Roskilde Viking Museum
In my selfless, yet relentless search for the Viking vibe to keep my section of this blog reasonably interesting, last year I set off, entirely on your behalf of course, to visit the Viking Museum at Roskilde, about half an hour on the train from Copenhagen and located on the harbourside there, so I could tell you what it was like.
Roskilde is a seriously historic place, being not only the one-time capital of Denmark, but also burial place of many Viking kings. The Christian ones, at least. Before the Viking world deserted the Norse Gods and converted to Christianity, newly dead Viking kings would have been launched to sea on burning longships, or buried in ship-shaped mounds along with their treasures and occasional slave girl to keep them company on their journey to Valhalla, the home of heroes.
Now days, Roskilde is a very pleasant town with stylish and expensive shops either side of a wide main street with countless bicycle racks, like most of Denmark. You pass a lovely old cathedral that dominates the end of town, a helpful visitor centre nearby, and quaint houses, and a tree-lined walk through a park on your way down to the sea. The harbour is almost dwarfed by a massive new glass building of the museum off to one side, but before you get there, you immediately see a whole flotilla of menacing, but oh so beautiful, Viking longships in various sizes moored.
I instantly felt some compassion for the monks of Lindisfarne Monastery who looked out one dreary morning and saw a host of ships just like these ones, full of big hairy men waving swords and axes while descending on their shore, ready to do really unspeakable things to them, like steal all their precious stuff, burn their books and poke them with swords or capture them as slaves.
On a related note, but interrupting my train of thought, did you know that back in 1000AD, at the height of Viking era, a good Viking sword was worth as much as a Ferrari or Aston Martin is now?
But back to Roskilde, there is a networks of jetties and on the bank nearby, several longships are under construction by craftsmen using original techniques and traditional tools. The air rings to the sound of axes and adzes cutting into spruce and fir tree logs. It really does make you start to feel you are slipping back in time.
A shed nearby is filled with rope making equipment, and a blacksmith works pumping his forge, the way blacksmiths have done for thousands of years, to produce the metal fittings needed for the ships. The smell of the burning coke really adds to the authentic atmosphere, and nearly hides the smell of pickled herring that are for sale in the canteen not far away. Nearly.
I had read before visiting that the boat builders at the museum offered daily sailing trips on one of the traditional, Nordic boats. Everyone participates actively with rowing, setting the sail and carrying out other sailors’ work. Unfortunately, like many events, you have to be there early, and by the time we arrived the ship was booked out. “Røvpule!” I said in my best newly-learnt Danish. Disappointed, (I was, but I’m not so sure about Jan) we stood on the jetty and watched as all the wannabe Vikings got kitted up in life jackets, given health safety lessons and instructions on handling an oar before they set off rowing out into the harbour.
Unfortunately for them, precious little wind was blowing, so instead of using the sail to get out to sea, they had to row and row and row and row some more. Eventually, when their boat was a tiny speck on the horizon, they did get to haul up the sail, but by that time most of them would have been well buggered. Or jumped overboard and drowned in relief. It looked like really, really hard work, and as most of them were obviously novice rowers, oars went in all directions. I was reminded a bit of an orchestra conductor’s baton conducting the Ride of the Valkyries. Da dum dar dar dar dar.
The main museum building itself has three impressive longships which had been discovered in the mud in the harbour only metres away from where they are now in display. It turns out they had originally been scuttled to block the harbour and prevent raiders landing and, again, doing unspeakable things to the inhabitants. Viking were not only beastly to English monks, but also to each other. It seems it didn’t much to upset a neighboring tribe and before you knew it, they were descending on your settlement with swords and axes on high with murder in mind.
The mud on the seafloor preserved much on the timber from the longships’ planks, and a thousand years later you can reach out and touch history, providing you ignore the Do Not Touch signs and the guards are not watching, of course. If they did see you, you would probably score a battle-axe to the skull for your trouble. They take their Viking history very seriously in Scandinavia and even though the people seem to be gentle, sophisticated souls these days, you have to remember that Viking DNA is still running through their veins.
Having then checked all that out especially for you, we then headed to the canteen for a lunch of fermented auk open sandwiches, followed by boiled cod flavoured ice-cream, washed down with ten-year old mead, the Vikings’ normal drink. Auks are a bit like puffins and taste like chicken. (Yeah, right!)