Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Vikings Are Coming

The Vikings are coming and I'm quite excited about it. The 'Vikings: Life and Legend' exhibition opens at the British Museum on March 6th, I've been waiting for this for about 18 months (it's something D and I are both quite enthusiastic about). Vikings could have been designed to make history interesting to young children; treasure, violence, great myths - what's not to love? Growing up in Shetland Vikings were quite popular, it's one of those parts of the country where a Viking heritage is quite close to the surface. You can find it in place names, in archaeology, in boat design - the list could go on but I'll wrap it up with Up Helly Aa, the fire festivals which start in January to welcome back the return of the light.

Up Helly Aa (the main one takes place on the last Tuesday of January and it should be possible to watch it live on the web, though not for me - I'll be at work) in it's current form is only a little over a 100 years old but has appropriated it's own Viking mythology. However fanciful and inauthentic the imagery they use is I cannot stress enough how damn impressive the actual procession is. The chances of the last Tuesday in January being blessed with pleasant weather are insignificant but it doesn't deter the crowds. Lerwick is a small town so when you have hundreds of men marching with burning torches it's hard to ignore, only a few are dressed as Vikings but in the dark and from a distance you can't tell that, and naff as the galley they burn is it still looks awesome when it's alight.

The Up Helly Aa galley was my first idea of a Viking long ship - not necessarily one that would strike awe and fear into the onlooker, but still enough to capture the imagination. When I first saw pictures of something like the real thing I was definitely unimpressed, and then I actually saw something like the real thing The Skidbladner is a reproduction based on one of the Roskilde ships. She was abandoned in Shetland where I first saw her parked up in a boatyard - this boat really did have an air of menace about it. A few years later on a visit to Islay we were fortunate to coincide with the Sea Stallion on her journey to Dublin. Seeing a square sail on the horizon against a foreground of suitably dramatic rocks was enough to give me goosebumps but it wasn't until later when we saw it moored at a distillery that we realised it really was a Viking ship. After all this time the chance to see what's left of a real boat is going to be a treat.

Image by David Gifford, google him, there are some great pictures 


  1. I'm looking forward to the Viking exhibition too! I've seen some of the pieces coming across when I was in Copenhagen I think but can't wait to see the boat. Plus, any excuse to go to the BM is of course delightful. ;)

  2. I have such high hopes for this exhibition and mean to try and catch the Georgians at the British library on the same day. I have Roskilde on my wish list of places to go as well but it's not happened yet.