Wednesday, 13 March 2013

A Viking Settlement

A Viking Settlement.

Photo by Jon Whiting from Lejre outdoor museum near Roskilde in Denmark.

Most Viking settlements were probably farmsteads inhabited by an extended family or, where the land was fertile enough to support more people, small villages. Where the novel Shieldmaiden is set, around the lakes of Loweswater and  Buttermere in Cumbria, in the mid-10th Century the most likely scenario is that of farmsteads. So this picture could well show something similar to what Sigrid's home looked like; a collection of houses surrounded by a fence.

    Photo by Marianne Whiting of reconstructed Viking longhouse from South Sweden.
There is little archaeological evidence from Viking buildings in Cumbria. There are, as I discussed in an earlier post, lots of place names but the only excavation of a Viking house, outside York, that I know of is the one at Ribblehead. there may of course be many more that are buried under buildings still standing today. Ribblehead consists of three buildings, a main house which looks much like the ones in the picture and two smaller ones used perhaps as dairy and workshop. The walls of the main Ribblehead house are stone-built with a thick layer of soil between the wall and the sides of the roof which almost touches the ground. They knew about insulation and with the central hearth these houses were probably quite cosy.

    Photo as above.

This gives you some idea of the construction with a framework of beams holding up the roof-timbers. The picture is taken about half way along the house. It looks a bit empty and sad but would have been furnished with wall-hangings and benches covered in blankets and furs.

    Photo by Jon Whiting from Ribe Viking Centre in Denmark.

This gives a better impression of what the hearth would look like even if this one is from a larger building. There would also, within the enclosed farmstead, be smaller buildings such as a dairy, a stable, store houses and barns. Well away from other buildings was the smithy.

    Photo by Marianne Whiting from Foteviken Viking Village in Sweden.

Just to show an alternative building technique using horizontal planks and a turf roof. This is a very small house and some of the cooking is likely to have taken place outside as the hearth is quite small.

Photo as above.

Monday, 25 February 2013

A Viking Hall

Photo from Ribe Vikinge Center, Ribe, Denmark by Marianne Whiting.

The above longhouse or chieftain's hall is rather grand but I imagine this to be something like Jarl Sigurd's hall at Lade. Inside there are rooms partitioned off for the chieftain and his family and a great hall.

Photo as above.

The family had beds with curtains to keepout the cold and to give some privacy. I'm never quite sure whether they had sheets. Icelandic sagas speak of bed linen but they were written up 300 years or so after the event and may well reflect life in that time. Woven blankets, cured skins and fleeces are certain as were bolsters filled with straw. In the picture someone has put up a wooden pole to do some tablet weaving from.

photo as above.

This is part of the main hall. a raised hearth in the centre, pots and pans and meat and fish drying out above the fire. On the right hand side are the raised platforms that serve as seating and beds for servants, housekarls and guests. There were also store rooms but in this type of house the byre and stables would be in separate buildings. So imagine the Jarl, his royal guest and his family at the table on the dais to the left, the rest of the household on the seating along the walls with trestle tables full of food and drink.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Shieldmaiden in Cumbria.

Photo by Marianne Whiting

A reader recently asked about the exact location of the places I mention in Shieldmaiden. Not the villages and lakes, they are where they are but Becklund, Buttermere Farm etc and what route did Sigrid take when she walked from Becklund to Swanhill .

First a general admission; I haven't been able to find out exactly what the four lakes, the many rivers and the streams looked like 1000+ years ago. Rivers and streams will have changed their courses and, for some reason, I am convinced that there would also have been more water in the lakes. I have assumed this for three reasons.,
1)                          Travel was so much easier and safer on water and the Norse settlers would surely have come by boat.
2)                           I read somewhere that Crummockwater and Buttermere were one lake and became separated when the bit in the middle silted up, Loweswater was supposedly connected to them by a navigable river, presumably Park Beck and Dub Beck. I don't know when this was though.
3)                          We help ourselves to quite a lot of water from various lakes and rivers. 

All this is conjecture. Was the River Cocker even navigable? I'm still researching this for the sequel to Shieldmaiden.

