Vikings are fun!
Far from just being fierce warriors, the 4th Orkney Viking Week, which took place 10-17 September, explored the more peaceful aspects of Viking culture, focusing on crafts.
The Viking Week is a joint effort between Orkney Archaeology Society and Orkney Time Travel, with Colleen Batey and Raggie Ljosland as the prime movers.
New on this year’s programme was the Family Day at The Earl’s Bu in Orphir. The weather stayed dry while young children and their families enjoyed a fun day, which included making your own Viking name and dressing up, painting runes, and playing the Viking games Kubb and Hnefatafl and a perhaps less authentic but fun sack-race.
There was storytelling in the atmospheric setting of the medieval Round Kirk, and the more adventurous could try mini-axe throwing and lighting a fire without matches. Weaving and braiding caught the adults’ interest, as did the guided tours of the Earl’s Bu, Norse mill and Round Kirk.
Wonderful volunteers made everyone welcome with warming cups of tea and biscuits in the pop-up café and shop in the marquee, although it must be said the floral china cups from Clan clashed hilariously with the Viking look! The most determined read all the interpretation boards and watched the film in the Orkneyinga Saga Centre to find answers to the quiz, and now know much more about this fabulous Norse site in Orphir. Thanks to the wonderful volunteers who made this brilliant day possible!
For the more academically minded, there was a programme of talks. Drawing an online crowd of a hundred, Susanna Harris from Glasgow University gave a fascinating insight into the textiles of the Galloway Hoard, what they were made of, which colours they might have had, and where they might have originated before being used to carefully wrap the beautiful works of art and craftmanship that make up the hoard. This research is still ongoing, but so far it has been revealed that it includes very fine silk from the East.
Textiles were also in focus for Jane Cooper and Lexie Conyngham. With Jane’s book The Lost Flock about the Boreray sheep of St Kilda hot off the press, Jane not only explained but also showed us the properties of Boreray wool and how wool from similar native breeds was used in clothing and sail making in the Viking Age.
Lexie shared her experiments in weaving and wool work which she had done as part of researching the world in which the characters of her Orkneyinga Murders series would have lived.
Since crafts was the theme this year, crafters, artists and volunteers got together in the King Street Hall for a whole day of crafts on Saturday the 17th September. Not all these crafts were strictly Viking, but all were great fun! People were welcome to drop past and try their hand at different craft activities: Marianne van der Es and Amber Rivers guided people to try peg-loom weaving and spinning on hand-held spindles, and this was something people really enjoyed.
Artist Sam Gray helped people bleach a bird design from a Viking Age rune stone onto t-shirts, which was highly effective and gave a striking design, while another artist, Catherine Wells from Arts a Flutter, taught people how to use a burning-pen to create keyrings with their name written in runes. Nirit Muchnik Leonard, who also ran the café at the Family day, was back at the craft day helping out with needle felting in North Ronaldsay wool. Weaving and braiding was also an option, with Lindsay Bailey having learnt a beautiful Norse braiding technique especially to be able to teach folk at the craft day.
Mark Cook did rope-making. Mila Tabone was a new face, who demonstrated tablet weaving at both the family day and craft day. She has recently moved to Orkney from Norway to study archaeology at UHI.
Four brave souls joined Ragnhild Ljosland in making leather turnshoes modelled on shoes that have been found in Viking Age and Medieval excavations. It was also really exciting to be able to make a real Viking silver penannular brooch.
Andrew Baikie, who works as a silversmith for Ortak, was kindly supported by his employer to borrow the necessary equipment so he could lead morning and afternoon workshops in Viking Age brooch making. Participants were glowing with pride when they came out of the workshop with their new brooches pinned on their chests!
Finally, there was a storytelling programme running through the festival, all delivered by Ragnhild Ljosland. It began with stories in the Round Kirk at the Family Day, followed by Starlit Storytelling in King Street Hall in the evening after the craft day. The hall was very atmospheric in the dark, lit only by a slideshow of stars, galaxies and northern lights. Ragnhild told of the creation of the world from Norse mythology, of the first humans, and the tree that holds the world in its branches.
Then moving closer to home, with a story of how Orkney was created from a sea-serpent’s teeth, how Orkney was named, and how the progenitors of three Orkney families once went to the underworld and back, before returning to the fate of the Norse gods and how the world will end at Ragnarok. The performance was supported by sound-effects with Martin Gee on percussion.
The Viking Week ended on Sunday 17th with The Eagle God falconry and storytelling at Skaill House Falconry. Here, the birds of prey were the stars of the show, accompanied by stories from Norse mythology of shape-shifting gods and giants who turn into birds.