Friday, 23 May 2014

Saturday, 10 May 2014

2014: Year of the Viking - Steer your longship towards these future viking events

As I mentioned in my latest and so far 5th part of my evidence and mainly personal experience of 2014 being Year of the Vikings - I am now going to reveal the details of some events that other viking enthusiasts like me would like to jot down in their diary and in some cases book tickets too asap.

In date ascending order they are: click on event titles for exact details and booking information.

1. Unlocking the Vikings - Language, Myths & Finds Conference
Saturday 28th - Sunday 29th June
Cavendish Hall, University of Nottingham
The conference will mark the conclusion of the cross-institution AHRC Collaborative Skills Development Programme known as Languages, Myths and Finds. This programme brings together graduate students and full-time researchers from across the UK and Ireland to explore the translation of Norse and Viking cultures into the modern day. Participants are working with local partners in five communities with Norse heritage: the Isle of Lewis, Cleveland, the Isle of Man, Dublin and Munster (Cork and Waterford). By collaborating with local schools, museums, historical societies and tourist organisations, the scheme aims to inspire greater public engagement with the Viking heritage of various localities. Participants will also draw on the work of the British Museum and its ‘Vikings: Life and Legend’ exhibition as part of their engagement with local communities. Do follow the project on Twitter, @LanguagesMyths, or watch this video on YouTube.

Confirmed speakers include:
Keynote speaker: Edmund Southworth (Manx National Heritage): Norse, Celt or English? The view from the Isle of Man
Papers and workshops:
Tom Birkett: Coming to a harbour near you! The Sea Stallion from Glendalough and heritage in motion
Ruarigh Dale:  ‘A frothing madman with a blade’: Depictions of berserkir in modern fiction
Thor Ewing:  Riddle Gestumblindi: Viking myths and music
Leszek Gardeła:  Vikings reborn: Facets of early medieval reenactment in contemporary Poland
Jane Harrison:  Where are the Vikings in Cleveland?
Genevieve Hopkins:  The position of the valkyrie in the Young Adult literary genre
Mark Kirwan:  Who cares about the Vikings? Perception of the Viking Age and the people who have studied it
Christina Lee:  Wikingertage, Wicky the Viking and Wotan’s Fluch: Vikings in German popular culture
Victoria Whitworth:  First catch your Viking: Creating norse narratives for a twenty-first century audience
Languages, Myths and Finds Presentations:
There will also be presentations from the five teams (Cleveland, Cork, Dublin, Isle of Lewis, Isle of Man) about their work on the project.

2. From Northmen to Normans
Talk by Dr David Petts of Durham University
Saturday 2nd July
7pm, DIG-An Archeological Adventure, York

The Vikings did not just raid the coasts of Britain and Ireland…

They also came to France, first as raiders and then as settlers. Focussing on Normandy and Brittany, this talk will explore the impact of the Vikings and consider their impact on the landscape and culture of France.

3. History Live (English Heritage)
Saturday 19th to Sunday 20th July
Kelmarsh Hall, Northampton 

Prepare to set foot into the midst of Europe's largest living history event, where thundering hooves, the clash of steel and the smoke of campfires will be among the sights, sounds and smells of history brought to life.
History Live! is the closest you'll ever get to the events, people and weapons that have shaped England's history over the last 2,000 years. There is something to captivate everyone, from the tension of D-Day to the drama of the War of the Roses; the thrill of jousting knights to the poignancy of the First World War; the brute force of gladiatorial combat to the skill of the Punjab Lancers. 
 *Special event of note - one of my favourite authors Giles Kristian, who's new EPIC Viking historical fiction book God of Vengeance is available NOW - will be hosting two author talks and book signings over the festival weekend*

I plan and intend to attend all 3 of these events as there is so much to be gained, learned, enjoyed and most importantly discovered. And if I come across anymore I will do my best to spread the word on here and yes I do intend to write hopefully raving reviews of the 3 events listed as well.

However there is one Vikingy *I stress the 'ee' sound* that I am MAJORLY EXCITED ABOUT! That is equally as exciting as the British Museum Vikings: Life & Legend Exhibit and that is....

How To Train Your Dragon 2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


I KNOW it's not historically truthful such as all the Vikings wear HORNS (no proof that they ever did) BUT if you have young ones or even teenagers that have seen and loved HTTYD1 then prepare for lots of excited squeals and 'wow' moments because this film is going to making Vikings cool again and that can only ever be a miracle and an amazing achievement.
And it is all down to the Odin blessed imagination of this amazing lady - Cressida Cowell and her ever expanding children's book of the same title that is the pure genius and inspiration that these films (are albeit loosely) based on.
I as a grown adult of 20 years read the first book in the series and even I was having fits of giggles. I feel the fantastic Dream Works team have worked as much magic with HTTYD books & characters as Warner Brother's did for Harry Potter by JK Rowling.

I mean what is there not to love?! Vikings, Dragons, comrades bound by honour, loyalty and friendship, brilliant witty humour, superb flight scenes, adventure, danger! If you take out the Dragons we are still left with the very essence of every great saga tale woven around the campfire from the Viking Age.

Seeing this film is going to be the highlight of my summer and perhaps make 2014 the year the word 'Vikings' is the word whispered and shouted from everyones lips.

Friday, 9 May 2014

2014: Year of the Viking - Midlands Viking Symposium (Part 5/5)

My 5th and I can guarantee not the last viking event I attended this year is the newly discovered Midlands Viking Symposium on Saturday 26th April, held at the University of Birmingham.

Now I in hall honesty didn't realise such a Symposium existed (I hadn't even come across the very word until this year) when I met my author friend James Aitcheson at a book signing during this year's Jorvik Viking Festival and he mentioned it to me and sent the link. HUGE thank you to James! I owe you one!

