Villagers welcome back Viking raiders

A thousand years after they ransacked and destroyed East Anglia's main cities, a horde of savage and fierce-looking Viking warriors descended on a small Norfolk village at the weekend.

A thousand years after they ransacked and destroyed East Anglia's main cities, a horde of savage and fierce-looking Viking warriors descended on a small Norfolk village at the weekend.

More than 100 battle-ready Anglo-Saxon fighters and their Danish foes, dressed in chainmail and wielding shields, spears, swords and axes, turned a farmer's field into a battlefield at Bridgham, near Thetford.

But instead of running for their lives, hundreds of families gathered to cheer on the skirmish at the weekend, which marked the climax of the Breckland village's millennium celebrations.

Residents donned medieval costumes along with Viking re-enactors from across the country as visitors took a journey back into the Dark Ages to mark the 1,000th anniversary.

Organisers spoke last night of their “delight” at the successful Viking event, which was the highlight of a nine-month programme of events to commemorate 1,000 years since wealthy Saxon widow Aelfwaru bequeathed the parish to the monks of Ely Cathedral.

Revellers at a slightly damp Mill Field were treated to living history exhibitions, weapons demonstrations, archery, music from medieval minstrels and a concert band, before experiencing the re-enactment of two of the area's most bloody battles between Viking invaders and the East Angles.

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David O'Neale, band conductor, historian and organiser of the millennium celebrations, said he was “relieved” that the free event had gone so well, with an estimated 2,000 visitors over the two days.

“We have had a fantastic time and the Vikings said they have never had such a hospitable reception and will remember Bridgham for a long time.

“We didn't know if the weather would keep everyone away or we would be inundated because it was a free event. As many as 75pc of the population of Bridgham have moved here in the last 15 years and there has been a massive turnover. This has brought people together,” he said.

The highlights of the festivities, which were paid for by a nearly £9,000 grant from the National Lottery, included re-enactments of the 1004 Battle of Thetford, on Saturday, and the 1010 Battle of Ringmere, which was rounded up with a more peaceful choral evensong with the Bishop of Norwich and the cathedral choir last night.

Rodney Newton, from London, who was commissioned to write the Bridgham Salute for the Bridgham and Harling Band, which had its world premier on Saturday, said he was “impressed” with the weekend.

“It has been great and the remarkable thing is the way the village with 300 inhabitants has pulled together to produce such a spectacle that would match bigger resources. There are a lot of talented people in Bridgham,” he said.

Terry Warren, from The Vikings re-enactment group, which brought members from as far afield as Yorkshire, Northumberland, Sussex and Hampshire, said he had a “terrific” time in Bridgham.

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