This years walk - which went for the first time from the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port, along the Shropshire Union Canal and then around the City Walls to St. Olave's Church in Chester was another great success. Despite the non-weekend date of the walk over 40 walkers/pilgrims took part in all or part of the walk, including two pilgrims from Trondheim in Norway.
Pictures from this years walk (courtesy of Astrid Kahler, Eileen Glover and Michael Cooper) can be viewed/downloaded from
From next year onwards we are having the Pilgrimage/walk (22 miles) over 2 days starting at St. Bridget's Church West Kirby and finishing at St. Mary & Helen (Neston) Day 1, and then for Day 2 either doing the Ellesmere Port-Chester (as this year) or instead Neston-Chester taking advantage of a new pathway along the River Dee (which also avoids crossing some dangerous roads). As always, comments/suggestions very much appreciated!
The maiden voyage to Wirral of the biggest ever replica of a Viking longship has been delayed until 2014.
The 35m Draken Harald Hårfagre - Dragon Harald Fairhair in English - was due to set sail for Wirral next summer.
Although construction of the vessel was completed in June its design team say it needs more testing before it can embark upon a long journey on open seas. The team have not had the chance to properly finish the testing before the wintering of the ship and most importantly to experience open sea conditions and very strong winds. They have also learnt that several changes will be required to the ship's rigging and steering oar before they sail again next year and these changes will also have to be tested.
In short the testing has taken longer than they anticipated. The project team, based in Haugesund, Norway, have decided the Draken will stay within Scandinavian waters during the 2013 sailing season for further testing before setting sail for the UK in 2014. Negotiations are now under way for us to visit Haugesund next May to practice rowing alongside the Norwegian crew.
The plan is still that when the boat does arrive in Wirral our now formidable "Viking navy" will row it into the West Float in Wallasey, across the River Mersey to the Albert Dock in Liverpool and out of the estuary again.
Some very good news though!: Negotiations are now under way for our volunteer oarsmen rowers to visit Haugesund next May (cut price!) to practice rowing alongside the Norwegian crew.
9th May 2012: 12 months before the arrival of the largest ever Viking longship reconstruction - the 35m long Draken Harald the Fairhair - into the North West in its maiden voyage from Norway an incredible 55 hardy volunteers turned up for the 1st training session at Liverpool Victoria Rowing Club, West Float, Wallasey - despite appalling weather conditions. Many thanks to all!
Liverpool Victoria are offering a course of 10 lessons for a nominal total of £60 (including insurance) for those volunteers with little or no rowing experience to make sure all volunteers have a reasonable level of competence when the time comes to row the real thing (expected May 2013): men and women volunteers of all ages are welcome so long as you have a reasonable level of fitness. Experienced rowers are also welcome of course! We are looking for a total of 200 volunteers - the current plan is for 100 to bring the vessel into port (West Float Wallasey & rowing across to the Albert Dock, Liverpool), 100 to take it out again before the regular sailing crew take over the helm for the remainder of its journey (Dublin, the Bay of Biscay & beyond).
For volunteers in the North West living north of the Mersey, the Mersey Rowing Club (Queens Dock Liverpool) are offering training.
For those living further afield, Northwich Boat Club are also offering support and for those volunteers from the East Midlands we are currently negotiating with Loughborough Boat Club for support.
If you are living away from these areas and would like to be involved please let either myself or Jim Bibby at Liverpool Victoria know and we will help get you fixed up with a Rowing Club near you.
Latest news about the progress of the vessel can be found on : http://den.vikingkings.com/PortalDefault.aspx?portalID=117&activeTabID=1000&parentActiveTabID=891
and other details/links can be found on the main blogsite below (below the Brunanburh and St. Olave's blogs). More news soon! Please use the comments boxes below if you have any queries email myself or Jim,
All best wishes - and happy rowing!