If you don't know what the Midlands Viking Symposium is all about it's main goal is bring leading academics, experts, archeologists and histories with the most recent up-to-date research into a space where it is available to be enjoyed by the british public and other enthusiasts. As quite a lot of courses now as PHDs or full Degrees are focusing on Scandinavian studies whether it's the viking history, culture and mythology and people like myself can't afford the luxury of attending them so the Symposium was created. And just to make it clear the word Symposium means 'conference' but it sounds extra awesome as Symposium don't you think?

Anyway these were the key speakers and the topics I listened to and experienced on that very enjoyable day:

Dr Christina Lee (Nottingham): Sick Vikings
The paper will look at what we know about responses to illness - in the Viking Age but much more through what later sagas tell us about attitudes towards disease and illness. 

Dr Chris Callow (Birmingham):  Did the Vikings sacrifice their slaves?
There is an account by the traveller-scholar Ibn Fadlan of the Viking community in eastern Europe performing an elaborate funeral ritual in which a slave girl is killed. As a result many scholars cite this and archaeological evidence in support of the idea of so-called ‘slave burials’, for the deliberate killing of slaves to be interred with their masters. This talk reviews the evidence of some of these gruesome and not-so-gruesome-looking graves to consider the question afresh across the Viking world. 

Dr Philip Shaw (Leicester): A glove in hood’s clothing? Hrólfs saga kraka and Beowulf, once more with humour
The Old English poem Beowulf and the Old Norse Hrólfs saga are two of the most important stories in their respective languages. Scholars have often pondered the apparent similarities between parts of each story. In this talk it will be argued that the overall pattern of three monster fights found in Beowulf is retold as a kind of joke in Hrólfs saga when Bo̢ðvarr encounters Ho̢ttr at Hrólf’s hall and he fights with a dragon-like monster. This interpretation has implications for our understanding not only of how this particular Old Norse saga originated but for the nature of story-telling in the Viking Age. 

Dr Slavica Rankovic (Leeds): Grettir’s Secret Formula
Grettir’s saga is one of the most intriguing of the Sagas of Icelanders, the major genre of saga that was written down in medieval Iceland. Through the centuries scholars have puzzled over how and why these stories came into being – at the same time as they look like folktales they look like sophisticated literary works. This talk will present some of the latest research on how the formulaic elements of the sagas ‘worked’ for medieval audiences. Grettir, the aggressive outlawed hero of this saga also famously expressed his ability to resist temptation through what might be called a ‘no reaction’ formula. The nuances of Grettir and his saga will be analysed to show how and why he emerges as one of the most complex characters in world literature. 

Bernadette McCooey (Birmingham): The Viking Age farm
For all their reputation as marauders, the Vikings and their descendants had to feed themselves. This talk consider the Viking ‘colony’ in Iceland where the farm was the basic building block of society and the stage on which most of life’s events took place. The farm was also a unit of production that ensured the survival of the farm’s inhabitants. Livestock were an essential element of farm production, yet questions about how farms worked have been neglected. I hope to raise some of the issues concerning livestock and the daily management of the animals, and offer some insights into the routine of Viking Age Icelandic farm. 

Cat Jarman (Bristol): Resolving Viking Age Repton? New techniques on old bones
One of the most famous Viking Age excavations in England was that around the church of St. Wystan in Repton, Derbyshire, between 1974 and 1993. It uncovered considerable evidence for the presence of the 873-4 AD Viking winter camp recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Among the discoveries were a small fortification, ‘Scandinavian’ burials. Most strikingly there was a mound burial containing the disarticulated bones of at least 264 people. Were these the bones of the Viking army and their followers? This talk presents some of the first results of the scientific analysis of these human remains to determine the geographical origins and social status of those interred.  

Gareth Williams (Curator Viking exhibition, British Museum): Repton revisited: the Viking camps of the Great Army in the light of the Torksey and 'North Yorkshire' sites
The activities of the 'Great Heathen Army' of 865-78 represented an important new phase in Viking activity in England, and one which culminate in the settlement of much of northern and eastern England by the Vikings. This period, which also had parallels in Ireland and the Frankish kingdoms, was characterised by forces campaigning for years at  a time, choosing to over-winter in enemy territory rather than either returning home or (until the very end of the period) settling permanently in the territories they had conquered. This strategy depended on the development each year of so-called 'winter camps' as seasonal bases. Until recently, the only one of these bases to be investigated in any detail was Repton in Derbyshire, where a D-shaped enclosure around the existing monastery church has set a paradigm for what 'Viking camps' were like. Recent years have seen the partial investigation of two new sites, one at Torksey in Lincolnshire, the other in North Yorkshire. Although neither has been fully investigated, they have strong similarities, and suggest a very different scale and character of activity to that suggested in the traditional interpretation of Repton. 

All incredible and remarkable don't you think? Although there is no clear focus to the Symposium lectures provided I quite like the mixture of topics as it makes me think about lots of things I've never considered when discussing the Vikings in any context. Certainly each lecture taught me something new and lots too. I took about 10 pages of notes home with me. And even though I may not use this new knowledge to any degree in my writing I think it's still an awesome way to learn new things on top of all the many books available to read. Plus as it's up-to-date research it isn't reviving old news that people have known or presumed for decades. Just goes to show there is still many amazing things we don't know about the Vikings. Which I am glad for - I want there to always be unknowns so I will never know everything about them hehehe.

The lectures were only 30 minutes each, some had notes and they all had a presentation slide show to better demonstrate excavation sites, artefacts and statistics etc. I quite liked them being only 30 minutes long as it's a nice and easy bite size of knowledge to digest and allows there to be more than a handful of lectures too. There was also a nice lunch provided which allowed eager enthusiasts opportunity to speak to the lecturers as well as mingle and make new friends. I'm half heartedly ashamed to say I stuck to James Aitcheson like glue although we did have a jolly good conversation all day long inbetween lectures. It was nice to have a friendly face there in the crowd of maybe 50 or more.

