Showing posts with label Scotland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scotland. Show all posts

Sunday, 24 June 2012

'I Must Go Down to the Sea Again...'

There is a veritable flurry of Viking ship reconstructions and launchings going on at the moment, no doubt inspired by the very successful Havhingsten fra Glendalough / Sea-Stallion from Glendalough, which sailed from Roskilde to Dublin and back a few years ago. Only a few days ago, a copy of the Oseberg ship was launched in Tønsberg. It's called Saga Oseberg and there is a good video of its rather less than smooth launch here - I do hope it sails a bit better than some of its predecessors! The so-called Dragon Harald Fairhair was launched on the 5th of June, though I do wish the people responsible for the latter had consulted more, both about calling it a 'dragon' and Harald's nickname. Grrr. Unlike most modern Viking ships, this is not a replica of any actual ship, but rather a reconstruction based on a variety of sources. Meanwhile, Archaeology4Schools has embarked on a copy of the Ardnamurchan boat, found last year, though since not much more than some rivets survived of the boat, I do wonder what the basis of this reconstruction really is. At any rate, it sounds like lots of people are having lots of fun, and the seas this summer will be alive with Viking ships!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Lights of the Isles

Like all good teachers (I hope), I don't have any real favourites among my Norse and Viking rambling locations - from Newfoundland to Estonia, I have loved them all. But careful readers of this blog may nevertheless have noticed I have a bit of a soft spot for Orkney. So I am delighted to report that I am here again! The kind folk of the Thing project have invited me to give lectures in both Orkney and Shetland this week. And I wouldn't be me if I didn't tack on a few days extra to make it a proper busman's holiday...

This time I decided the extra in Orkney was to be North Ronaldsay, the northernmost of their isles, a place I visited once before in 2003, and home to some seaweed-eating sheep and the really rather colourful Ragna, about whom Earl Rögnvaldr composed a very strange poem (see ch. 81 of Orkneyinga saga, or my edition in Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages vol. 2).

Having arrived in glorious sunshine on Monday evening, my one whole day on North Ron was wiped out by the really rather atrocious weather that pummelled the whole of Orkney pretty much all of Tuesday, necessitating a day spent indoors with some academic work. I cannot complain, since I consider the weather to be an essential part of the authentic Viking experience, but I was disappointed.

Today, I was to leave on the 11 am flight and the weather was of course heart-wrenchingly better. But thanks to two of my fellow-guests at the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory (an excellent place to stay, by the way), my last few hours were saved and I got a little adventure to boot.

It transpired that my two fellow guests were the engineers who maintain the lighthouses of Orkney and Caithness for the Northern Lighthouse Board. They, too, were leaving on the 11 am flight, but had a few things to clear up at the lighthouse before going, and graciously allowed me to accompany them. So I had a special tour of the highest land-based lighthouse in Britain, managing to climb all 176 steps to the top, where there was a splendid view of the whole island, glinting in the sunshine. There is a webcam, if you want to get an idea, and the two keepers' cottages have now been turned into very nice self-catering accommodation.

So what's all this to do with the Vikings, you ask? They who sailed without benefit of lighthouses (and therefore probably got shipwrecked a lot)? Well, it transpired that one of the lighthouse engineers was none other than Hrolf Douglasson, a Viking re-enactor I had met once before, now leader of the Norðreyjar branch of Regia Anglorum, author of several books about Vikings, and now with this really rather cool job of looking after the lighthouses of Orkney and Caithness. So thanks Hrolf, and your colleague Rob, for the tour!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Gimme, Gimme, Gimme Dat Ding

Some years ago, on one of my rambles to Orkney, I stopped off in Dingwall, Ross-shire. As all Viking aficionados know, the place-name comes from an Old Norse word for an assembly site, found most notably at Þingvellir in Iceland, but also at several places in these islands, the two Thingwalls on either side of the Mersey, or Tynwald on the Isle of Man, plus a few scattered about the Scottish islands. On that brief visit to Dingwall, I wandered into the museum, and saw a few signs of Viking awareness, but not many. Otherwise, it was a charming place.

Now I read in The North Star that the very town centre car park in which I parked my car on that day is reported to be the site of the Viking Age assembly mound, according to some rather vaguely unspecified archaeological investigations (though not yet excavations) carried out last month. The various worthy persons interviewed in the article all foresee a great future for Dingwall as a Viking tourist hotspot. How things change in a few years...

While searching for a suitable image for this post, I came across the above golden bull on a handsome black plinth. If you look carefully, there is an attempt to render the name Dingwall in both Old Norse and runes, but, oh so sadly, such a dismal attempt, especially the runes. They are really neither one thing nor tother, and I'm not even that sure what exactly they are meant to spell. I predict a rash of dodgy 'runic' inscriptions in Viking tourist spots around the country, each one feebler than the last. Please, please, please guys, if you want to do something like that, get in touch with a real runologist, like those splendid chaps at Hotell Svava and Kirkwall Airport did.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Ships and Men

The exciting recent discovery of an intact Viking Age male weapon burial in a 5m. boat on the Ardnamurchan peninsula has been widely reported in the media today, for instance The Guardian. Apparently, the artefacts are fantastic - the electronic version of the Guardian article has a nice short film of an axehead being dug up. We all await further details. And luckily, a few of the guy's teeth have been preserved, so we will soon know what he ate and where he grew up, once Janet Montgomery has done her work of stable isotope analysis. Ardnamurchan, though isolated today, is of course on the main seaway from Norway, through the Northern and Western Isles, and down to the Irish Sea, so it is not at all surprising to find such a burial there, rather than on the islands, which is where all previous ones have been found.

