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.

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