The extra great thing about the Midlands Viking Symposium is that it is an annual event although it does change location for where it's hosted. And has been enlightening the british public for 10 years! I don't know how I have never heard of it before! Although it took another author friend Giles Kristian to introduce me to the Festival of History now renamed as History Live (mainly by being there as part of a Historical Fiction Festival & where I met him for the 1st time - if he hadn't mentioned it on Facebook I would still be none the wiser) which is a HUGE national celebration of British History and also another annual event. So as well as attending Jorvik Viking Festival & History Live I now have the Midlands Viking Symposium to look forward to every year and get 3 doeses of Vikingy stuff (knowledge or experience) every year! Praise ODIN!

So that is the list and review of the 5 top notch Vikingy events I've already attended this year, 2014, and as you may have guessed there is more to come. In fact in the process of doing these blog posts I came across several other fab vikingy events yet to come that are now in my diary.

I will reveal details of them all tomorrow so others may get as much enjoyment & benefit from them as I do. May the vikingy events never end! 

For 2014 is the Year of the Vikings!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

2014: Year of the Viking - Jorvik Viking Centre turns 30! Celebrations & Memories (Part 4/5)

On the 14th February in 1984 following a hugely and possibly surprising excavation close to the centre of York a special Museum & exhibit space unlike ANY OTHER before was created. Jorvik Viking Centre was born! I praise Odin every day that his whispers of wisdom guided the brilliant minds to fund and build such a place that is like a museum and a theme park ride all-in-one not to mention the many other special exhibits, lectures & of course it's internationally famous Viking Festival held annual also for the past 30 years.

My earliest memories of visiting the centre are blurry at best and I can't honestly recall how old I was at the time or whether I visited with friends & family or with school although both types of visitors do attend all year long. What I do remember is the smell - yes this is a museum that really tries its best to bring the Viking Age to all the senses. So when you begin the ride through history the smell you get is a mix of....a pigsty and rather filthy and defiled urban public toilets. But let me distract you from such an experience by showing how it's not just the sight & smell that the Jorvik team have recreated - they have also established their best guess at the soundtrack of life at Jorvik during the Viking Age. One of the first characters you meet in the city is a Viking making bone combs (evidence the Vikings were as vain as us) and the rather friendly and comforting voice guide that you listen to in the time travelling cart (I do often think it is Professor Alice Roberts) will speak directly to this character in Old Norse and the character replies. So you get to hear the words that would have echoed off the wooden rafters of houses and have bounced down the allies as people went about their lives. It really is an ultra cool touch to the experience. 
As you travel along through the streets of Jorvik you get to see how the houses at the time were developing, changing and even expanding. From houses with wattle and daub walls to ones made using old ship timber planks and were built with a first floor not just a bungalow type structure. Demonstrated by passing a blacksmiths where you can see the burning embers of the furnace through the wattle & daub wall. You also see a dog chasing a cat through the streets and children running around. You will see a lovely holographic view over the River Ouse where traders have harboured their ships and unloading their cargo and people gathering around them to trade and barter for food and luxury items like amber from the Baltic. Following the theme of trade you reach the street Jorvik sits on - Cupper Gate - aka Copper Gate aka Street of the Cup Makers. There is no actual copper metal associated with the name but as a friendly tip for when or if you do visit York to visit Jorvik - all the streets with the word 'Gate' in their name are of norse origin and fit the old street plans from when York was the Viking capital of the Danelaw. From Cupper Gate you go onto a busy market street where stalls are selling furs, bone combs, metal items and jewellrey, meat, produce and yes wooden cups and bowls. Again here is where the soundtrack brings it all to life as you pass a couple arguing, angry faces, raised voices and waving arms. You then proceed into a Viking house viewing what the bottom floor and top floor was used for such as cooking and making things or sleeping and storage. And then you get another excellent glimpse into the facts of life in Jorvik with cesspits and rubbish pits close together in the backyard close to hanging meats etc. So don't ever complain about your bins not being emptied on time - the Vikings had to live with it gathered in sight & smell of the living area. Although a lot of what they used apart from bone probably rotted away naturally.

At that point you return to the 20th century hopefully a lot more grateful for the many everyday luxuries we all enjoy. You then get to see 2 genuine viking age skeletons excavated at Hungate which is just up the road from Copper Gate. And you get to learn about the glorious Coppergate Helmet - yes us northerners are always having better alternatives to southern discoveries hehehe no offence meant to Sutton Hoo but this is similar in style with engraved patters along the 'spine' of the helmet cap and onto the nose guard. There are also section relating to the invasion of the Great Army in the 7th/8th centuries and of course the final mass Viking invasion - of Harald Hardrada, King of Norway and so began the 3 epic battles of 1066 and it is to Jorvik's credit that they pay homage to the often forgotten battle of Fulford the last battle Hardrada won against the Anglo-Saxons.

Next you enter Aladdin's cave Norse style aka the Jorvik Gift Shop filled with gifts and replicas and most importantly to me BOOKS for every type of person with every level of interest from the curious to the hard core fans (I count myself in the latter). At every Jorvik Viking Festival each year I deliberately enter the gift shop and raid it for something memorable (usually a book or two or maybe a nice coaster/mug/pen/bookmark/figurine etc) to mark the occasion. And I did so again for it's 30th Anniversary.
I simply couldn't resis a book full of saga references & a book that uses an exclamation mark next to the word Vikings

Now speaking of Jorvik Viking Festivals I have been attending them since 2006 when I happened to come across a mock battle with my Mum, I made her follow the crowd of warriors to satisfy my curous demands, and it features an Athelstan character who was defending (or attacking can't quite remember exactly) the most famous Viking before Hardrada, Eric Bloodaxe!

