As promised – rigtig vigtigt: Viking edition (or more accurately, Viking ship edition). Our lovely guests only had one demand during their stay – to visit the Viking Ships Museum (Vikingeskibs Museet) in Roskilde. I will go to a Viking museum at the drop of a hat, so we were happy to oblige.
The museum is about an hour west of Copenhagen on the train, and lies on the edge of Roskilde Harbour. It is built around five Viking ships, the Skuldelev ships, that were found in the 1960s at Peberrenden, in the Rosklide Fjord. They were sunk sometime around the 11th century in order to form a defensive barrier in the waterway against attacking ships.
All the ships are different, and it’s really interesting to see how their shapes, sizes and construction are linked to their function. There are three cargo ships and two warships, including one 30m longship that could have carried up to 70 Viking warriors. Heaven help the Monastery visited by one of those ships. As our extremely Danish guide put it, the Vikings couldn’t believe their luck to find so many treasure-filled castles right on the coast manned only by unarmed guys in dresses. Fair point – when you put it that way, I can see why they got up to so much pillaging.
Initially started as an effort to better understand the Skuldelev ships, the museum has become a living museum that explores and maintains Nordic boat-building traditions by reconstructing Viking ships from all over the region. I tell you what, the Vikings made ropes out of a great many things. Personally, I don’t recommend touching any of the ones made out of any part of a seal or elk.
The fearsome warship/longboat (Skuldelev 2) actually has a pretty interesting history – it was built around 1042 in Dublin, which was a Viking settlement on and off between the mid-800s to late-1100s. It’s thought to have been sailed to Denmark in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings, potentially by a rival of William the Conqueror who was looking to drum up Danish support.
The museum reconstructed Skuldelev 2 between 2000 and 2004. After giving it the somewhat terrible name ‘the Sea Stallion from Glendalough‘, they managed to sail it to Dublin and back in a pretty amazing feat of ‘experimental archaeology’.
Now that I think about it, being an experimental Nordic boat-building archaeologist sailor might actually be my dream job – put some eyeliner on me, get me a pet raven and I’ll build you a whole pile of interesting boats! (But seriously, how do I get this job?).
In a less impressive nautical feat, we went on a trip out into the fjord in a somewhat un-heroic Nordic trading vessel. For me, the most interesting thing was how effective the wisp-thin oars were. When you compare them to modern rowing blades it seems like you are going to go nowhere, but they were deceptively powerful. Apparently the thin blades are more suited to rowing at sea, as there is less surface area to catch a crab or get thrown around in the wind.
Based on the fact we were able to get anywhere in this ship with some frankly terrible rowers on board, the Viking oars were definitely more forgiving of bad technique than modern blades. I guess that’s important when they are meant to be used by a bunch of hulking beserkers hopped up on fly agaric mushrooms… Ha! That might also explain Ant’s competence on the day.
That just about wraps up our Viking adventures. Oh, we also ate and drank a bunch of things flavoured with sea buckthorn. I’m going to add it to the list of tasty things I am surprised aren’t eaten more often, filed between pine needles and wood sorrel.
Sadly our single minded focus on Vikings meant we didn’t see that much of Roskilde itself.
However, Roskilde did give us an entertaining parting gift on our way out of town – while waiting at the station I heard a weird clanking sound and looked up to see a guy on the opposite platform walking around in shiny silver plate-mail. After a full day at a Viking museum it’s reassuring to know that there is at least one person out there with nerdier hobbies than us.