The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde
August 26th, 2013
My trip to Denmark was short, but I enjoyed every second of it.
The main purpose of my coming was visiting the Viking Ship Museum to gather some new information and to verify some of my guesses that I used in my book Raven Boy and in my drafts of the sequel to it.Of course, the whole story of Raven Boy is fictional and I am not intending to make it historically true, but it seems weird to reinvent the ways of ship building and sailing, so at least here some historical (or rather practical) accuracy is in order.
I found the Viking Ship Museum absolutely great – it’s one of the rare places that are interesting for everyone, from the youngest to the oldest.
Those who don’t care about history can enjoy a great walk by the fjord. As for those who came to visit the museum, apart from a static exposition with guided tours, a lot of interactive experiences await them with touching, smelling and trying out.
Workshops with all sorts of authentic activities, from rope making to smithy, are there for everyone who is curious enough.
As for the ships, the Museum has a boat building yard with all the see-touch-ask-questions experience, and several awesome and incredibly accurate reconstructions of Viking ships of different sizes and purposes that can be visited, touched, and some of them even sailed. Short sailing experiences are available together with full day sailing courses.
Everyone who is working at the Museum, from permanent staff to students, is happy to help and answer as many questions as you might come up with. Another thing that I found totally amazing is that all of them absolutely love what they are doing. I mean, it’s always expected from the staff to be nice and helpful with their customers, but I guess, despite that, you can always feel whether they enjoy what they are doing or whether it’s just an unpleasant must that they are trying to hide behind phony smiles. Well, in the Viking Ship Museum, they are genuine. And it’s definitely most pleasant.
As expected, the live experience made me correct some things in my book. For instance, in the museum I found out that there was no way for the sail on the Viking ships to be white and blue, like some written sources advocated. To my big surprise, the Vikings had their sails made of wool. Imagine a square woolen blanket with different ropes on each side hoisted on a mast... But that’s how it really was. Such a sail was quite heavy and if soaked in water, it could easily break the mast. This is why it was covered in animal fat and some ochre was rubbed into it to fill the tiny spaces between the threads of wool that form the sail. The ochre is yellow, but if heated, it turns rusty red, so these were the two colors of the sails on the Viking ships.
Besides, the sail was nearly as hard and expensive to make as the ship itself, so wasting even more resources on getting it colored differently would seem stupid.
I was lucky to go sailing several times and it was fabulous! I tried everything, from stirring the ship to tucking it. Rowing turned out to be easier that what I’ve expected; I learned some cool terms that I happily included in the description of the battle strategy used by Olaf’s small ship. ;-)
Oh, and surprisingly, I felt no sign of sea sickness! Normally, I cannot stand even a short yacht trip, but on board of a Viking boat, I felt perfect. When I asked the sailing instructor about it, he said that probably the fact that we are only slightly elevated above the water level does the trick and fools the brain. Anyway, it felt too good to be able to sail normally ;-)
In addition, thanks to the same sailing instructor, I was able to see the arrival to Copenhagen of the Sea Stallion, the world’s largest reconstruction of the Viking war ship Skuldelev 2, as well as to visit another great exposition called “Viking” in the National Museum of Denmark.
There was only one thing that I couldn’t really do without a proper training – boat building. And it looks like there is a cool way of doing it without wasting too much time or too much wood - I bought myself a nice and authentic model of the Viking ship that has to be built of tiny wooden details! So, back home the experience of the Viking ships continues with yet another new and fascinating journey ;-)