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There are hundreds of islands along Scotland's west coast,
each one its own little world, connected to the neighbours
by a great highway -
the Atlantic Ocean.
I'm travelling up the west coast, far into the North Atlantic,
further than we've ever been before,
beyond our shores to foreign islands
in search of a way of life we've all but lost.
My objective - the Faroe Islands, where for over 1,000 years
the descendants of Viking settlers
have struggled to survive and thrive.
I'll explore the forgotten bond between Britain and the Faroes,
island people united by war and love.
Adrift in the vast Atlantic,
the Faroe Islands.
It takes at least 12 hours to get here by boat,
so I've taken the express route to the Faroes - by plane.
What a way to catch my first glimpse of these mystical islands.
Oh, yeah, look at that! That is Lord Of The Rings.
The Faroes are 18 separate islands with nearly 700 miles of coastline,
home to fewer than 50,000 people
who are never more than three miles from the sea.
The landscape's staggeringly beautiful -
sheer cliffs, rugged mountains and stunning sea stacks.
It's not surprising, then,
that landing on these islands is pretty hair-raising.
The gateway to the Faroe Islands is this tiny strip of tarmac
and an airport many believe could never be built
in such wild terrain.
We're definitely in the Faroe Islands. I know that
because I can't understand the name of the airport building.
We may be a long way from home,
but we've more connections with these islands than you'd think.
This airport was built by the British Army.
In 1940, the Germans invaded Denmark and Norway.
Britain feared the Germans were aiming to occupy the Faroes
to use as a key U-boat base, so decided to get in there first.
On April 11th, 1940,
Winston Churchill announced that the Danish territory of Faroe
was under British control.
He said, "We shall shield the Faroe Islands from all severities of war
"and establish ourselves there conveniently by sea and air
"until the moment comes when they will be handed back to Denmark,
"liberated from the foul thralldom into which they've been plunged
"by German aggression."
An airport was essential for the British military,
but building one in this mountainous terrain seemed impossible.
After several failed surveys, British Army engineers found a spot
flat enough for a runway - just.
The airport is as much a lifeline now as in the Second World War,
but that's not all the soldiers left behind.
When the British troops arrived on Vagar,
they found just a handful of vehicles and almost no roads.
By the time they left, they'd built an entire road network
and they left behind 300 vehicles like this one for the locals.
That must have been just about one each!
MARCHING BAND MUSIC
OK. In 1940, the Faroe Islands had 28,000 inhabitants
but very limited resources.
8,000 British servicemen arriving were bound to make an impact.
Over there, on the flat ground of the modern village,
that was the camp,
so Nissen huts, canteens, barracks, all the paraphernalia of camp life.
This is the site of a huge gun emplacement.
These are the ammunition stores,
so you get a sense from the size of these just how big the guns were.
The men here were guarding something pretty important.
This inauspicious building, barely touched for 60 years,
could hold a clue as to what that importance was.
It's a garage now,
the usual petrol and diesel fumes and tools and things.
Up there, a couple of empty offices. Don't know what they're for,
but locals hereabouts will tell you this was a sector headquarters
for the Battle of the North Atlantic.
Look - there's Norway, there's Iceland
and there's the vast black emptiness of the North Atlantic.
Although operations in the Atlantic were monitored from the Faroes,
the troops stationed here didn't see much direct action.
But the story of the British occupation isn't about buildings.
There's something less tangible but much stronger.
There was a meeting of minds,
island people encountering and understanding other islanders,
and some very special relationships blossomed.
'At the site of the old officers' mess,
'I'm meeting local historian Mina Reinhardt
'with Ragnhild Tomasson, who was only 19 when the troops arrived.'
What was it like to suddenly have hundreds or thousands
of British troops here, British men here?
What did it do to the atmosphere of the island?
SHE ANSWERS IN FAROESE
It's wonderful, she says!
What about special friendships with the troops?
Was there anyone who was special to you?
This is Ronnie, Ragnhild's fiance, he was at the time.
They were together for one year, and she got a baby by him.
But he left before the baby was born.