King Athelstan (aka formerly Guthrum) left vs Eric Bloodaxe (former King of Jorvik) right
Now the best way to demonstrate my personal favourite highlights of the several and often consecutive Jorvik Viking Festival's I've been too (although 2014 has to be my favourite due to the elements of norse mythology involved) is through showcase a few of my proudest photos from each of them. It will be hard but I will do it, I will have to make hard decisions to honour the great and glorious Jorvik Viking Centre's 30 years of fueling my passion for all things vikingy. It was these festivals that really kicked it all of for me and has established a viking addiction in my life. So let us begin:
Jorvik Viking Festival 2008 - Taken hostage albeit I was very willing to be taken. Notice the hand designed cloak I wore with pride (I'm not a re-enacter in any sense) even though its more mythical than historical.
Jorvik Viking Festival 2009 - warriors gather for battle preparations in Museum Gardens. This photo actually got requested to be used on a Tourist Map site to mark where Jorvik was - hence I'm mega proud of it :)
Jorvik Viking Festival 2010 - one greybead warrior and one new-beard (don't tell him otherwise) caught watching battle preparations once more set in the grounds of the Museum Gardens. Find this rather comical & sweet at the same time.
SPECIAL Author Meeting - Jorvik Viking Festival 2010 - despite what I said about 1 photo I could NOT forget to proudly show off this photograph of me meeting author Cresside Cowell, witty genius behind the How to Train Your Dragon books and thus the pure inspiration behind the animated films. The books are different to the films but equally brilliant for young & old.
SPECIAL Author Meeting - Jorvik Viking Festival 2011 - Giles Kristian *swoons behind desk* a SUPER talented and young and ever so slightly rather attractive guy with true viking blood flowing through his veins. I met him 1st at Festival of History in 2010 and he was kind enough to let me know he'd be raiding York Waterstones so I dropped by - dressed in my full nordic gear as you do hehehe -and I've been 'stalking' him ever since :) . Author of Raven Blood Eye, Sons of Thunder, Odinn's Wolves & BRAND NEW for 2014 - GOD OF VENGEANCE! If you don't order it and read it you are a nithing! That's how BRILLIANT it is!
Proof Giles Kristian liked my rather ameteurish cloak :)
Jorvik Viking Festival 2012 - The Battle of Fulford Tapestry on display during it's final stages of completion at a naarl binding event (norwegian stitching) - a great event demonstrating the diversity of opportunities at the festival to learn & discovery something new. You'd be surprised how many people DID NOT KNOW Hardrada landed at Scarborough which too has viking heritage - apparently the name belongs to a Viking called Thorgils Skarthi and founded Skardaborg  - see Wikipedia Early History of Scarborough.
SPECIAL Author Meeting - Jorvik Viking Festival 2012 - James Aitcheson is another super friendly and talented historical fiction writer who has taken the really original approach of not writing about the typical Vikings I am used to but their 'civilised' descendants - the Normans (if you don't believe me Normandy literally means 'Land of the Northmen' so there) and the great and gripping action packed (and often forgotten) aftermath years of 1066's Norman Conquest. His written 3 books in his Tancred series Sworn Sword, The Splintered Kingdom & Knights of the Hawk.

Now here is where I want to take a little detour from the Jorvik Viking Festivals as I sadly missed out on Festival 2013 due to academic committments in North Wales of all places BUT there was a Jorvik highlight for the year and that was it's Jorvik Heroes Exhibition which did occur that year and I was able to eagerly attend.
Jorvik Heroes Exhibition - July 2013 - Lathgertha - proud to see Jorvik Viking Centre celebrate and honour not just the many great viking men of history but also women (besides Lagertha there was info on Erik Freydisdottir and Aud the Deep Minded). The fact that she is compared to a Valkyrie in battle is awesome although sadly due to her main and only reference being in the saga of Ragnar Lothbroke it is impossible to say if she was a real warrior woman. But I'm sure viking women weren't as fragile as anglo-saxon women.
SPECIAL Author Meeting - Jorvik Viking Festival 2014 - Joanne Harris at her launch of the EPIC Gospel of Loki (yes that's right Loki is telling us how wrong we all are about him and the other gods). She is one of my all time favourite Norse Fantasy authors and I LOVED her Runemarks & Runelight books and eagerly awaiting book 3!
Jorvik Viking Festival 2014 - People gather from across the city around the root-tree of Yggdrasil itself to witness the epic storytelling live drama of Ragnarok - the gods final battle, Odin vs Fenrir, Thor vs Jormungand and Heimdall vs Loki. It was a truly magnificent setting and the use of lighting & the narrator's script was incredibly well done.
And that - is the say is that, history, memories, all treasured and enjoyed of the many years I've been experiencing the fantastic Jorvik Viking Centre - long may it reign in Jorvik and hopefully I will be around to witness it's 50th birthday - that will be an amazing moment - for them to have been teaching the British and international public the truth about Vikings for half a century!

Tomorrow we reach the conclusion of the vikingy events I've been attending so far in 2014 - and this event was experienced only 2 weeks ago and it's all thanks to Mr James Aitcheson pictured earlier and offers a secondary annual viking dose for addicts like myself. It is known on the street as the Midlands Viking Symposium! And I promise I will try to post my review of it in a bit more of a  reasonable hour although I must warn you it may be as long as this one due to the vast delights I had at it. I do hope you can visit again to learn more tomorrow night.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

2014: Year of the Viking - Vikings: Life & Legend Exhibit + Live Broadcast from the British Museum (Part 3/5)

Ok folks prepare yourself for the ULTIMATE Viking frenzied hyperventilation as I do my fairly ameteur review of the most famous exhibit of the 21st Century Vikings: Life & Legend at the British Museum.

I was fortunate enough to go with a nice history student group and their ultra pro-Anlgo-Saxon teacher on a college trip from where I work on Thor's-Day 20th March. So not too long after the BBC Magazine's Viking Day (see how busy I have been?).

Outside this monolith of British & world wide history - like entering Valhalla!

Inside the Museum and outside the Vikings exhibit gallery eagerly waiting to go in.
Sadly due to the fragile nature of many of the exhibit items and probably more to do with massive numbers of people all flashing their cameras photography was not allowed so I recommend to any that do ago take a pen, pencil and paper. You can make notes as you go round and even have a stab at sketching something that you admire.

