Warning: this post is a bit big and picture heavy, so if your computer is a tad slow on the uptake (like me this morning) don’t fret, there’s a lot to load up. Just a thought.
So, we woke up this morning to more snow. The title of the recent post about frost being the herald of spring may contain traces of inadvertant lie. Outside bears a striking and uncanny resemblance to distant Scandinavia.
Speaking of which, it was the Jorvik Viking Festival this weekend, and we went and spent the weekend Where the Wild Things Are.
I’ve been going for some years now, but it was Tiro’s first time for attending. He was a tad apprehensive about being the only Roman in a city full of Vikings, but I didn’t notice that much been as I’ve been focused on studiously counting down the days for the last month and bouncing around like a six-year-old at Christmas for the last week. We caught the train without incident, arrived, booked ourselves in to the Bar Covent and went straight out into the city. For those who have never been, the festival is a combination of free and charged events (the majority of which are child-friendly) which run in different locations so you can choose to spend as much as you like, or have a perfectly good time being entertained by the huge amount of free stuff (FREE STUFF! – Tiro ). The city also had a nice sprinkling of licensed street entertainers, who are of differing styles: street theatre, magicians, singers, musicians, caricature artists, which although not strictly Viking related, are all of high quality.
Our first stop after obtaining a map and festival guide was a display called ‘Combat Through the Ages’, which was none too serious, and had performers from Ting Tang Theatre, Volsung Vikings and another group demonstrating classic Roman gladiators…
…and the Roman military versus Celtic Britons…
… and 17th C. rapier combat, Vikings and the wonderfully named Bartitsu, the Victorian gentleman’s martial art. Tickets for this two-hour display were £3 each for adults. After a little food, and a trip to the nunnery to warm back up, we decided to spend our first evening on one of the Ghost Walks of York. There are several of these which operate in different parts of the city, so as not to step on each others ghostly toes so to speak. The chap we had took us round the North of the city, and was highly entertaining with his booming voice, tricorn hat and stepladder. The style was that of audience participation, and several stories lasted about an hour and a half, and cost us £4.50 each. By the time it was over, it was time to head back to the Convent via a pizza house. For some reason we felt disturbingly guilty as we let ourselves in through the side door with a large hot pizza in a slightly soggy box. Good job the place has guest’s kitchens; it would have been difficult to conceal the smell and the empty box in our room.
We began our second day after a sterling breakfast by going up to the Minster and purchasing tickets for the evening’s performance of ‘Fit for a King’ (tickets for this were £10 per adult, of which more of the evening later). Whilst there, we spotted some rather splendid light patterns on the Minster roof and in the windows.
Our next stop after consulting the handy guidebook was to visit a lecture by Polestar Planetarium about the Viking method of navigation by stars (about an hour for £3 ea.). We got to sit inside an inflatable planetarium 6m dia. and watch as the heavens slowly rotated above us. The chap was very knowledgeable and began with the Greek constellations, such as The Great Bear, Cassiopeia, and Orion, before moving onto the Norse constellations, such as the Man’s Cart, the Woman’s Cart, Andurvill’s Toe and the Wolf’s Jaws and the stories which went with them. Despite initial problems with technology, the presentation was informative and inspiring – in spite of the presence of a child in a stripy jumper who was a constant series of ‘look at me I’m a show off’ interruptions. Just to point out, neither of us is anti-children and the majority were suitably impressed and wonderfully well-behaved. Thusly our code for an irritating child throughout the weekend was simply to look at each other and say “stripy jumper” before collapsing into giggles (as an alternative to beating said child with whatever came to hand). Emerging blinking into the daylight, we pootled across the city, and to my most anticipated part of the weekend: the Traders Tent in St Sampson’s Square.
Over the years this has became my favourite place to visit, the traders here had bone and antler combs, needle cases, pins and beads, whole furs from rabbit, red and arctic fox, coyote, sheep, boar and deer (not actively hunted simply for fur, I might point out, but taken from culled animals instead), there was leatherwork in the form of tooled pouches, belts, scabbards and hoods, metalwork in the form of brooches, necklaces and rings, weapons, strap ends, buckles, chainmail and scabbard fittings. There was a stall selling lucet kits, and a couple with copies of Viking ceramics. The traders spoke in English, Russian, Polish and German, often heavily accented and shouting across to someone on the other side of the tent. Metalwork is balanced on scales before the price is calculated. Traders pass round an ill-concealed bottle of Polish vodka, work out prices, haggle and bargain. All in all, a wonderful place for me to happily drift through and a dangerous place for the money shaped contents of my wallet… Reluctantly we leave. Tiro has started to glaze over and I can’t think why. So we headed out into the continental market and purchased Paella for lunch. Food applied, glazed look vanishes. That’s better.