He went to France.
He was an ambulance driver and he was killed in the...D-day.
The British and Faroese cemented their relationship
in other ways too.
The Faroese fishing fleet played a vital role in feeding the British
during wartime shortages.
In fact, a fifth of all the fish we ate
was landed by the Faroese fishing fleet,
often at great risk.
In March 1942,
21 Faroese fishermen from Vagar were killed by a German U-boat,
leaving their children fatherless.
The children of the village, of course,
they looked upon the British soldiers
as kind of father figures.
How strange for these young British men that had gone away to war
to find themselves cast in the role of...
-Of fathers. Yeah.
-Of being fathers for these kids.
They were very good to them.
They always brought them chocolates and things and took care of them.
Many of the soldiers were from Scottish regiments,
probably with some sympathy for the rigours of island life.
Some whole-heartedly embraced the traditional struggle to survive,
and that included whaling.
Hunts like this, where boats herd whales into the shore,
only died out in the Scottish islands about 100 years ago.
On the Faroe Islands they still hunt whales today.
The community wants to preserve the tradition
of harvesting the bounty of their seas
despite the objections of the wider world.
Handling boats is a part of everyday life here,
but there's one day a year
when the Faroese really get to show their mettle -
the national holiday, St Olaf's Day, July 29th.
The rowing races are the highlight of the festival,
with pride and prizes at stake, and the whole town turns out to watch.
Well, if they can peer through the sea mist.
My name is Runa, and I'm captain for the girls' rowing team
for Torshavn Rowing Club.
We always eat together before the race.
If we lose or if we win, it's exciting no matter what.
If we win this race and the championship, we got four trophies.
Yeah, we're going out after the race to party.
It's a boat for six rowers and it's a traditional Faroese boat
and in the competition, it's the smallest.
You also have boats for eight or ten persons.
The champions are triumphant again.
They celebrate their win in a way that's familiar the world over,
youngsters who practise their English watching satellite TV.
The Faroes are remote, but not isolated.
But connections with the original Viking settlers are never far away.
The seafarers who arrived here in 800AD
struggled to make a home on these barren, unforgiving rocks.
Clinging to the coast for food and transport,
slowly, settlements were established.
Something is striking about many of the houses here today.
Camouflaged under a layer of turf,
these dwellings reveal their age-old origins.
And this house has been lived in by the same family for 17 generations.
Parts of it date back to the end of the Viking era.
Joannes Patursson is the current resident.
The thing I notice right away about the outside
is the grass roof.
Grass on top of the roofs, yeah, grass on top of the houses,
which is a very common way of building houses in the Faroes.
You have an abundance of grass all around
and when you then put the grass on top,
you have also a very quiet house, fairly well-insulated house,
and also, the weight of the grass, you might say, holds the roof on top
during winter storms.
-Take a look in the kitchen.
-Yeah, come inside.
'They may have had an abundance of grass,
'but with no trees on the island, wood was in short supply.
'The ancient timber in this house
'had to come hundreds of miles across the sea from Norway.'
The house itself arrived here in late year 1000, probably,
and came as a prefabricated house from Norway.
Really? So they were doing flat-pack housing...?
They built it on location.
They only had, probably, the sails to transport,
so it was important that they didn't transport more than necessary,
but everything necessary in order to have a finished house
once they arrived.
Up through this door here takes us about 900 years back in time.
No! No way!
So this has been standing for 1,000 years?
Close to it, yeah.
How does it feel knowing that your family have been living here
generation after generation since 1557?
-I don't often...
-I mean, talk about a family home!
Yeah, definitely, it's the family home,
and most of their lives have been lived in this room.
I've always lived here,
so it's not something you go around thinking about all the time,
but it is, of course, it is special for us.
It's a privilege. We feel it's a privilege.
The privilege of being an island people.
And for over 1,000 years, the Faroese have toiled hard
just to cling onto this precarious land.
The daily chore of getting enough to eat,
the isolation yet kinship of a tiny group of islands
so far from the rest of the world.
This really is life on the edge.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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