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.