King of the Anglo Saxons

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Sons of Kings: Book Four

Following Guthrum’s crushing defeat at Edington, Alfred’s kingdom is enjoying a rare period of peace. Alfred is ageing. Bouts of his old illness are increasingly frequent, and he prays that his final years will be free of Viking raids, allowing him to concentrate on expanding his kingdom’s boundaries and improving its standard of learning. Scholars are summoned from near and far, amongst them a certain Welsh abbot named Asser.

Ongoing peace is no certainty, however, and Alfred continues to improve his defences. An attack on Rochester proves that Wessex is still far from safe… whilst also confirming the effectiveness of Alfred’s newly fortified towns and mobile armies. The arrival of a huge Norse army puts those defences to the test. Its devious leader does not easily give up and the conflict becomes a trial of will and wits between him and Alfred’s staunch ealdormen, one of whom is Eadwulf’s son, Aethelred.

While Aethelred pursues his role as Lord of the Mercians, Eadwulf settles back in Aros. Old friendships are rekindled, new ones are formed, and a situation in al-Andalus takes Eadwulf, Bjorn and their comrades on another dangerous quest across the sea.

But will this new life be enough to stop Eadwulf missing his children and friends back in Mercia?

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5 star review for King of the Anglo Saxons

  • For those, like me, who have followed the story of these two men from the beginning, this final volume is a very satisfying tying up of all the threads. Ms Thom’s knowledge of this turbulent time in history shines through and her characters, as always, come across as rounded, real people. I was very sad to say goodbye to them but their story arcs have all been completed perfectly. Alfred’s reign was not all about the Danish wars and we see again the man, not just the king, as he interacts with his growing family. A fitting end to a fine series. ~ Whitey, Amazon Reviewer

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Vikings at Sherwood Pines 2019

This past weekend saw Viking reenactors from Regia Anglorum groups across the country gather at a place known as Thynghowe in Sherwood Pine Forest Park for the annual event known as ‘The Spring Thing’.

At 3,300 acres, Sherwood Pines is the largest park in the East Midlands of England. Lying close to the historic village of Edwinstowe in Nottinghamshire, it is a part of the ancient Sherwood Forest and was originally known as Clipstone Heath. It was acquired by the Forestry Commission in 1925 and replanted with pine trees as part of a response to a shortage of wood following the First World War. Today, activities are offered throughout the year, including cycling, mountain biking and segway, camping, walking, jogging, a park run, orienteering and bushcraft, a children’s adventure trail, tree climbing and ranger activities. There is also a Robin Hood hideout and Kitchener’s Trail, a café and visitor centre, and the site is perfect for a family day out – even when no event is scheduled (which in addition to the Viking Spring Thing, include various concerts and musical events as well as outdoor activities).

So, why is this spot in Sherwood Pines a perfect site for Viking gatherings and reenactments every year, and what is Thynghowe?

Thynghowe, meaning ‘thingsite’, is the name given to an important Viking Age open-air assembly place situated at the top of Hangar Hill on the western edge of Sherwood Forest, so is very close to the site where this event is held. It was (re)discovered in 2005. Vikings met at such sites for their annual ‘Thyng’ – which generally lasted for several days – during which time disputes were settled, laws were signed, punishments for crimes decided upon, marriages arranged and such like. Each community had its own Thyng/Thing/Althing, most likely dominated by a local, powerful family or families. Thyngs were often festive affairs, with tents, stalls/booths set up so goods could be bought and sold, including plenty of ale and mead.

Several such sites are known across the Viking world, including the famous Thingvellir in Iceland and Tinwald in the Isle of Man, both of which I’ve visited, plus others in the Faroe Islands, the Shetland and Orkney islands, the Scottish Highlands (Dingwall), the Wirral in England… In other words, wherever Vikings chose to settle.

The gathering at Thynghowe was an equally festive affair, with lots of tents and stalls set up to demonstrate the Viking way of life, including cooking methods and a number of important occupations and crafts. These are a selection of photos we took around the camp as we walked round:

Here is a very short video we made of the wood turner, who was making spokes for cartwheels, while the stall next door made the actual wheels.

The stall holders/reenactors were only too happy to answer questions and chat in general. The happy-looking man in the picture below spent some time explaining not only about how Viking shields were made, but about the fabulous reenactment goup, Regia Anglorum.