A new book is out about the Battle of Brunanburh which took place in AD937. It was one of the most defining battles in the history of the British Isles and, as described by BBC Broadcaster Neil Oliver in History of Scotland it determined whether Britain would become one imperial power or stay as separate identities. Although the Northern Alliance of Scots, Strathclyde British and Norsemen from Ireland lost the battle against a combined Anglo-Saxon army from Mercia and Wessex - with heavy losses on both sides - the strong resistance proved decisive in what was to follow.
The Battle of Brunanburh is recorded as a contemporary (or near contemporary) poem in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, although the location of the battle was subsequently forgotten (no doubt the Norman Barons had something to do with this!) & finding it has for the last 200 years been the subject of a considered debate. Compelling arguments have been made for locations as far afield as Lancashire, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and SW Scotland, although the weight of scholarly opinion appears to be in favour of a Wirral location, and not just because Brunanburh is the old name for Bromborough. The book - edited by Michael Livingston of the Citadel, South Carolina USA - takes a fresh look at the Battle and comprises ten wide-ranging essays that provide cultural contexts and address the location as well as other key questions about the conflict. But does it finally bring to an end the most interesting debate about location?
For what its worth my take on this is on: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/ncmh/dna/Brunanburh.htm
Michael Wood's view is on:
and we had a very useful debate at the University of Nottingham on 26th October with Michael (Wood), Paul Cavill and Alex Woolf taking part. One of the conclusions was that maybe we are not too far off a consensus opinion as to what really did happen - and where - all those years ago.
Looking forward to comments, especially from those who have had a chance to read the book,
The walk - held annually on St. Olave's Day - 29th July - in honour of the Viking Saint was attended by a record number of nearly 60 enthusiasts of all ages ranging from 1 to 75 years old. The walk started at St. Mary and St. Helen church at Neston with a minutes silence led by Revd. Neil Robb in honour of the people who lost their lives in the Norwegian tragedy. Walk leader, Wirral born Steve Harding then gave a brief introduction and the hardy band headed off to the Old Quay and along the Dee coast with stops/talks at Denhall Quay, Burton Manor and Shotwick before the group of latter day Wirral Vikings entered the City Walls at
Website for the walk:
The following photographs are courtesy of Dan Kemp, John Lamprell & Burton Manor.
10am.Start at St. Mary & St. Hilary Church, Neston.
Everyone had the chance to see inside the church and the remarkable Irish-Norse stone cross fragments, including the reconstructed "Viking Lady" cross (View image) based on laser scans of one of the fragments and the missing parts of the woman and man based on stonework in Scandinavia such as the Gotland Tjangvide stone (view image) and stonework at Middleton N. Yorks. Most relevant for the walk was the fragment with the Priest (view image), looking remarkably like the carving of a Pilgrim in the Stave Church at Urnes, Sognefjorden (view image).
After a minutes silence in memory of the dead in Norway following the terrible tragedy only days before and a blessing to the walkers/ Saint Olave Pilgrims from Revd. Neil Robb, Steve talked briefly about the purpose of the walk in honoring the Viking saint Olav Haraldsson and Wirral's own great Viking Heritage and Olav's unusual methods of conversion "Let the sword pave the way for the Cross". Norway officially became Christian at a meeting of a Thing (like our Thing at Thingwall) at the island of Mostar in 1024 but Olav died - in battle - on 29 July 1030 at the Battle of Stikletstad. The walkers or pilgrims then set off across fields towards the Old Quay at Neston and then along the old coastline to Denhall Quay.
