High on my list of places I’d like to visit someday is the archipelago of the Faroe Islands (Føroyar). This is a group of 18 major islands between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, about halfway between Iceland and Norway. The Faroes are an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark with rugged terrain and a subpolar oceanic climate: windy, wet, cloudy, and cool. Despite its northerly latitude, temperatures average above freezing throughout the year because of the Gulf Stream. The islands are full of starkly beautiful views and scenic towns. I’m particularly enamored with the tiny village of Gjógv (“gorge”) located on the northeast tip of the island of Eysturoy (“East island”). Named after a 650-foot (200-meter) long sea-filled gorge that run north to the sea from the village, Gjógv is home to just under 50 inhabitants and is only 39 miles (63 km) north by road from the capital of Tórshavn.
The island of Eysturoy is extremely rugged, with some 66 separate mountain peaks, including Slættaratindur, the highest peak in the archipelago. Important settlements on Eysturoy are Fuglafjørður in the north and the densely populated area of the municipalities of Runavík and Nes in the south. It is separated by a narrow sound from the main island of Streymoy, connected by the Streymin Bridge over the sound. The islanders humorously refer to this bridge as the only bridge over the Atlantic. Leirvík on the east coast of the island is the gateway for transport connections to the north-eastern islands, particularly Klaksvík on the island of Borðoy, which is the Faroes’ second-largest town. In 2019, the sub-sea Eysturoy Tunnel is to open a direct link between Runavík, Strendur and Tórshavn, making southern Eysturoy a central place on the Tórshavn-Klaksvík axis.
Sites of interest on Eysturoy include the villages of Eiði and Gjógv, the latter having a small natural port in a rock column; the Blásastova historical museum in the village of Gøta; and the varmakelda (thermal springs) of Fuglafjørður, which indicate the volcanic origin of the archipelago. Off the northern tip of the island are the basalt sea stacks Risin og Kellingin.
The village of Gjógv was first mentioned in 1584, but it seems to have existed long before then. It has long subsisted on fishing and selling dried and salted fish (klippfiskur in Faroese). At one time as many as 13 fishing boats sailed from Gjógv. Its population has seen a sharp decline in the past 60 years or so. In 1950, the headcount still stood at 210. A factory producing prefabricated concrete elements was founded in the village in 1982. It employs six people and is the only one of its kind in the islands. Other branches of industry are represented by the village’s fish farm and guest house / hostel and campsite.
The village church dates from 1929. It was the first one to be consecrated in the village and the first one to feature services in Faroese. Before that, the villagers walked to Funningur for church and burial services. On the opposite side of the road, a sculpture stands as a memorial to fishermen lost at sea, bearing the names and ages of men from the late nineteenth to the mid twentieth century. The sculpture of a mother and two children looking out to sea was created by Janus Kamban, who has created a number of Faroese commemorative statues. It sits on the grass in a small garden and bears the names and ages of men from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century.
The village school building dates back to 1884. It was built from boulders and was once in use by as many as 50 pupils. Now there are only three. The old village dance hall was renovated and extended in 1986 and now houses a community center. All houses in the village conform to the prevailing colorful style of building in the Faroes, red, white and green being the predominant colors used. There are still about 50 houses left in the village. Due to the great decrease in population, about half of that number stand empty.
The nearest grocery store is at Eiði, but Gjógv has a post office in a private home, which opens five days a week for 30 minutes each morning and afternoon. The nearest real post office is in Eiði but there is a post box by the village’s only bus stop. There is also a helicopter pad in the village, used mainly for emergency ambulance service or sea-rescue operations.
Gjógv has one of the best natural harbors in the Faroes. However, boats need to be pulled up on a ramp to be safe from the surf. To tourists and boating natives alike, the harbor in the gorge is also a well-known site of outstanding natural scenery. The village gets its name from the gorge, Faroese gjógv is derived from the same Norse word (gjó) as the Shetlandic geo. The inhabitants are known as Gjáarfólk, possibly related to the Icelandic word gjá which itself comes from the Old Norse gjó from which the village name is derived.
Danish Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary visited Gjógv on June 22, 2005. Two elderly inhabitants named Rita and Christian had the original idea of placing a memorial bench with a magnificent view along the gorge towards the sea. The bench was baptized ‘Mary’s bench’ (boldly proclaimed by a brass plaque attached to it) and the Crown Princess subsequently became the first to be seated on it. They were also serenaded by Faroese opera singer Rúni Brattaberg on this occasion.
