As I told you last time (pay attention there!), Sigoth and I went to York last weekend for the annual Viking Festival. There were Vikings Galore! We had a fabulous time. I would recommend it to anyone at a loose end in February half term.
One of the reasons for the trip was that I wanted to buy a dress. This was because, my dears, the invasion of Vikings included a generous array of traders in goods and materials vital to the business of re-enactors. I was amazed to discover that many of the stall-holders were themselves of the Scandinavian persuasion and had made the trip to York for the purposes of trade and profit.
Don’t think I can’t see you rolling your eyes. Yes, you. You know who I mean. Stop it at once. Regular readers will be aware that EBL has more than a passing interest in the history and culture of the early medieval period of English history, also known as the Dark Ages or Anglo-Saxon period. Every now and then I bore you with some Old English texts, or harangue the Vikings at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in September.
I belong to a society which studies the period and we have a stall. We attend the Stamford Bridge event, which is rather strangely organised by the local Viking re-enactment group. I say “strangely” because of course the Vikings lost that battle horribly. Harold Godwineson, aka King Harold II, the one with the arrow in the eye (if you can believe those who embroider history), chased them off in September 1066 before dashing south to confront William of Normandy. The Vikings were more than decimated, needing only about 24 ships to take home the survivors who had arrived in an army carried by around 300 ships.
Here is our stall from a couple of years ago
Anyway, we have a stall at the event and last year we all agreed it would be worth getting some costumes too, as it seems to draw in the punters. We have a couple of men’s outfits but no women’s so I agreed, along with another woman, to get some gender-appropriate gear. To do this, we needed to find suppliers, and who better than the traders at the Viking Festival?
Thus it was arranged. A group of us met at the Minster, ogled the stained glass on display in the Orb (again, if you can – go see this!), then repaired to a nearby pub for a lengthy lunch. We needed the lunch because we were planning activities for another event we shall be attending in May, when we shall demonstrate a number of Anglo-Saxon crafts and generally attempt to brainwash the public into understanding that the period was one of significant interest and importance. We are not overly optimistic; the Vikings seem to generate better PR.
In short – here is the outfit. Sigoth has woven me a belt to go with it. It’s a late period costume; earlier dresses would have been in the style known as “tube-dress”, basically a tube of material held up by shoulder straps pinned in place. They were not especially stylish or flattering. As my friend said, everyone looked like a potato back then.
Of course, Sigoth and I also spent time at some of the special events over the weekend.
First up was the Beowulf by Candlelight in St Helen’s Church. Peter Carrington-Porter performed, without the aid of a safety net, a translated version of the poem. He recited for about 1 ½ hours the tale of Beowulf, Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and Beowulf’s death. Epic tales, epic times!
The next morning, before meeting the group for lunch, we attended the Strongest Viking Competition. Much hilarity ensued although the lads worked pretty hard. There were six events: log carrying; shield wrestling; Dane Axe holding; sword fighting; tug of war; and boasting. The logs were large and heavy. The wrestling was fast and furious (it basically entailed standing on a “shield” or plastic mat, and shoving each other hard with open palms). The axes held had to be extended with the arms at 90 degrees to the body, for as long as possible (the winner was in the region of 120 seconds) and I can tell you the upper body strength required for that was pretty impressive. Sword fighting and tug of war need little introduction. The boasting contest was scored by audience volume. As the boasts for more extreme the cheers got louder. The winner amazed us all by reciting some poetry! The gods love a man who can fight, who is string and who can recite it seems. During the intervals Thor and Loki performed a double act to keep the crowd happy. We were honoured by the presence of the gods among us.
To prove it here are some blurry pictures.
Speedy Viking with heavy tree
That last push saw our man fall off his plastic-mat-shield
This was really hard!
The gods walked among us and taught young people how to disembowel
In the evening we attended the Grand Finale: the creation of the earth and then an attack by the Vanir on Asgard. There were lots of people dressed up in costumes running about in a field pretending to kill one another. Given that it was a February evening in Yorkshire it was freezing and my feet and hands were numb, but it was worth it for the fireworks from Clifford’s Tower at the end.
We missed lots of other events of course: the best beard contest (with categories for men, women and children), Dragon Boats, Viking Bake-Off and the march through town. Maybe next year.
It’s interesting how the Vikings these days are viewed so sympathetically. Of course, England has had its Viking king – Cnut. Just the one though. Perhaps if Harold Godwineson had lost at Stamford Bridge, Harald Hardrada, his opponent, would have seen off the pesky Normans and who knows where we would be now (well, it would be Greater Norway obviously). Or, if Harald had not invaded, HG would not have been so weakened in Hastings.
History turns on a pin and the gods laugh.