Risin og Kellingin

Faroe Islands - Scott #295 (1996)
Faroe Islands – Scott #295 (1996)

Risin og Kellingin (Risin and Kellingin) are two sea stacks just off the northern coast of the island of Eysturoy in the Faroe Islands close to the town of Eiði. The name Risin og Kellingin means The Giant and the Witch (or Hag) and relates to an old legend about their origins. The Giant (Risin) is the 71m stack further from the coast, and the witch (Kellingin) is the 68m pointed stack nearer land, standing with her legs apart.

A sea stack is a geological landform consisting of a steep and often vertical column or columns of rock in the sea near a coast, formed by wave erosion. Stacks are formed over time by wind and water, processes of coastal geomorphology. They are formed when part of a headland is eroded by hydraulic action, which is the force of the sea or water crashing against the rock. The force of the water weakens cracks in the headland, causing them to later collapse, forming free-standing stacks and even a small island. Without the constant presence of water, stacks also form when a natural arch collapses under gravity, due to sub-aerial processes like wind erosion. Erosion causes the arch to collapse, leaving the pillar of hard rock standing away from the coast—the stack. Eventually, erosion will cause the stack to collapse, leaving a stump. Stacks can provide important nesting locations for seabirds, and many are popular for rock climbing.

A legend tells how, once upon a time, the giants in Iceland were envious and decided that they wanted the Faroes. So the giant and the witch (his wife in some versions of the story) were sent down to the Faroe Islands to bring them back.

 Risin og Kellingin, two famous sea stacks north of Eiði just off the coast of Eysturoy, Faroe Islands. Photo taken by Erik Christensen on May 19, 2002.
Risin og Kellingin, two famous sea stacks north of Eiði just off the coast of Eysturoy, Faroe Islands. Photo taken by Erik Christensen on May 19, 2002.

They reached the north-westernmost mountain Eiðiskollur and the giant stayed in the sea while the witch climbed up the mountain with a heavy rope to tie the islands together so that she could push them onto the giant’s back. However, when she attached the rope to the mountain and pulled, the northern part of the mountain split. Further attempts were also unsuccessful, and they struggled through the night, but the base of the mountain was firm and they could not move it.

If the sun shines on a giant or witch, it turns to stone. So it was that as they continued to struggle they didn’t notice time passing, and as dawn broke a shaft of sunlight put a stop to their efforts by turning them to stone on the spot. They have stood there ever since, staring longingly across the ocean towards Iceland.

Risin og Kellingen on Eysturoy in the Faroe Islands

A number of versions of this legend are recounted in sources about the Faroe Islands, all derived from the Færøsk Anthologi by Venceslaus Ulricus Hammershaimb who established the modern orthography of Faroese (Copenhagen 1891 – 1. Volume, P. 344).

The stacks can be viewed by walking north from Eiði then turning east towards the coast and following the low cliffs for a short way. Other good views can be had on a clear day from Tjørnuvík on the island of Streymoy.

Faroese geologists predict that Kellingin, which currently stands on two legs, will fall into the sea sometime in the next few decades during the winter storms. Already part of the stack broke off at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Faroe Islands - Scott #295 (1996) first day cover
Faroe Islands – Scott #295 (1996) first day cover

On January 2, 1996, Postverk Føroya (known as Posta since 2010) released a single 4.50-krone stamp portraying Risin og Kellingin. The stamps were issued in sheets of 20, perforated 14.

Map of Eysturoy island in the Faroe Islands. Risin og Kellingen are at the northern tip.
Flag of the Faroe Islands
Coat of arms of the Faroe Islands

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