Rowing a Viking Longship up the River Derwent

Between the 21st and 23rd September 2011 the first Viking Longship for nearly 1000 years was rowed up the river Derwent in East Yorkshire, heading towards the site of the famous battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066.


Rowing a Viking Longship 1The event was organised by the Viking group Volsung and Russell Scott (Rig), the owner of the longship Uruz. We had a crew of 8 on the longship, plus a support crew of 4 who made sure that the authentic Viking encampment was taken down and set up at the end of each day of rowing, and making sure the crew were properly watered and fed.
The longship started off at Breighton Marina, where it was rowed six miles downstream to Barmby Barrage, where the Derwent first becomes navigable. As part of the support crew that day I helped launch the longship and helped set up the authentic tents at Barmby Barrage.

Rowing a Viking Longship 2I was the first to notice the longship arriving, as it turned a bend in the river. I got a shiver down my spine as I watched the longship get closer. What must the Anglo-Saxons have felt as they watched one of these vessels arriving, knowing that in a few minutes they would pour forth a band of fierce Viking warriors intent on pillage and plunder?After an overnight stay and a very enjoyable few pints in the local pub, the crew once again set off rowing up the river, back to Breighton Marina. In the meantime myself, and the rest of the support team, packed up the encampment and set off to meet the longship at the marina.


Yesterdays trip, against the current and into the wind, took them about two and a half hours to row the six miles to Barmby Barrage. Now, with the wind behind them, they managed the trip back in one hour and fifty minutes. They were very pleased when they arrived, to hear the time improvement.


Rowing a Viking Longship 3After a lunch break, some of the crew were rotated, and I got my chance to be in the longship for the trip to the Ferryboat Inn, where we would camp for the night. I didn’t row this time, but had the very important job of lookout, to warn the steersman of impending reedbeds, logs, narrow bits, etc. The trip was absolutely beautiful. We followed a group of swans for much of the journey, and found a lovely church that we were sure must have been loaded with gold and treasure. Unfortunately there was no-where for us to land, so the church escaped our depredations.This part of the journey included some of the narrowest parts of the river, with a lot of overhanging trees and reed beds. We didn’t make as good time as we hoped because of this as, with our still inexperienced crew, we found some of the obstacles difficult to get past.


Rowing a Viking Longship 4I caught sight of the Ferryboat Inn after about three hours of hard rowing by the crew, and let them know that the objective was in sight. However, due to the flatness of the land around, and the windiness of the river, it was another ninety minutes before we actually arrived at our destination.There, finally greeted by our support team, we enjoyed a hearty pork stew, cooked in a cauldron over the camp fire, and much real ale was drunk that night.


So, Friday came. The day we were to arrive at Stamford Bridge, still over twelve miles away. I wasn’t feeling too good, so I stayed with the support team for the first part of the day. After packing away the encampment we were treated to tea and biscuits by the very hospitable landlady of the Ferryboat Inn, before leaving to meet the longship at a lock further down the river.


Rowing a Viking Longship 5After a short break the crew were rotated, and I got to finally row the longship for the final part of our voyage, where we would arrive at Stamford Bridge.Rowing was actually much easier than I had imagined. All I had to do was keep in time with the person in front of me. I had been worried about getting blisters but, while my hands were quite sore by the time we arrived, they were nowhere near as bad as I had feared they would be. The trip down was great fun. Even though I was new to the rowing crew, we made excellent time, navigating our way past obstacles much more easily than on previous days mainly, I think, because the steersman was now also more experienced and gave the correct commands in good time.


Rowing a Viking Longship 6We actually arrived at Stamford Bridge about twenty minutes early, so had time to arm and be ready to look impressive as we rowed to the landing point. This was a small muddy ledge on the river bank, just before the main bridge over the river. It was also right next to a very active wasps nest but, luckily, no-one was stung.We were greeted by the mayor of Stamford Bridge and a sizeable crowd of other Viking re-enactors and local people. Once photos were taken and the prettiest local girls carried off, we then took the longship to a secure mooring place where it was left overnight. Then, to the Swordsman Inn for  some much deserved ale.


Rowing a Viking Longship 7The next day, Saturday 24th September, was the re-enactment of the Battle of Stamford Bridge, where King Harald Hardraada of Norway was surprised by the English King Harold Godwinson. Hardraada was slain and his army almost annihilated. It is said that of over 300 ships that arrived from Norway only 24 returned. At the re-enactment there were over seventy warriors fighting the battle, with an encampment of 13 living history structures, plus the longship.

Rowing a Viking Longship 8


The following day, Sunday 25th September, was the day of the actual battle, and members of Volsung laid a wreath at the commemorative plaque remembering the brave warriors on both sides who died on that day.


Here is a video of the re-enactment taken by a member of the public, plus a gallery of further pictures of the event.



This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thanks to Silverclock Photography for the battlefield photographs.

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply