Viking Art

As it has turned out I have quite a strong association with Viking culture and Viking art.

I grew up in Yorkshire, surrounded by Norse place names (including the main streets of my home town) and it was fun to find familiar words during the years we later lived in Norway. There was also Jorvik at York (visited many times over the years, without and with kids); the battleground of Stamford Bridge (site of the last great Viking battle in 1066, following the burning of Scarborough in September of that year); and the 9th century Gauber High Pasture "Viking Site" at Ribblehead (excavated by Alan King; I participated as a teenager). Numerous Viking artefacts have been discovered by detectorists in the northern and eastern counties.

In subsequent years (1987, 1995) there were visits to Lindisfarne, site of the early Viking attack against England in 793 (I remember abandoned cars on the tidal causeway!) and beautiful peaceful Iona, which was raided by Vikings in 802. We saw a tower built to defend against such attacks in Ireland at Monisterboice (2008). More recently we stopped (during a mission to climb Scafell Pike) to see the famous Viking cross at Gosforth, Cumbria, an evocative piece of Viking Age art and symbolism. In Iceland (1988), I visited Thingvellir and saw Ingólfsshofði (said to be where Ingólfur Arnarson originally landed in 874). 

Iceland 1988

The form of the Viking ships was long an inspiration and in 2001 we visited the Viking Ship museum in Oslo to see them (I had visited once before, in 1990, on a trip to work in the far north). I stopped in Roskilde with the kids once (2005), a place where five Viking ships were retrieved from the fjord (but our mission was really Legoland!). In the Stavanger area where we lived there were various Viking relics to be seen, such as the Klepp runestone, the Havrsfjord site of Harald Fairhair’s victory in 872 and the Talgje church runes. The streets in Stavanger gave me the meaning of the street names in Leeds (Briggate and Kirkgate). I was pleased to find I could read some of the runestones on my last visit to the Stavanger museum (2012). The Landa village near Lysefjord has a very enjoyable reconstructed Viking longhouse.

Oslo 2001

On Orkney (2008) we saw the Brough of Birsay Viking longhouses and enjoyed the puffins. The Viking runic graffiti in Orkahaugr (Maeshowe) was very entertaining, in a magical burial mound context. According to the Orkneyinga Saga (Chapter 93): "On the thirteenth day of Christmas [this was 1153] they travelled on foot over to Firth. During a snowstorm they took shelter in Maeshowe and two of them (his men) went insane which slowed them down badly so that by the time they reached Firth it was night time." 

In Venice (2004) we saw the weathered runic inscription on the Piraeus stone lion (plundered by the Venetians in 1687) and, in 2006, I visited the area of the Baltic-Volga waterway used by the Rus' for migration, trade and adventure. 

There is even a connection between our time in Oman and Viking culture, given the appearance of Arabian silver in Viking hoards and the use of Arabian dirhams and cowrie shells in their jewelry.

Viking hacksilver, traded all the way from the Arabian Peninsula to the North of Europe

Most recently I made the journey to L'Anse aux Meadows (28th August 2014) at the northern end of Newfoundland, an evocative place, the only known Viking dwelling site in the Americas. The outline of the longhouse struck me as very similar to the one at the Ribblehead site I helped excavate as a youth. As I walked around the area I saw a moose and the moose saw me.


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