You may also like to make sure you are carrying something light, have a bottle of water to hand and wear comfortable shoes as you will be doing a lot of standing and looking in pure wonder at things - firstly because each item has a story to tell you that will change what you think about Vikings and secondly because although groups of visitors are allowed in at set times despite this well planned system touring the exhibit still turns into one very long queue as each individual purposefully and quite rightly takes their time to look at each display. So should you! I implore you to not rush by each object as for most people it takes a certain amount of finances and time if you want to get a 2nd viewing so make every minute in their count. Especially as you won't have the luxury of photographs.

Now there are hundreds if not thousands of individual objects on display in the exhibit from the human remains of the unfortunate mass viking raiding party burial found in Weymouth only a few years ago to tiny piece of hoard silver & gold through to a viking skull with deliberately filed teeth (eeeeesh they were scary for a reason) and even a toy wooden longship/boat a viking lad may have played with and imagined his future adult life. Due to the vastness of the exhibit I'm going to elaborate on a handful of my personal favourites. 

1. The Longest Viking Warship/Longship EVER FOUND - ROSKILDE 6
I WISH I could express how LONG and HUGE and B E A UTIFUL (spacing is deliberate for emphasis) it is - even if only a fifth of the hull wood is there and the rest if conjured on an elegant metal frame. The following details are affectionately and effectively reitterated from the magnificent catalogue/guide book that is in sync with the Exhibit as well as providing lots of more - click this link to go through to the online shop and buy it for yourself - if you don't get to see any of the exhibit this book is still a treasure trove for any keen viking history fan to have.
With the steal frame around the timber remains it measures at more than 37 metres and had perhaps as many as 40 pairs of oars and is thought to be connected with the reign of King Cnut as the wood dates from the early 10th century (1025ish) whom was the King of Norway, Denmark and some parts of Sweden as well as England at the time. From what I can read in the book (Yes I have YET to read it but I do intent to devour it from cover to cover) it seems it was not deliberately sunk in any religious manner and due to the lack of remains it may be more to do with it being an old or damaged ship at the time and was dragged out away from the shore line to be hacked to pieces. But we will never really know the cause of its location or who owned it or who sailed it who built it.
However it has it's own magic and power to sway the imagination through placing the remaining timbers in the frame. For one who has never seen any other longship of any type in any museum before (only seen pictures of the equally beautiful Osberg ship in books) it will take your breath away 100% guaranteed. To see how big it is in the space of the Exhibit without a tall mast and a full sail allows viewers to imagine any kind of raiding party or gang of viking traders/explorers sailing under a sail of any colour or design. I dearly hope someone someday in my lifetime gets the finances and support together to build a replica of this magnificent sea-beast.

2. Viking ladies BLING jewellrey - 2kg GOLD neck ring
This is the Viking equivilent to a GIANT DIAMOND ring but it's made of pure gold and hangs around the neck. This particular item is from the 10th century and found in Zealand, Denmark and has an actual diametre of 35 cms - that's longer than your average ruler! And is made of 2 KILOGRAMS of twisted gold strands as thick as shoelaces. But it's not just the weight and the size of this that impressed me the most - no it's the fact that the lady Viking who owns this is NOT JUST wealthy enough or high status enough to own let alone wear it (it must be cumbersome and heavy) but they were THAT wealthy they could afford to undo one of the gold strands and chop bits off as favours or payment to some loyal servant or ally. Effectively like a mobile purse that you wear. Truly remarkable for the significance it has in their society not to mention the craftsmanship of making the huge thing.

3. Viking mans BLING jewellrey - Brooch the size of a dinner plate
This ball-penannular brooch is not exactly as big as the gold neck ring but it isn't far off simply due to the length of it's needle. Some lads in the group I was wish did make a surprising comment about maybe the Vikings measured their masculinity not just in their swords but the length of their brooch pins. To give you an idea of how long it is the brooch piece, the long curve, has a diameter of 19.5 cms but the brooch needle is 46 cms long!!!! And somehow it was worn on a mans chest holding not just his cloak up but probably several other layers as well. The exhibit thankfully had a rather simple outline of a man wearing it and the needle protruding proudly over his shoulder - you certainly wouldn't want to attack him from behind you might impale yourself. The design of the brooch is fairly simple but the sheer quite ridiculous length of the needle must surely mean it was a brooch worn only on special high status or religious occasions, right? This too is dated from the 10th century and found in Bodin, Norway - so sadly it can't belong to the husband of the wife who owns the 2kg neck ring hehehehe. But we can imagine - I wonder how it would have cost to make or trade?

4. Odin in your pocket - or in this case as a minature pendant
Now I know Odin All-Father has a talent for disguises and shape-shifting as much as Loki and Heimdall but this minute silver figurine which could have hung on a chain/leather necklace is only 1.75cms tall and 1.98cms wide - that's right it's could fit inside a thimble! Yet the detail of it is AMAZING! Modern jewellers would probably need a special microscope to engrave such features upon Odin's clothes, his beard, his eyes (correction 1 eye), the wings of Hugnin and Mugnin sitting either side of him and even the beast figureheads on the posts of his high throne. I can't start to imagine in all honestly how the super talented viking who wanted this made would start going about carving out a mould for the molten silver to be cast in due to its minute size. The catalogue does suggest it could alternatively represent a Volva - a Viking Sorceress/Witch but with two clear ravens either side it to me at least can be none other tha the All-Father, High-One, One-Eye himself. It is supposedly dated between 800-1050 and found in Zealand, Denmark. Any viking who wore this as a pendant/amulet or carried it with him on raids or travels was surely hoping for some favour from the god.

