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My journey into re-enactment - diary of a Thrall

Old Shaun

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I’ve always had a fascination with history, although I never studied it a school. My interest was piqued in 2019, after trips to Lindisfarne and Orkney in my camper van. In particular, the history of the Viking age, filled my head with exciting stories of these enigmatic Norsemen, that started to raid and plunder our islands at the end of the 8th century. I decided that the best way to learn and understand about this fascinating period of our history, was through living history and re-enactment. I did my research, and found that one of the best Viking reenactment groups in the country, was nearby, on the Wirral. They are called Wirhalh Skip Felagr, which means Wirral Ship Fellowship, translated from the old Norse.  I contacted their leader or Jarl (Steve) and we arranged to meet for a cofffee in Cafe Nero, Birkenhead. I must admit, I was a bit apprehensive on the drive into Birkenhead; would I fit into this new group? how would I recognise my new Jarl?. I needn’t have worried, after a brief conversation on the phone, Steve reassured me that I couldn’t fail to spot him - he would be the one with the big bushy beard .... of course he would!! (At this point my beard growing activities were certainly at the ‘nursery’ stage, but it was well on its way!). After five minutes, I soon realised that any apprehension I had was totally unfounded. I discovered that we had so many thinks in common, from taste in music, to motorbikes and food, but mainly, we had a passion and an excitement for history; specifically, early medieval history. We could have chatted for hours!! Any way, it soon became apparent that I would fit in, and would be accepted as a thegn (slave), within the group. Next stage would be to meet the rest of the group and start making and developing my own clothing and equipment.

Both these were covered in one cold February trip into Liverpool. The clothing would be crafted by hand, and virtually all that I could possibly need, was to be found in the legendary, fabric department store, Abakhans. The place is indeed an Alladins cave of textiles and fabrics, that would stun any novice into a state of dumb incredulity. Fortunately I had Ellie, Katy, Vicki, Mike, Steve and Jesse on hand to help me make my selection. Between them they had years of knowledge at creating bespoke, handmade, authentic Viking age clothing - I just followed them round, listening to them saying “you’ll need some of this wool” and “this linen is nice” and “ooooh, this’ll make a lovely cloak”. The best bit was the “all you can eat” Chinese buffet afterwards, where my eating skills were certainly put to the test. I’m glad to say, I think I came through with a certain amount of credit in the appetite department; but was nowhere near being in the same league as Jesse, who took industrial scale eating to an Olympic level. 

My “first contact” with these amazing people, made me realise we had a connection. Not least that we shared the same sense of humour (which I have to say is the best part of the group). Everyone seems to be doing this for the pure enjoyment of it, and laugher and fun is an integral part of it. I was made to feel welcome instantaneously, and I sense that the group is like one big family, who care about each other and help each other enormously. 

Ellie and Steve were incredible at helping me to make my own kit (from my clothes to my shield and spear). No questions were considered “stupid” or went unanswered (which in itself is a miracle - I must have asked a million questions, and each one was answered patiently and non judgmentally. I thought to myself, that if every newbie asks this amount of questions, it must drive them to the brink of madness). 

My main set of clothing (tunic, cloak, trousers) were created at several “bitch and stitch” sessions, which were conducted at a members house. Ellie cut the fabric and ran me up a tunic and trousers in lightning time. The finishing off and hand sewing, I completed at home. I have to say, I had never previously sewn a button on, let alone create my own handmade set of authentic medieval clothes. But incredibly, I soon became hooked, and the satisfaction of making your own item of clothing is immense. Spending time learning these skills was very therapeutic and also a little addictive (you have been warned).

By now, the country was in the middle of one of the worst global pandemics, that has been seen in modern history. All reenactment shows, meetings and training were cancelled, and so, as yet I haven’t been able to experience what it is all about; to portray our Viking characters to the general public, at a show (either on the battlefield or in a village/settlement setting (the Wic). Hopefully, as lockdown across the UK is lifted, we will be able to meet up and my journey into reenactment will be able to continue. I can’t wait to wear my new Viking clothes and carry my shield and spear onto the battlefield. Hopefully I will see you there too.




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  • Andy Q changed the title to My journey into re-enactment - diary of a Thrall

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