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Vikings ‘were warned to avoid Scotland’

Scotland is full of dangerous natives who speak an incomprehensible language and the is weather awful. That was the verdict of a series of 13th century Viking travel guides that warned voyagers to visit at their peril.

Vikings on street: Vikings 'were warned to avoid Scotland'

Revellers at the Up Helly Aa Fire Festival in Shetland Photo: GETTY

The medieval chronicles, set down on yellowed calf vellum eight centuries ago, describe Scotland – or Skotland, as it was known – as an unwelcome and inhospitable country offering rewards only to the bold.

“Icelanders who want to practise robbery are advised to go there,” says one saga. “But it may cost them their life.”

Another saga tells the story of Icelandic merchants who sailed into a west coast sea loch where they met 13 ships bristling with what they called “Vikings” – more an occupation than a nationality – but were actually natives.

A Scot identified in the saga as Grjotgard, a kinsman of Melkolf, king of Scotland (Malcolm II), told them: “You have two choices. You can go ashore and we will take all your property, or we’ll attack you and kill every man we lay our hands on.” The merchants were terrified, the saga says, but presumably lived to tell their tale.

The chronicles have been interpreted by Gisli Sigurdsson, a historian at Reykjavik University, who believes the sagas – part fiction, part fact – reveal how the ancient Norse were far from the fearless pirates of legend.

As the Norsemen became as keen on trade as marauding, they were particularly nervous about sailing up the west coast sea lochs they referred to as the “Scottish fjords”. “The only places the Norse could have expected a safe reception was Orkney and Shetland, where the people were basically the same as them and where they would be greeted as kin,” Mr Sigurdsson said.

The Norse Viking age peaked between the 9th and 12th centuries, when Scandinavian seafarers conquered new lands, settling Orkney, Shetland, Iceland and Greenland, and establishing colonies in Scotland, England, Ireland, France, North America and Russia.

The Icelandic sagas, written in the 13th century but based on earlier oral stories, were often used as route guides for raiders, traders, crusaders and explorers, effectively a road map of medieval Europe and the Middle East. They have proved remarkably accurate, even helping archaeologists to pinpoint the remains of a Norse village in Newfoundland.

Orkney is described as a handy base camp for pillaging Scotland. But the Norse had other bases too, some of which would feature high up in a modern guide for tourists. If you are planning to raid Scotland, one saga reads, you could do worse than base yourself in Fort Skardaborg. That’s today’s Scarborough.

Mr Sigurdsson believes the Norse Vikings were particularly nervous about the Gaels of Ireland and west Scotland.

Orkney historian Tom Muir said: “They picked weak targets, like monasteries. Some of the monasteries were basically unguarded banks of cash with a sign above them saying ‘free money’. The truth is that there were raids both ways and that the Norse had every reason to fear their Celtic neighbours. There are well-documented accounts of Gaelic-speaking Lewismen raiding Orkney.”

The Norse eventually lost their hold in Scotland. But Celts and the Vikings must ultimately have started to get along. DNA evidence suggests many Scots and Icelanders interbred and settled in both countries.


If I were young and single I’d do this… if you ask me they also needs guides and explorers and traders and fishermen and Skalds/Scops if they don’t already have em.

Unique Opportunity: Summer Job as Viking Ship Høvedsmann/ Captain

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Viking ship “Lofotr” needs a new captain the coming summer. (Photo: Lofotr Viking Museum)

Have you ever dreamed of being Høvedsmann (Captain) on a Viking ship? This summer, you have the opportunity to apply for the position at the Lofotr Viking Museum in the Lofoten archipelago, Northern Norway – if you have the right qualifications.

There are two Viking ships at the museum. “Lofotr” is a full-scale reconstruction of the Gokstad ship dating back to the 800s. Like the original, “Lofotr” is an excellent seagoing ship which has won several regattas.

The Viking museum which is located on the beautiful Vestvågøy island is searching for two captains the coming summer.

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Lofotr Viking Museum Longhouse Norway

The reconstructed Viking longhouse at the Lofotr Viking Museum is the largest ever found. (Photo: Lofotr Viking Museum)

Here you will find the job ad translated into English. Notice that there is no requirement to speak Norwegian, but you have to speak two languages – including English or Norwegian.


Høvedsmann Viking Ship

Apply for an exciting and challenging summer job as Høvedsmann in the main season 15 June – 15 August 2015. The Høvedsmann is responsible for preparing and carrying out daily rowing trips with a Viking ship for our guests. It is an advantage if you have experience using a square sail or a boating license. You should master at least two languages. Specify in the application which periods you can work. Minimum application period is two months. You must master Norwegian or English. Only relevant applicants will be contacted.

Workplace: Vestvågøy, Lofoten

Type of employment: Vacation work, Shift work, Part time, Full time

Number of positions: 2

Application deadline: February 16, 2015

Vacancies from: June 15, 2015

Vacancies to: August 15, 2015

Application postal address: Prestegårdsveien 59, 8360 Bøstad, Norway

Mark the envelope “Season 2015”

Contact person: Ole-Martin Hammer, tel. +47 90 11 87 08


You will find the complete job ad here (in Norwegian).



I’ve recently been thinking about real life adventures I’d like to take that were inspired by gaming. Or rather, to be more accurate, I have done these things in games (as well as researched them in real life), and therefore I’d now like to do them in real life as well.

Some of these things I imagine I may never get the chance to do (though you never know), but others I suspect I will get to do. Also I’ve already done many things in real life that I have also done in games, and vice versa, but I always thought of imaginary expeditions and adventures and real life adventures as cross-fertilizing one another. So for instance I have been a near life-long Vadder, and to me D&D (for example) was simply a form of complimentary vadding of the imagination.


So these are things I’ve done in games that I’d like to do in real life in the future:

1. I’d like to walk or travel by horse and camel the Silk Road, starting from Istanbul (Constantinople) and then all the way into China.

2. I’d like to sail the entire world, starting from the East Coast of America (Charleston) to land on the West Coast of America, when finished, in a true sailing vessel. Though I’d probably take along an engine enabled craft just as an emergency back-up. I’d christen her the Endeavour, after my old ship.


3. I’d like to thoroughly explore the cistern system of Constantinople, along with any other underground and abandoned areas of that ancient city that I could possible make my way into.

4. I’d like to buy a small keep or castle in England or Scotland (maybe Bohemia) and then use the surrounding lands to raise really good horses. On that estate I’d also like to build a small private amphitheatre, and an observatory, and a good solid library complex, all of my own design. After I got a good herd up and the estate was flourishing I’d rent it out and then let the caretakers continue raising the stock. I’d probably thereafter vacation there.


5. I’d like to put together an archaeological expedition into Central (preferably) or South America and make a new discovery.

6. I’d like to track down and discover an animal thought extinct or very rare and then photograph and record it.

7. I’d like to explore a previously unexplored or only very rarely explored underground complex. Natural or man-made (long abandoned).

8. I’d like to visit some ancient libraries (especially old monastic collections) and read and study some very rare texts. And I’d like to visit some relical shrines in the Middle East.


9. I’d like to retrace the Lewis and Clarke expedition route by foot and horse. And then motorcycle back across the country on the way home.


10. I’d like to build a real and working ballista (based on an ancient Greek or Roman design) from scratch (no kit), and have forged for me a really fine katana made by a skilled Japanese swordsmith with an inlain pattern design I invented and sporting my family and personal crests.
So, what are some things you’ve done or built or accomplished in games that you’d also like to do in real life?

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