Lake Sørvágsvatn, known as the “Lake Above the Ocean” and the “Hanging Lake”, presents an optical illusion in the Faroe Islands. This lake sits at the edge of a cliff that is 98-feet (30 meters) above the sea. Lake Sørvágsvatn appears to be suspended over the sea, like a natural infinity pool, and looking at it from different angles offers different illusions and stunning views of the Faroe Islands.
Where Is Lake Sørvágsvatn?
The Faroe Island archipelago comprises 18 major islands 425 miles (684.70 km) slightly northeast of Bergen, Norway, and 295 miles (475.06 km) southeast of Hofn, Iceland. Lake Sørvágsvatn is on Vágar Island. The Faroe Islands contain a total of 779 islands, islets, and skerries. The Faroe Islands are self-governing and part of the kingdom of Denmark.
Lake Sørvágsvatn is the largest lake on Vágar Island and in the Faroe Islands. It is the third largest Faroe Island and covers 1.31 square miles (3.4 square km) with an average depth of 90 feet (27.5 meters) and a maximum depth of 194-feet (193 meters). The Bøsdalafossur Waterfall flows from Lake Sørvágsvatn on the southern coast of Vágar Island into the sea.
The Bøsdalafossur Waterfall is Lake Sørvágsvatn’s outflow. Steep cliffs, tall mountains, and fjords (a long, deep, narrow body of water) characterize the Faroe Islands. Six villages thrive on Vágar Island. The largest villages there are Miðvágur and Sørvágur with populations around 1,000 inhabitants each.
How Do You Pronounce Sørvágsvatn?
Faroese is the national and official language of the Faroe Islands and only spoken by approximately 75,000 to 80,000 people in the Faroe Islands, small numbers of people in Denmark, and Iceland. The Faroese language roots derive from Norse Vikings who settled in the Faroe Islands circa the mid-800s. At the time of settlement, Norse people spoke Faroese in Scandinavia and the British Isles.
Sørvágsvatn is pronounced with these syllables in phonetics in English: si-RI-vags-wa.
What Is Special About Lake Sørvágsvatn?
The name Faroe Islands, or the Norse word “føroyar”, translates in English to “Sheep Islands”. The sheep and bird populations outnumber the human population on the Faroe Islands. Its capitol city on Streymoy Island (next to Vágar Island), Tórshavn (Faroese pronunciation: (th-our-ʂhaun), is the namesake of the ancient Norse God of thunder, Thor, who wielded a hammer.
Besides the optical illusion aspects of Lake Sørvágsvatn on Vágar Island, the Faroe Island archipelago offers stunning views of jagged, sharply spiked cliffs and mountains created by volcanic lava. The volcanic formations of the Faroe Islands look like windswept mountains and crashing waves with jagged coastlines offering jaw-dropping views.
Lake Sørvágsvatn lies under a dramatic slope or headland at the ocean’s edge, called a homoclinal ridge in geography, that drops to the ocean below. These slopes have a steep cliff on one side and a gentle slope dropping down to the lake on the other side. Lake Sørvágsvatn’s headland slope rises from 827-feet (252 meters) on one side and 1233-feet (376 meters) on the other side. Grassy slopes and rocky volcanic formations surround Lake Sørvágsvatn.
What to Expect at Lake Sørvágsvatn
Besides the Bøsdalafossur Waterfall, the most famous waterfall on Vágar is the Múlafossur Waterfall, which is only 7.52 miles (12.10 km) from the northern end of Lake Sørvágsvatn. The chief attraction of the Faroe Islands is their natural environment. Visitors enjoy camping, scenic drives, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, surfing, and sailing and kayaking.
The hike along Lake Sørvágsvatn to the Trælanípa, a perpendicular cliff and Bøsdalafossur Waterfall is one of the most popular hikes on the islands. It is considered an easy hike that takes about 45-minutes to 1.5-hours. The Faroe Islands are wet much of the time. The average summer temperature is 50°F, weather conditions can change quickly, and the rocky terrain can become slippery. Wear non-slip hiking boots and layer clothing with a rain jacket.
