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VIKING - 42: JORVIK VIKING FESTIVAL For Winter Cheer And Colour, February 20th-26th, 2017

Updated on July 25, 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

Welcome one and all, to a show of midwinter colour in Jorvik - modern-day York takes a step back in time. Before you go further here's a taste of what's to come on this page...
Welcome one and all, to a show of midwinter colour in Jorvik - modern-day York takes a step back in time. Before you go further here's a taste of what's to come on this page... | Source
Meet Mike, one of the Jarl's retinue based at the Coppergate Encampment this year. I persuaded him to look threatening for this picture. Take a step back...
Meet Mike, one of the Jarl's retinue based at the Coppergate Encampment this year. I persuaded him to look threatening for this picture. Take a step back... | Source
This is Mike in all his finery. That scramaseaxe might be a bit blunt - for show and re-enactment - but I wouldn't willingly test its effectiveness if I were you!
This is Mike in all his finery. That scramaseaxe might be a bit blunt - for show and re-enactment - but I wouldn't willingly test its effectiveness if I were you! | Source

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, Norse equivalent of Earl, as he engages a youthful audience to inform them of a re-enactment. The girl behind him, from Glasgow, has taken on the guise of a woman skald. Not just men travelled between settlements with sagas to tell
Meet the Jarl, Norse equivalent of Earl, as he engages a youthful audience to inform them of a re-enactment. The girl behind him, from Glasgow, has taken on the guise of a woman skald. Not just men travelled between settlements with sagas to tell | Source
Jarl settles in his chair during the tiring afternoon with his hearth hound. Over the next few days he will entertain, inform, and  demonstrate his skills. Aside from Mike he has a team around him...
Jarl settles in his chair during the tiring afternoon with his hearth hound. Over the next few days he will entertain, inform, and demonstrate his skills. Aside from Mike he has a team around him... | Source

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...

You've caught his eye, good. Our young friend will share his knowledge of weaponry, protective shields and mail coats. Once engaged, he will recruit willing participants to his cause...
You've caught his eye, good. Our young friend will share his knowledge of weaponry, protective shields and mail coats. Once engaged, he will recruit willing participants to his cause... | Source
Now with a doughty company of defenders his position is unassailable - watch out Mum'n'Dad, these kids mean business!
Now with a doughty company of defenders his position is unassailable - watch out Mum'n'Dad, these kids mean business! | Source
The Skald, teller of sagas about heroes and villains. Listen well when he takes the stage nearby, or you'll miss the best. Heard of the Icelander Egil Skallagrimsson and his enmity with Eirik 'Blood-axe'? Listen closely then...
The Skald, teller of sagas about heroes and villains. Listen well when he takes the stage nearby, or you'll miss the best. Heard of the Icelander Egil Skallagrimsson and his enmity with Eirik 'Blood-axe'? Listen closely then... | Source
Here the Skald relates Egil's saga. Egil Skallagrimsson was not just a poet, he was an adventurer, a seafarer and warrior who alone confounded Eirik's men out to do his bidding
Here the Skald relates Egil's saga. Egil Skallagrimsson was not just a poet, he was an adventurer, a seafarer and warrior who alone confounded Eirik's men out to do his bidding | Source
Here's another of the team I had to discourage from smiling. Being the obliging sort, he rewarded me with a baleful stare - keep back!
Here's another of the team I had to discourage from smiling. Being the obliging sort, he rewarded me with a baleful stare - keep back! | Source
Last - but by no means least - the merchant. He knows his stuff, and can tell you much about what came from where, where it might have gone on to. Trade was focal to Jorvik's existence, its location on the Ouse enviable
Last - but by no means least - the merchant. He knows his stuff, and can tell you much about what came from where, where it might have gone on to. Trade was focal to Jorvik's existence, its location on the Ouse enviable | Source

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...

This is Russell, 'Rus' his character from the wild wastes of the rivers Dnieper or Volkhov, on which centres such as Holmgard (Novgorod) or Koenungagard (Kiev) provided markets for furs from the north....
This is Russell, 'Rus' his character from the wild wastes of the rivers Dnieper or Volkhov, on which centres such as Holmgard (Novgorod) or Koenungagard (Kiev) provided markets for furs from the north.... | Source
Another member of the team enthrals his audience with talk about the battle at Stamford Bridge - no, not Chelsea! - on September 25th, 1066. Good background knowledge of the time, ask him anything
Another member of the team enthrals his audience with talk about the battle at Stamford Bridge - no, not Chelsea! - on September 25th, 1066. Good background knowledge of the time, ask him anything | Source

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...

On the Saturday, around midday in 2014 re-enactors begin a march-past through the streets from the cathedral, by way of Coppergate to the castle green...
On the Saturday, around midday in 2014 re-enactors begin a march-past through the streets from the cathedral, by way of Coppergate to the castle green... | Source
For the clash of weapons that decides the day. Whose side will you support? This was 2016, the year Knut's accession to the throne came in the autumn after Eadmund 'Ironside' died of wounds suffered at Ashingdon in the summer
For the clash of weapons that decides the day. Whose side will you support? This was 2016, the year Knut's accession to the throne came in the autumn after Eadmund 'Ironside' died of wounds suffered at Ashingdon in the summer | Source

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?

See results

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.

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    • alancaster149 profile image
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      Alan R Lancaster 4 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Lawrence, hail! I felt the weight of a full coat of mail when I was in York - had to lift it with both hands! Add to that the weight of helmet, shield, weaponry... They had to eat a lot of meat to carry that lot (no vegetarians around in the ranks of warriors then). Imagine Harald Sigurdsson's men running the six miles in full armour etc., from Riccall on the Ouse to Stamford Bridge near York, on a warm September afternoon when it was realised who had turned up! 25th September, 1066 was a hot, bruising day for both sides!

    • profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 4 months ago

      Alan

      Really enjoyed this. Last year we went down to Weta workshops in Wellington, and got to see some of the armour they've made for various movies. Some of them weighed as much as 70lb

    • alancaster149 profile image
      Author

      Alan R Lancaster 5 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      David, it's a Canon Powershot A2500 Digital Camera, not a 'phone or tablet. With that out of the way, glad to see you enjoyed your stay in Jorvik.

      Harold could've done both if he'd taken his time and sent a force just to block off the Hastings peninsula and stopped Will from going forward on the London road. The Normans would have run out of food supplies and fodder for their horses. Next they and their allies might've turned against the duke. Job done.

      Trouble was, Harold was tired and not thinking straight.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 months ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Alan, fantastic pictures! Did you use a camera (I mean a camera-camera, not a smartphone-camera). How different the world might be today if Harold hadn't had to deal with the Norsemen before greeting Willy at Hastings.