Look out! Dragon Harald Fairhair Viking Longship - coming to Wirral/Liverpool 2013

By Steve Harding on Jul 29, 11 04:54 PM in

Dragon_s.jpgThe 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




Ship_June2010_s.jpgThe 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!













The_team_s.jpgSome of the team taking a well earned break!














Nordvegen_senter_s.jpgThe Nordvegen Historical Centre, Karmøy: it would be absolutely marvellous to have something like this on Wirral















Harald_s.jpgHarald Hårfagre and his wife Gyda at the Nordvegen Centre



















Marilyn_s.jpgT, 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.




Harald Hårfagre

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.

Update 19/10/2011:

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  

... 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  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!



David Griffiths

David Griffiths - grew up in Heswall, Wirral, and is now a Reader in Archaeology at Oxford University. Together with Rob Philpott and Geoff Egan, he is one of three lead authors of the publication 'Meols: The Archaeology of the North Wirral Coast' (Oxford 2007). He has been an active researcher on the Viking period since 1986.

Steve Harding

Steve Harding - was born and brought up in North Wirral where his family on both sides go back many generations , and is now a Professor of Biology at Nottingham University. He is coauthor with Dr. Paul Cavill and Professor Judith Jesch of Wirral & its Viking Heritage (English Place-Name Society, 2000) and author of the "popular" books Ingimunds Saga Norwegian Wirral (2000) and Viking Mersey (2002). His Academic publications on the Vikings include a paper on the genetics of the North west with Prof. Mark Jobling and other collegues (2008), a paper with Cavill and Jesch explaining Dingesmere in the Battle of Brunanburh poem as the Things-mere (2004) a paper on the Wirral carrs and holms place names and a further paper paper on Brunanburh examining antiquarian legends and considering possible locations on Wirral for the battlesite and Dingesmere.

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