You can eat like a Viking at Shaftesbury Abbey this Sunday (2nd September). ThisIsAlfred.com spoke with the Abbey’s Claire Ryley to learn more about the free fun day being held in honour of a Viking king who loved our town.
“We are having a final summer holiday event for children, families – in fact anybody,” said Claire. “It’s to remind ourselves that King Canute died in Shaftesbury and was a really important part of its history. He became king of all England in 1016 but he was not just King of England, he was king of a lot of Scandinavia as well.”
You might have heard the story about Canute (also spelled Knut or Cnut) entering the sea on the south coast to prove his might by preventing the tide from coming in. Claire said that tale has been twisted and Canute has been misrepresented.
“The whole point about holding back the sea is that he was saying to his nobles, ‘I am not a god. I cannot hold back the sea’. But everybody takes it that he was trying to show his power. He was actually saying there is a greater power. In fact, he was a Christian. When he became King of England he helped repair a lot of the churches, including Shaftesbury.”
Claire said that Canute visited Shaftesbury several times. “He really liked Shaftesbury and Wilton Abbeys. When he became ill in 1035, he came to Shaftesbury to be looked after by the nuns. He died here.”
Locals are more familiar with the connection between Shaftesbury and King Alfred. Rather than King Canute but Claire said that more information will be offered about Canute in the future. “When we reinterpret the Abbey we will have more emphasis on the history of various royal people. We need to follow up these equally important people later on.”
Sunday’s event is themed around the Vikings because Canute was one. “The Vikings had a huge influence on Britain. William the Conqueror was also a Viking. The word Norman comes from Norsemen. We have a long Viking heritage in England that most people don’t recognise because we talk about the Normans instead,” Claire said.
The word Viking conjures up images of raids, pillaging and violence. “That was really related to the earlier Viking invasions, in places like Lindisfarne, at the end of the seventh century,” said Claire. “They became settlers and much more integrated in society. Canute was ruthless – he was no sissy. He fought lots of battles but once he had settled in England it was a very peaceful country and he did a lot to support what was going on in the church.”
There won’t be battles in the Abbey grounds on Sunday afternoon but Claire says there will be plenty of interesting stalls and activities. “You can do things like a Viking. You can dress like a Viking. You can play games like a Viking. There are some wooden swords available. You can even eat like a Viking.”
Claire has been researching Viking food, which more adventurous visitors will be able to sample. “I have been baking Viking bread. There’s a lot of barley involved. There’s also a lot of fruit. I have also been foraging for hawthorns and rowanberries. There’s a pear porridge, or gruel, which doesn’t sound very nice, too. Oh, and there’s also a pea-type hummus that you can taste.”
Claire has also been preparing Viking fish dishes. “I’ve had some herrings hanging outside my house. They are drying out and they will be completely inedible, but they’ll be on show at least!” said Claire.
Claire wants attendees to dress like a Viking but if you want to be authentic, don’t turn up wearing one of the horned helmets that you see in the movies. “That is completely wrong. It is just a Victorian invention,” Claire advised. “If you ever get Lurpak butter, you will see that there are two horns on the front of the packet. That is an instrument, around 8 feet long, that they would blow. They did have horns but they didn’t wear them on their heads,” she smiled.
Claire says visitors will also learn about the rune stones. “It’s a fascinating symbolic language. You’ll be able to have a go at writing runes. There will also be a some clay work to try. You can make a pottery rune necklace to take home. You can also make little longships. They won’t float, because they are made of clay, but they look quite authentic.”
“The event is for everybody but if children are learning about Saxons and Vikings at school, then this will be an ideal way for them to pick up some information in a fun, light-hearted way,” Claire added.
The event is free and takes place on Sunday in the Abbey between 11am and 3pm. Claire says you can come and go as you please and you’ll be welcome to take a picnic – if you don’t fancy the dried herring.