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Monthly Archives: September 2013

On Bending History

Robert & John Kennedy“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”

Robert F. Kennedy

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Eidsborg Stave Church & the Vest-Telemark Museum

On our recent holiday/research trip through parts of Norway, we came across an amazing site:  Eidsborg Stave Church and the Vest-Telemark Museum.  We went to Eidsborg with the intention of seeing the outside of the Stavskyrkje (stave church) there on our way to the Heddal Stave Church; instead we spent swift hours there!  It started off with a private guided tour from a local guy (“local” meaning his family has lived in the area since the 1300s), who was both understandably proud of local history and knowledgeable, as well as enthusiastic.

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The Vest-Telemark Museum

The museum itself is modern, beautiful, excellently staffed and convenient, with free wireless connection, a cafe and a gift shop, but most importantly, an extensive exhibit of the history of Vest-Telemark.  The rural life from the late 1700s to 1900s is colourfully laid out, with printed information sheets at each station in Norwegian, English and German.  There’s a strong sense of pride in local culture, and you can breathe in the history of the place.  Literally.  The buildings on the property, some of which you can enter, live and breathe the lives of those who lived there; the musty smells of old leather, damp earth, mildew in the wooden and thatched walls and roofs, the smell of pine wood, the turfy aroma of the blackened pitch-coated walls of the Stave church itself, and the sight of dusty sunlight streaking in through wallboards into the barn, the smithy, a cottage, storehouse, stable, or the mill.  There was even a sauna, built around 1895 (saunas weren’t used back then as they are now; they were places to dry grains for storage, or to steam out fleas and lice from fur rugs and coats).

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The Eidsborg Stave Church

The church is typical stave construction:  The staves are corner pillars used to support the edifice, and the interior of the roof uses the same skeletal structure as the Viking longboats – if it works (and those ships worked better than anything on sea, river or lake for centuries), why change it?  The inside of the church is rich in history:  Carvings from the 1200s, intricately painted walls from the 1600s, a statue of the patron saint of travellers (St. Nicholas of Bari) watching from the corner (as an antique replica – the original is in an Oslo museum), and the dusty light of sunlight peering through small holes near the upper beams. The latter mainly served to provide a bit of light as well as fresh air:  Candles could only be afforded for the clergy, so it would have been extremely dark without those holes; sermons went on for hours back in olden days and there were no seats until the middle ages.  Everyone in the parish was required to come, punishment or humiliation being the course of the day if they failed to appear for service, and in the tiny space allowed inside the original church, it would have been standing room only, packed in like sardines.  If someone fainted from lack of fresh air, it probably wouldn’t have been noticed until everyone filed out.  Today there are pews, and it is used weekly as the parish church through the summer and autumn; it is closed for service during the colder months as heating it would cause decay of the paintings and interior woodwork.

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Details on the gallery

Wooden-shingle clad from the ground up, it gives the building the appearance of dragon’s scales, and having been coated with thick pitch for centuries, it looks quite as if it has been charcoaled; it smells wonderfully peaty, like a strong dark whiskey, and on a sunny day you can smell the aroma a good distance away.  The gallery along three sides of the church reveals many interesting details, from the wooden spikes used to nail the shingles to the roof to the outer curve of the stave pillars jutting out into the gallery.  It’s living, breathing history, and a pleasure to have been there.  It’s a place worth revisiting the next time we’re in the area.

The Liebster Award

liebster_awardI am very honoured to have the opportunity to pass on a wonderful blog award recently given to me: The Liebster Award recognizes blogs that currently have fewer than 200 followers.  My blogs are gradually reaching a wider audience, which is encouraging, but could certainly use more exposure – anyone who writes knows it’s nice to be heard, and if it’s appreciated by others, all the better!  And if, like me, you invest time and care into the research that goes in to making a blog worth reading, it’s reward in itself to know that others enjoy it, and benefit from the investment of time and energy!  Awards are a way of honouring that hard work, as well as a reciprocal form of networking.  So here’s a nod to a few small blogs that are worth noticing.

The Rules:

1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog.

2. Answer the 10 questions given to you by the nominee before you.

3. You must nominate 10 blogs that interest you but have fewer than 200 followers and notify them of their nomination.

4. Pass on the ten questions for your nominees to answer (or come up with your own).

Thank you very much to Sarah Angleton over at thepracticalhistorian for nominating me!

Ten Questions:

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

Every summer holiday, I would find some way to earn money; one year I made a killing with fur-covered golf balls as “pet balls” (pet rocks were all the rage, and I added the golf balls to my stock):  My father worked in the police evidence department, and someone had robbed a fur coat store; rather than be caught with the evidence they had shredded the coats into small pieces.  We got a bag of the scraps (once they’d been released) and they were perfect for my pet scheme!  My first official job was in a Dunkin’ Donuts; the first week I worked there all I wanted to eat was Nacho chips to counter the sugary air I inhaled all morning…

WHY DID YOU START BLOGGING?