At this point Steve talked to the group about how the Vikings came to Wirral after being expelled from Ireland in AD902 - and the subsequent agreement their leader Ingimund secured from Aethelflaed, Queen of the Mercian English as recorded in the Chronicles - not the Anglo Saxon but Irish Chronicles known as the Three Fragments. The high density of Norse place names gives us a clear indication that most of them were settled in the northern part of Wirral. Near Neston and Ness is Raby which is old Norse for boundary settlement. The settlements on Wirral must have been substantial as Wirral is one of only 2 areas in England with a Thingwall place name. Thingwall - an old Norse derived name meaning "Assembly Field" - and the other is across the Mersey near Ken Dodd's jam butty mines at Knotty Ash/West Derby. Evidence suggests that most of Wirral's Vikings were Norwegian descent, although at Denhall - "Danir wella" = spring of the Danes - suggests a Danish enclave. In Viking times Steve explained that the coastline was different in that along the Dee estuary the Old Quay, Denhall, and upstream at Burton, Shotwick and even Chester were all easily navigable, but as the centuries past Chester, Shotwick, Burton, Neston, Parkgate, Gayton and Heswall ceased to function as the Dee silted up. The walkers then left the Dee marshes and headed for Burton Manor for a well earned tea-break!
The Vikings left their legacy in Wirral in many other ways besides place-names: the archaeology (such as the stonework at Neston church, similar stonework at St. Bridgets, West Kirby and at Bidston, and finds at Meols) - but also in the genetics. A recent published survey showed upto 50% of the DNA from the old Wirral population (based on men with surnames present in the area prior to 1600) is Scandinavian in origin.The survey was led by Mark Jobling, Steve and also Turi King shown here talking to Michael Wood at Burton Manor. Several of the men who took part in the survey took part in the walk. A book was published in 2010 and Michael wrote the Foreword.
Michael signs a copy!
Tea break over - and its this way folks! ..across the fields from Puddington to Shotwick
Our St. Olave Viking army then boldy marches across the border into Wales
... then we reach Sealand at 2pm. Over 8 miles gone and a well-earned picnic break!
Steve took the opportunity to explain that over 1100 years ago the Wirral Vikings were on a similar march towards Chester ...but not as Pilgrims. The Three Fragments tell us how after some years of peaceful settlement they became discontented (probably because much of the land was marshy - the large number of "carr" and "holm" place names attest to that) and how in AD907 Ingimund led an attack of Norsemen and Danes on Chester. The account tells of the extraordinary measures and countermeasures made by the defenders and the attackers. The Vikings tried to pierce the walls - the English threw darts, spears down at them. The Norsemen responded with hurdles to protect themselves - the English threw down rocks and beams - the Norsemen reinforced the hurdles with posts - the English then threw boiling water and ale down at them - the Vikings then spread hides on the hurdles the English "let loose on the attacking force all the beehives in the town". We are not sure about the accuracy of all this detail but we are pretty confident though an attack took place as it ties in with a record in the Anglo Saxon Chronicles of Aethelflaed refortifying Chester in the same year. The Irish account finishes with us being told the attack was beaten back "but it was not long before they came to wage battle again". Then we are told nothing although some years later we do know that the Vikings had settled in Chester in substantial numbers, presumably peaceably. Chester became a significant financial and trading centre and pre-conquest records show large numbers of moneyers and surrounding landowners with Scandinavian names. And churches sprang up in the southern part of the city with strong Scandinavian and Irish-Scandinavian traditions: St. Olave's and the now lost St. Bridgets.
After another hour we finally approach the City Wall, but the pilgrims spot a pub!
Preparing for that final push! John Emmett taking a well earned breather
... and Dan Kemp taking a well earned pint!
so, onto the City Wall! ... this time our Viking army enters with no opposition
Eastgate - "lets come off here and take a shortcut!"
Although some of the Chester "gates" are english derived and no doubt mean that, "gate" also derives from Old Norse gata meaning a street. In the southern end of the city there are 2 lost "Norse" gates - Clippe Gate and Wolf Gate, deriving from Old Norse personal names Klippr and Ulfhildr. There also used to be Crook Street which appears to derive from the Norseman Krokr.