A number of tracks head up into the uplands north and west of the village. The highest peaks between Gjógv and the neighbouring village of Eiði are Slættaratindur (2,894 feet, 882 meters) and Gráfelli (2,812 feet, 857 m). The valley of Ambadalur is located just northwest of Gjógv. Just off the coast at Ambadalur the highest free-standing sea-stack in the Faroes is to be found. It reaches up to an astounding 617 feet (188 m). Locally known as Búgvin, it offers a safe perch for multitudes of seabirds. The peaks of Tyril and Middagsfjall (1,972 feet, 601 m) are found east of Gjógv. Both peaks offer a phenomenal view of Funningsfjørður (Funningur’s Fjord).
Føroya Posta released a two-stamp set in the annual EUROPA series depicting post offices on April 9, 1990 (Scott #205-206). The 3.50-krone denomination features a painting of the private home in Gjógv that function’s as the village’s post office while the 6-krone value pictures the modern post office located at Klaksvík. The stamps were designed by Bárdur Jákupsson, printed using lithography, and perforated 13½ x 14.
The first Faroese post office was opened in Tórshavn on March 1, 1870. The local sýslumaður (often translated as district commissioner, sheriff or magistrate in English) on the southern part of Streymoy, H.C. Müller, was in charge of the management of the post office for the first several years. On March 1, 1884, the post office on Tvøroyri was opened. The third post office on the Faroes was opened in Klaksvík on May 1, 1888. Both on Tvøroyri and in Tórshavn, the management of the post was conducted by the local sýslumaður.
In the 19th century, there were only these three post offices. After the turn of the century, the pace picked up. In 1903, seven post offices were opened. During the following twenty-five years, post offices were opened in essentially all of the settlements on the Faroes. Most of them were opened in 1918, when fifteen new post offices were added. Starting in the late 1960s and continuing up to the present, a number of post offices have been closed. Postal service for the inhabitants of these settlements is now conducted by service agents. This change is part of the efficiency policy which the Faroese post office has been pursuing for the last few years.
Having used Danish stamps since 1870, the Faroes finally began their own issues on January 30, 1975 when the Danish postal system began issuing stamps inscribed FØROYAR. Until 1976, the postal service in the Faroe Islands was managed by the Danish Government, as part of Post Danmark (Danish Postal Service). The Faroe Islands government officially took over the postal affairs of the islands on April 1, 1976, and named the new Faroese postal service Postverk Føroya with a white Ram’s horn on a blue background as the logo. To celebrate this, the Faroe Islands postal service issued a set of three commemorative stamps the same day (Scott #21-23).
The Faroe Islands postal service was restructured as a limited liability company on January 1, 2005. The name was changed to the P/F Postverk Føroya (Faroe Islands Postal Service Limited). The Faroe Islands Government is the sole shareholder of the company. The name was changed again in September 2009 to Posta Faroe Islands or just Posta. At the same time, a new logo was introduced composed of two staggered arrows that are pointing in opposite directions, a symbol of “Receive” and “Send”. The first arrow is sea blue color while the second arrow is green, a symbol of the ocean and the islands.
The Headquarters of Posta Faroe Islands is in the capital Tórshavn. The Tórshavn Post Office is also the main postal hub of the islands. All letters are first transported here for sorting, then transferred to the 12 post offices around the islands, finally delivered by the local postman to the addressee.
Posta Stamps is an important department of Posta Faroe Islands, responsible for stamp design, distribution, sales and customer service. There is a total of 14 staff in Posta Stamps. Typically, the Faroe Islands stamp is designed by local designers and then printed abroad. Several printing companies have printed Faroese stamps including LM Group in Canada, OeSD in Austria, Cartor in France, Enschedé in the Netherlands, and Southern Colour Print in New Zealand. In 2012, Faroese stamps printed in China for the first time.
Today, stamps are the second largest export income of the Faroe Islands. Posta Stamps has nearly 20,000 subscribers around the entire world. About 40% come from Denmark, followed by Germany, Sweden, Norway, France and other countries and regions. Posta Stamps currently issues stamps in February, April, September and November.