For many of us, our lives feel far removed from the sense of magic and wonder that the natural world can invoke — that’s why travel, in general, is always so wonderful; it can instill in us a sense of grandeur beyond what we normally experience in our work-Netflix-sleep-work lives.
For me, I have perhaps never felt as much a sense of magic and being alive in a land of folklore as I did in the Faroe Islands (with the exception maybe of Iceland). Out here, where the scenery is stark and wild, the very stones and mountains seem alive — and in many cases, the old stories of the Faroese insist that this is actually the case, after all.
Below are some of the magical locations in the Faroe Islands you can actually visit, as explained by Faroese folklore.
Perhaps one of the most famous locales in the Faroe Islands, Lake Sørvágsvatn offers a mind-bending view that seems to have the lake float above the ocean.
But aside from this view, and the cliffs that the Vikings allegedly marched tired and broken slaves off of to their deaths hundreds of feet below, the lake abounds with tales of mythical and shunned creatures.
Within the lake itself lives Nykur, a shapeshifting water spirit that often takes the form of a beautiful and tame horse. In this form, Nykur lures the unsuspecting close before, once it is too late for the victim to escape, grabbing hold and dragging the unfortunate soul to their death at the bottom of the lake.
One day, while playing along the lakeshore, a young Faroese child saw Nykur approach. Marveling at the spirit’s beauty, and assuming it was a horse, the boy called out to his brother Niklas, in order that his brother may also see the horse.
Still unable to properly talk - the boy was after all very young - he said Nika instead of Niklas. At that call, Nykur lost all its power and returned to the lake alone. The creature, as luck would have it, loses all its power upon thinking someone called its name.
Huldufólk (Hidden People)
By Lake Sørvágsvatn, and actually all throughout the Faroe Islands, are mounds and rocky outcroppings associated with the Huldufólk, the Hidden People … or to put it more fantastically, elves. Described as large with black hair and gray clothing, the Hidden People live in secret throughout the Faroe Islands.
Living up to their mythical nature, the Hidden People allegedly hate more modern and imported facets of life, such as electricity, crosses, and most of all churches. This dislike for the church, however, goes both ways.
Between Lake Sørvágsvatn and the nearby town of Sørvágur is a Huldu-mound, a large rock where the Hidden Folk lived. As the stories have it, one of the Hidden Folk living in the mound invited a priest inside to visit. Upon leaving the mound, the priest used magic to seal up the mound and trap the Hidden Folk inside forever.
It was said that following this betrayal, the moans and screams of the Hidden Folk could be heard coming from within the mound.
The viewpoint overlooking the iconic Trøllkonufingur sea stack (troll woman’s finger) is just a ten to fifteen minute easy hike outside of the town of Sandavágar. However, for the truly daring - and maybe slightly suicidal - the climb up Trøllkonufingur is the stuff of legend.
In 1844, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark visited the Faroe Islands. During the visit, one of the prince’s retinue climbed the 313 meter tall sea stack, becoming the first person to make the climb, in order to wave to the high prince as he sailed by. After waving, the man climbed down to Trøllkonufingur’s base without incident — only to realize he left one of his favorite gloves at the top of the rock pillar.
Not willing to part with what I can only assume was the most spectacular gold-threaded piece of apparel, the man attempted the climb a second time — only to fall to his death.
In 2012, the first recorded non-mythological climb of the tower took place. Today, adventure travelers can attempt to climb up Trøllkonufingur as well. For those interested, the following video shows what such a climb entails:
Rising og Kellingin (Risin and Kellingin)
Long ago, the giants who lived in Iceland were jealous of the Faroe Islands. Coveting the archipelago, Risin (the Giant) and Kellingin (the Witch) came to the Faroe Islands under cover of darkness to capture the islands and tow them back towards Iceland.
Working all through the night, the Giant and the Witch struggled to tie a rope around the Faroe Islands. Tired and all consumed with the effort, the two failed to notice the rising of the sun, whose rays would turn the two to stone. So, as morning broke, the Giant and the Witch attempted to turn to flee back to Iceland, but they were too slow; they are now frozen forever as stone sea stacks, gazing longingly towards their home.
The two sea stacks are most clearly visible in their glory from the back sand beach outside of Tjørnuvík, in the north of the island of Streymoy.
In the town of Mikladalur on the island of Kalsoy — reachable by ferry from Klaksvik — stands a statue of a nude selkie, a human who chooses death in the ocean and takes on the form of a seal, in human form, grasping at her seal skin; the statue commemorates a folk curse still gripping the village.