3:45pm: We're there! (St. Olave's is on the right)
Howard Boyd (from the Wro, W. Kirby), Sylvia Thompson (
Back of St. Olave's
Inside the Church - now used as an archiving facility for Cheshire Records Office
St.Olave's in 2002
Olav Haraldsson (often confused with Olav Tryggvason) was made a Saint not long after his death at the battle of Stikklestad in 1030: it is believed the church was founded soon afterwards by the Scandinavian community in the southern part of the city extending to Handbridge. Some parts of the Church building derive from the Medieval period and part of the oldest parts are the outer wall surrounding the raised garden at the front - part of this is believed to have formed a joining wall with the house of Richard the Engineer who was King Edward the 1sts Master Mason. The church and its parish were always the smallest and poorest in the city and in 1841 the building was closed and the parish united with that of neighbouring St. Michael's. In 1858-9, Chester architect James Harrison restored the ancient structure to serve as the parochial Sunday school. Since then, it has served in a number of purposes, including adult education centre, gallery and sale room. A few years ago, however, it was acquired by a Christian group and served once again, under the name the Chester Revival Centre, in its 1,000-year-old role as a place of worship. Now it is used as an archiving facility for Cheshire Records Office. Around the corner in Lower Bridge Street the foundations of a Viking house (similar to Wood Quay in Dublin) have been found in Lower Bridge Street and in 1950 the magnificent Castle Esplanade hoard of over 500 coins and other treasure, Various ring pins and a brooch deriving from this community have also been found. The stonemason who designed and built the Irish-Norse crosses at Neston is considered to have come from here, working at St. Johns. You can read more here (and in Norwegian here).
The walk finished with prayers led by Revd. David Chesters of St. Johns, further stressing our solidarity with the Norwegians at this time of tragedy and great sadness, and as a final demonstration of our links cups of "Viking ale" and also "lapskaus" - which shares the same etymology of our scouse where handed out to - and gratefully received by - the Pilgrims. Although as Steve explains our walk or pilgrimage is much shorter than the corresponding one undertaken in Norway at the same time we would have at least in part shared in the same experience.
Michael & Steve
A special thanks was given to all those who made this years St. Olave walk/ pilgrimage a great success, in particular:
Peter Rossiter and Revd. Neil Rob (St. Mary and St. Helen's, Neston)
Rebecca Wilcock (Burton Manor House)
Jonathan Pepler (Cheshire Records Office)
Sylvia Thompson (Cheshire Women's Institute)
Howard and Sally Boyd and Tim Aldcroft at The Wro, West Kirby
Fiona Compton and Paul Atkinson at Latetudes West Kirby
Revd. David Chesters (St. Johns, Chester)
Steven Regan (Chester Diocese)
Jonathan Granville and Liz Royles (Grosvenor Museum)
Stein Thue (Trondheim Kommune)
We look forward to next years event on Saturday 28th July (St. Bridget's West Kirby to St. Mary and St. Helen's at Neston) and then onto St. Olave's on Sunday 29th July (St. Olave's Day).
We close this years event with an appropriate quote from Stein Thue's book The Pilgrim Way:
The St. Olave pilgrim should by the end of his fulfilling wandering have shed at least one prejudice and replaced it with at least one new idea
The Dragon Harald Fairhair (Draken Harald Hårfagre) longship is coming! Agreement has been secured for this largest ever Viking longship reconstruction to come to Wirral/ Liverpool when it sails on its maiden voyage from Norway in 2013.
The announcement was beautifully reported in Lorna Hughes article on p3 of the News on 25th May (2011) "Return of the Vikings: Rebuilt longboat to head for Wirral" and also in her articles on p3 of the Liverpool Daily Post and the Liverpool Echo. BBC Radio Merseyside were also able to capture an interview with Project Leader Marit Synnøve Vea on the Wednesday evening. Full details about the project are given on Marit's web site. The vessel will be huge: 35m long (about half the size of a football pitch) and 8m wide. You can already gauge the size from this short film taken recently from the boathouse:
and this picture taken by Arne-Terje Sæther in April 2011:
Agreement to come to Wirral/Liverpool.
The patron of the project is successful Norwegian businessman Sigurd Aase, based at Haugesund on the western fjords. His great vision of this reconstruction is now being realised.