The Faroe Island nation supports a program called “heimablídni,” which translates to “hospitality” in English. All over the Faroe Islands, tourists enjoy authentic and intimate dining experiences in local homes. These homes charge around $50 per person to sample Faroese food and authentic Faroese culture.
While there are no hotels on Vágar Island, is it easy to island hop around the Faroe Islands. Sub-sea tunnels connect the major islands. The Vágar Airport is the only airport on the islands and five minutes from Lake Sørvágsvatn. The capital city, Tórshavn, on Streymoy Island next to Vágar, offers hotels and restaurants and is 29 miles (42 km) from Lake Sørvágsvatn.
Alternatively, there are private homes that rent out rooms, vacation home rentals, B&Bs, youth hostels, and camping options. The Faroe Islands infrastructure comprises paved roads cutting through mountains plus the sub-sea tunnels. Traveling to all the country’s finest attractions is easy and simple.
Legends and History of the Faroe Islands
Although historians report that Norsemen settled the islands in the 9th century (the 800s), Irish monks first settled on the Faroe Islands in the 6th century (the 500s). The monks told a story of the “Islands of the Sheep and the Paradise of Birds”. There are over 34 bird species in the Faroe Islands, and the oystercatcher is their national bird, and Mykines Island is extremely popular for watching puffins, gannets, and kittiwakes with the naked eye; getting close to other birds requires binoculars or a telescope.
The Vikings arrived in the 800s and gave the islands their name. The Norse established their parliament at Tinganes in Tórshavn and claims to hold the oldest parliament in the world. Until the 1800s, the Faroe Islands remained isolated, but self-sustaining. Then the industrial fisheries materialized and forced the Faroe Islands into the international commercial fishing economy. Whaling is still practiced in the Faroe Islands.
Four well-known legends, plus others, have fed the Faroese people’s imaginations for generations are, the Seal Woman, the Nix, the Snæbjørn, and the Giant and the Witch. Of these, the Seal Woman is the most romantic but also eerie. People can see grey seals populating the Faroe Islands year-round, and of course, the seals found their way into the Faroe mythology.
The Seal Woman
The Seal Woman legend goes something like this: Seals were once humans who had drowned themselves in the sea due to futile sadness. On the twelfth night of Christmas, the seals come ashore, shed their seal skins, take on their former human bodies, and play, sing, and dance until the sun rises when they have to return to the sea.
A seal cave south of a young farmer’s village, Mikladalur, was where the seals came to party for their one night as humans. One year on the twelfth night of Christmas, the farmer went to the cave and hid behind a rock. A young female seal approached close to the farmer’s rock, shed her sealskin, and turned into the most beautiful woman the farmer had ever laid his eyes on.
He stole her sealskin, and when the sun rose, she could not find it and could not join the seals returning to the sea. The farmer took her home, locked her seal skin in a chest, kept the key from her, and married her. They had children, but the seal woman longed for her family and every day, she hung out at the beach, where a male seal would visit her each time.
One time, the farmer was fishing with other men, and he realized he forgot the key to his sealskin chest. He shouted to men to row home as fast as they could because he could lose his wife. When he arrived home, his children were alone. His wife had put all the knives on a high shelf so the children could not harm themselves, and the chest was empty. The seal woman had returned to her seal mate in the sea.
The farmers of Mikladalur planned a seal hunt. The seal woman came to the farmer in his dreams the night before the hunt. She begged him not to kill her seal mate and her two cubs in the seal cave. With mighty and manic rage from losing his wife, the farmer went to the cave and slaughtered his wife’s seal family. But the story does not end here. At the end of the hunt, the villagers celebrated with a feast over the successful seal hunt.
The door of the feast suddenly busted open and the seal woman rushed through in the form of a banshee, saw only the head and flippers of her mate and children, and told them she would drown so many people around the island that they would be able to hold hands and form a ring around the island of Kalsoy. To this day, hundreds of boats have wrecked, and hundreds of people have fallen from the cliffs, or drowned at sea off Kalsoy Island’s coast.