Valhalla’s rising from the depths of Zealand

Where would Denmark be without its daring, seafaring, hairy helmeted heroes? Expertly guiding their highly manoeuvrable longboats, these raiders and traders made merry mischief up and down the east coast of Britain and across the world, leaving a trail of chaos in their wake. In combat the vanquishing Vikings are thought to have adopted a fearsome and frenetic style of combat, which led to them being termed berserkers. Although the image of the rampaging and ransacking raider is the dominant one, the Viking culture has many more facets. After all, this was a culture that dominated Europe for almost 200 years.

Trelleborg is a Viking Age ring fortress located close to Slagelse in Zealand, 100km southwest of Copenhagen. It is roughly 1,000 years old and is believed to have been commissioned by the then king of Denmark, Harald Bluetooth. It was possibly used as a training camp for foreign invasions. Today the site includes a museum and a partially reconstructed village and is host to historical re-enactment events.

The battle of Trelleborg has been going on behind the scenes for some years, after the local authorities decided to drastically cut funding for the museum area. In June this year, the National Museum rescued the Slagelse tourist attraction by agreeing to take over the running of the site from 2014 and transform the area into a modern international experience and research centre. “Vikings are one of the national museum’s major focus areas,” Per Kristian Madsen of the National Museum explained to media.

Over the period of 13-21 July, one of Denmark’s biggest Viking markets will transform Trelleborg into a remarkable living Viking settlement. Each day between 10:00 and 17:00, around 600 modern day Vikings, warriors, merchants and craftsmen will recreate the Viking lifestyle, food and fashion to provide a glimpse of how life was 1,000 years ago. You are more likely to see women in woven cloaks grinding grain between the mill stones or a potter moulding clay at his wheel than a virulent Viking grinding both his axe and teeth. Authenticity is extremely important to the credibility of the festival, so the only bluetooth in evidence will probably be Harald himself.

The market area features more than 60 different stalls selling wares like clothes, jewellery and weapons, both as toys and expensive historical replicas. The inhabitants of the festival village of Slagsløse are more than happy to demonstrate Viking arts and crafts, whether it is blacksmiths pumping the bellows and pounding the anvils, carpenters chipping with axes to plane oak beams, jewellers meticulously casting tin, Norse horsefolk trotting their Icelandic horses or bakers rolling the dough to serve flat bread. The atmosphere is mellow and a far cry from the stereotypical bloodthirsty and hirsute Vikings we know and love.

But let’s face it, Vikings were second to none in combat and the Trelleborg Viking Festival is famous for its spectacular historical re-enactments. In the battle arena, the well-rehearsed Viking warriors display various fighting techniques and give the audience an insight into the local battles and feuds of the age. There are three different fighting styles in these recreations: Western style, Eastern style and Hema. Western style is the most popular and safest form, with lighter blows to the torso and upper-legs allowed. Eastern style is popular in central and eastern Europe and is a full contact fighting system that includes strikes to the head. Heavy armour is recommended. Hema (historical European martial arts) aims to give a realistic fighting experience where the goal is not only to win, but to fight correctly. Only properly executed blows count as fatal. Warriors from all over Europe come to participate in the battles and tournaments.

The highlight of the festival is undoubtedly the Great Battle of Trelleborg, held four times, once a day, from Thursday 18 July to Sunday 21 July. Hapless Harald Bluetooth valiantly defended the original Trelleborg against the treasonous treachery of his son, the dreaded Sweyn Forkbeard, and each year four battles to the last drop of blood ensue, occasionally quite literally. Set in the special backdrop of the ringed fortress, the boisterous battle has its own special atmosphere of roaring Vikings, clashing swords, clanking armour and a lively audience cheering the defending heroes or booing the assailing villains. During the day there will also be warrior training for young and old where you can wield a sword or pluck a bow with a minimum of damage.

Perhaps you are a passionate re-enactment enthusiast draped in Viking garb and living the lifestyle, or just passing by to sample mead, wild berries and smoked venison while witnessing a fiery battle or two. Either way, the Trelleborg Viking Festival is one of the biggest and best in Denmark and an unmissable annual summer highlight. You might not see a lot of pillage in the village, or watch helplessly while your womenfolk are dragged away by lusty Vikings, but the painstaking attention to detail and devotion to the Viking culture is truly impressive and a trip back in time well worth taking.

Vikingeborgen Trelleborg (Trelleborg Viking Festival)

Trelleborg Allé 4, Hejninge, Slagelse; starts Sat, ends July 20, open daily 10:00-17:00; adults 85kr, under-18s free adm; www.vikingeborgen-trelleborg.dk





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