The Vikings are here…

Silver thistle brooch from Flusco Pike, Penrith. British Museum.

Silver thistle brooch from Penrith. COPYRIGHT British Museum.

Just a quick post today, mostly because I’m a bit freaked out by the slew of material on the ‘net yesterday and today claiming that this-that-or-the-other group is x% Viking, or that Penrith is 5% Viking (if you’re a man), or Yorkshire something more. The fact is that if you ask a scientific expert  – for which I recommend Sense About Science for a quickie – they say that it’s not that straightforward. The DNA testing companies that offer you and me the chance to decide we’re Celtic or Viking or Egyptian or whatever are being massively simplistic. We’re all probably related to the Vikings somewhere along the line, never mind the million that the headlines were talking yesterday.

Having depressed you all nicely, I remind you of these rather wonderful, actual Viking things that were found in a field, traditionally known as Silver Field (hah!), near Newbiggin, Penrith. One brooch was Continue reading

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Viking Cumbria: The Ormside Bowl

Whilst on my travels in York recently (I do leave Cumbria occasionally) I came across this in the Yorkshire Museum.

The Ormside Bowl, from Great Ormside, Cumbria

The Ormside Bowl, from Great Ormside, Cumbria

The Ormside Bowl was found near St James’ Church in the village of Great Ormside in the Eden Valley in the early 1800s. The circumstances of its discovery aren’t clear; it was long assumed it was found buried, but at least one archaeologist1 has suggested that the condition is too good for that to be the case.

It’s really two bowls fastened together. The outside, the oldest part, is made of silver-gilt and dates to the mid 8th century. The inner part Continue reading

Bega of St. Bees: the Irish princess, nun, or pagan relic?

Silver armlet from Cuerdale Hoard, copyright British Museum

Viking silver armlet from Cuerdale Hoard, copyright British Museum

The official line on St. Bega1 is that she was the Irish princess in whose name St Bees’ Priory was founded. Bega decided at an early age that she would devote her life to the church, whereupon an angel gifted her a holy arm-ring as a symbol of her dedication to Christ. Needless to say, Bega was also a very beautiful Irish princess and she was soon in demand for marriage and her father, an Irish king, accepted the proposal of the King of Norway. This was the last thing Bega wanted, so whilst the kings were feasting, Bega used her Continue reading

Penrith’s 10th-century Futhark Brooch

Just a quick one this time so you know I’m still here! My recent post on the Kingmoor Ring got me thinking about a number of things. Firstly, whilst people in southern England probably expect to find anglo-saxon archaeology, it’s a bit of a novelty in Cumbria. Secondly, why are we surprised to find an inscription that is a variety of good luck charm? And thirdly, why does this ring get a fancy name with capitalisations – actually, it gets two because it’s sometimes known as the Greymoor Ring – when other fabulous, and magical, things do not?

Norse Brooch from Penrith, copyright British Museum

Norse Brooch from Penrith, copyright British Museum

Let me introduce this unnamed brooch. It was found near Penrith and acquired by the British Museum twenty years ago Continue reading

Loki: Cumbria’s man in chains

One of the joys of having your own blog is the statistics. I know that doesn’t sound riveting, but look at this collection of Google search terms that apparently led people to my blog:

How long does ham keep in the freezer1

Loki stone at Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria

Loki stone at Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria

Blimey – usage history2

What to call colour which shines every colour3

Is eveling a word?4

Mistress with man in chains5

I’ll gloss over the first four, but the fifth reminded me very much of the 10th-century, viking-made Loki stone at Kirkby Stephen in the Eden Valley (which should tell you plenty about the way my mind works). It was found in 1870, and after a short sojourn on display in the churchyard, it was moved inside the church to protect it from the weather. This is a hefty chunky of sandstone with a carved figure with horns, a beard, a belt, and chains. He doesn’t look too happy about it, but then, according to Norse mythology, those chains are actually his son’s entrails. Continue reading