6. Valkyrie in your pocket - yep turns out there is one for the lady vikings
This although listed 6th does not imply in anyway a drop in admiration for this particular object. This battle-maiden, sword-maiden, shield-maiden or Valkyrie (debate is still going on) is slightly bigger than the silver War God she serves at 3.4cms heigh but that is still ridiculously small (did the Vikings ever consider they might loose her? Or is she part of a personal collection?). She is gilded with silver and has black neillo inlay on her round shield (yes hence the name shield-maiden) in her right hand (quite correct) and she is holding an erect sword (hence sword-maiden) in her left. She is clearly a female figure due to her long hair being tied into a kind of ponytail at the back (yes she is in full 3D detail) and her v-necked vest and skirt like attire on her legs. She is slightly damaged at the bottom and ironically enough the damage makes it look like she got peckish and took a bit out of her shield (similar to the Beserker peices from the famous Lewis Chessmen set - also viewable at the exhibit). The catalogue describes her as a 'possible valkyrie' which is primarily because Valkyries have only ever been found in stone carvings depicted as offering mead to warriors or indeed Odin in a Valhalla like scene or mentioned in Sagas with a mythical and therefore fictional origin. But to me at least if a male viking wants a silver figurine of Odin why should a woman viking want a figurine of Freya (none have yet to be found for this particular Goddess) or a Valkryie (which are female warriors closely linked to Freya) to hopefully bless them with protection or a good harvest why their men are away annoying their international neighbours? Or discovering Iceland/Greenland/New Foundland? It makes sense to me and seems only fair as so many Catholics wear the cross or carry a St Christopher coin.

Yes - I was there - I went in my viking fancy dress not historically accurate I know - I honour the norse myths more than the vikings themselves (notice Hugning & Muning on cloak corners and runes down the front - more detailed embroidery at the back). But I never turn down an opportunity to show my viking side.

This LIVE broadcast tour of the exhibit is a true stroke of GENIUS! Whoever suggested it at the British Museum needs a 100% pay rise! It is a truly fantastic way of bringing the exhibit to the many hundreds if not thousands who can't afford to go in person or who have other committments. Plus for those who have seen it is an extra bonus and the awesome thing about it is the one-to-one nature of the many fab presenters and experts and even guests who were involved.

Meet the presenters

They all gave the exhibit a real buzz and helped explain and even show lots more behind several of the exhibit items including the Vale of York hoard which is Gareth William's personal favourite having plucked one of the hundreds of coins out from one very old ceremonial silver bowl. But speak of Gareth, he too really siezed the opportunity to show his Viking Side for just as we entered the section where they were discussing viking warriors who should appear in full battle gear with axe and sword and helmet and chainmail and shielf and even a horn?! GARETH WILLIAMS! Turns out from a young age he got into re-enactment which he revealed is the best way of testing and learning how things were used. The other highlight of the Live broadcast was the amazing camera work when showing off Roskile 6 - so many different sliding and moving angles set to dramatic music almost brought me to tears (honestly!) because it reminded me how beautiful and magnificent it must have been in its prime. Judith Jesch, whom I had met briefly the week before at the BBC History Magazine's Viking Day was also in attendance and even discussed the role of women in the Viking Age as well as the debated issue regarding female viking warriors and Valkyries. It was a shame we couldn't take notes due to the black out conditions with the cinema but I know every single person who watched it Live learnt something new and hopefully went away with a refreshed attitude towards Vikings and their role in British and international history as every stage or story behind the segments of the exhibit was talked through. I WISH the broadcast could be released on DVD because I would greatly enjoy watching it over and over again as a momento of this true ONCE IN A LIFE TIME exhibit.

So if you are beginning to release how much you are missing out on because you can't attend or/and missed out on the Live broadcast I say this BUY THE CATALOGUE it is a very suitable and magnificent alternative which discussed many of the exhibit items and provides even more that weren't there.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

2014: Year of the Vikings - BBC History Magazine's Viking Day (Part 2/5)

My 2nd viking event for 2014 took place on Saturday the 15th March and was organised by the BBC History Magazine and simply called Viking Day - a day with 5 lectures given my experts, historians and archeologists on a wide range of aspects of viking culture and history. This also included Gareth Williams from the British Museum giving his lecture on Ships in the Viking Age which I had heard a month previously at the Jorvik Viking Festival

Sadly due to the unfortunate 5.30am get up and nearly 4 hours on a train, having on got back into my home town of Huddersfield at 10pm the previous night for a work related event in London I was slightly too tired to consider the idea that I might need pen and paper to take notes during the lectures.

So the following thoughts and comments regarding each of them are based purely on memory and a memory that isn't always reliable- although I do remember meeting a certain young favourite viking author of mine - Mr Giles Kristian (his new Viking book 'God of Vengeance' is OUT NOW in beautiful hardback - click the title to see my full review). It was in fact Giles himself mentioning this even on Facebook which made me aware of it so you could say my very long train journey is all his fault hehehe. I joke, I joke.

Janina Ramirez

Talk: The Vikings as ‘Other’: Are ‘They’ In Fact ‘Us’?
Janina will consider what we know about the Vikings from Anglo-Saxon sources, settlement theories and DNA analysis.
Janina Ramirez teaches the history of art at the University of Oxford and has presented several BBC series, including Viking Art and Treasures of the Anglo-Saxons on BBC Four

- due to train delays I missed the first 10 minutes of this lecture but the rest was very enlightening with Janina exploring and explaining DNA studies of certain areas of the north of English, can't quite remember which areas, which demonstrated how although some families genetics may contain more norse than most we all share a little part of the vikings. Janina also dispelled quite a few urban myths about the vikings such as their cleanliness and most importantly the fact that they DID NOT WEAR HORNS! I think she may have also mentioned about the shared language with the Vikings bringing many hundred if not thousands of new words that are still used in modern vocabulary such as windows and spoon and he/she/they. There was a chance to ask questions and I asked Janina if the essence of 'otherness' about the Vikings prevented much debate or indeed interest in later centuries regarding the very stable and peaceful reign of one and only Viking King, King Cnut and indeed his viking descended, Norman Queen, Queen Emma. -

Philip Parker
Talk: Ruling without Kings: State and Society in Viking Iceland
The Viking discovery and settlement of Iceland around AD 874 led to the creation of a unique society, the Icelandic Commonwealth, which was free for almost four centuries of the rule of kings. Philip will examine how that society evolved and finally collapsed, leading to the imposition of royal rule by the kings of Norway.
Philip Parker is a writer and historian specialising in late antiquity and early medieval Europe. He is the author of The Northmen’s Fury: A History of the Viking World (Jonathan Cape, 2014)

