The year before last we were fortunate enough to be invited to a Living History event at Repton in Derbyshire. The event was organised by friends of ours, some of which included fellow founding members of Cumbraland Living History and was on a site close to where the Great Heathen Army camped in 875.
This Army was made up various warrior bands whose leaders' names have gone down in History: Ivarr, Olaf the White, Ubba and Halfdan to name a few. The armies joined together for specific campaigns and then went their separate ways, and it's likely that some of those at Repton in 875 had been present at the siege of Dumbarton in 870, and even the raids which led to removal of St Cuthbert's remains from Linisfarne.
The Great Army had a massive impact on the Kingdoms of Northern Britain, so it was an honour to participate in an event so close to one of the few known locations associated with them.
Several Excavations have taken place at Repton and the surrounding area, and archaeologists continue to add to our understanding of the Vikings in Britain, notably Dr Cat Jarman who gave a talk on her findings as part of the event.
In addition to her talk on dating bones from the cemetery and sharing some the new finds with us, Cat was also doing some filming for a new documentary. It was all very hush-hush so we couldn't say anything about at the time, but cameras filmed us going about our crafts, demonstrations and we all did our best to look natural!
Later that year we were asked to go back for some additional filming, and this time with our friends from Regia Anglorum would be bringing one of ship along for a row up the river Trent!
It was nowhere near as warm in late Autumn, but we were wrapped up in our reproduction clothes, and before long we'd be busy rowing which would keep the cold at bay.
All of the crew had experience rowing, and it didn't take long for us to get in the groove. The craft was pretty quick in the water, and following orders quickly enabled us to manoeuvre by alternating strokes between the port and starboard teams, and it really is about teamwork. For us it was important to work together so we didn't look silly on camera, but for Viking Age crews it often will have been the difference between life and death, as much on the water as in the battles they were famous for!
At one point we were heading along at a good speed, then next we turned a corner and the wind stopped us in our tracks - luckily the ever present drone which was filming us missed that bit!
At the end of the day we brought the ship ashore when the rest of our friends and families had set up camp and and enjoyed a fantastic meal they'd authentically prepared whilst we'd been gallivanting up and down the Trent. I was a great end to a lovely day, but there was still more filming to do the next day.
It had been quite windy on the first day, but on the second it rained constantly. I went with Adam and helped our friend Mike set up for a filmed segment where TV archaeologist Mark Horton would be talking to Adam about some of the gaming pieces found at Great Army sites.
After we'd dried off a bit, we went to join the others at a nearby village hall where some atmospheric bits were filmed against green screen. It was strangely reminiscent of being on the boat: you sat about for ages doing nothing, then someone told you to do something and you did it!
All in all it was very relaxed and good fun (except the rain), and whilst there's always a concern with what film companies are going to do with the footage, the crew were regularly asking for input, especially from Adam (who is also a professional archaeologist) which put our minds at ease.
Our faith was rewarded when the publicity photos were released ahead of the initial screening at Easter last year - as well as looking really slick, the images showed respect to the subject matter and everyone who took part. I was particularly pleased as my lovely (if a little frightening!) wife took centre stage for once!
The documentary was a pleasure to watch, and as well as Cat & Adam, it also featured our friends, archaeologist Professor Howard Williams (author of the fabulous Archaeodeath Blog) and renowned historian and Viking expert Dr Clare Downham.
The full documentary can still be seen on 4 On Demand, and you'll see some of the fun we had landing the boat about 19 minutes in! From what Cat says Repton has still got an awful lot to tell us about the Vikings in Britain and I for one am excited to see what the future holds!