This delightful, hard-working lady below also deserves our thanks for taking the time to explain and demonstrate how she was creating bast from lime wood for use in rope making. Rope made from lime bast fibre was not only important for many things around the village, but the fact that it didn’t shrink when wet (unlike rope made from hemp) made it perfect for use in the building of ships. In the photos she is stripping the bark off lime tree trunks to obtain the strands of fibre behind. After a good soaking in water, the bast is rendered soft enough to twist and plait together to make rope.

And this Viking warrior was obviously having a bad hair day. His hairdresser/friend was giving his hair a good comb, while he complained about his unruly, frizzy hair. Oh, the vanity of men! Naturally, I just had to have a feel of such frizz.

In the morning we were treated to preparatory bouts and skirmishes before the big battle planned for the afternoon. The commentary was excellent throughout, with explanations of the moves and battle tactics of the warriors, weapon use and so on. In the afternoon, there were three arena events to watch. The first was a demonstration of horsemanship.

The second an archery competition and finally, the actual battle.

To finish off, here’s a cute mini-warrior who made me smile:

*****

Vikings at Whitby Abbey

We spent the August Bank Holiday weekend up in North Yorkshire, primarily to attend yet another Viking encampment and battle. This one was at Whitby Abbey, a site we’ve visited several times in the past, but never for a reenactment. The event was staged from the Saturday to Monday (August 25th – 27th) and as the best weather report was for the Saturday, that was the day we chose to attend. And what a good thing we did! Although very windy, Saturday was a lovely, sunny day, whereas it poured down for much of Sunday, when we visited Scarborough Castle further down the coast.

Whitby shown within North Yorkshire. Source: Ordnance Survey OpenData Author: Nilfanion. Creative Commons.

The encampment itself was educational and very interesting, with demonstrations of various Viking crafts and skills, including  favoured foods and methods of cooking them, as well as displays of  a number of goods in leather, wood and metal, and features of general lifestyle. All in all, it was great family fun as well as a learning experience. The lyre player was excellent … lovely music… and two different woodturners were also great to watch. These are a few of the photos we took around the camp:

There was also a reenactment of the death of a local Saxon thegn at the hands of the invading heathens/pagans, i.e. the Vikings. His cadaver was transported from the (supposedly) nearby village by a number of monks up to the abbey for burial – and the nuns were warned of a likely attack on the abbey. Needless to say, the nuns were outraged and terrified by the thought of pillaging and raping Danes. But the corpse was blessed and arrangements made for Saxon warriors to defend the abbey:

In the morning we watched the two armies warming up and practising their battle techniques, and the actual battle was in the afternoon. It was difficult to take photos during the battle, when the warriors were half killing each other close to the lines of tape encircling the battle site. Of course, the tape is vital for safety, but it meant that I have so many photos with green tape across the middle that are are unusable! (One of the hazards of being a ‘shortie’ is not being able to get my camera up higher. Still, I found that most of my photos could be cropped to make good headers, as the one above. But, then again, how many headers can I use in one post…?) 😀

Raids were common along the east coast of England during the Viking Age and monasteries, abbeys and such like would have been prime targets. So much plunder, in the form of gold or silver cups, crosses and chalices would have been irresistible to marauding bands. And the poor nuns would also have been seen as easy rape victims. Whitby Abbey itself was destroyed by Viking raiders in 867. Incidentally, the name Whitby means White settlement in Old Norse.

As with most Viking and Saxon battles, action starts with the shield wall formation of the opposing sides, during which time the warriors hammer on their shields with their swords, spears or battleaxes, generally making a great racket and yelling profanities at each other. All this is intended to intimidate and terrify their opponents. Then a number of missiles are hurled, including spears, rocks and stones – some via catapult – or arrows, if there are archers present. Once all these preliminaries are over, the two shield walls come together in an almighty clash and stab and slash out at each other in a effort to get through the wall of shields and kill or maim as many of the enemy as possible. And as men fall, so the shield wall breaks up and the one-to-one fighting takes place. On this occasion, we were treated to an excellent display of swordsmanship. We did video it, but the quality is so poor, I’d be ashamed to put it on YouTube. The fight was fast and furious but, unfortunately, that doesn’t show on a single photo. A new camera is on my Christmas list, so I hope Santa will be generous.