The deal for Dragon Harald Fairhair to come to us came about by chance. Sigurd has been working with us on a DNA project in Norway - co-ordinating volunteer recruitment - and it was during a visit by Mark Jobling, Turi King and myself I took the opportunity to pop the question ... and he agreed. Here are a few pictures we took during the visit:
The boathouse at Avaldsnes, Haugesund
The Drakken - June 2010. Harald Løvvik (left)
and Terje Andreassen (right) show Mark and Turi the progress. Compare this with the photo above where it now almost fills the boathouse!
Some of the team taking a well earned break!
The Nordvegen Historical Centre, Karmøy: it would be absolutely marvellous to have something like this on Wirral
Harald Hårfagre and his wife Gyda at the Nordvegen Centre
T, M & S in front of the Marilyn Monroe statue - also commissioned by Sigurd Aase. Monroe's family (real name ... Mortenson) comes from Haugesund.
Please see our new book on Viking DNA!
More photographs are on the main page.
The Maiden Voyage
The maiden voyage is provisionally planned to go from Avaldsnes (Haugesund) to London, then around Scotland to Largs, the Isle of Man and then to us. From Wirral/Liverpool it will go to Dublin, then off to Brittany and eventually the crew plan to take it to Istanbul where the Vikings once provided the famous Varangian guard.
The detailed route has yet to be sorted and will depend on winds/ tides etc. but on the way from IoM to Wirral we are hoping the Draken will come along part of the Lancashire coast so that as many as possible will get the chance to witness this. At some point, possibly around Formby the oarsmen will be brought to the Draken for the final entry into Wirral. The exact mooring point has yet to be finalised but it will probably be in Birkenhead Docks not far from Liverpool Victoria Boat House.
The vessel is named after Harald Hårfagre - the man from Vestfold near Oslo who united the separate kingdoms of Norway into one imperial power. The sagas tell us how Gyda - the tough local Hordaland (Hardinger) woman who he wished to marry made unification of Norway a condition before she would agree. Egil's saga says:
Haraldr, son Hálfdanar svarta, hafði tekit arf eptir föður sinn; hann hafði pess heit strength, at láta eigi skera hár sitt né kemba, fyrr en hann væri einvaldskonungr yfir Noregi
which translates as
Harald, son of Hálfdan the Black, had succeeded his father; he had made a solemn vow neither to cut nor comb his hair until he was king of all Norway.
This he achieved by a series of battles and treaties, culminating in one great battle at Hafrsfjordur (now Havsfjord, just west of Stavanger) which took place around the year AD 890. Heimskringla says the following
after this battle King Harald met no opposition in Norway for all his worst enemies had fallen. But some - and they were a great number, fled out of the country and thereby great uninhabited districts were peopled.
It is a possibility that Ingimund - who eventually led the settlements of Wirral - or his father were among those peoples expelled. There is no way of finding out.
1st Viking ship since the Viking Age
This will be the first full scale Viking ship to visit Wirral and Liverpool since the Viking Age. It is very possible that the Vikings when they came into the area to settle in what the historian F.T. Wainwright described as "mass migration numbers" would have come in vessels similar to this, although the Draken is a reconstructed warship, and the Wirral Vikings would have arrived peacefully after Ingimund's agreement with the Mercian Queen Aethelflaed. The arrival of Draken will therefore be a very poignant occasion.
Volunteers oarsmen/ oarswomen needed!
On the high seas the sail will provide the power, operated by a regular crew of about 20 experienced sailors. However getting into port requires oarsmen/ oarspeople.
The Dragon Harald Fairhair will be a 25 sesse that means 25 pairs of oars, each oar requiring 2 oarsmen to operate: 100 people. The response to our appeal for volunteers through Lorna's news articles has been overwhelming ... but we are still accepting volunteers. Age/sex is no barrier, the main criteria are keen-ness and a good level of fitness. If you wish to volunteer please email us.
Local training sessions for volunteers will be organized in due course. Details will be posted on here and also emailed to those who have registered their interest to take part. For anyone visiting Haugesund there are also sessions offered there: if you are interested please follow this link. A recent session was filmed on Norwegian TV NRK1 Rogaland: see this clip (the relevant part is from 8min 21 to 11min 36).