- this lecture by Philip Parker was equally enlightening regarding the complicated and yet highly successful and unique form of governing the settlers of Iceland established without a single head of state. I read a book on Viking Age Iceland several years ago when my first norse writings were set on an Iceland-like island called Thule which is what some old sagas and records refer to Iceland as. In fact the main piece I remember from this lecture was as Philip explained that Iceland nearly became known as Snowland, really? True, the second Viking who discovered actually settled for more than jus a winter for a new sailing season to begin and he renamed it Iceland. I know understand that the All-Thing wasn't just a meeting for the various Godi's (a Farmers Jarl) and their superior Godi's that I can't remember the precise name of meet to discuss recent acts of crime or bloodshed or trade disputes but it was also treated like a festival and national market. Traders would indeed follow their Godi's to sell produce and families would attend whether involved in any legal dispute or not. It also showed how much pressure the Icelanders must have been under to end their form of stable independent government after several hundred years by conceding Iceland to Norwegian rule. From what I know now the many christian priests and bishops sent over to convert were doing more than change the ways of souls but also the will of the political establishment. I managed to meet him briefly afterward to get my copy of his new HUGE book The Northmen's Fury: A History of the Viking World signed and I have started it and it is a very good read not at all overly academic or boring and give me a few months and I may well put up a review of it hehehe-

Gareth Williams

Talk: Ships and Society in the Viking Age
The many achievements of the Vikings were only possible because of their skill as shipbuilders and seamen. Gareth will explore the development of the Viking ship, and its role within Viking society.
Gareth Williams is curator of the forthcoming British Museum exhibition Vikings: Life and Legend, and author of The Viking Ship (British Museum Press, 2014)

- read my full review and thoughts of this particular lecture in previous blog post -

Dr Ryan Lavelle

Talk: Fighting the Vikings: War and Peace in Viking-Age Britain
Looking at the experience of war and peace in England and other parts of Britain in the Viking Age, Ryan will address the defensive responses to Viking attacks. He will also consider the ways in which the English conducted warfare aggressively against their neighbours, displaying, in many ways, ‘Viking’ behaviour of their own.
Dr Ryan Lavelle is senior lecturer in medieval history at the University of Winchester, and an expert in Anglo-Saxon history. He is author of Alfred’s Wars: Sources and Interpretations of Anglo-Saxon Warfare in the Viking Age (Boydell, 2010)

-  Unfortunately my memory is stretched thin when I try and recall much from this lecture and I must stress that it is not at all because it was boring in the slightest, every one of these lectures taught me something new and I didn't fall asleep at all although I did notice one guy sat the back snoring his head off upright. I think Dr Ryan discussed the use of horses in battle and stressed that he believed from studying records including the Bayeux Tapestry that although the Norman invasion fleet carried horses the Great Heathen Army from previous centuries didn't and that the Vikings 'sourced' aka stole mounts from places that they raided and looted once they had disembarked on land. This did encourage an interesting debate between a member of the audience who had to me clearly been speaking to Giles Kristian during a coffee break regarding his personal experience rowing a replica longship and this audience member avidly believed that such ships had space around the mast post to accomodate horses without loosing out too many rowers and war gear required for any raid or invasion.-

Judith Jesch

Talk: Treasures of the Sword-Trees: Viking Poets and Poetry
The Vikings were accomplished poets as well as raiders, traders and settlers. Judith’s talk will explore what Viking poetry tells us about their attitudes to sailing, war, treasure – and love.
Judith Jesch is professor of Viking studies at the University of Nottingham. She is author of Viking Poetry of Love and War (British Museum Press, 2013)

- now this for me was the real gem as I've read a few Norse Saga's such as Grettir's Saga and Egil's Saga and have noticed some poetry and clever kennings within them but I've never considered deliberately studied or read dedicated norse poetry. And boy they are not just pretty phrases made by a drunken inspired viking after a raid the poems Judith gave as examples had stories to tell about war, about love, about women and about longships. They are also incredibly complex with alliteration, highlights different stresses, use of odd and even patterns in the lines and in each sentence. And some of the way things and people are described without being obvious are very difficult to work out whereas if you asked a Viking from the time they could probably solve it easily as the imagery is often used relates to how they see the world. After her lecture I managed to have the chance to buy Judith's book on Viking Poetry of Love and War and get it signed alongside a newly bought copy from the Jorvik Viking Festival 'Women in the Viking Age.'.-

And here are the 3 fantastically new and exciting viking non-fiction books I have YET to devour alongside the 2 from the earlier lecture by Gareth Williams. I can assure you all now that once each has been read a full review will be posted and it will join my growing collection of vikingy books at the Fantasy Guide site.

And that sums up my 2nd vikingy event for 2014 for this Tyr's-day - tomorrow is Woden (aka Odin)'s Day and so something fairly substantial must be dragged out of my memory for a suitable sacrifice - how about my review of the British Museum's Vikings: Life and Legend Exhibit?
Yes it's the one review many on the internet are clammering for and to give you a taster of what I think and what you will learn here is a simple phrase to take as you will


*I swear on my valkyrian wings that I will try to get this special review up at a bit more of a reasonable hour - if not you can all call me a Nithing*

Monday, 5 May 2014

2014: Year of the Vikings - Jorvik Viking Festival 2014 (Part 1/5)

2014 is the year of the Vikings and I don't mean just for me. Simply look to the British Museum hugely successful Vikings: Life and Legend exhibit made of national and international artefacts including the jaw dropping Roskilde6 the longest warship longship ever found. Then for those not fascinated by genuine history there is the also hugely popular and successful Vikings TV series by the american History Channel. Which follows the life of Ragnar Lothbroke a figure from genuine nordic sagas although great artistic license has been used but very well and it is directed by the man behind the UK series The Tudors.