According to the town’s legend, every Twelfth Night — a festival in Christianity marking the coming of the epiphany — selkies were allowed to come ashore at Mikladalur and partake in the town’s festivities. During these festivities, the selkies would strip themselves of their seal skin to enjoy life as a human once again, however fleetingly.
During one of these festivities, a man from Mikladalur saw a selkie woman emerge from the sea, strip off her seal skin, and join the dancing of her fellow selkies. Enthralled by the woman’s beauty, the man stole her seal skin and locked it in a chest, thereby preventing her from ever returning to the sea.
Forced to live on land, the selkie agreed to marry the man and together they had two children. All this time, however, the man kept the key to the chest holding the selkie skin hidden, so the woman would never be able to return to her home.
Over the years, the man slowly started to trust his wife and became increasingly lax with hiding the key to the chest. One day, while out fishing, he forgot to bring the key with him; on this day, his wife found the key, put on her skin, and fled back to the ocean.
The next night, as the man mourned the loss of his wife, she appeared to him in a dream warning him of an upcoming seal hunt. “During the hunt,” she said, “be sure to avoid killing the bull seal in the entrance to a grotto, as well as two seal pups with a particular hide, as they are my husband and children in this world.”
The next day, the man, shaken by the dream, tried his best to put it out of his mind. So, when the time for the seal hunt came, he refused to tell his other hunters of his vision, and they proceeded to slaughter all the seals they came across — including a bull seal by the entrance to the grotto and the pups inside.
The next night, the selkie stormed into the man’s home in the form of a troll.
“Now there shall be revenge, revenge on the men of Mikladalur, and some will die at sea and others fall from the mountain tops, until there be as many dead as can link hands all round the shores of the isle of Kalsoy!” She screamed.
From that moment on, the men of Mikladalur have had the unfortunate habit of dying at sea and falling from the cliffs of the Faroe Islands to their doom.
Just north of Mikladalur, now connected by a tunnel through the mountains, lies the town of Trøllanes. While most tourists who visit the town come to see the iconic Kallur Lighthouse, the town’s own name foretells the stories about the place.
Like Mikladalur, creatures would visit Trøllanes every Twelfth Night; however, instead of selkies seeking to experience their lost humanity for a night, Trøllanes was plagued by an invasion of trolls. Every year, this invasion would send the people of Trøllanes fleeing for the safety of Mikladalur.
One year, however, an old woman in the town was physically incapable of escaping the coming troll onslaught. Infirm and terrified, the woman sought shelter from the trolls under the table in her living room.
Being large, not terribly bright, and focused on partying, the trolls failed to observe the woman hiding so close. Enjoying the freedom of the Twelfth Night, the trolls danced and partied to their hearts content — raising a terrifying cacophony in the meantime that so scared the woman that she could not help but yell out “Christ!”
Upon hearing the name, the trolls cursed the woman for invoking the name of God and left the village, never to return. The woman ended up surviving the night, and so was able to tell the villagers on their return the next day.
Tindhólmer and the Eagle Spire
To the west of Vágar is the sea stack of Drangarnir and the islet of Tindhólmer. Instantly recognizable, Drangarnir stands as an epic arch against the roaring Atlantic surf, while Tindhólmer appears from Vágar as a dragonspine complete with five peaks — Ytsti (the western spire), Arni (the Eagle), Lítli (the little spire), Breiði (the broad spire), and Bogdi (the bent spire).
While Tindhólmer is now uninhabited, the story goes that there once lived on it a small family of a father, mother, and daughter. The three lived simple lives and were happy with the natural bounty the land, and its sheep, and the sea, and its fish, provided.
One day, while the father went out to sea to fish, the wife took the daughter into the pastures to enjoy the fresh air. Enjoying the sun and hoping for a snack, the mother quickly went back to the house to grab a picnic. On her return back to the pasture, the mother felt a chill as a massive shadow passed over her and blocked out the sky.
In an instant, the mother broke into a run as she saw a massive eagle swoop down from the sky and pick up the daughter in its mighty talons. Stifling her panic, the woman chased after the fleeting shadow of the bird towards the very top of Arni peak.
The climb was long, and by the time the woman reached the peak, the eagle had already badly torn at the girl and pecked out her eyes — but the girl was still alive. Full of fury, the woman confronted the massive bird and managed to scare it off in time to rescue her daughter who, despite her injuries, managed to live.
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