If you were in Helmsdale last Saturday (14th May) you would have seen Vikings in full costume walking along the streets! The arrival of our northern friends was part of Timespan’s “Viking Heritage Day” for Festival of Museums 2016. This national initiative provides support for museums to celebrate histories and culture and attract new audiences.
The day began with a rousing saga storytelling session led by Tom Muir, Storyteller and Exhibitions Officer, Orkney Museum. Tom recited some of the stories from the Orkneyinga Saga, a source of history for the Norse Orkney Earldom compiled sometime between 1192 and 1206 by an unknown Icelandic Scribe. The fifty one Viking enthusiasts listened eagerly to the Helmsdale saga stories.
Tom recalled the story of Frakkok, a powerful Viking woman who lived in the Strath of Kildonan. She plotted to murder her nephew Earl Paul of Orkney in preference of his brother Harald. The plan went tragically wrong when Harald was killed by wearing a poisoned shirt meant for his brother Paul. Frakkok and her grandson Olvir fled back to Kildonan where they were attacked by another great warrior Viking Svein Asleifsson. This is known as the battle of Helmsdale and took pace around 1139AD. Svein won the battle and Olvir fled never to be seen or heard off again and Frakkok was burnt to death at her Kildonan homestead.
The stories were followed by a shield and sword painting session. The colourful designs were expertly executed as the young warriors prepared for the battle re-enactment.
A sunny afternoon was spent at the Helmsdale Woodlanders yurt in Marrel where organisers Mike Ellis and Alasdair Sangster demonstrated horn, leather and wood working. The skills and techniques were explained and many helpers were on hand to work the various tools and implements. A large carved out cow horn provided much entertainment as people tried to create a trumpet-like sound, with varying success. The ‘Woodies’ charcoal burner quickly became covered in drawings and designs using pieces of charcoal made on site. The large group of onlookers were then led back to Helmsdale where the much anticipated battle re-enactment took place.
The “Hjalmundal’s Vic” Re-enactment Group” welcomed visitors and warriors to the battle field on the north bank of the Helmsdale River, below the old Telford Bridge. The band of enthusiastic warriors of all ages were led onto the field where the re-enactors trained them in swordsmanship and battle manoeuvres. These skills was eagerly put into practise and the battering together of foam covered swords could be heard in all directions. The recruited warriors were then split into two Viking armies led by Helmsdale Jarl Olvir Rosta and Orkney Jarl Svein Asleifsson. The armies took position and a Bard regaled the audience with the commentary of the battle events. The armies came together three times and then clashed before separating to make way for a one-to-one dual between the battle crazed Jarls. It was a long and hard fight and finally Svein fell to the ground seemingly defeated to the rejoicing of Olvir and his army. His joy was short-lived as Svein ordered his army to attack and defeated the Helmsdale warriors. This re-enactment was true to the saga written nearly one thousand years ago!
The battle weary warriors shook hands and were treated to a post-battle Viking banquet in Timespan. The ladies of the fundraising committee served a wonderful selection of traditional dishes at long tables. The hall was adorned with banners with Viking designs and mysterious animals created by local artist Penny Woodley and volunteers. Jarl Olvir welcomed the guests with a toast of mead made from a special Helmsdale recipe! More stories were recited and a long list of thanks were delivered by event organiser Jacquie Aitken, Heritage Officer at Timespan, as the evening came to a successful close.
The day was a celebration of Helmsdale’s Viking heritage and Timespan would like to thank everyone who was involved and attended the events. Timespan will be revisiting this theme later in the year as we continue to explore this fascinating history.
See more photographs on Timespan’s Facebook.