What else may happen?
Re-enactments - We're also planning on organizing some re-enactments centering around the arrival of the Vikings into the region in AD902 (including a "skirmish" with officials from Chester), and would like to hear from re-enactment groups: please email us!
Royal visit? King Harald V of Norway, being a sailor himself, is interested in the Dragon Harald Fairhair project and in the old Norwegian ship building traditions. He is also a member of Royal Mersey Yacht Club based at Bromborough. We hope he will also be present when the Dragon Harald Fairhair arrives.
Please keep an eye out on the main site for regular updates on the progress of the project and this site for local updates. Any other queries just drop me an email.
So although we're not quite sure yet when in 2013 it will come, when it does let's make sure we give a full Viking welcome to our good friends from Norway!
Update 7/7/2011: see this piece with Andy Bonner from ITV Granada: Wednesday 6th July 2011 6pm (don't laugh too loudly!).
Update 7/8/2011: Terje Andreassen from the Norwegian team will be coming over in Autumn to discuss the mooring site: a decision will hopefully be made. Many thanks to all those who have volunteered - over 150 oarsmen/oarswomen have currently signed up for our "Viking Navy", but we will need a total of ~200 as a crew will also be needed also to row the Draken out of harbour. Special thanks to all those volunteers who joined us on the St. Olave's Day walk (29th July) to Chester.
We are pleased to say that the construction of the longship is ahead of schedule:
Project leader Terje Andreasen will be coming over now in late February - we will schedule the first training sessions (for those local to Liverpool/Wirral) around that time - for those not local let me know and we will see if we can organize somewhere local to you.
I gave a presentation of the project as part of the Wirral Bookfest on Tuesday 11th October (Birkenhead Central Library, Borough Road Birkenhead). A copy of the presentation can be found on
Unfortunately because of the room size (50) the event was heavily oversubscribed - there will be another talk at Liverpool Victoria Rowing Club on JANUARY 9th - and the first training sessions will be in March/April. Please visit their website http://www.lvrc.co.uk/.
... and for those that missed it here's a re-run of the piece with Andy Bonner on Granada in June:
Update 15/1/2012: We had a meeting at Liverpool Victoria Rowing Club, Wallasey on Monday 9th and we were delighted that the Mayor of Wirral, Moira McLaughlin could attend. Again we were full to the brim with 70 folks packed in. We were also joined by Paul Mercer from Haugesund who is the International co-ordinator for the Project. After presentations from myself and Paul, Jim Bibby - Chairman of Liverpool Victoria RC - then outlined the plans for training sessions for the volunteer oarsmen/ oarswomen in West Float, Wallasey Docks. About 10 sessions are currently intended. For all those who have volunteered to row, Jim will be in touch with you soon - his email address is Jimbibbyanorak@aol.com. For all those volunteers who are not Merseyside/NW based then we will help you get fixed up for training with a Rowing Club near where you live, again if you can email myself or Jim if you have any queries. We must stress that for safety reasons every volunteer for our "Viking Navy" will need to have reached a minimum standard of fitness (as assessed by Liverpool Victoria) by May 2013 so please keep yourself in trim!
The Current plans are that the Draken Harald Fairhair will come into the West Float in May 2013 (with Liverpool Victoria RC as the hosts). There will be sessions where our Viking Navy of oarspeople will row it majestically around the docks. Then after a few days it will be rowed across the Mersey to the Albert Dock (with the crew of the Zebu and the Baltic Fleet as the hosts) for a few more days before it then sails off on the rest of its maiden voyage. Everyone is now getting tremendously excited....
More soon! ....and in Old Wirral Norse - "til ars ok fridar" - may the forthcoming year be peaceful and prosperous!
Next month sees the release of the great new Marvel "blockbuster" movie about the Norse god Thor.