So here are some of the ‘usable’ photos we took:

It was a very enjoyable day, and I can only thank the various Viking and Saxon groups from around the country who came together to produce this event. The members obviously love what they do and are very proficient at doing it. Thanks must also go to English Heritage, who manages the fabulous ruin (courtesy of Henry VIII) of Whitby Abbey.

Whitby is a lovely, quaint, old seaside town and fishing port, and is packed with visitors for most of the summer, even without any events being on. The town and abbey are well worth visiting and I have many photos from the various times we’ve been there. I’ll get round to doing a post about it at some stage.

Happy to be Back!

It’s been far too long since I wrote a post and I’ve really missed doing so. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets in the way, and/or other things must take precedence. Last year was not a good year for my family. We had so many illnesses to deal with, some of them worryingly serious. All in all, I got little writing done at all, either on my books or my blog. So this year has been a mad rush to get Book 3 of my Sons of Kings series finished, edited and formatted and published on Amazon. And, at last, this is it:

It was uploaded onto Amazon a couple of weeks ago, so I can now start to relax a little and get back to writing a few blog posts. Well, that’s the plan… On the other hand, Book 3 didn’t finish either of my protagonists’ stories, so I am now writing Book 4. My trilogy has become a series (or perhaps a quadrilogy).

All three of my Sons of Kings books will be 99p/$0.99 until July 31st. After that, Book 1 (Shadow of the Raven)  will be 99p for a little longer, Book 2 (Pit of Vipers) will be $1.99 and Book 3 (Wyvern of Wessex) will be $2.99, the usual price for each of the three books.

My book of short stories and flash fiction pieces will be still at its usual price of £1.49/$1.97. Amazon won’t allow it to be any lower because of the number of coloured images I’ve included. I had intended this book to be permanently 99p!

*****

Wyvern of Wessex

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Sons of Kings: Book Three

Eadwulf is back  on the Sea Eagle with Bjorn and his crew on a quest to discover if Eadwulf’s father, King Beorhtwulf of Mercia, is still alive after twenty years as a slave. Bjorn’s great dragonship carries them down to the searing June temperatures and strict laws in the Moorish lands of al-Andalus. But searching for Beorhtwulf proves more difficult than they’d expected, causing them more trouble than they’d bargained for…

In Wessex, King Aethelred is now dead, leaving his twenty-one-year-old brother, Alfred, to succeed to the throne. Though his succession was agreed by the witan, Alfred must now prove himself worthy of the kingship, or lose it. But Wessex is in turmoil, besieged by Viking Danes intent on subjugating the kingdom – and knowing that the new king is young and inexperienced. Alfred must use all his wiles if he is to outthink and outmanoeuvre Guthrum, the Dane who nearly becomes his nemesis.

Alfred’s victories and defeats take him on a journey of learning, during which he gains experience and strength. We share his highs and his lows, and how he rises from the depths of despair to save his beloved kingdom from total conquest.

And at his side in his greatest time of need is his new ally and friend, Eadwulf of Mercia.

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Here are some of the 5 star reviews for Wyvern of Wessex:

    • As an avid watcher of The Viking series on TV, this series was an awesome fill in. Very well-written and kept my interest throughout the entire series. I sure hope there will be another book to tell of Eadwulf’s next phase of his life. ~ Amber Carrow Amazon.com
    • I have fallen in love with the characters in this book. Ms. Thom breathes life into these great people from our past. The different cultures coming together at this pivotal point in history is fascinating. ~ Sonora, Amazon.com
    • Sons of Kings Books 1, 2 & 3 are very well put together. Following the life of Alfred the Great, Millie has added history with fiction into 3 good reads. I liked the Norse/Mercian connection and enjoyed them so much I read one after another and looking forward to Book 4. Talented author and excellent compiler of historical & fiction. ~ Howard Riach Amazon UK
    • A very well written and researched book series. I thoroughly enjoyed and can’t praise the author enough. The amazing journey from Book 1 to Book 3 just keeps you reading! ~ Mark Evans Amazon UK

 

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Book Promotion: Shadow of the Raven

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Just a quick post to say that the eBook version of Book 1 of my Sons of Kings trilogy, Shadow of the Raven, is free for today only (Thursday, January 26). Every download would be greatly appreciated.

For more detail about what the book is about, click the link to my newly created My Books page.

Here are the links to the books on:

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com.au

Every download would be greatly appreciated. 🙂

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Researching for Historical Fiction

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Historical fiction is something I love to write. The reason…? I simply love history, any time period and any setting. At present I’m concentrating on the Viking era in the mid-ninth century as I finish the third book in my Sons of Kings trilogy. The first two of these are in my sidebar over there, and the third will be titled Wyvern of Wessex. After that, I have plans for several other ‘histfics’, but not set in the Viking era.

So what exactly is historical fiction?

Well, until recently, most definitions told us that stories set fifty or more years ago could be classed as historical fiction. Recently, however, I’ve seen various sites that have reset that definition to twenty-five years. For someone of my age, twenty-five years ago seems just like yesterday and that definition does little for my self-image. I’m already feeling like an old fossil.

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Twenty five years only takes us to the early nineties. So a book set in 1991 is now classed as historical fiction. Oh my…! But when I think about it, even yesterday is history… one second ago is history. I suppose past times, no matter how recent, are all ‘history’.

As for actually writing historical fiction, just what does it involve?

For starters, like several other genres, it involves the writer doing a lot of research (unless he or she a hugely successful author and can afford to hire people to do it for them). Fortunately, doing research is so much easier nowadays than it was years ago when the only place for doing it, other than buying your own text books, was the good old library. But now, authors have the Internet and access to numerous informative sites, including those about history.

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Having said that, I would never, ever, dismiss the value of good books about the period and historical characters I want to write about. I have some excellent texts that have been invaluable. But online sources can give us lots of interesting – and different – information. And, of course, there’s still the library.

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Exactly what you research can include anything from dates of characters’ births and deaths, to dates of important events of the time. But details about everyday life are important, too. We need to know things like building types, foods (and how and when they were cooked and eaten) clothing and general customs and attitudes. All add to the authenticity of the story – but must be ‘fed’ carefully and intermittently into the story.

Getting details about the period wrong is definitely not a good idea, as there will always be at least one reader who’ll notice. Several years ago I read an article in a Writing magazine by an editor in the US. In this article, he quoted what he called the ‘worst example of historical inaccuracies’ he’d ever come across. It was in a book about Mary Queen of Scots, who was beheaded in 1587. (The author’s name and book title were not divulged, of course). He quoted a scene between Mary and her husband, Lord Darnley, which I’ll re-quote as closely as I remember it. Mary supposedly says:

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Darnley, honey, let me fix you a chicken sandwich.

I’ll leave you to pick out what’s wrong with that one – but I found it hilarious!

For my trilogy there were two main things I had to focus on. The first was the life of King Alfred the Great, one of the two main protagonists. This is one of the two statues erected in his honour (both in Victorian times as you can probably tell from the photo below). This one is in the Market Place in Wantage, Oxfordshire (formerly Berkshire), which is believed to be where Alfred was born.

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I also had to focus on Viking ships and voyages as well as everyday lifestyles of both Vikings and Anglo-Saxons in the mid-ninth century.These are a few ‘photos of photos’ we took in Denmark, so I apologise for the poor quality of them. They were taken at Lindholm Høje in northern Denmark. Some are from inside the museum, others are of the very famous Viking burial ground there.

The Jorvik (pronounced Yorvik) Viking museum in York (Yorkshire, UK) was also excellent for information about Viking life. The museum succumbed to floodwaters when the River Ouse flooded in December 2015 and won’t be open again until spring 2017. Fortunately, most of the exhibits were saved.

All in all, the research kept me busy for quite some time. But, we visited some wonderful historic sites and museums in both England and Denmark as part of it. So that can’t be bad, can it? The visit to Denmark really helped with the parts of the books set there – a lot of Book One in particular, which is mostly about my second protagonist, Eadwulf of Mercia. Although he’s a fictional character, the main events in my book that take place in his kingdom, are not.

We still love to visit historical sites related to all periods of history. Reenactments are a particular favourite at the moment, and we’ve been to a few this year. These photos are from a battle between Alfred and the Danes staged at Corfe castle in Dorset in May.

And these are from the Viking Village at Murton, near York. I wrote a post about this in April this year.

