For residents of the South Mainland, visitors to Old Scatness or anyone with an interest in archaeology and a sense of fun, it would have been hard to escape noticing the visit of the Polish Viking troupe, the Walhalla Vikings. The Vikings were brought to Shetland under the banner of the Johnsmas Foy and they were based at Old Scatness for the weekend.
Their arrival was planned for Wednesday morning but, unlike their Viking role models, they missed the boat (due to car problems) and arrived a day late. However, by this shrewd move they also missed the bad weather and experienced a gloriously sunny weekend.
The six Vikings, Marcin Lutomski, Damian Grzybkowski, Zdenek Dohnal, Daniel Winter, Szymon Hofman and Dariusz Sadecki, were far more violent than any Viking representations Shetland has seen in recent centuries. A group of bikers, visiting Shetland for the Simmer Dim rally, bragged that they could take on any troupe of Vikings. They rapidly changed their minds.
The Walhalla displays consisted of two parts: a visit to their tent, where the difference between Slavic Vikings and Scandinavian ones was very apparent, and then a fight – or several fights. The scraps were to the death although, fortunately, the Slavic four-faced gods kept resurrecting the warriors. They were also brutal: I was aware of one hand with a nasty cut and another leg injury inflicted mercilessly. It certainly wasn’t choreographed with a predetermined winner.
The battles ranged from four people all attacking one another, to duals with sword and shields, sabres and a stick with a vicious head on it. There were berserker fights (when the Vikings took drugs to wind themselves into a frenzy before commencing – hence the phrase “going berserk”), fights between men in chain mail and, more effective, padded leather jackets. There were impenetrable shield walls which came in flat, arrow shaped and circular formations and were only broken down when young Lucy Holden, of Whiteness, attacked them. However, the piece de resistance were the fights with “dragon fire”. One or two warriors had Up-Helly-A’ style torches. However, unlike at Up-Helly-A’, the warriors then took a mouthful of oil which they spat out and created a huge flame which repelled the enemy for all his impressive armour.
The Polish Vikings were also the “headline act” at the Viking Feast held in Dunrossness Hall on Friday evening. However, this was a memorable evening in many other respects too. The scenario created was that the participants were visitors to my longhouse, where the feast took place. The food, provided by the Northern Lights Restaurant from Unst, comprised food which would have been available to Vikings and proved that the Norse men could have lived very well. Fish soup and bannocks, lamb, rabbit, pork with prunes, mackerel fillets and mushrooms with garlic butter were all provided together with vegetables which were already around by Viking times. These included carrots, turnips, cabbage and leeks. Dessert comprised yoghurt and honey, lavender pancakes, plums and nuts. With nut rissoles for the vegetarians no-one left hungry and everyone agreed how wonderful the food had been.
The food was served by the servants and slaves of the longhouse – the staff of the Archaeology Section of Shetland Amenity Trust.
Music was provided at the beginning and the end of the feast by Norwegian group “Strengleikr” and by Finnish musician Marianne Maans. Both performances were spell binding. Between the courses Davie Cooper and Elma Johnson told Viking tales which also captivated the listeners. At the end of the feast, it appeared that the Walhalla Vikings had gone AWOL. However it was no surprise that they had gone outside to fight each other. They put up an amazing display of their various styles of combat and this was their first performance of “dragon fire”.
I think that it is fair to say that a good time was had by all and that it was a night to be long remembered, which could be said of the whole weekend. Both young and old fell under the charm of Marcin and his friends and I hope that the opportunity will arise to enable me to bring them back to Shetland again. Thank you Johnsmas Foy.