Where you can find Vikings in Norfolk

The Sheringham Viking Festival 2018Byline: Sonya DuncanCopyright: Archant 2018

The Sheringham Viking Festival 2018Byline: Sonya DuncanCopyright: Archant 2018 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

As the new Viking exhibition at Norwich Castle unveils some of the country's greatest Viking treasures we visit Viking links around Norfolk from a festival in Sheringham to a great heathen army in Thetford.


A boat burning, a beach battle, a living history encampment parade and axe throwing are all part of Sheringham's Viking Festival. From Saturday February 16 to Saturday February 23 Vikings will rampage through Sheringham – before burning a boat on the beach in a spectacular finale.

The Viking Festival, organised by Sheringham Carnival Association, also includes the chance to find out more about the Viking history of the town, take part in Viking crafts, hear Old Norse sagas, make Viking good-luck charms and runes, and design and make a Viking shield.

The grand finale is on Saturday 23. Watch a Viking battle on Lifeboat Plain and the beach, wander through a Viking living history village, buy from Viking traders, try axe throwing and archery, dress in Viking clothes and join the afternoon family parade along the seafront and, as the sun sets, watch Vikings with flaming torches carry their boat on to the beach below The Leas and witness their magnificent boat-burning ceremony.

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The Great Heathen Army of Viking raiders from Denmark, Norway and Sweden over-wintered in Thetford in the 860s. Then, led by three brothers, including Ivar the Boneless, they set out from the town on a campaign of conquest and plunder across England. One by one each Anglo-Saxon kingdom was destroyed - Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia - until only King Alfred's Wessex was left.

The only still-standing Viking earthwork in Norfolk is in Thetford.

In the 10th century Thetford had its own mint with its coins found in Scandinavia. But at the beginning of the 11th century Viking armies led by Thorkell the Tall and King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark and Norway arrived and poor Thetford was plundered and burnt.


After seizing land and loot in battle, many Vikings began settling on the rich farmland of East Anglia, leaving a legacy including the place names of Billockby, Clippesby, Scratby, Ormesby, Scratby, Thrigby, Mautby, Rollesby, Herringsby, Ashby, Oby, Filby and Hemsby. There are so many of these 'by,' names, which mean 'settlement of' in Norse, that it has been suggested a group of Vikings might even have been given this land in the hope they would then protect the whole area from subsequent raids.


As Viking armies swept across the land, wealthy Anglo Saxons hid their treasure. The first Viking raiders came looking for gold and silver, but later waves of invaders began settling on the rich land, taking over farms, villages and towns. Tim Pestell, senior curator of archaeology at Norfolk Museums Service, said: 'The Vikings didn't use coins. They melted them down into ingots. They loved their loot.' The 23 silver coins of King Edmund, and four brooches, hidden on land near Hingham would have represented enormous riches. The money could have been buried while the saint was still alive and fighting for his faith, lands and people. The new exhibition is the first chance to see the largest hoard of King Edmund coins ever found, each with his name and an intricate Christian cross. One of the brooches includes stylised animals in sinuous, interwoven lines, with four glinting glass eyes each, a pair facing forwards and another backwards. The treasure was discovered by metal detectorists in 2012.


No buildings survive from the Viking era but beneath the ground close to Agricultural Hall Plain are the remains of an ancient Viking church. More Norwich churches reveal Viking links with St Clement's in Colegate dedicated to a saint frequently honoured by Vikings, and two former St Olaf's churches, dedicated to a martyred Norwegian king. In Rose Lane a 10th century Scandinavian burial cross was found at the site of a former church.

Viking Norwich was concentrated on the northern bank of the Wensum, in the area known as Norwich over the water. Here street names such as Colegate, Fishergate, Gildengate, Snaygate (now St Georges Street) and Finkelgate reveal Viking ancestry because 'gata' is Old Norse for 'street.'

At Fye Bridge the remains of an ancient wooden causeway, which would have been used by Norwich's Viking settlers, can still occasionally be seen. A Viking sword was discovered in the River Wensum, bent in the belief that this would kill the sword after its owners death.


Norwich Castle Museum has several fascinating Viking finds, including the largest collection of Thor's hammers (Viking amulets of power and protection) in the country.

And for the next six months see some of the great Viking treasures from the British Museum and the Yorkshire Museum, alongside spectacular recent finds from Norfolk.

Viking: Rediscover the Legend, Norwich Castle from February 9 to September 8.

Open Monday to Saturday 10am-4.30pm, Sunday 1-4.30pm.

Free with castle admission ticket.


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