The Return of the Vikings!

PUBLISHED: 12:40 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 15:17 20 February 2013

The Sea Stallion at Dublin Harbour

The Sea Stallion at Dublin Harbour

The Sea Stallion is a Viking replica ship that is touring the South-west coast during the summer months. Watch out for it along the Cornish coast in July

The Return of the Vikings!

Look out for a Viking replica ship, the Sea Stallion, sailing along the Cornish coast this July

A Viking replica ship, the Sea Stallion, will round Land's End and sail along the Cornish coast this July. The 30-metre(98ft 6in) longship is based on the salvaged remains of a ship that was built in Viking Dublin in the 1040s and sunk in Denmark. The Cornish coast and Cornish harbours were very familiar to sailors on countless Viking ships around 1,000 years ago.

The ship served no practical purpose except as a troop carrier, and this replica vessel was built by Roskilde Viking Museum in Denmark in order to find out more how the ship could operate. Viking technology, splitting timber down the grain with axes, makes for a very strong but flexible structure, and the Sea Stallion can carry 70 people, their food and equipment - rather uncomfortably - and it has already made its way across the North Sea and down the west coast of Scotland to Dublin, taking 40 days to do so.

Limited archaeological evidence of the Vikings in the South-west has hidden the huge impact that they had on the history of Cornwall. In fact, the Vikings were the catalyst that led to the creation of a place called 'England'. From a London-centric viewpoint, we tend to think of Cornwall as being in the far west, whereas 1,000 years ago, Vikings travelling down the Irish Sea would have seen Cornwall as a central hub, the turning point for ships making their way to the English south coast or on to 'Frankia'. The Vikings were certainly raiders, but they were also traders, as active in the Seine and Loire valleys as they were in Cornwall.

We know from the Orkney sagas that Vikings used the Isles of Scilly as a staging point and Lundy (the island in the Bristol Channel) is a word from the old Norse for Puffin Island. There are Scandinavian-influenced sculptures in Cornwall, such as the cross at Cardinham in East Cornwall on the edge of Bodmin Moor. "The Scandinavian influence in Cornish sculpture is unusual," says Derek Gore, a Viking expert at the University of Exeter. "For example, you don't find them in Devon, where the sculptures of the period take their style from Wessex to the east."

The Vikings had an uncanny ability to spot opportunities. Norwegian Vikings allied with the Cornish to battle West Saxons at Hingston Down in 838. Most likely it was an opportunistic attempt to exploit political fissures, according to Derek Gore. However, it didn't pay off that time as both the Vikings and the Cornish were defeated.

Creating history

The kingdoms of England were overrun by Viking 'Great Armies' twice. During the 870s, Danish Vikings moving west from a base in East Anglia almost routed the West Saxons. Saxon King Alfred was forced to hide at Athelney in the Somerset marshes before he recovered and defeated the Viking force at the battle of Edington.

Alfred established an intricate defensive system of linked fortified towns supported by mobile troops that stopped at the Cornish border. The successors to Alfred the Great built on his great organisational feat to overrun the kingdoms in England's north and east. While Alfred called himself King of the Anglo Saxons, within two generations his ancestors were calling themselves Kings of the English.

Viking raids on southern England intensified once more almost 100 years after Alfred. The monastery at Padstow in Cornwall was attacked in 980, amongst many other sites. By the time a major Danish fleet landed at Sandwich in Kent in 1013, the English resistance was on its knees. In 1016 Knut, a Danish Viking prince, was crowned King of England, and for a period England and Denmark were part of the same empire.

Track the Sea Stallion's progress during July on:

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