Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough delves into the history of runes, the ancient alphabet of northern Europe. Travelling to Orkney, she learns how and why these spiky letters were used.
This section has more information about the sort of broadcasting I do, often for the BBC behind a fuzzy microphone (when we’re recording outdoors and need to muffle the wind). Some of my fondest broadcasting memories are of rogue dogs escaping their owners, running over to us and trying to bite (or woo) the microphone. For some reason their input never makes the final cut, but it's very much appreciated. Our human guests are less likely to chew our recording equipment, but they're still full of surprises.
Presenter of the BBC podcast series Green Thinking, exploring the latest research and ideas around understanding and tackling the climate and nature emergency. 26 episodes, each 26 minutes long, looking at issues relating to the climate summit COP26 from fast fashion to youth activism, from architecture to the media. Made in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council, part of UKRI.
Historian Dr Eleanor Barraclough travels through some of Britain’s most beautiful landscapes – Hadrian’s Wall, the Lake District and Offa’s Dyke – in search of new evidence to reveal the true story of the mysterious ancient British tribes often called the Celts. According to the official history books, the Celts were defeated and pushed to the edges of Britain by waves of Roman and Anglo Saxon invaders. However, a growing body of evidence suggests this is not the full story. To help give the Celts back their proper place in our history, Eleanor examines freshly discovered treasures, new archaeological evidence from real photographs and clues hidden in ancient poetry to reveal a fresh narrative – one that suggests the relationship between our ancient British ancestors and those who came to conquer them was much less repressive, and far more co-operative, than we have thought.
I’m one of the presenters of Radio 3’s flagship arts and culture programme, which explores the ideas shaping our lives today – with artists and thinkers in debates and interviews.
Formed thousands of years ago by a flood of water from a melting glacier and later occupied by Viking raiders, Northey Island is a place full of fascinating stories. In this episode, Dr Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough explores how a violent land grab between the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons resulted in a mashup of cultures, which can still be seen today.
Secrets Beneath the Soil
What happens in the world’s most northerly town when the permafrost de-frosts? Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough visits Svalbard to find out. Longyearbyen, a three hour flight north of Oslo, is a mining town of just 2000 people, but a pretty high proportion of them are research scientists. They cluster in this relatively sheltered corner of the enormous Svalbard archipelago to study the geology and wildlife. As the Arctic rapidly warms nature is changing with it and there’s nowhere better to study the impacts. Can Arctic plant species survive a warmer, wetter climate? Can reindeer, fox and polar bear adapt to the new conditions? And how are the people enjoying the relatively balmy new climate? Nordic scholar, Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough meets the stoical residents and experiences the 24 hour darkness of the Arctic winter for herself.
Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough is steeped in Viking lore. She travels through the icy landscapes of the Far North in the footsteps of those Norse “far travellers” who have left us their wonderful poetic stories of kings and trolls and dragons. She’s an Associate Professor at Durham University and an AHRC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker, and her fieldwork has taken her pretty much everywhere the Vikings went: through Greenland, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, and Orkney. Recently she went to stay on the Arctic island of Svalbard, where in 24-hour darkness she encountered a family of polar bears.
Eleanor Barraclough’s music list full of snow and ice – glittering, shimmering music – from the Norwegian composer Frode Fjellheim and Sibelius’s 5th Symphony, through Eriks Esenvalds’ “Northern Lights”, to Martin Carthy, singing “Lady Franklin’s Lament”. She ends with music by Geoffrey Burgon that will resonate with anyone growing up at the end of the last century: the theme tune to the BBC dramatization of Narnia.
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.
Taking their inspiration from the Russian and Finnish composers of 2019 Prom 22, Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough and an audience at Imperial College London hear from Mythos Podcaster Nicole Schmidt and the musical scholar and New Generation Thinker Leah Broad about the role of legends and landscapes in north European music. They’ll be talking trolls and suncream, the political dimension of being folk or not folk enough, and the peculiar potency of midsummer with its emphasis on fertility, creation and destruction and unusual purple light.
As the clock ticks down towards midnight and a New Year looms, it’s hard to escape thoughts of the passage of time, ageing, the meaning of it all. We lose ourselves in Abba and Auld Lang Syne and make our resolutions: to live better, healthier, longer, more fulfilling lives. And we ask – would I want to live forever? Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough, lover of all things Nordic, doesn’t. But she’s fascinated by those who do. Especially as she sees our eyes being been drawn Northwards, throughout human history, to think immortal thoughts. From the ancient Greeks to the cryogenics industry, we’ve sought immortal inspiration in the perpetual North star, the endless ice and infinite cold, the unending days and nights, and the wonders hidden there – legends of people reaching an immense age, the secret of immortality itself. And before you say ‘how much have you had to drink?’ let Eleanor take you away from the party to show you that these stories may have followed biological truths. Bring your pint and follow the scientists, artists, dreamers and chancers for whom ageing and death itself is a problem to be solved.
They say you are not dead until you are warm and dead. Stay cold, head North. Shiver, as Eleanor takes her first steps towards immortality and plunges into a frozen Norwegian lake : ‘a day spent in the ice is a day when you don’t age’. Wonder at the Cosmists, who planned to resurrect their ancient ancestors, and ended up inspiring the Russian space programme. Be amazed by the Siberian bacteria, still alive after hundreds of thousands of years, whose ancient DNA is now being absorbed by other living things.
Hear the astonishing story of the woman who survived suspended animation. Meet the middle-aged Norwegian whose beansprouts and juice may help him live forever – so far he’s succeeded. Feel uneasy in the company of the man who runs a homemade cryonics operation, with a frozen body in the toolshed. And discover why Swedish tourist guides include the useful phrase: ‘Think of death’.