            The other question is about tree-cover. Generally there were no more trees in England as a whole in the 10th Century than there is now but what was it like in specific localities? Loweswater means leafy lake so that would seem straighforward, Keskadale holds the remains of an ancient oak-forest but around Buttermere and other places I can only guess.

So for the question about locations:

 Becklund. Originally I had the farm down by Loweswater Lake, around where Watergate farm is today but because I didn't know about the water-level in the lake and because the hill behind it seemed a bit steep I changed it to somewhere around Kirkgate Farm. That is elevated enough should Park Beck have been wider in those days and low enough for fields and meadows.

There is another point about Loweswater. Many places beginning in Kirk, Kirkgate, Kirkhill, Kirkgill. This could refer to the site of a heathen temple which may have been later taken over by the Christian Church. The closeness to an ancient earthworks is evocative. More research needed.

Swanhill I have imagined roughly by Whins. I chose that because the footpath from Crummockwater to Ennerdale Water comes out around there. It follows a gap in the hills and is likely to have been well used over the centuries.

Buttermere Farm I think is between the Bridge Hotel and the little chapel on the road to Keskadale. Not too close to the lake of Buttermere, hidden by trees of which I have decided (!) there were more. Mill Beck is today surrounded by trees that look like remains of older woodland and I have imagined this as stretching further in all directions.

The route Sigrid uses from Loweswater along Mosedale is the present footpath along the Western slope of Mellbreak. I have walked it a few times and it looks like it could take a horse whereas on the other side of the valley it looks steeper and the valley floor itself is rather boggy.

The route from Swanhill by Ennerdale Water to Crummockwater follows the footpath marked on the OS map, past Floutern Tarn.

There are remains of a thingmound in Little Langdale by Fell Foot Farm and I settled for that as a likely assembly for Sigrid and her family to attend.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Cumbrian Vikings – places mentioned in Shieldmaiden.

A friend asked about my use of modern English names for places mentioned in Shieldmaiden and to be honest it wasn’t something I had though about. Below is some information I have, very belatedly, dug out from Robert Ferguson, The Northmen in Cumberland and Westmoreland, (1856), a leaflet: Place Names in the Lake District from The National Park Information Service and Wikipedia.

Buttermere. I love the area around Buttermere. The legend about how the Vikings from Manx, on the run from the wrath of Harald Finehair, settled in Buttermere was my inspiration for Shieldmaiden. There are two conflicting explanations for this name.
It could mean "the lake by the dairy pastures".
It could also be "Buthar's mere" and this agrees with the local tradition about the Norse chieftain Jarl Buthar or Boethar who in late 11th and early 12th centuries conducted a campaign of running resistance against the Norman invaders. Jarl Buthar is a semi-mythological figure. He is apparently mentioned in 12th century Norman documents, but much of his story appears to be based on local legend and archaeology. Nicholas Size's "The Secret Valley " tells of Jarl Buthar's campaign. For almost half a century it's claimed that the Cumbrians fought a guerrilla war against the Normans, attacking supply wagons, ambushing patrols and inflicting great losses until, in a final battle at Rannerdale ("Ragnar's dale"), the Anglo-Scandinavian Cumbrians were defeated by the Normans.
Legend it may be but it is very attractive except that it creates a problem for me as Shieldmaiden is set in the middle of the 10th Century, 100 years or more before Jarl Boethar.  So maybe I’ll have to stick to the dairy-pastures as the origin of the name Buttermere while hanging my head in shame at not having checked up on this before. Or could Jarl Boethar have taken his name from where he lived? It happened.

Becklund is a made up name for the farm by Loweswater where Sigrid grew up. There is a Becklund in Sweden and I spent my childhood’s summers there. Beck means stream and a lund is a grove, possibly a holy place for worship and sacrifice. It’s a perfectly respectable name for a farm.

Loweswater ‘Laufsasaervatn’ means leafy lake.

Honister comes from Hogni, a man’s name and ter from tadir meaning place. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Hogni lived there, he may have been buried there as the Vikings liked to be buried, or at least have their stones and/or mounds, in prominent places where they could be seen by lots of people who would then remember them and their great deeds ( or villainous exploits, depending on your point of view).

