Every July, for the past few years, the lovely and ancient Lancashire seaside town of Heysham (He-sham) has been invaded by Vikings…
They come in their hundreds, bearing their weapons, tents and tools… and with their families. They sweep in from the ‘sea’ and set up camp on the grassy hollows of the playing fields, where their fires soon fill the summer air with the aroma of meals cooking.
Their children, polite and beautifully dressed, dance around the merry hordes, and strange and magical things happen, like a lady carrying a lost kitten, needing a home…
Some of the things they bring are comically-fearsome; but only because our minds do not know their inner history, written in the ancient legends.
Their elders are wise, regaling all who will listen with stories, history and good humour. But they are ever protective of their own, and their children, in whom they sow the seeds of living peacefully within the world of sea, and nature. They are not here to conquer, the blue elder explains, merely to settle, undisturbed, for a time and a tide.
Together, the man and woman wash the dishes. We wonder how they manage, but, of course, hot water, in limited quantities, is always on hand from the fire.
Their craftsmen are busy, carving wood, forging metal and weaving garments. Their work is paced, gently, to be part of the breathing of the landscape. They always find time to stop and chat. Behind each is a humble canvas dwelling which will be their home for the few days they are here. They are a proud, yet gentle people..
This is not their real home, they are visitors. But they are at home in this land and take their rest close to it.
Some rest on blankets on the open ground, others shelter from the sun beneath the sail-cloth tents, which are their only dwellings for the time in Heysham.
The midday meal over, families gather together, and stories are told. The children fall asleep beneath the gently flapping fabric. Father returns to his wood-turning wheel
Some of the craftsmen make jewellery. One of them, resting after the midday meal, asks us, with a twinkle in his eyes, whether we are Saxon or Viking, before rising to show us his wares…
My eye falls on a beautifully made belt-pouch. We are always on the lookout for good theatrical props for our Spring Workshops in Derbyshire, so I buy it. The quality is really good. The Viking couple who made it suggest that I make sure I feed the leather, in return, he says, it will it will serve me for many, many years.
Our time with the visiting Vikings of Heysham is nearly over. We return to a few friends we have made to say our goodbyes. They have shown us their symbolic lives, opened their ‘homes’ and allowed us to share in their closeness to this adopted land. Soon, their ships will beckon, and the sea will, once more, be their home.
Passing back to the Barrows cliff path, we walk through the floral landscape of Heysham’s old streets.
Even here, the Viking festival is honoured.
Heysham is very conscious of its history – going back to Anglo-Saxon times.
The ‘Spirit of Heysham’ wall plaque depicts the small town’s historical legacies, including the 8th century hilltop chapel of St Patricks, and the beautiful, oceanside church of St Peter’s.
We climb the Barrow’s steep footpath, and look back, one last time, on the village of Heysham and the much older chapel of St Patrick on the cliffs, with its mysterious ‘graves’.
The Viking festival is held very year, in mid-July. Entry is free… It’s a lovely and cultural day out.
Viking belt pouch – firstname.lastname@example.org
©️Copyright Stephen Tanham.