One of the most amazing place we visited whilst in the Faroe islands was the little community of Saksun. After a beautiful cycle along a fjord then up a glacial valley, we climbed a small rise to find the settlement perched above a tidal lagoon, with mountains and cascading waterfalls behind.
Saksun is home to Dúvugarðar. Described as “An old medium-sized King’s farm supporting a flock of some 300 breeding sheep.”, the buildings, some of which are up to 200 years old, now form an outdoor museum.
We went into the main farmhouse where we were shown round by the museum owner. He grew up in Saksun and farms the family farm. He lives in a more modern farm house close to the museum, rather this house where his Grandmother grew up. Amazingly 30 people used to live in this house, which would be considered small for an average sized family these days.
Phil found a snath and a hay rake hanging up in one corner
And a scythe blade tucked away in another (it was hard to photograph – hence the poor quality picture!). Written on the blade are the words “Mossiu stöbestaal”, and on the tang is stamped “Dana BB”.
A perfect opening for engaging the museum owner in a conversation about the use of the scythe in the Faroes!
The Faroese for scythe is “Liggið” and for snath is “orv”. The blade above, about 75cm, is considered to be a long blade for the islands. Shorter, narrower blades such as used elsewhere in Scandinavia were more common.
Originally all hay making was done by hand on the sloping land just up from the bottoms of the valleys. This land is faster draining and therefore dryer. Here is where crops such as barley were grown too. The evidence of past cultivation can be clearly seen, including the frequent ditches to aid with drainage on these wet islands. Sometimes these ditches are so close together that there can only have been room for two or three scythe swaths between them.
Machines gradually supplanted the scythe, but the owner remembers the scythe being used to cut the edges of the ditches that were inaccessible to the tractors as late as the 1980s.
300 breeding sheep are now kept on the farm, hefted to the mountains in a similar way to hill sheep in this country. Historically the farm also kept six cows, housed in the barn adjoining the main living space in the winter. Cow keeping would have meant the need to make hay was much greater then it is now. It is said that the small, hardy Faroese cow was housed for as short a time as possible to eke out the hay hard won from this challenging landscape.