It’s Friday evening and I’ve been back at work a week. Whilst it’s nice to be back, I don’t quite feel I’ve settled properly back in – partly because I had things booked like the car service but also because I’m trying to work 9 a.m. until 1.30 p.m. but already I’ve had meetings and webinars booked in outside those times! I’ll have to see how it goes, as if work starts creeping too much into my own time (and I am only part-time after all, partly because that was what the job was advertised as but one of its selling points for me was that I wanted time to do my own thing. I’ve also just had to turn down some catering work as I just couldn’t commit enough hours to it).
I’ve read noticeably less this week, which is a pity as I’m reading a really interesting book by Neil Oliver about the Vikings. I hadn’t known that Harald Bluetooth, a king who had unified some disparate tribes, had given not only his name to bluetooth technology but also the symbol is made from the two of the runes of his name. Likewise some Scandinavians use the word ‘lurs’ as a nickname for their mobile phones: the lur was a Viking musical instrument.
What’s fascinating is how far and wide the Vikings spread. As I learn more about them, I am more and more impressed by them: although there is also a comment that Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship was superb and renowned worldwide, and that it may well have been the riches of England and other countries that attracted the Vikings. Certainly the Swedish Vikings spread eastwards towards Russia and further, and were among the first founders of a trading post, Russia’s first-ever town of Staraya Ladoga. This led to them moving southwards along rivers, with portage between them, and trading far afield.
The Norwegian Vikings were the ones who seem to have settled more in the UK, including Dublin in Ireland. I had discovered some time ago that Orkney was on a Viking trade route and an important centre for them: I hadn’t appreciated how important Shetland was as well, and nor had I thought how that also gave them access down the west coast of Scotland and into the Irish Sea. Dublin was a holding point for the Viking slave trade, where Angles, Britons and Picts were traded or held prior to being taken on to other markets. It’s perhaps worth noting – bearing in mind the current climate – that the author quotes an example in 1631 of an entire population of a village in Cork being taken to North Africa as slaves, this time by Barbary pirates. The word ‘enthralled’ comes directly from Old Norse.
A heart-lifting story which I hadn’t heard about before was the ‘Shetland Bus’. Neil Oliver uses this to demonstrate how the population of the Shetlands ties Britain to Scandinavia: the Shetland Bus was used to rescue people from Norway in the Second World War and take them to Britain, away from the Nazis, or to take Agents and equipment to Norway. In good conditions apparently the crossing takes about a day: the Shetland Bus crossings were often in the winter and in small fishing boats.
It’s a fascinating book and coincidentally Edward has just been set some work on the Vikings by school, which Alex is quite happy to help him with. The romance of these warriors still enthralls the hearts of the young (and not only the young) today.
Out on the Fells: Sunday
I was out on a long run today (Sunday) and it suddenly struck me WHY I run. It’s not only to keep fit, or to improve my fitness, but because I love being out on the trails/hills. I love the feeling of being strong and fit; but whilst short runs from home are fine on my own, I like doing things with friends. Experiences on one’s own are fine and uplifting, but a shared experience feels as though it possibly has a chance to create stronger memories: think of all those times when you say ‘do you remember when we…’, especially when you catch up with a friend whom you haven’t seen for a while. I’m really looking forward to getting out running with the rest of my running group again: most of them seem to be somewhat hesitant to meet up yet (it would be rather nice to meet a new man who ran – but not too fast – and cycled, but at least I have a great group of friends to run with when times are more normal).
I’ve got out for some lovely runs again this week, perhaps most notably running 9 miles on Askham Fell with Penny – we went all along to Howtown and then back to Pooley Bridge, followed by a HUGE hill up to Askham Fell to cross over the fell and back to our cars. I then ran in Gelt Woods near me on Friday, which was lovely, and particularly gratifying as I was running quite well and the hills weren’t as intimidating as usual. Then on Saturday as Bella was here and wanted to walk up Talkin Fell with a friend, I decided I’d run up Talkin Fell, over to Simmerson Hill, back to the cairns and then down again.
