Open Country: Vikings on the Isle of Lewis

The Vikings arrived on British shores in the 8th century, and their image is deeply engrained in the British consciousness. We think of them as fierce raiders, who travelled in longboats and wore horned helmets. The helmets were a myth, but what were these arrivals from Scandinavia really like, and did they deserve their ferocious reputation? In this programme, medieval historian Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough travels to Lewis in the Outer Hebrides to explore the Norse traces which can still be found on the island today. She meets an archaeologist who takes her to her the foundations of what could have been a Norse house, a local historian who tells her about the clues still to be found in the island’s place-names, and a crofter who shows her a Viking comb he stumbled upon one day while out walking. She also finds out more about some of the most famous Viking artefacts, the Lewis chessmen – a group of 12th century chess pieces made of ivory and whalebone, found in a sand dune on the island in 1831.