I started blogging because, as a writer, I had countless ideas and wanted an outlet, as well as a place to get the word out about my books.  To date I have five blogs, and I also run a forum fielding grammar/syntax/linguistic questions from (mainly) British writers, on a writers’ website called the Writer’s Workshop.

WHAT KIND OF FAMILY DID YOU GROW UP IN?

A typical middle-class Kansan family in Bible-belt America.  Think Superman, Ma & Pa Kent; those were my grandparents.

AS A CHILD, IS THIS WHERE YOU THOUGHT YOU’D BE AT THIS AGE?

Nope!  I thought I’d be in Scotland (I emigrated there in 1988); and I would still be there if I hadn’t met my Swiss husband in a Scottish castle (where we were living at the time).

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PLACE TO VISIT?

The Scottish Highlands!  Norway comes in at a close second.

IF YOU COULD TRAVEL ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, WHERE WOULD YOU GO?

As soon as Star Trek beaming technology becomes reality I’d like to take my husband back to Hawaii with me (I was at school there in ’86), to visit old friends.

WHAT’S THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING YOU’VE EVER PURCHASED?

Officially, my husband purchased it:  Our home.

CAT OR DOG PERSON?

Definitely cat.  All three of ours would ignore a dog until it went away.  I love all animals, but I don’t have to take a cat on a walk in the rain at 3 a.m. to do its business… I can continue writing!

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE?

Ooh, that’s a tough one.  It depends on my mood.  I have an extensive collection, and study them with a writer’s eye.  Science Fiction, CGI, Rom-Coms, Historical, Action / Adventure, as well as Documentary… you name it.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE MUSIC?

At the moment, that would be a compilation of instrumental pieces from the Twilight Piano Series, and instrumental pieces from the various Twilight films.  It varies according to my mood, but I’ve listened to a lot less music since I started writing than ever before in my life!

 

I’d like to pass on this nomination to a few blogs that have caught my interest, but that don’t have a large following yet. A few are just getting launched, and others haven’t been found by their wider audience yet.  I decided to choose mainly historically- and archaeologically-focused sites:

  1. Electric PuppetMatrix White Rabbit
  2. Archaeotutor
  3. Dave Weldrake:  Heritage Education
  4. where in the hell am I
  5. The Prelusive Cat
  6. History and Archaeology Blog
  7. The Feast Bowl
  8. archaeologyntwales
  9. Surgically Surreal
  10. History Echoes

To my readers, enjoy perusing these little gems!  To the nominees, have fun exploring and being more exposed to the world of WordPress!  Just follow the white rabbit and see where it leads!

Avaldsnes – A Hidden Gem

I recently went to Norway on a holiday/research trip for a novel I’m in the process of writing; however, Norway seems to carry its dislike of small-talk into the arena of promotion and marketing, and as a result its museums and attractions are not as well advertised, marketed or signposted as they could be; we only found out about this little gem of a site because we happened to run into a Swiss friend in Haugesund, and he knew of the place!  I promised the curators to get the word out, so here’ goes, and with pleasure:

On the island of Karmøy, along the western coast of Norway, sits Avaldsnes.  With over 50,000 islands in Norway it wouldn’t seem to our modern minds, as dominated by cars and roads as we are, to be a significant location.  But Avaldsnes is rewriting Viking history.  It has long been a place from which to control shipping passages through the narrow neck of the Karmunsundet, also called the Seaway to the North, or in Norwegian “Nordvegen,” and it is the maritime route that eventually gave its name to the country.

The kings of sagas and lays have become real at Avaldsnes, the rich archaeological finds there making it one of the most important locations in Europe for the study of Viking history.  Avaldsnes was a royal seat; so it’s not surprising that some of the most important burials in Norway have been found here:  One of its ship burials was dated to the 8th century (making it much older than any other known such burials).  It was clearly a king’s burial, and the findings there have proven its political importance several hundred years before King Harald Fairhair unified Norway.

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St. Olav’s Church

Today there are three points of interest at Avaldsnes, all within walking distance from each other:  St. Olav’s church, built on the site of the oldest church in Norway, was commissioned by King Håkon Håkonson around 1250 AD as part of the royal manor complex.  On the north side of the church stands the Virgin Mary’s Sewing Needle, one of Norway’s tallest standing stones measuring in at 7.2 metres today, though it was originally much taller:  The local legend says that when the obelisk touches the wall of the church Doomsday will come; so over the years priests have climbed the stone in the dead of night to chip away any threatening pieces from the top, thus saving the world from annihilation.  This church was an important site for pilgrims on their way to Nidaros (the medieval name for Trondheim, the capital of the land’s first Christian kings and the centre of Norwegian spiritual life up until the Protestant Reformation); on the north side of the church is a sealed door which was originally the entrance for those pilgrims, as it is said that they had to enter any church with their backs to the north.

