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On the rampage

Kevin Berry leaves the 20th century behind to join an assembly of Vikings.

After the battle the Vikings, all swords and bloodcurdling yells, turned and charged. It was a hair-raising spectacle and only a thin strand of wire brought their thunderous rampage to a halt.

These Vikings, latterday representatives of the originals, are one of the many historical re-enactment societies that flourish in this country. And over the summer months, many will be bringing the past back to life.

So who is your average Viking these days? Just about any occupation you care think of is represented, brought together by a deep and abiding passion for all things Viking. It is not what you would call an obsession, but it is a consuming pastime. Modern Vikings may take up an ancient craft or skill, some may master the Runic language, others learn myths, or how to play musical instruments. English Viking members are constantly researching their subject and refining their knowledge.

At weekend events when they assemble to put all this into practice, a half-way house is needed before they can completely abandon the 20th century and its devices. This is known as the Plastic Camp, where you might find a Viking's caravan or his Ford Frontera, or see him sipping a Coke or eating a cheese roll. But once inside the perimeter of the Authentic Camp they are as thoroughly Viking as Eric Bloodaxe.

But a Viking needs the proper kit. Helmets cost around Pounds 30 and swords are as much as Pounds 140, so this is not a cheap hobby. Most warriors "lace" their own chain mail in true Viking fashion. The resulting outfit is almost impossible to lift, let alone wear.

At the Viking Market in Whitby, Njal Sigurdsson (also known as Neil Shepherd, a science teacher from Leeds) cooked fish over a charcoal fire outside his hut. Like all modern Vikings, Njal has a name which comes with a detailed biography. To avoid confusion, they all keep their 20th-century initials.

Traders had realistic tents and children were playing Viking board games. Sights and smells were authentic, and conversations - although in English - had no modern anachronisms. A warrior who accidentally muttered ". . . just a minute" received withering looks from his comrades.

Viking recruits must pass strict tests before they can take part in the battle re-enactments. To be accepted as a basic villager, for example, takes about 30 hours of endeavour and assessment. The next stage up, which qualifies someone to take part in a living history presentation, needs 120 hours. Half of that time is devoted to making costumes and implements.

The English Vikings frequently go to Scandinavian countries to exchange information, advise and help with re-enactments. They are also keen to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with schools. And with almost 50 Viking groups scattered throughout England, Scotland and Wales, one should be close enough for most teachers.

* There is a history pack for key stage 2 pupils providing more detailed information about the Vikings and their way of life. For details of the pack, to arrange a visit to a Viking camp or for more information, contact Sandra Orchard, 2 Stanford Road, Shefford, Bedfordshire SG17 2DS. Telephone: 01462 812208. A year's membership of the Vikings costs Pounds 12.50

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