This summer my son and I spent our vacation on the island of Gotland , in Sweden. Everywhere you turn on the island you can find evidence of the Vikings. The largest Viking hordes have been found on Gotland; one in particular was found by a school group touring an old Viking village. We would like to thank Annie and all of our friends at the Tofta Viking Village . They run an incredible program of Viking camps, long house feasts, and sharing their love of the Viking world with us modern people. Join us here as we explore life in a Viking village through a child’s imagination.
We were just out walking, my mom and I, when we came across an old carved stone. There it was just standing out in the field. “Mom, do you know what this is for?” I asked.
“It is a rune stone placed by a Viking to tell of the heroic deeds of one who died in battle or at sea. It is written in Viking symbols called runes or runic.”
“Can I touch it?” I asked.
“I don’t see why not. It’s been standing here for a thousand years or so and I don’t think you touching it will have any effect.”
It was amazing to feel this old stone. Parts of it were smooth while other parts were carved very deep. As I was tracing the designs of the stone I could smell smoke being blown on the breeze.
“Mom, do you smell smoke? Mom….. Mom?”
My mom wasn’t there. I began running through the field from the direction we came, only now there stood a large wooden house. I didn’t remember seeing it before, but I was sure my mom had to be in there.
As I approached the door I could see blue smoke. What was that?
It was very dark in there and all I could make out was a fire and some furniture. Entering the hall, I realized that this was a Viking long house, where the Viking chief and his clan would eat and celebrate. I had read about it in my Viking books. I was the only one in there. Where was my mom?
As I turned to leave I heard a woman yelling at me from outside. “Boy, Boy, come out of there and have something to eat before it’s time to go.”
Bounding out of the long house I asked,” Go where?”
“To games school, of course. Come and have some barley bread and honey.”
There she was, this very kind looking woman baking bread on a hot iron pan. She was dressed in clothes from a different time period. She wore big brass pins to hold up each side of her dress. On her head she wore a headscarf and turned her bread with wooden spoons.
It sure smelled good. I decided to have some and afterwards I would look for my mom again. As I was eating a loud horn was being blown and then I heard loud shouting.
“Invader! An invader! We have a thief amongst us!”
As I turned around I saw a man running out to the center of the field and someone was chasing him. Soon swords were clashing and shields were butted against each other and held up to stop the crashing blow from the flying swords. They too were dressed in clothes I had never seen before.
It didn’t take long for either one of them to be disarmed. Both were very good swordsmen. The fight wasn’t over, however. Once they were both free of swords and shields they started wrestling. They kept flipping each other until one of them could no longer get up.
The men who had been fighting were now lending a helping hand to get up, hugging each other, and laughing. The young woman who had baked my bread was clapping and laughing as well.
I didn’t know what would happen next! Somehow between the barley bread and the sword fighting I realized that though I was in the same place, I wasn’t in the same time. Could it be true that I had somehow ended up in a Viking village in Viking times?
The answers to these questions would soon be answered when one of the fighting men grabbed me firmly on the shoulder and asked, “What’s your weapon?”
“Bow” I said.
Laughing loudly, he said, “That will do from a distance but if you should ever get close to your opponent, he will have the best of you. I’ll see you in the field, young brother, and we’ll see what other sports we can teach you.”
Following a group of boys and men, we arrived at a games course. Inside were a variety of games: archery, axe throwing, tug of war, and log tossing. As I walked in, there were two people sitting on a log, hitting each other with pillows until one of them fell off. All of the boys around my age were brought into the center of the arena and the men who had been fighting were standing before us.
“Can anyone tell me what this is?”
“A spear!” came a shout from the back.
We then were shown an axe and two different kinds of swords. We learned different ways to use our shields, and about the protective chain mail that was precious to a Viking warrior. After some time, we were dismissed by our teacher.
“Thank you, young brothers. It’s time to go off to your other courses. We will see you this afternoon for games practice.”
Leaving the games course, we walked into a small wooden village where we were divided into small groups which would rotate through various daily tasks. First it was leather making. Everyone had to make their own shoes. Both men and women make shoes for children but once you are ten years old, you are expected to make your own.
Each village and clan makes their own beads by melting sand into glass. You can tell where somebody comes from by the beads they are wearing. Bigger villages become trading centers for smaller villages to swap items they have for items they need. Many times beads are used in the exchange. This village has a large assortment of beads from all over the Viking world.
I traded a leather purse I had made for the prettiest beads so I could make my mother a necklace.
Another daily task was gathering flax and wool to weave into rugs, blankets, and clothing. Using various flowers and herbs, we made our own dyes to color our newly spun wool. My favorite color was the yellow which comes from dyeing birch bark. A small wooden house was dedicated to the purpose of making textiles and weaving.
Among the other houses for doing chores were blacksmithing and iron making, pottery with clay gathered from the sea, wood carving, and the board game house to teach strategy. No matter how many tasks there were to be completed in a day it always came back to one thing: to be ready for an attack by raiders.
Much time was spent in forging swords, making shields, and bending metal for chainmail. Ironically, I found this to be a peaceful task. While I would bend the metal from one link to another, I could hear other children playing, women talking, and the sound of birds and the breeze blowing in the grass. In the distance was the sound of the sea crashing against the shore.
In the late afternoon, when the shadows were getting long, a horn blew in the distance. It was time to suit up for the afternoon games. It’s a time for much play-fighting, arrow-shooting, axe-throwing, wrestling, log-tossing, and shield-butting. The work was exhausting and I soon felt tired and sore.
As I was walking away from the game field, I heard my mother calling me from a distance. “Omi, Omi, …….”
I ran towards the end of the village. Before getting to the entrance a hand grabbed my arm. A man with long brown hair said, “always know where all of the entrances into a village are. Invaders can raid at anytime and you need to be able to escape. Remember, the nearest exit may be behind you. Be well, young brother.”
I ran through the gate and towards my mother’s voice. When I got through the gate, the village disappeared.
“ Omi, wake up. It’s time to go,” I heard my mom say.
As I opened my eyes, my mother was folding up the picnic blankets next to the Viking stone we had found.
“Come on, sleepy head. If you don’t wake up now you won’t sleep tonight.”
Walking back to the house I felt something in my pocket. I reached in to feel the beaded necklace I had made for my mom.
Had it been a dream or had it really happened?
The Vikings Lords of the Seas by Yves Cohat /New Horizon
Eyewitness: Viking by DK publishing
Who Were the Vikings? by Usborne Starting Point History
A Viking Town by Fiona MacDonald
How Would You Survive as a Viking? by Jacqueline Morley
Viking Long Ship by Mick Manning
The Viking Series by Andrea Hopkins
D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths by Ingri D’Aulaire
Nordic Gods and Heroes by Padric Colum
Favorite Norse Myths by Mary Pope Osborne
Odin’s Family: Myths of the Vikings by Neil Philip
Gods and Goddesses in the Daily Life of the Vikings by Jen Green
Nancy Farmer has written three fantastic books about living with and enduring the Vikings.
Viking Ships at Sunrise by Mary Pope Osborne, a magic treehouse book.
Eric the Red: The Vikings Sail the Atlantic by Anne Millard
The Viking Magic Series by Ann Ciddor
Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book, derives the greatest pleasure from taking the books she reads and helping them come alive with her family, book club, friends, and workshops. An advocate for literacy, Valarie spends many quality hours helping at risk readers. She spends her days with her husband, three creative children, and one adored cat. Together they live in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. You can also visit Valerie on her blog, A Place Like This.