A preview of the film is on
Thor is one of the major gods of Nordic and Germanic Mythology. He is the god of Thunder who gives his name to Thursday (Old Norse Þorsdagr, Old English Þunresdæg). In Scandinavia it is Torsdag, in Germany Donnerstag. Other northern gods giving their names to days are Tyr - Tuesday (Tirsdag), Odin - Wednesday (Onsdag) and Frey (Fredag). Sturluson's Prose Edda says the following (translation by Jean Young1):
"Thor is the foremost of the gods other than Odin and was generally the most popular amongst the Norse peoples. He is strongest of all gods and men and protects the world against giants and frost ogres. He rules over that kingdom called Thrudvangar ("Plains of Power") and his hall is called Bilskirnir ("Strong"). In that building are six hundred and forty floors - it is the largest house known to men.
Thor has two goats known as Tooth-gnasher and Gap-tooth, who pull the chariot he drives in. He also owns three precious things. One is the hammer Mjøllnir, which the frost ogres and cliff giants know when it is raised aloft, and that is not surprising since he has cracked the skulls of many of their kith and kin. His second great treasure is a belt of strength, and when he buckles that on his divine might is doubled. And he owns a third thing of great value - his iron gauntlets: he cannot do without these when he grips the handle of the hammer. No-one is well-informed enough to be able to recount all his mighty deeds".
The film shows him being banished from Valhalla, the hall of the gods by the most powerful of the gods - the one-eyed Odin - for being too violent, and how, to his disappointment he ends up on Earth which ends up as a new battle ground for his fight with the ogres and giants.
Mårtin Eskil Winge's painting of Thor fighting the frost giants. Courtesy of the Swedish National Museum of Stockholm.
Thor and a Victorian myth
In the late 19th Century the well known and influential Liverpool Antiquarian, Sir James Picton published two papers (1877 and 1881) in Notes and Queries in which he mistakenly attributed the origin of the north Wirral village Thurstaston as "Thor's stone's town" and identified an impressive sandstone rock on Thurstaston Common as the stone2. He writes:
"In a secluded part of the common there is a natural amphitheatre of four or five acres, surrounded by sloping banks, brilliant in the autumn with the rich purple and crimson tints of the heather and ling. In the centre of this area rises a huge isolated rock of red sandstone, about fifty feet in length, thirty feet wide, and twenty five feet high. The shape is rectangular, with some slight irregularities. The sides are scarped down nearly perpendicular in two stages. A path running along the ledge leads to the summit. The flat portion of the summit, and parts of the sides where grass and shrubs have not found a lodgement, are covered with the initials and graffiti of successive generations of visitors. It is not a boulder, but part of the bunter new red sandstone which underlies the whole neighbourhood. Standing thus isolated, it forms a very remarkable object. How far its original shape has been modified it is impossible to say; but human labour has been largely expanded upon it. The sandstone is nowhere else found in a similar form and position"
He suggests this may have been the site for sacrifice quoting Wormitus' description of similar sites in Scandinavia, and also notes the closeness of the site to Thingwall :
"Another Danish relic, the Thing-wall or hill of counsel, the place of the Folk-mote or assembly of the wapentake, is situated withing two miles of Thurstaston, on the Birkenhead road".
Unfortunately although he was correct about Thingwall (although like many Victorians he classed all Scandinavians as "Danes") later scholarship, notably by F.T. Wainwright, John McNeal Dodgson and Paul Cavill3 has clearly shown that the origin of Thurstaston has nothing to do with the mighty Norse god but rather derives from a humble farmer with a Scandinavian name. Thurstaston (Domesday Book: Turstanetone) means Thorsteinn's "tun" or farmstead, from the Norse personal name Þorsteinn, anglicized to Thurstan.
May day celebrations at Thor's Stone. From Wirral News, 3 May 2000.
