By Ragnhild Ljosland
Last week saw a new festival on Orkney’s already busy social calendar, with the inaugural Orkney Viking Week. Led by Orkney Time Travel, which consists of Mark Cook, Mark Woodsford-Dean and Ragnhild Ljosland, all Green Badge tourist guides, the Viking Week brought together people, businesses and organisations for a week of time-travel fun.
During the week, visitors and locals enjoyed diverse hands-on activities, such as a lively demonstration of how the Norse people hunted with falcons and hawks with Skaill House Falconry, and fun and games when Vikings conquered a corner of the Ness of Brodgar on their open day, renamed it Havardsteig, and invited everyone to play Kubb – a Viking form of Skittles, from the island of Gotland. Jane Cooper was also there with her horned Boreray sheep, and through the festival she welcomed people to her home to learn more about this ancient breed and how people in the Viking Age would have used the wool in spinning and weaving.
The Viking Week was not just a Mainland event. In Shapinsay, the Shapinsay Heritage Arts and Crafts hosted an exhibition various ‘artefacts’ and photos from dramatic productions held in the past, celebrating Shapinsay’s Norse history. These included the 25-foot replica galley built by Ivan Hourston for the Community Play ‘A Saga of Shapinsay’ in 2000, replica jewellery for the same play made by Billy Miller, a genuine Up-Helly-Aa outfit, and a music stand inspired by the Scar Plaque. Costumes from the plays were available for dressing up to get a feel for being a Viking! The festival also extended to Hoy, with a full-day Viking Voyage to Hoy on Wednesday the 21st. Adults and children enjoyed cooking on the beach at Rackwick and making string out of stingy nettles.
On the more academic side, the festival included a free guided tour of Norse Kirkwall, two public talks and a book launch. Orkney Archaeology Society invited to the launch of The Orkney Book of Runes, published by the society and written by Dr Ragnhild Ljosland, along with a talk by the author on the topic of “The bear’s tooth amulet from Birsay and other runic inscriptions with magical purposes”.
This was probably the first Archaeology Society talk in history where the speaker has been trumpeted in by blowing on real cattle horns. The fanfare was a surprise from Kate Fletcher and Corwen Broch, who delighted the 120-strong audience with music played on their own reconstructions of ancient Scandinavian instruments such as the Kravik lyre and the Runebomme drum. A smaller talk at Maeshowe Visitor Centre explored how Norse folklore and saga stories inspired the break-in at Maeshowe which led to the runes being carved there.
The Viking Week had a great turn-out, and already there is talk of having it again next year, when the organisers hope to involve more people, businesses and organisations, and spread over more islands.
This year’s Viking Week finished with a sold-out Viking Feast on the Beach at Scapa, followed by an open-to-all game of Giant Hnefatafl, a Viking board game drawn in the sand, with human gaming pieces. This led to much hilarity and a lovely end to the festival on Friday evening.