Sundays when you’re single can sometimes be the loneliest day of the week, but since lockdown David and I have generally split weekends so that he has the children on Saturday and I have them on Sunday. I’d offered to have the boys for longer this week if I could pick them up a lunchtime on Sunday and run in the morning: unfortunately the route Penny suggested (she’s kind of my partner in adventure, as you’ve probably realised by now – her husband had gone off mountain biking with a couple of friends) took a little longer than we’d anticipated. It was a sort of recce for running all of ‘High Street’ – not only the name of a Lake District fell but also of a roman road which linked the fort at Ambleside with the one near Penrith. Like most Roman roads it runs more or less in a straight line over the tops of the hills, and we’ve failed to do it so far due to weather.
So today we started at Pooley Bridge and ran to Howtown, and then up Fusedale. The idea was to follow the footpath up on to Wether Hill and join up with the roman road: but the path didn’t seem to exist. Also by then we’d already taken about 2 hours – of what we’d thought would be a 2 hour run! Fortunately having clambered up the fellside we were then met High Street at the top and it was mostly downhill to get back to Pooley Bridge.
It was a glorious run and despite being incredibly late to pick up the boys, and having creaky knees, I’m looking forward to running High Street from end to end (more or less) next weekend, weather permitting. We’re also going to take our wetsuits and swimming stuff and swim at the end. And it won’t be a day when I need to fetch the children.
Singing is something else which is fun to do with other people. I’m enough of a performer that I want to do solos: but I want to do solos accompanied by friends, or as part of a concert or recital which friends also take part in. Who knows when choral singing will be permitted again? Meanwhile I’m trying to get a 35-minute programme together for my performance diploma, the main problem being having to stick to a time limit: potentially it could only be about 6-8 pieces. My friend Caroline has recorded some backing tracks for me for practicing, and I’ve suggested to her that when we’re allowed we should get together for a practice, with a view to doing a joint recital at some point. She’s just heard that she may be able to record her (piano) pieces for her next performance diploma, for submission in August, so she’s working hard on that now anyway.
Perhaps most things are more fun done together than solo: I’ve loved watching plays and operas during lockdown, but I like discussing them with friends later; wild swimming is not only more fun with others but also feels safer; and I love sitting and enjoying good food.
With a long run (probably about 15 miles) planned for next Saturday, I might go out on my bike more this week than running. And whilst running today Penny mentioned something which gave me an idea for what to do next year, when I turn 60 – the entire Lakeland Trails series. ‘Inspiring races in beautiful places’: I do hope that we’ll be more or less back to normal by then.
The Vikings have always had a bad reputation in the U.S., I think largely by Columbus fans who want to claim he “discovered” it. I find your reading helpful and a way to balance my sense of them.
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I think the truth is he discovered more of it, and further south. Here is a website with a map and stuff: https://norse-mythology.org/vikings-explorers-settlers/ I’ve just read about them moving from Norway to Iceland to Greenland and then finding bits of Canada etc. – it’s really interesting. Erik the Red was apparently a criminal and having found life too hot in Norway moved to Iceland and then found the same there – for Vikings if you were a criminal then anybody could ‘get’ you. But their trading routes are absolutely amazing – especially when you think that they’d probably have got pretty wet in their boats.
UPDATE! I was just searching the BBC iPlayer to see if Neil Oliver’s programmes were on there anywhere. They weren’t, but there was an old programme from the 1960s, not long after L’Anse aux Meadows was discovered, about whether or not the Vikings got to North America. It sounds as if since then considerable archaeological excavation has been carried out and it’s confirmed that the Vikings definitely had a settlement – and a port – at L’Anse Aux Meadows. Tantalisingly we don’t of course know where they went from there, other than keeping routes open between Greenland and hence Iceland, Faroe Isles, Orkney, Norway… They really were a most amazing people.
Wow. Thanks. I will look for Neil Oliver. Did he write the book you are reading?(You probably said, but I don’t remember.)
Yes, he did – he’s written some others as well and also presented TV programmes on the BBC.
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