Viking invasion!

 "A 100 foot long Viking boat will be docking at Rum some time this afternoon..."

This was the unusual email that we all received yesterday - causing a flurry of excitement, tinged with ancient memories of more fearful times in the North: "The Vikings are coming!"

And at about 3 pm a long, deceptively narrow and primitive-looking boat slid out of the mists into Loch Scresort, heading towards our small harbour and carrying 32 "Vikings" - the Swedish, Norwegian and American crew of the Drakan Harald Harfagre (Dragon Harald Fairhair).

No scary Vikings these, but still mostly blonde, tall and scarily tough - these men and women had completed hundreds of nautical miles on the Drakan's maiden European voyage, sleeping under the stars, rain or cloud (their single tent was only big enough for eight at a time), manning a huge ship built to hold a hundred men and women on exactly the same lines as their Viking forebears would have built it 1,000 years ago. (That's the theory; for the first time researchers have concluded that the Vikings would have been not only capable of building, but really did build, such massive vessels.)  But instead of one hundred crew, they have just thirty-two men and women - the weight of the other sixty-eight is made up for by GPS and other navigation equipment.

Finally they docked at our slipway and the brave crew made their way on to Rum not to pillage and destroy, but for showers ("You have showers??!! We can use them?? Where are they???"), toilets, a tour of the castle - but most impressively, allowed us to come on board and view life on the ship.  They got to tour our home - but we felt extra lucky to be allowed to tour theirs!

On board
Everyone wanted to see it! So, at one of the highest tides of the year, the waves lapped at the hand-carved bows and the rain pattered on the tarpaulin that is the crew's only shelter, while we made our slippery way across the fenders and ropes, down a wooden ladder and down to the decks.  Here we said hello to travel-hardened voyagers cooking and cleaning huge tureens of food; clutching thermo-mugs of tea; swabbing the decks; checking the navigation routes and cleaning the middens.  We gazed in awe at the huge mast, a replacement for one that broke off Shetland. Both the original and the replacement had to be imported; there were no trees tall enough in these countries, and the mast has to be made from a single trunk.

Somehow, the boat felt different to a modern boat, even boats that are wood too and have a shallow draught; it just felt, I don't know, creakier? Perhaps because everything on it was so solid-looking; the black, resin-sticky ropes, the enormous shaft to wind the main ropes for the single square sail, the thick, beautifully carved planks that had been bent into shape to form the boat's sides; each "rib" of the hull having to be formed, again, from a single trunk of wood; the boat's makers were not only scientifically but aesthetically precise. It is a beautiful boat and as we gazed across the side at the distant castle, we felt the call of the sea and envied, a little, the adventure these people were embarking on. As we gazed, a surreal time-shifting moment occurred; another sailing ship veered into view out of the mists - the Bessie Ellen, built in 1904 but looking to our romantic eyes as if she could have sailed out of the 18th century...

Bessie Ellen and the Drakan Harald in a timewarp! (Although I'm not sure Vikings would have voted for an independent Scotland...)
"Where are you off to next?" we asked our Vikings. "We don't know yet - we're just heading north-west into the wind and see where it takes us!" Brave considering that the last of Hurricane Bertha is currently swirling round the north-west of Scotland...but they've probably seen worse. We could only marvel, jealous of their hardiness abut also quite glad to be going home to a bed not shared with 30 other people..."Privacy is a privilege hard to come by," it warns would-be volunteers on the website...but we suspect that after a while, they were having too much fun to care!

Vikings having fun

Shelter - only put up when they are in dock

Contemplating life at sea...better or worse than life in a castle?
The next morning they were off - after a lengthy struggle with the ropes and the sail, they finally got the sail up and managed to tack in strong winds out of Rum's shelter and out into the Little Minch.  We could see them on the horizon for ages...who knows where they are now.

Goodbye, Vikings!

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