Faroe Islands sisters return to Edinburgh 70 years on

The Edinburgh of 1949 may still have been enduring rationing and other privations of the post-war era, but for two young siblings visiting from the Faroe Islands, the city seemed almost impossibly glamorous.

Valdis and Kristina took a trip on the new tram network. Picture: Jon Savage

Kristina Djurhuus, then 26, and her sister Valdis, then just 16, enjoyed the kind of local attractions unknown to them in their home town of Tórshavn, the Faroese capital, such as taking tea in Jenners and riding on one of Edinburgh’s original tram cars.

Their visit was documented at the time in the pages of The Scotsman, with the newspaper happy to help the young travellers’ arrival in the city.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Now, almost 70 years later, Kristina and Valdis have been reunited in Edinburgh to reminisce about their first trip, take a journey on the city’s new tram network and reflect on the family bonds that tie Scotland and the Faroes.

Valdis and Kristina took a trip on the new tram network. Picture: Jon Savage

The sisters may be older and slightly slower on their feet, but their love for the Scottish capital remains undimmed.

“Why did I ever leave?” joked Valdis, now 86, shortly after alighting a tram at St Andrew Square yesterday.

Unlike her elder sister, she returned to the Faroe Islands, where she would meet her future husband and subsequently raise a family.

Meanwhile, Kristina, 95, married a Scottish lighthouse keeper in 1950 and lived in some spectacular coastal locations across the country.

The caption from the Weekly 1949 Scotsman article reads.. "A thrill for Valdis, for it is the first tramcar she has ever boarded. Her older sister has spent holidays in Denmark and Norway, but this is the first time Valdis has been away from home, and Thorshaun - chief town of the Faroes - is too small to need a public transport system. Both girls know a little English, though they are still rather shy in attempting to speak it." Picture: Jon Savafe

Her daughter, Irene Miller, who lives in Perth, arranged the trip to Edinburgh when Valdis arrived in Scotland for a visit.

“Transport links between the Faroes and here are much better now,” she explained. “There was a time when a trip to the islands meant catching a ride on a fishing trawler. Now you can easily get a plane on a Friday and return home on the Monday.”

Kristina and Valdis’s first visit to the capital in January 1949 entailed two nights’ sailing on rough seas on board a cargo vessel bound for Leith.

It was their first stop after accepting jobs on the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, having answered an advert for domestic help at the adjacent hostel.

While summer months would be spent working on the island, which lies between Shetland and Orkney, they avoided the worst of the winter by visiting Edinburgh.

The sisters’ accommodation was the headquarters of the Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust at 17 India Street in the New Town.

“It was marvellous,” recalled Valdis of her first trip outside the Faroes. “There was so much to do. We loved Jenners and Princes Street Gardens, although I think they were better maintained then.”

There was also the small matter of a Scotsman reporter and photographer joining them one afternoon in 1949 to document their experiences.

Among their outings captured on film was a trip to the city’s Food Office, where they were presented with ration books, and “a large drapery warehouse” – The Scotsman noted at the time that “smart millinery is not altogether a novelty to the girls”.

“I think the original story must have been arranged by George Waterston, who founded the observatory on Fair Isle,” said Irene. “He was keen for more people to go and stay there. The story of the sisters coming down to work from the Faroes would have interested Scots as many were stationed there during the Second World War.”