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Nordvegen Historic Centre

The next site is the Nordvegen Historic Centre; at first glance it is merely a circular stone monument, but it is actually a stairway leading down into the underground museum, built so as to not interfere with the landscape.  The exhibitions guide you (with a bit of modern technology) through 3,500 years of history through Avaldsnes, focusing on daily life, international contacts and cultural influences from those contacts.  Foreign trade and communication was a major factor at Avaldsnes, and archaeological evidence shows it to be a barometer to the prosperity and decline of European commerce as a whole.  The museum has a hands-on section, as well as a gift shop that’s well-stocked with books covering various aspects of Viking history.

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The Viking Farm

The third site is a hidden gem, located about 20 minutes’ walk from St. Olav’s:  The Viking farm.  The gravel path takes you along the shore, over two bridges and through a forest to a small island.  It’s well worth the hike as you come through the forest to find a Viking village, tucked behind a typical Telemark-style fence.  A 25-metre longhouse is the centrepiece, a reconstruction of a 950 AD house, and built of pine and oak, with windows of mica sheets.  The aroma of tar wafts from the house as you approach, being painted with pitch to weather-proof it; the smell reminds me of a dark peat-whiskey.  [The photo of the longhouse has one element missing to the trained eye:  The low stone wall which should surround the house, as insulation, is missing at the moment while boards are being repaired.]  Other buildings on the farm include pit houses (both woven twig walls as well as wattle and daub) used for activities such as weaving, cooking or food preparation, and other crafts necessary to daily life; a round house, a reconstruction of archaeological finds in Stavanger (which may be a missing link between temples and stave churches in their construction); various buildings of a smaller size, and at the shore is a 32-metre leidang boat house, representing a part of the naval defence system developed in the Viking Age; a settlement with a leidang was expected to man the ship with warriors and weapons when the king called upon them for aid.  When the boat house was vacant of its ship, it was used as a feasting hall, and the modern replica follows that example; it is often hired out for celebrations or festivals.

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The Leidang Boat House

Both the museum and the Viking farm have friendly and knowledgeable staff; the farm staff are all in hand-made period clothing and shoes; as a matter of fact one of the women was working on her dress while we were there, and she said it was linen; the total hours to make such a dress from start to finish would be around 600 hours – had it been leather, it would have taken much, much longer.  That is why clothing was very valuable, and most people only had the clothes on their back; you were considered wealthy if you had a change of clothing, even into the mid-eighteenth century in countries such as England.

If you are interested in Viking history, Avaldsnes is well worth the journey.  Take your time; we stayed overnight in the area to spread the visit out over two days, and we could have spent much more time there.  If you’re a natural introvert like me, you’ll need time to process the multitude of impressions, but that’s what we like – quality time, and quality input.  And then get the word out about these points of interest!

Loch Eriboll

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Loch Eriboll & region

Loch Eriboll & region

Loch Eriboll is a sea loch along the northern coast of Scotland, roughly 16 km (10 mi) long.  It’s been used probably as long as it’s existed as a safe anchor from the stormy seas off of Cape Wrath and the Pentland Firth.  Bronze Age remains can be found in the area, including the souterrain I wrote about recently.  There’s also a well preserved wheelhouse on a hillside above the west shore, and on the small peninsula jutting out into the loch, you’ll find the ruins of a small scale lime industry that developed there in the 19th century.  The shores around the area are fascinating, as the geological composition in that area is a conglomeration of an amazing variety, split along the eastern shore of the loch by the Moine Thrust.  Even along the roads you’ll find chunks of pink metamorphic rocks glittered with mica.

In 1945, thirty-three German U-boats surrendered in the deep loch, ending the Battle of the Atlantic.  Eilean Choraidh, the largest island in the loch, was used as target practice for aerial bombing due to its size and resemblance to the shape of a ship.  Along the western hills you can see words written with stones, near the settlement of Laid:  They are the names of warships, such as the Hood and Amethyst, arranged there by the sailors of those ships.

Loch Eriboll

Loch Eriboll, taken Summer 2012, © Stephanie Huesler

152 - Tràigh Allt Chàilgeag, 20 July 2012

Tràigh Allt Chàilgeag Beach, taken Summer 2012, © Stephanie Huesler

Not far from Loch Eriboll, on the way to Durness, is a treasure:  Tràigh Allt Chàilgeag is a beach of vertical walls of stones layered in colours ranging from black to pink.  When the tide is out the beach is endless, and when it’s in, climb the rocks!  The beach was created as the Ice Age sheets began to melt, pushing the walls of rocks upward as the island actually rose, no longer being held down by the massive weight of ice.

On a clear day, you can see the southern-most Orkney Isles, and the waters around the coast are still busy highways for ships of all sizes.

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