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Just back from the Viking Festival in York.

I'd actually gone up on the Thursday, on a not-crowded train, and spent Friday working at the Imperial War Museum North. Lovely building, but waiting for a tram at Salford Quays at 6pm in February is bloody freezing. On the Saturday, Lucy Z and I met up with people from the ZZ plural Z Alpha group (including the utterly adorable Henry, a King Charles Cavalier) to do Vikingly things.

First to the boat race on the River Ouse:

to the boats! | co-ordination | long shot of long boats

There were three in all: a very heavy longboat complete with dragon carving and shields etc., a medium sized boat and a small black one. The obvious winner ought to have been the small black boat. It was the lightest, afterall. The crew appeared to be new to this rowing lark however, despite being dressed not in cloaks and leggings like the other crews but in 'York Rowing club' gillets. Every time, the other boats - the heavy ones crewed with people in restrictive period clothing - won.

After a wander through the shambles we watched the armies mass in the fields outside the city walls. I was particularly taken with the images of Viking hordes in suburbia, although I also got a shot of them against some ruins.

the vikings of suburbia | hordes

From there we followed the armies up to a field inside the city walls where battle was to commence. Unfortunately, battle also commenced to the sound of an overblown narration over the soundtrack of Lord of the Rings. This, unsurprisingly, caused a certain amount of humour in the crowd. Especially his opening line, in full portent voice: "Men come. And go." The idea of narrating the battle is a good one - we don't know who the players are, nor the movements. Doubtless if the battle were being recreated amidst a lot more trees, as it would have originally been fought, it would also have been more dramatic. If rather harder to watch. I feel the narration could have been more lyrical though. The line about the smell of battle being "the smell of men" caused hysteria in the crowd.

parlay? down to the depths with the dogs who thought of parlay! | I love the smell of battle in the morning....smells like....Vikings | you're dead, and you know you are

It was also entertaining to see the bloodlust in the crowd. There was a rising demand for "dead people" and cheers when fighters finally started falling. I tried to get a photo of some of the fun stuff going on then, with victors putting the boot into the fallen or rifling through their pockets, as the recreators were clearly enjoying that, but they all came out fuzzy. Grr. The sound of the shields being beaten was impressive - you can imagine it echoing through a wood and seeming to come from everywhere. I think, had I been facing it, I'd have gone from the traditional "run away!" response. We, instead, went to the pub.

It seems Henry is a troublemaker - we had to ring around to find a place which accepted dogs. Eventually found one which was very much in the traditional Yorkshire pub style. Unlike the lovely real ale place Lucy had taken me to on Thursday night, this had one type of brewery beer. None of the dark red bitter I really love. It did have a roaring fire though, which was very welcome after hours in the cold watching Vikings.

In the evening, Lucy and I went to the coronation of Erik Bloodaxe in the York Minster. The entire place was candlelit, which changes the feel of a building quite dramatically. All the bright colours you might get in the daytime become subtle shadows and the vaulted roof disappears into darkness beyond the screen. There was also a heavy smell on incense in the air, making my head swim slightly.

the return of the king | enobling some lord of somewhere - I reckon he's a young upstart who will threaten the king next year

Again, I felt the staging could be a little more interactive. There was no guidance as to whether we ought to be responding during the service or not - I feel it would be a more enthralling experience if the audience were encouraged to be active participants rather than passive witnesses. The king was a very fine king indeed. After the photo op, we started to leave, only to nearly get in the way of the ruler of the North. When a bunch of armed men in mail quick march towards you shouting "make way for the king" you do leap out the way like a startled peasant. Erik spoke to us briefly, leading to the wonderfully Python remark from Lucy afterwards of "he's a good king - I'd vote for him".

Came back on the Sunday. Virgin trains clearly believe that there is no such thing as overcrowding, since they only put on a four carriage train on the last day of half-term. There were people piled up in the corridors, including ones with babies and toddlers. And then three of the four toilets went out of order.

Posted @ 7:32 pm on Sunday, February 22, 2004
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