The excitement is tinged with sadness at the almost simultaneous announcement of the death of Ole Crumlin-Pedersen, the nestor of Viking boat and ship studies. He's the third eminent Viking to die (all of them far too young) within the last six weeks or so, following hard on the heels of Mark Blackburn and Richard Hall. May they all have a splendid feast in Valhalla together, while the surf pounds outside, as Ormr Barreyjarskáld might have said at the Ardnamurchan funeral:
Útan gnýr á eyri
Ymis blóð fara góðra.
Ymir's blood [the sea] crashes out there on to the sand-bank of good vessels.

Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Viking In All Of Us


It seems there is still a bit of the old Viking spirit in the residents of the Wirral, who have successfully fought off local government plans to close most of their libraries. This news report on Channel 4 this evening notes that the library at Irby was one of those scheduled to close, and also shows this fine old signpost of the footpath to Thurstaston. Both Irby and Thurstaston are places that can trace their origins to the Viking settlement of Wirral in the tenth century, as you can read, if you are interested, in Paul Cavill et al., Wirral and its Viking Heritage, 2000.
Today's Guardian editorial is 'In praise of ... British cheeses' - hear, hear! I think we can all assent to that... News to me, however, is that a Scottish cheese called crowdie 'traces its origin to the Viking invasion'. I suppose this is part of the general tendency to ascribe all good things to the Vikings, so I can second that. However, the OED claims its derivation is unknown, merely noting that 'Jamieson conjectured some connexion with GROUT, and Icel. groutr [sic] porridge; this suits the sense, but leaves phonetic conditions unsatisfied'. Quite. Thus do scholarly conjectures turn into newspaper fact... The 'porridge' meaning, by the way, is now obsolete according to the OED, but the second meaning it lists is 'in some parts of the north of Scotland, a peculiar preparation of milk' (eh?). The northern distribution may I suppose reflect Viking influence, and here I must recall one of my earlier posts on this blog, just over a year ago, about Crowdie Vikings, so maybe there is something in it.
Happy New Year to one and all, Viking or no Viking!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Lewis Chesspersons Again

Everyone's favourite Vikings, the Lewis playing pieces, are in the news again. There is an article in Medieval Archaeology (which I haven't fully digested yet) propounding new theories about what kind of board game the pieces were used for (hnefatafl rather than chess), and why they were found on Lewis (belonged to a rich person who lived there, rather than just accidentally shipwrecked there). No doubt the press accounts (e.g. the BBC website) oversimplify a more nuanced academic article, so I am looking forward to reading that (there is also a bit more detail in the press release). The article is in fact available free online, so it will save me a trip to the library! I have a particular interest, because I have recently argued that one of Earl Rögnvaldr's verses contains a reference to chess, and draw the parallel with the roughly contemporary Lewis pieces.
The other bit of news is that a selection of the playing pieces will go on tour around Scotland in 2010-11: full details are available from the National Museums of Scotland website.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Valhalla Rising X 2

One of our students has drawn attention to the fact that there is a Danish-produced film called Valhalla Rising in preparation for release in 2009, having filmed in Scotland in 2008. I wonder what that's about? The synopsis on IMDb does not suggest it has any connection with Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt techno-thriller with the same title (2001), though both do seem to involve strange voyages to North America (maybe they've just taken out the techno bits). The film will apparently be about 'One-Eye, a mute warrior of supernatural strength' who 'discovers his true self'. Sounds riveting. Actually, there's a more normal-sounding synopsis here, though it still sounds a bit overwrought for my taste... Here's some info about it from the Daily Record - for those who know about these things, it will star Mads Mikkelsen.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Crowdie Vikings


I've been reading Finlay Macdonald's Crowdie and Cream (1982) after just catching a bit of the third episode on BBC4. As well as being a good example of Celtic Fringe autobiography, it has some interesting Harris folklore, in particular a story about how Viking invaders are bamboozled by the local fairies:

...long ago, an army of warriors from a foreign land had come ashore on the beach and had set about plundering and pillaging the land as they had done up and down the whole of the rest of our coast. But here, in this very hollow, they had come face to face with a host of little people - fairies who, instead of fighting the foreigners, made them welcome and made them sit down and rest and eat and drink their fairy food. And as the fierce Norsemen nibbled the tid-bits their tiredness and their fierceness left them, and they began to hear the most beautiful music that they had ever heard in their lives and they began to dream dreams of unsurpassed beauty. One by one the warriors fell asleep and when the last of them had nodded off the fairies pulled them down into their own world on top of which we were sitting now. It was a world of music and milk and honey and the wild men had liked it so much that they never came back from it again, and never again troubled the people of Harris.

This all takes place in Scarista, a Norse name if ever there was one...

Monday, 5 May 2008

The Vikings Were Fishmongers!

Good to see James Barrett's research reported in a 'cod-piece' in today's Guardian. James has been a fish-bone nerd for many years, but also knows everything there is to know about Vikings in Scotland.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Lewis Chess Pieces


I am just catching up with the controversy about the Lewis chess pieces, which Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, is demanding are returned to Scotland. I do think it would be nice for the Isle of Lewis to have some, since they were originally found there (there are of course some in Edinburgh, in the National Museum). But these nationalistic arguments do tend to gloss over the fact that the chess pieces were almost certainly made in Norway, and were probably on their way to somewhere completely different, such as Dublin. There is a fairly balanced article in The Scotsman for 7 January 2008, citing very reasonable comments from Alex Woolf and James Fraser, and less reasonable ones by Ted Cowan, who argues that they should all be in Lewis.