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.