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.|
|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.|
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.
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.