I will elaborate more on my own personal experience at the British Museum exhibit and their live broadcast shown at cinemas nation wide in another post later this week.
But for today I want to focus on one of my all time favourite annual event that is THE JORVIK VIKING FESTIVAL run and organised by the Jorvik Viking Centre the UKs museum for all things vikingy centred at the captial of the former Danelaw. The Festival and the Centre reached an important milestone this year and has been enlightening the british public and international tourists the Vikings many non-barbaric qualities for 30 years! Makes it only 4 years older than me.

It was unfortunate that I could not attend last years Festival, which would have been my consecutive 5th, due to an educational committment. So I was even more determined to attend this years Festival and the wait proved worthwhile as this years theme was Ragnark: Norse myths and legends - which is the main reason why I love the Vikings. Not for the many lands they explored and discovered or the great trade routes they established but the great and epic stories of their heroes and gods which shaped the way they saw and acted in the world.

This years festival was one half experienced mainly due to a council in West Yorkshire where I mainly live and work deciding to have our half term week the week after the Festival. Whereas in previous years my half term and the Festival have been in sync. However, like the Vikings I merely saw it as a challenge to overcome. I could still attend great events held on the weekends and would just miss out on those during the week. In this approach I was fortunate as 3 excellent events were held on the weekends.

1st event on Saturday 15th of Feb was a talk on Ships in the Viking Age by Gareth Williams who also happens to be the lead curator at the British Museum and responsible for thr Viking exhibit. It was a packed room and he introduced and enlightened us all on the main purpose of boat building and development in Scandinavia - the seas and coastline plus travel and trade was also much easier over water than land. He also discussed the origins of viking ships from padled boats to rowing boats to the introduction of sails. We also got told about how the now famous Roskilde6 ship was discovered as the Roskilde Ship museum was expanding its own harbour where many of its replica ships are built. As you  can guess from the number Roskilde6 wasn't the only ship discovered.  In fact 9 long ships were found during the harbour expansion. Some appear to have been deliberately sunk others it is inconclusive.  With Roskilde6 there isn't sadly a lot of it remaining,  maybe about 15% including the central piece of wood that a lot of the ships frame is built upon and that is how they are able to say with confidence it is the longest longship ever found. It was really interesting and made me appreciate these fine vessels that brought the Vikings to countries far and wide. It also made me appreciate the Vikings even more for the skill and expertise they had honed as sharp as an axe blade to not only build such fine craft but to sail them allowing them to follow their curiosity as well as maybe a bit of saga fame. At the end of the lecture the audience was able to buy a copy of the book on Viking Age ships written by Gareth Williams but also the catalogue & guide book to the British Museum exhibit that Gareth helped edit. So if you guessed I got both you would be corect.

2nd event on Sunday 16th was an author event involving one of my all time favourites and one of the first norse fantasy authors I read and loved many years ago now - Joanne Harris - who wrote the epic Runemarks, Runelight. At this event she was releasing her new norse fantasy the Gospel of Loki. In honour of the God of Mischief I wore one of my only norse myth tshirts and here it is:

Rather apt don't you think? Well I am pleased to say that Joanne herself liked it too when she noticed me wearing it as I came up to get my copy of Gospel of Loki signed. However before any book signing Joanne gave us a fantastic insight into how her obsession with norse mythology started and I'm proud to say it all began with a book in her local library that she managed to persuade her rather strict Librarian to allow her to read if not borrow. She then read out a section from the book which involved Thor and Loki acquiring two human followers and fans much to Loki's annoyance which was rather amusing. If you click on the title link the previous paragraph you will see what I thought of the entire book but to sum it up in one word - Awesome. And here is a photo of myself with the special lady:

The 3rd and final event I attended as part of the Viking Festival was of course the much anticipated Finale Battle & Fireworks display which didn't disappoint due to the theme being Ragnarok it had to be a battle to end all battles and of course end of the world. I managed to arrive early enough to get close to the fence for a good view and what a view it was, based in the circular lawn outside Castle Museum. It was like the Jorvik team had brought Yggdrasil to us as we all stood in the dark eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Gods of Asgard and the unworthy undead from Hel under the leadership of Loki.

This however is my favourite shot of great tree that holds the nine realms as the well scripted narrator informing the thousands gathered who was fighting how described the collapse of Bitfrost the Rainbow Bridge that connects Asgard to Midgard under the fiery power of Sutr.

And just as the viking world according to legend ended with the deaths of their gods so did the Jorvik Viking Festival for 2014 - and we can all claim to have survived it as we live in a world born again, a brave new viking world and look forward to Jorvik 2015!

Apologies for the 2 month delay but as you will soon see I've been busy attending other fantastic Viking events.

Tomorrow (sometime between 6-8pm) you will learn about the BBC History Magazine's Viking Day - a day of lectures with experts, historials and more including Gareth Williams again.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Becky Bookworm Book Review: Foretold (Sisters of Fate Bk 1) by Rinda Elliott

It's nice to see not only a whole new and refreshing take on blending norse mythology and the modern world with a great love story but also one where the Norns, the weavers of fate, take the lead role and not the other famous Aesir or even Valkyries. Really helps not only a modern audience connect with them but also broadens and stretches the mythology to a whole new level. Click on the beautiful cover to read my full review of Foretold - book one in the Sisters of Fate trilogy.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Becky Bookworm Book Review: God of Vengeance by Giles Kristian - Terrific Thors-day Tales

Simply Viking fiction in PEAK PRIME condition. If you think the Raven trilogy by Giles before is the best Viking fiction you have ever read - well, prepare to be struck by the power of Mjolnir itself due to the majestic power of Sigurd the Lucky's Saga.

Forget Raven, forget Uhtred (Cornwell), forget Orm (Low) and forget Thorgil (Severin) - in Sigurd the Lucky - Giles Kristian has created a Viking that outshines others, as bright as Bitfrost itself.

Read my full review by clicking on this legendary over design - warning - my excitement for this book resulted in the perhaps misuse of the caps button.

Here is a link back to all 3 of my reviews of the Raven trilogy: Raven Blood Eye, Sons of Thunder & Odin's Wolves - because believe me after reading the above you will WANT to read if not re-read the trilogy all over again...


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