Monday, September 19, 2016

Viking voyages. Lief Erikson and the Wonder-shore

Many years ago I read a Nevil Shute book- 'An old Captivity'- that stuck in my mind. It involved Lief Ericson's voyage along a northern coast of the Americas before Columbus made his more famous crossing. The idea of a vast unexplored landscape and a viking ship sailing down the coast of what is now Labrador or Newfoundland really appealed to me. Having had the experience more recently of sailing into unknown territory ( to me, at least) and having new islands and coastlines hoist themselves above the horizon by the dawn's early light, I can revisit this old story and step even deeper into the feeling that Shute evoked and use that feeling to picture it.
More recent archaeology has shown that the Vikings were active traders along the arctic coast *and also travelled along the coast of and attempted to settle in Newfoundland at L'Anse aux Meadows. What appealed to me was the image of the ship sailing south along the 'wonder-shore' as named in the Icelandic Eriksaga.

They sailed away from land; then to the Vestribygd and to Bjarneyjar [the Bear Islands]. Thence they sailed away from Bjarneyjar with northerly winds. They were out at sea two half-days. Then they came to land, and rowed along it in boats, and explored it, and found there flat stones, many and so great that two men might well lie on them stretched on their backs with heel to heel. Polar-foxes were there in abundance. This land they gave name to, and called it Helluland [stone-land].
Then they sailed with northerly winds two half-days, and there was then land before them, and on it a great forest and many wild beasts. An island lay in the south-east off the land, and they found bears thereon, and called the island Bjarney [Bear Island]; but the mainland, where the forest was, they called Markland [forest-land]. Then, when two half-days were passed, they saw land, and sailed under it. There was a cape to which they came. They cruised along the land, leaving it on the starboard side. There was a harbourless coast-land, and long sandy strands. They went to the land in boats, and found the keel of a ship, and called the place Kjalarnes [Keelness]. They gave also name to the strands, calling them Furdustrandir [wonder-shore], because it was tedious to sail by them. Then the coast became indented with creeks, and they directed their ships along the shore. Wikipedia
I began a painting with no subject in mind at first but it soon formed into a long lonely beach which  brought the viking voyages to mind. To add a ship nosed into the shore was an obvious thing to do. Perhaps it was wrecked in the breakers and the keel was later found by Lief. What happened to that stranded crew? Did they wander off into a vast land and disappear? Imagine!

* Nat. Geo. Nov. 2012

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