Despite this the site is used by many for "Viking style" marriages4 and every year at daybreak on May 1st a hardy band of devotees assemble around the stone to join in the celebrations of the start of summer with the Morris Dancers. And 130 years after Picton the graffiti still appears as youngsters and oldsters alike enjoy the moderate challenge of climbing the rock. A more challenging rock - and with genuine Scandinavian roots - is the "granny rock" - formerly called ye Clynsse (Old Norse klint - projecting rock or stone) at the Wallasey Breck (Old Norse brekka - slope on a hillside), which has its own story - this will be the subject of a future blog.
The launch day of the film is May 6th - a Friday.
1. Sturluson, Snorri, The Prose Edda (Translation by Jean Young 1954) University of California Press, Berkeley, pages 50-51
3. Cavill, P. et al (2000) Wirral and its Viking Heritage, English Place Name Society, Nottingham, pages 142-143
4. Blushing Bride a Viking, (Article about Viking Marriage at Thor's Stone, Thurstaston) Wirral News, 5/6/91
The Neston coin, with what appears to be the worn emblem of a raven. Courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
On 2nd March The News ran an excellent Page 3 feature by Lorna Hughes describing the alarming news about a fake Viking coin found at Neston. The coin was discovered by a metal detector enthusiast in 2005 by the footpath along the River Dee. It was examined by leading coin expert Dr. Mark Blackburn of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge who, after full scrutiny passed it as a genuine Viking coin from Olaf Guthfrithsson, King of York, dated at AD941. It was catalogued and published in 2006 in the British Numismatics Journal an article which was then widely referenced. However, Dr. Blackburn became suspicious when a similar coin appeared - on Ebay. This coin was also purchased and then he then sent both coins for detailed metallurgical analysis by Dr. Peter Northover of Oxford Materials Characterisation Services who was able to confirm that both coins were relatively recent forgeries, dating from no earlier than the 19th Century: the type of metal present was inconsistent with coins expected from the Viking age period. He told us the following
"The analysis technique used was electron probe microanalysis with wavelength dispersive analysis. In this an electron beam is used to excite an X-ray spectrum from the sample which is then analysed with a crystal spectrometer. Each element has a different characteristic set of peaks, and the wavelength of the X-rays at the peak identifies the element and the intensity of the peak is a measure of the concentration. We make our analyses on a polished area of the edge of the coin, which avoids complications caused by corrosion and surface enrichment of the silver content. The Neston coin proved to be Sterling silver (silver -7.5% copper) with absolutely no significant impurities. A Viking coin would have gold, lead, and bismuth as major impurities and would very likely have been alloyed with bronze or brass rather than copper. Also, there was a complete lack of corrosion in the coin"
Both myself and David had assumed the cataloguing was correct and both of us used this in 2 recent books on Vikings. It appears (both sides) in full glory as a high resolution tiff image on page 42 of my book published only last December with Mark Jobling and Turi King, Viking DNA: The Wirral and West Lancashire Project and also David makes a short reference to it in his book The Vikings of the Irish Sea.
All we can both do is to smile ruefully, and in any future reprinting we will probably make an adjustment or add a footnote. Both are great books by the way and we can strongly recommend them!
It's a shame in a way because Olaf had been fighting at the battle of Brunanburh 4 years earlier in AD937 - and most experts believe that took place on Wirral (Brunanburh is the old name for Bromborough).
You can read more about it in the News article: Viking coin is a forgery
Greetings or in Wirral Norse Heill and welcome to the new Wirral News Viking Blog.
We thought we'd kick off with this introductory piece giving a bit of background behind the blog, inspired by a surge interest in the Vikings in our favourite area - Wirral - and then say something about the blog itself. Here we go!
Viking Wirral - and Viking Genes
1000 or so years ago Wirral - recently described by TV Weatherman Fred Talbot as "Little Scandinavia" - was home to a thriving community of Vikings of primarily Norwegian descent.
These Norsemen came to settle in Wirral after being driven out of Ireland and then Anglesey. Their expulsion from these places initiated their migration into the area and they established a community with their own leader - a man called Ingimund, their own language - Old Norse (perhaps with an Irish accent), a trading port - Meols, and at its centre a place of assembly or government - the Thing at Thingwall.