The afternoon was filled with another couple of lectures. Both within the York Council Chambers, which has a double semicircle of carved wood and red leather backed seats for the council members and a public gallery at the rear with this fantastic sign:
(There are a couple of pictures here of what its like inside, don’t think we’ll get permission to go there again…) The first lecture was on the Scar Boat Burial, given by the wonderful Professor Anne Brundle, Curator of Archaeology at Orkney Museum, and the second on the Vale of York Hoard given by Barry Ager from the British Museum. After this it was time for more food – we found the Nando’s and had comedy chicken with angry bees. Perhaps you just had to be there…
Our second evening and we had tickets for the performance of ‘Fit for a King’ at the Minster. A performance of singing, a skald and a harpist was for the royal entertainment of King Erik Bloodaxe and his retinue, for whom we were asked to stand as he entered. Only time I’ve ever seen swords (and axes and spears) being carried within a Christian church. As it was mighty cold, Tiro and I had our cloaks on for the purpose of keeping warm. And toasty we were, wrapped up in the candlelight surrounds listening to Sarah Dean, harpist with a wonderful piece named Journey, Enkelit, who sang acapella in Finnish, Peter Oswald, poet, reciting from memory a new version of Egil’s saga especially written for the evening and a set from the Ebor Singers.
When the evening was over, we were once again asked to stand as the King and his retinue exited the Quire. As His Majesty passed us, he stopped, leaned over to Tiro (on the aisle seat), placed a hand on his arm and said quietly “nice to see you here”. The retinue all smiled at us as they went past, and suddenly we twigged that we were the only two members of the audience in cloaks apart from them. Fair put a smile on Tiro’s face for the whole journey back to the nunnery.
Our third and final day began sadly booking out of the nunnery, although you can leave your bags with them by arrangement for the day, leaving you free to enjoy the last day unencumbered. We begin the day properly with a little shopping at Coppergate before we headed back to the Traders tent at St Sampsons Square. On the way in we paused for a group of Rus musicians…
… who were giving an impromptu performance outside the marquee. There was an exploratory venture into garlic mushrooms from the continental market whilst we decided what next, and once decided we caught a performance of Blackbeard’s Tea Party…
…at the corner of St Sampson’s church. In a word, they are infectious, and they remind me muchly of Gogol Bordello (and La Bottine Souriante! – Tiro). We only have a short clip as we didn’t want to push the boundaries of civilised performance admiration.
The decision was that we would head towards the Guildhall for the living history display and further traders. Here half the hall was given over to Regia Anglorum, but the traders’ half contained a glass bead maker and an historical replica tool maker from Sheffield. Soon enough the muster call went through the hall and the warriors started leaving to gather for the scheduled event of the procession from the Museum Gardens to Coppergate. We followed them out and found a suitable place within the gardens to view the oncoming procession. Sadly the curse of the stripy jumper struck once more, and the footage we have from the procession passing is greatly marred by the loud and impatient child who was stood directly next to me. Bah. It’s still worth a watch, just try and ignore the running commentary.
After the procession had passed, we followed the crowds to Coppergate and heard Ed Alleyne on his electric violin and a second violinist near to the Jorvik centre, whose name wasn’t advertised.
Back to the Guildhall for a proper look round, as we had only spend a short time in there before the procession had been called, then out to the Museum gardens to see if the free archery sessions were still running. They were set up, but a birds of prey demonstration was going on instead. We managed to catch this footage of a Thunderbird flying, though the sound is quite ropey. The archery sessions resumed afterwards, but the butts were child height and there was a great queue of people, so we gave it a miss. It’s been a hectic weekend with plenty seen and done, so we go for one last walk across the walls from Lendal’s bridge to Micklegate bar, back to the nunnery, collecting the bags and stopping at the cafe there for a nun bun in the form of a huge slice of homemade (or should that be nunmade?) coffee and walnut cake and a cloudy lemonade before heading to the station and catching the train back to home.