Honister Hause. Hause, from ‘hals’ meaning neck and its derivative haw means a low area between hills ie a pass.

Swanhill. I have to apologise for this one, not only is it made up but it isn’t even a Viking place-name. It should have been Heltrehaugr from heltre, swan, and haugr, one of several words for hill. My imaginary Swanhill is near the end of the footpath from Crummockwater to Ennerdale Water.

Ennerdale, early  spelling Ananderdale from the personal name Anund and dale which means valley.

Floutern Tarn. There’s more than one of these in the Lake District but the one I have in mind lies between Crummockwater and Ennerdale. The footpath passes quite close to it.

Crummockwater. Crooked lake or could be Cromboc or Crumbeck from the man’s name Krumr and beck. It was connected to Buttermere until a narrow stretch silted up and divided them.

Keswick in the Dark Ages and the early medieval period was part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. The Vikings arrived in the 10th century and are thought to have come as invited settlers rather than as invaders, perhaps for economic reasons or possibly to bolster Strathclyde’s southern border against incursion by the Northumbrians. The Norsemen were great traders and farmers, and are thought to have introduced the Herdwik sheep whose ancestors doubtless provided milk for the industry that gave Keswick its name: it means ‘cheese town’ from Cese and wic.

Keskadale, I have not been able to find a translation for but it is in the Newlands valley which until 13th century was known as Rogersat or Rogersyde which was derived from “Roger-Saetr”, which translates as Summer pasture belonging to Roger. My own thought on Keskadale is that it could be to do with cese, cheese, same as Keswick.

Jorvik/York. I never even considered using the modern name, thinking Jorvik is familiar to most people. When describing Sigrid and Ansgar’s visit I made good use of ‘Jorvik a Viking City’ from York Archaeological Trust.

Scarborough, Skarthi’s fort, an indulgence on my part as it is another place I like to visit and the legend of Skarthi building the settlement on the slope of the old Roman fort is well established. Skarthi was a nick-name for someone with a hare-lip.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Blog entry by Emma Keir from the Grassroutes Project about the launch of Shieldmaiden.

Picture by Rod Duncan

Book Launch: Shieldmaiden by Marianne Whiting
            On Thursday 6th December Marianne Whiting, poet, novelist and member of Leicester writer's club released her novel Shieldmaiden. The evening, at Leicester Adult Eduction College, consisted of Marianne's witty introduction to her novel, readings from the manuscript and an intriguing historical background into its context.
            Marianne begins her talk by telling the audience about her Scandinavian heritage. The author grew up on historical fiction, yet she felt frustrated that most roles allocated to women were limited. The exception seemed to be the Viking era. She tells us her usual responses to her Scandinavian heritage: a joke about Vikings, “either a leer or sneer but always the same words: Vikings, oh yes, rape and pillage”.
            Marianne had always intended to write a book about Vikings, and Shieldmaiden has taken years in the making. She tells the room “when I first began writing Shieldmaiden I was very arrogant thinking that being Scandinavian and a student of history I wouldn't really need to do much research”. Yet as the evening goes on, her dedication to her formed research is clear for all to see.
            The gap in her knowledge, she tells us, turned out to be about Viking settlers in Cumbria. The novelist continues to give us an interesting background into British history. Marianne explains she was a historian before becoming a novelist, but she was, as she puts it: “a lousy historian because I had so much imagination”. However, she has evidently maintained an impressive vat of historical knowledge, which keeps everyone in the room fascinated. Even after her launch, the room is buzzing with excited listeners sharing their appreciation of the novel and its author.
            I too, became a new fan of Marianne and couldn't wait to get my hands on a signed copy of Shieldmaiden. I explained to her I was from Grassroutes writing team and she helpfully offered me her transcript from the evening. I gratefully accepted it and eagerly took my seat with my new novel. Within ten minutes, I had already read two chapters and I can tell you now, I cannot wait to read twenty eight more.

By Emma Keir
(Member of Grassroutes writing team and proud owner of Shieldmaiden by Marianne Whiting)

Shieldmaiden is available as e-book and paperback from ,as e-book from WH Smith and the paperback can be ordered from major book stores if it's not on their shelves.