‘Bear’ is really quite something, and he was very helpful in explaining all about his unusual helmet and why few Vikings ever adopted that style. All ‘grist to the mill’, as they say.

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Vikings attack Wareham!

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I got home yesterday after spending a week down in Somerset – not an area I know at all, having previously only driven through it on our way to Devon or Cornwall. We did visit sites in Somerset during the week but over the last weekend of our stay we drove 60 miles into Dorset to visit Corfe Castle.

Corfe Castle, Dorset, UK.

We’ve been to this castle before, but on this occasion we were there to watch a re-enactment of one of King Alfred’s battles against the Viking Danes staged in the castle grounds.

The castle is a National Trust property and the car park and ticket office are on the opposite side of the road (A351). It holds a striking position high on  a hill, as can be seen in these two photos. The first was taken through the windscreen of our car as we approached on the A351 and the second from Corfe Castle village at the opposite side 0f the hill.

We arrived at 10.30 am to find that both Saxon and Viking groups were  already delighting crowds by demonstrating a variety of battle skills. Then we spent some time looking around the Saxon camp and the remains of Corfe castle. We have Oliver Cromwell to thank for the destruction (or slighting as it is properly called) of yet another magnificent castle. I intend to do a post about Corfe Castle, so I’ll say no more about that here. Here are a few photos of the many tents of the Saxon camp. Some show crafts and skills of the period.

The break for lunch was interesting, to say the least, as many of the re-enactment groups headed down into the village along with the crowds of spectators. Needless to say, most of the cafes were full, and we had to queue to get served in the one we opted for. But what the heck . . . it was all good fun and everyone was in festive mood.

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The main battle was staged in the afternoon and was based on many such battles between Alfred and the Danes during his reign as King of Wessex. This one – in 893 – was late in Alfred’s reign, as he died in 899 at the age of 50. His eldest daughter, the fiery Aethelflaed, who became known as ‘Lady of the Mercians’ also features in the battle.

On this occasion, Alfred and his army held the castle and the Danes were attacking. Here are some of the photos of the event, although it’s impossible to differentiate between the opposing sides. There were several groups fighting with Alfred’s Saxons, including the Welsh and Cornish and different groups from the kingdom of Mercia. All had united against the common enemy, the Danes. In addition, Saxon and Viking battle gear was pretty similar (and Vikings most definitely did not wear horned helmets!). All had round shields and wore helmets, usually with nose guards. Many wore body armour of chain mail.

To his credit,  Alfred’s army won the day!

All-in-all, it was a great day out and I can’t praise the re-enactment groups enough. They did a wonderful job of recreating not only the battle, but the whole feel of events at the time. The battle was not without its humour and the costumes were excellent. Bring on the next one!

A Visit to Murton Park Viking Village

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Last Saturday we had a great visit to the Murton Park Viking Village which is on the site of the Yorkshire Museum of Farming just outside of York. Although we took lots of photos of wonderful old farm machinery, this post is not about old farming methods on this occasion. Today I want to focus on Vikings!

The reconstructed Viking village is excellent, and made specifically for the reenactment group who call themselves Jorfor’s Hall. I found out about them on Twitter (@jorforshall). The village is described as a Danelaw Farming Communityand over this particular weekend (9th and 10th April) the Vikings were in residence. This is the entrance into the village:

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And this is how the group describe themselves on their website, Jorfor’s Hall:

“Jorfor and his family are hunters and trappers, most of them originally hailing from the Troms area of northern Norway, though they have travelled far across the Viking world, some further than others, and settled in many different lands”.

The group takes part in Viking events all over the country, as well as featuring regularly at Murton Park. Events are tailored for a variety of needs including school parties, youth clubs, fairs, fetes and shows. They also take part at the Jorvik Viking Festival in York in February.

The weather on Saturday morning was a bit dreary to start with, and it was very wet underfoot, but that only served to illustrate the conditions people would have lived with 1100 years ago. Most of the pathways through the settlement were wood-planked, to counteract the mud. This tallies with what I found when doing my research several years ago about the Danish trading town of Hedeby. 

This was the man in charge, the chieftain of the village, wth the very appropriate name of Bear. Thankfully, he was a very friendly bear and told us a lot about the great helmet he’s wearing or holding in these photos, as well as how it compares in battle to the one on the stool.

