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VIKING - 43: JORVIK VIKING FESTIVAL For Winter Cheer And Colour, February 20th-26th, 2017
He is unhappy and ill-tempered who meets all with mockery. What he does not know, yet needs to, are his own shortcomings that others put up with.
Welcome one and all, step back in time with me to another age when York was very different
I arrived in York the previous evening after a long drive from the 'deep south' (London to you), to be welcomed by Tom, the landlord of the Waggon & Horses on St Lawrence Street near the city walls at Walmgate Bar. The timing of my stay in York was determined by circumstances, and I'll try to get back for the second half of the week next year when the parade and battle are staged.
My wife Kath had bought me a year's membership of The Jorvik Group and I needed to validate my paperwork in Coppergate Walk. With 'Pastport' in hand I set off to the nearby church for the temporary exhibition. From when the Jorvik Viking Centre re-opens on April 8th this year I'll be able to visit. If you visit, keep your ticket for free admission for a twelve month period. The 'Pastport' entitles me to visit the Jorvik Centre, Jorvik Dig, Barley Hall and the Richard III Experience at Monkgate Bar. So next time I'm in York, maybe I can squeeze them in.
Meanwhile maybe you'll share the delights of the 'encampment' on Coppergate Walk. It's a personal recollection of the friendships cemented from a common interest. We had much to talk about, and I learned much from the team who made me feel welcome. It helped that I passed on a few of my cards for their benefit as much as mine, to let them see we had shared interests. Let me introduce them below, beginning with 'Jarl'.
This is the Coppergate Encampment
Meet the Jarl, the Norse word for Earl introduced to England by Knut Sveinsson after his coronation in October/November, 1016.
Jarl is knowledgeable, he also handles his sword, his Dane axe and scramaseaxe deftly. He doesn't need to wear chain mail with his retinue around him. He is also kept very busy directing events in the square outside the exhibition centre, although if you want to ask questions don't hold back. He's a helpful sort and enjoys sharing his knowledge. If you have something to say, he'll listen closely and let you know if you've erred in your understanding of the theme.
The Jorvik Group has made a wise choice in fielding him and his team here on Coppergate Square. The entertainment value of their performance is second-to-none, and the educational value to your younger offspring is worth many times the textbooks he or she will come across in school. This is a living history lesson! Watch their eyes light up at the chance to wear helmets and carry spears or swords (under close supervision of course). If your kids are shy, they will soon lose their shyness in an atmosphere of friendship.
All hail the Jarl!
Meet the team...
Let's pass on from the Jarl. When I arrived my eyes were taken by the array of helmets, weaponry and varieties of chain mail on show in the right-hand booth, so I took on the 'stall-holder' to find out his knowledge. His enthusiasm comes across quickly, and the range of his knowledge soon unfolds as he tells you about his 'stock'.
He's also good with youngsters, as is the character who introduced himself to me as 'Mike'. He looks fearsome, and with all those shoulder muscles that have to bear the weight of several pounds of steel links he would be a formidable opponent in the shieldwall. Mike's obliging, though. When I asked him to pose aggressively he did without second bidding (see pictures 2 and 3 above). I had a long-ish conversation with him before I passed on to the Skald.
The Skald is thoroughly conversant with Icelandic saga history. In reality a Scot from Dundee, he too bears a weighty mailcoat on his broad shoulders as he relates the stories of Eirik 'Blood-axe', Norse king of Jorvik in the latter 10th Century, and the Icelandic warrior poet Egil Skallagrimsson. The skald's life revolved around making his paymaster sound good, although it could also involve fighting in his paymaster's shieldwall. An impressive array of weaponry can be seen on his leather belts, a shorter-handled fighting axe is pressed behind the belt and scramaseaxe in its pouch hangs from leather straps near the belt buckle. Watch him as he strides on the stage, spear in hand, telling a rapt audience of how another character Gunnar handled himself in a tight corner. Not to be missed. We had a lengthy conversation about dialect, Scots' and Norse history and parted company with a firm handshake.
Another two characters obliged with 'poses', one the merchant who talked about the foodstuffs available to the roving Norsemen on their long Atlantic or North Sea crossings. We talked also of other matters, what he had in stock - some handsome pelts - and what he was allowed to stock in the booth. His friend was more enigmatic, friendly nevertheless, obliging with a baleful stare by request - the message, 'keep your distance'!
A few youngsters were recruited to keep intruders at bay, effectively trained for their duties and admired by parents with an array of cameras. Give them a few years and they'll be there as participants, to take over from the adults in a long progression of generations involved in York's Viking heritage.
Meanwhile, on nearby Picadilly...
On nearby Piccadilly, sandwiched between a large activities tent and a full size replica of a small rowing vessel was another booth.
Several costumed re-enactors manned this booth, the two I spoke to being steeped in the knowledge of their wares. First was 'Rus', real name Russell, who wore a merchant's clothing and fur hat to show he'd been around the block a few times and knew his stuff. We looked at coins and coin dies as well as body ironmongery (chain mail, shields and helmets, similar to the array on Coppergate Square).
A second 'player', whose name I didn't catch, regaled his audience with an account of the battles in the north, at Gate Fulford on 20th September, and Stamford Bridge on the 25th, 1066. We both fed the spectators with information on how men ran on a warm, late September afternoon from the ships at Riccall - six miles or so away - and Stamford Bridge when the call went out that they were needed. They had to run in chain mail, bearing shields, helmets, swords and axes, and arrived exhausted, unfit to fight. Some had pulled off their chain mail, in the heat, making themselves prone to being speared or whatever. King Harold pulled off a surprise attack, thought to be in the south. He tried it again in the south but this time his men were exhausted by the long ride, some walking wounded unable to hold out the whole mid-October day. It could so easily have been Harald Sigurdsson taking on Duke William, we agreed.
Elsewhere, close by on Piccadilly a large tent provided shelter for those of tender years who wished to learn how to withstand the enemy in the shieldwall.
I watched as the teacher marshalled his 'army' and put them through their paces, showed them how to lock shields and throw him back. Mums and Dads clapped and cheered, pressed the buttons on their cameras to catch the moment 'little Ronnie' - or even 'little Millie' - took a step further on the road to self-realisation.
Behind a screen their cousins or mates learned how to become bowmen. Mighty oaks from tiny acorns! This would have been the start Einar Tamvarskelve had in life to when he became champion bowman to his king, Olaf Tryggvason. Kings feature elsewhere in this series, Olaf Haraldsson, his half-brother Harald Sigurdsson and Olaf Tryggvason, who stepped overboard in full armour and weaponry when all was lost at Svold in the Baltic in the year AD 1000.
Mighty oaks, eh? Maybe they should stick with lessons and do their homework. They can always join a re-enactment group such as that with Jarl on Coppergate Square when they grow up. Eat your breakfasts, tie your shoelaces and bide your time, kids. One day greatness may beckon.
The Finale, what you came to see...
Would this event draw you to York next year?
It's a long way to come, to enjoy the spectacle and colour. Would you lay out the finance for a visit - maybe come back again?
The Viking Achievement
Let Paul Foote and David Wilson guide you through the developments that began in the Northlands and spread across the known world as well as the unknown. Never the ones to shrink from new experience, the Norsemen embraced what they might not have rightly understood before making themselves familiar with it. That included sailing west to 'Vinland' on the mouth of the St Lawrence or trading with Arabs in the furthest reaches beyond the Black Sea. They established trading posts and 'longphorts' around Ireland, the eastern Baltic and on the shores of Orkney, Shetland, Lewis and Man. Is there anything they did not do? They did not suffer fools. See for yourself how Scandinavians imprinted on their near and far neighbours.