I've been to several lively celebrations in my time: Medieval, Georgian, Maori, but an Iron Age bash sounded unique. Last spring, our group set off eagerly by bus from the cruise ship Trollfjord to a Viking Feast on Lofoten Island.
In 1981, a Norwegian farmer ploughing deeper than usual on the windy heights of Borg, came across the site of a chieftain's house, the largest ever found in Scandinavia. Archaeologists excavating between 1983-89, found glass beads and pot shards that were more than 1,000 years old. It's estimated that it was built around 500 A.D. and occupied until 900 when Olaf Tvennumbrunni, who was probably the last chieftain, departed for Iceland. Stumps record the actual site; nearby is the carefully-reconstructed Great Hall.
We stepped across the threshold into the Norse world, to be greeted by the Lord and his Lady. We were introduced to Sigurd, the gangling 'nephew' who was looking for a wife and an anxious 'slave girl' who'd been "found in the forest."
Herbs were tossed in the fire crackling in the open hearth in the centre, beneath the great supporting posts. Sacrifices made to the gods. We sat on benches behind long wooden tables and were given a spoon and knife for our meal of lamb, barley, carrots and hearty bread. No forks, salt or pepper were on offer, but the herbal seasonings were so delicious that people asked for the recipe.
There were lashings of mead, made from the sacred honey, which quickly goes to the head. "You'll be dancing around the fireplace. But don't get too drunk," the Lord warned, "Or I'll have to carry you out and put you in your long ship."
Sigurd shyly plighted his troth with a startled young New Yorker and the 'family' sang love songs to the happy couple. We ended with a spirited ring dance around the fire, when everyone joined hands: "two steps left, one right." I plan to introduce it at our next pagan festival.
Afterwards, we visited the Museum shop where the affable Vikings reverted to their old habits and took our treasure (Norwegian kronor) for trinkets.
Geography: Lofoten is the archipelago to the west in the ocean, north of the Arctic Circle. The principal islands are Austvågøy, Gimsøy, Vestvågøy, Flakstadøy, Moskenesøy, Værøy and Røst. The southernmost part of Norway's largest island, Hinnøy, is also in Lofoten. The total land area amounts to 1,227 square kilometres.
Climate and light: Due to the warm Gulf Stream, Lofoten has a much milder climate than other parts of the world at the same latitude, such as Alaska and Greenland. The coastal climate in Lofoten makes the winters mild and the summers relatively cool.
January and February are the coldest months, with an average temperature of -1° C.
July and August are warmest with an average temperature of 12° C.
May and June are the driest months, with an average 40 millimetres of rainfall.
From approximately 27 May to 17 July you can experience "the midnight sun" in Lofoten.
History: The first people came to Lofoten about 6,000 years ago. Lofoten's Stone Age inhabitants survived on fishing and hunting in an area which provided good living. All of Lofoten was covered by large pine and birch woods at that time. There were deer, bear, wild reindeer, lynx and beaver, and the sea was full of fish, seals and whales.
Agriculture developed early, and grain was harvested in Lofoten as early as 4,000 years ago. The Viking Era saw the emergence of several large chieftain seats. Tofts from a Viking chieftain seat have been found at Borg on Vestvågøy Island, containing the largest Viking banquet hall ever found in any country. The building was 8.5 metres wide and as much as 83 metres long. A reconstruction of the building has been raised, and the Lofotr Viking Museum at Borg opened in June 1995.
The Lofoten Fisheries: gained importance early. King Øystein considered these fisheries to be of such significance that he, as early as 1103, built a church in Vågan, which at that time was the base of the Lofoten Fisheries. In about 1120, he also built the first fishermen's cabins ever mentioned in the Saga. Stockfish, produced from spawning cod, was the staple diet, and it was sold to almost all of Europe. Italy is still the most important market for high quality stockfish from Lofoten. Near Kabelvåg is the location of Vågar, the only medieval town of the North Calotte.
Mary Alice Downie writes for Kingston Life Magazine and contributes to Fifty-five Plus, Good Times, Forever Young and many other magazines as well as a food blog, 'Edible Souvenirs' on the website
kingstonlife.ca. She is the author of 28 books for children and adults.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/
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