Efex Pro and chose a low key filter (that emphasises the blacks). I finished it off with Color Efex Pro, where I used a bit of Glamor Glow to get a touch of a dreamy effect. 

Clearly, these images are not photo-realistic. But sometimes it's more about capturing something of the mood and evoking a feeling that an experience left you with. In any case, I hope you like this little experiement!

Whilst the rest of us were shooting away at the lower falls, our brave and intrepid buddies, Stephen and Ryan, made for the slopes at the side to try to get up to the upper falls. After a short while, Stephen came back. "It was pretty scary," he admitted and had decided not to scale the slippery and wet mountain side. Ryan is made of madder stuff, though, and it came as no surprise to us to see his little face poke over the top of the cliff and look down at us.

As you probably know, I like having people in my landscapes. And one of the reasons is that it gives a sense of scale. What better to help others see just how tall this waterfall is than Ryan posing at the top?

But remember that white noise of all the cascading water? Try as we might, we simply could not get our voices to be heard over it, and there was Ryan, blissfully unaware of what we were asking him to do. So, occasionally, his head would poke over the top. But, by the time we'd get our cameras into position, he'd have moved again. Or when we went for slightly longer exposures to blur the water, he'd not stand still and end up being blurred himself in the shot!

In the end, I managed to get one shot where he stood still long enough. Okay, so it's not the most dramatic of poses, with only part of him visible behind a rock. But it seems to me to capture something more of the fun the rest of us had that afternoon trying to capture something of that scene.




Eventually, Ryan rejoined us, soaked through to the skin from his adventures in the upper falls, and, before we headed off for the second waterfall of the day, it was time for a good feed. The capital city of the Faroes, Torshavn, wasn't too far away from where we were, so that's where we headed in search of a pub, some beer and a hearty feed to see us through the night.

Tórshavn is a beautiful place. In keeping with the rest of the islands, has a gentle, unrushed vibe to it. With its quiet streets, quaint grass-roofed buildings and narrow meandering alleys and roads, it made for a wonderful place for a quick wander in search of our pub of choice, Sirkis. As I wandered round, I thought of the name: Tórshavn - does it mean something like 'sleepy town'? Not a bit - this time the Faroese went to town with the name. It translates as 'Thor's Harbour'. Impressive indeed; it almost sounds like it was named in anticipation of getting a starring role in the upcoming Avengers movie, as the assorted assembled avengers had their epic final act battle against that movie's Big Bad through the sleepy street, wooden buildings and grass roofed houses of the Faroese capital. In reality, this place is so chilled I could more easily see Thor, Iron Man et al relaxing over a pint of beer and some fine Faroese fine dining, getting to know the Big Bad and realising he's not quite so big nor so bad after all...

After us chilling out in the lovely little pub of Sirkis, enjoying the views over the most picturesque of harbours, we were fed and suitably watered for our next big adventure - the sublime waterfall at Gasadalur. Check back in to  my next blog for the story of the Faroes' most exquisite of waterfalls.