I’d run a mile fast if I saw someone coming at me wearing a helmet like that – and that, according to Bear, was exactly what the helmet was supposed to do: terrify people (especially when the man wearing it was as big as Bear!). The helmet, however, was not the typical Viking style; the more usual design being like the one with a nose guard, shown on the stool. Bear’s helmet is a replica of a famous one discovered in Norway. I think (but I’m not sure) Bear said it was the one found in a 10th century chieftain’s grave at Gjermundbu.

I found this picture of it on Wikimedia Commons.

Viking helmet from Gjermundbufunnet, now at Kulturhistorisk museum. Author: J Jeblad. Creative Commons
Viking helmet from Gjermundbufunnet, now at Kulturhistorisk museum. Author: J
Jeblad. Creative Commons

However, Bear did say that this helmet could be one that had been brought back from the East (trade or raid) and the style was not adopted for long amongst the Vikings. Although the facial shield and eye mask are intimidating to say the least, they could be disastrous in battle. A sword thrust into an eye socket would  direct the sword straight into the eye! With the more usual nose guard, there was the possibility of the sword being deflected away from the eye.

The village itself displays a variety of housing styles and shop fronts, generally from the 9th and I0th centuries. But, as it says on the information poster at the entrance, no one knows for certain what buildings looked like. They were all made of timber, which rots away leaving little evidence. Roofing materials in the village vary from thatch to split tree trunks, wood planks and shingles and some of the buildings are decorated with colourful designs and some some have little gardens:

Inside these houses, space was limited and indoor life continued around the ever-present central hearth fire. Every home would have a loom, where women would make clothes, blankets and wall hangings. Storage chests did what storage chests usually do. 🙂

To finish with, these are a few of the villagers themselves, some about their work, others just cooking or socialising. Jobs and trades around the village would be many and varied, and of course, warriors would always be on the alert in case of attack.

. . . and the cross section through the hull of a reconstructed Viking ship that greets visitors on the way in. It shows how Viking ships were built using overlapping wooden planks (known as clinker planking) which made them waterproof. This technique is still used today in wooden ship construction. It was donated by the Yorkshire Museum.

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The Yule Log

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Yule is the name of the old Winter Solstice festivals in Scandinavia and parts of Northern Europe and dates back to pre-medieval times. Originally, an entire tree would be brought into the house with great ceremony. The log was believed to have magic properties which ensured good luck during the coming year to those who helped to pull it over the rough ground.

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Illustration of people collecting a Yule Log from the Chambers Book of Days. 1832. Wikimedia Commons

In earliest times the log would be burned on a fire pit in the centre of the room. Later on, once chimneys became common and the hearth stood against a wall, the largest end of the log would be placed in the hearth whilst the rest stuck out into the room. It would be lit with the remains from the previous year’s log and would continue to burn throughout the twelve days of Christmas.

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The custom of the Yule Log spread all over Europe, and in each country different woods would be burned. In England, oak was common; in Scotland, it was birch. In France they chose cherry and often sprinkled the wood with wine to give a pleasant smell as it burned.

Today the custom is generally only remembered as a log-shaped chocolate cake (usually a Swiss roll) which is eaten around Christmas.

shutterstock_228205918In Viking times the celebrations were accompanied by various rites to the different gods as well as the usual feasting and drinking. Here is one very short section from my first book, Shadow of the Raven, which briefly describes some of the activities the people enjoyed. Ulf is the main character and Jorund is a young boy who has recently undergone a great trauma.


shutterstock_123315433December came and with it the celebrations of the Yule. Ulf helped Rico to loop thick ropes round a huge oak log and drag it across the frozen earth into the hall, where the women and children decorated it with sprigs of fir and holly. Throughout the festivities it smouldered in the hearth, helping to bring light and cheer to the darkest time of year. A wild boar was sacrificed to Frey, the god of fertility, to ensure a good growing season in the coming year, with warm days and gentle rain. A goat was slaughtered, and people dressed in goatskins and sang in honour of Thor, who rode the skies in his chariot pulled by two goats. The roasted meats were eaten during the celebratory feasts, and unlimited supplies of ale and mead kept everyone in festive mood.

And Jorund smiled for the first time since October.

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Thor in his chariot pulled by two goats

It sounds as though a fun time was had by all . . .

Merry Christmas to everyone!