How do you cut a grass roof?

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Chilling out in front of the grass roofed Nordic Centre, Torshavn

Kirstie Profile Large How do you cut a grass roof?One of the distinguishing features of The Faroe Islands is the traditional turf roofs. You’ll find these environmentally friendly lids everywhere on the 18 inhabited islands. And you’d be a hard hearted tourist if you didn’t fall in love with them. But while we marvel at the beauty of this place and the quaintness of these bright green roofs, they raise some important questions. Like who cuts the grass…..   

Up on the roof in The Faroes

“Yes!!! Got it. Yes Yes Yes!”

You’d think my husband had just won the lottery rollover. But no, he’s simply taken a picture of a man mowing the lawn. And even that isn’t so surprising as he’s been hanging around the guy for half an hour while the kids and I check out the exhibitions and chill out over coffee in the Nordic Centre. I thought his two week puffin hunt was weird but this takes obsession to new levels.

“What did you do on your summer holiday?”

“I stalked men with sit-on mowers.”

Actually I lied about the sit-on mowers. No sane person would ride one of those on a roof.

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How do you look after a grass roof like this? Torshavn Old Town

The green, green grass of home

We got our first glimpse of the traditional Faroese grass roofs when we arrived on the Smyril Line ferry. But these weren’t just any old grass roofs; they sit on top of some of the most eye catching government buildings in the world. The red wooden buildings on the ‘Tinganes Peninsular in Torshavn are home to Faroese government departments. Their smart grassy carpet roofs whet your appetite for what lies ahead, and are an early sign of the importance of tradition, of skills passed down through generations, and of people’s connection with the land (and sea) here.

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The ‘Ting’ Parliament Buildings Torshavn

Not straw but grass

In the UK, a picture book cottage has a straw roof. But I’ve always figured they were a pain to keep up. As the owner of a home riddled with mice in spring and autumn, I also shiver at the thought of what nests within them. But I’m reassured by Faroese people that there are only positives about a roof made out of grass.

“They provide very good insulation, and excellent sound proofing too,” says Oddmar Olsen over dinner in his home in the old town. He admits maintaining them can be interesting, but then this is a nation where some people take a helicopter to do the weekly shop. I start to wonder if the people here are secret adrenaline junkies.

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On Mykines the village almost blends into the island

A luxury green shelter

Susanna from Visit Faroe Islands arranges for us to stay under a couple of grass roofs. First the quaint Gjaargarður guest house in Gjógv, and then the four star Foroyar Hotel overlooking the bay in the capital Torshavn. The Gjaargarður doesn’t just have a grass roof on its main building; it also has one on the modern annexe. After a buffet piled high with smoked salmon, prawns and other freshly caught seafood, we sit outside with a glass of wine admiring the juxtaposition of past and present.

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The Gjaargardur grass roof blends in nicely too

At the luxury Hotel Foroyar a couple of days later, I overhear American accents and figure that with their appetite for quaint and historic, they must love staying under a grass lid. The staff I speak to at the hotel admit it goes down well, especially when combined with the offer of staying in the Bill Clinton Suite. Apparently Bill Clinton stayed in the hotel during a conference a while back and now “A lot of people ring up and ask for that suite.”  Al Gore stayed here too, but didn’t get a suite named after him. Not enough charisma I guess, although the global environmental campaigner must have been delighted with a roof that helps save the planet.

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Presidents (and VPs) have slept soundly under the turf of Hotel Foroyar Torshavn

A grass roof makes sense

When you think about it, turf roofs make sense all round. Why haven’t they caught on more widely? Imagine how green suburbs and cities could be if the grass roof was king? They are good for the environment, probably much cheaper than the Westmorland slate our house is decked in, they’re pretty to look at, and what a great and intimate connection with nature. In The Faroes, all sorts of buildings sport them; from sheds to schools to the impressive government buildings.

But they do throw up all sorts of questions. Like how do you get grass to grow up there in the first place. How do you keep them looking good? When we find there is no mystery solution, we are a little disappointed. Can it really just be a routine part of garden maintenance?

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So that’s how it’s done.. Mowing the lawn at the Nordic Centre, Torshavn

Stuart’s worrying quest

After his triumph at securing a photograph of a man mowing a rooftop lawn, Stuart gets grass on the brain. Every time we hit a village he goes in search of a grass roof to snap. It’s clear the tourist board are missing a trick. For generations of middle age men, this could be bigger than whale watching, bird spottingpuffin hunting or helicopter hitching.

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Traditional turf roofed buildings in the Old Town Torshavn


Punkt Follow How do you cut a grass roof?This post is part of our 2012 Adventure Islands Season. We spent summer 2012 exploring Iceland and The Faroes, researching what’s on offer for adventure seeking families. We’re grateful to Smyril Line for help with transport, to BerghausandThule who helped equip us for the journey. And to Hotel Foroyar, Gjaargarður Guest House and Visit Faroes who helped us out on the Faroes. All views and opinions are as ever our own.

You can see a map of our journey on The Family Adventure Project Punkt! and view some exclusive behind the scenes photos and video of what we got up to.


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2 Responses to “How do you cut a grass roof?” Subscribe

  1. Andrea October 4, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    We stayed at a place with these in Chile and I was wondering the same thing!


  1. 13 Incredible Adventure Destinations for 2013 - Family Adventure ProjectFamily Adventure Project - January 23, 2013

    […] and on our visit last year we saw something of what they meant. Many people still live in houses with grass roofs and the average family pet is a sheep. (Faroe means sheep).  The main attraction of the 18 islands […]

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