A practical guide for dreamers, to life extension, survival and immortality in the far North.
They are the happiest, most successful societies in the world. Their schools the envy of every politician; their elegant flat-pack furniture invading every British home. For some in Britain, they are our nearest neighbours. Yet the culture of the Nordic countries is curiously opaque to many Brits, papered over by a generalised sense of Ikea furniture and snowy forests. So what’s really going on up there? Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough takes us behind the elegant, minimal façade, on a journey to the heart of Norse culture.
In Copenhagen she visits the Little Mermaid – a modest tourist attraction – and discovers that behind it lies guilt about the Danes’ war-mongering past. In these highly secular countries she finds the Lutheran church living on in Scandinavian design. And with Lars Mytting – wood fanatic – she takes tentative steps into the Taiga, the vast forest which starts in Norway and encircles much of the world; a perfect place to explore the Nordic ideas of nature and solitude. In Oslo, Asle Toje from the the Norwegian Nobel Institute explains the power struggles which have riven the Nordic countries for centuries. These live on today: the smell of whale-blubber drifts over the Copenhagen docks as Eleanor discusses Greenlandic independence from Denmark with one of its greatest proponents – former Greenland PM Aleqa Hammond. Immigration, the big news story in Sweden and Denmark, is discussed with provocative journalist Mikael Jalving from Jyllands-Posten – the paper which printed the Prophet Muhammad cartoons. And she talks to the man who, five years ago, was asked to re-brand Finland. Apparently being ‘a bit like Sweden’ is not enough
In Nottinghamshire there’s an estate where the farmers still do things the same way they were done in the Middle Ages, before enclosures created the farmed landscape we’re familiar with today. Historian Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough travels to Laxton to meet the people who work the land using the Mediaeval strip farming system. There’s even still an ancient court system with legal powers to enforce the rules which govern how the strip farming is carried out, with its own jury – a forerunner of the current English legal system. Eleanor finds out about this remarkable survival from Mediaeval times, and asks whether it can endure into centuries still to come.
Michael Rosen discovers how the Vikings changed English. These invaders brought with them the words knife, gun, slaughter, ransack and anger. But then they settled, using their anger, verbs and great hair to transform our grammar, and our understanding of the landscape. With author Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough and historical linguist Laura Wright.
As the dark winter nights draw in, our thoughts turn to all things Northern – roaring fires and woolly jumpers, snow, ice, and the faint jingle of Father Christmas’s sleigh. But across the centuries, a weirder, wilder North has lurked in the imaginative shadows: a North populated by mountain trolls, demons and direwolves, white witches and white walkers, snow queens and Sámi shamans. Radio 3 New Generation Thinker Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough journeys to Arctic Norway in search of the supernatural world that haunts the imagination of writers such as Philip Pullman, A.S. Byatt, C.S. Lewis, Hans Christian Andersen and the authors of the medieval Icelandic sagas.
Following the trail of a 9th century Norseman called Ohthere, who travelled along the northern coast of Norway and down to the White Sea in Russia, Eleanor sets out from the coastal city of Tromsø in northern Norway. But whereas Ohthere wanted to survey the land and acquire walrus ivory, reindeer and exotic furs, Eleanor is looking for a stranger North – a place inhabited by mountain trolls, witches and giants. On her journey Eleanor is initiated as a member of The Royal and Arctic Polar Bear Society in Hammerfest, visits the Arctica Ice Bar in Honningsvåg, climbs the Dommen mountain – a popular venue for witches’ Sabbaths, and views the witches’ memorial in Vardø.
Helping Eleanor in her quest for the supernatural North are writers Philip Pullman, author of Northern Lights; A.S. Byatt, author of Ragnarok; Professor Peter Davidson of Aberdeen University and author of The Idea of North; Dr Carolyne Larrington of Oxford University, a specialist in the Icelandic sagas; Professors Rune Hagen and Richard Holt of Tromso University and artist Jeffrey Vallance.
Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough enters the forests of our imagination, looking for stories. Alternative realities, holy quests and fairytales hidden among the glories of the Autumn forest. Despite our evolution in the African rainforests, Eleanor wonders whether it is tales from the frozen North that have given us the most potent forests of the imagination, invading our psyche, inhabiting our stories, inspiring our architecture. Legendary fairytale guru Jack Zipes introduces us to the darker side of the Black Forest, the central point of European folklore. Eleanor travels to Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden, part real, part imagined – a forest full of magic and mystery, where we can become better versions of ourselves. We hear tales from the vast frozen Taiga forest, encircling the world in the North. And in the African rainforest we meet early hominids as they flit in and out of the trees, watching the forest biology shaping what we are and the stories we tell. On the way we see the strange reality of the forest itself communicating. And as darkness falls, our imagination takes over as we spend a moonlit night in the New Forest, high in an oak tree, in the company of ravens, owls and deer.
Once upon a time, Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough woke up in the summer forest. At first, there were worse places to be lost. She hid inside giant oaks with historians, read Tolkein and Shakespeare with wise women. A kind witch, Moira Hodgkinson, even cast a spell to wish her good luck in her quest to discover the joys and traditions of the summer forest. But it wasn’t all about the mythical Forest of Arden and the English Romantic idyll. Eleanor watched as that got chewed up, trees turned into ships, into fuel for the furnaces of the Industrial Revolution. So she met legendary fairy tale guru Jack Zipes, and heard his tales from the Black Forest in Germany, travelled back in time to Earth’s primeval forests with their strange and leafless trees; and still found time to relax with a spot of Japanese forest bathing. Listen to the summer forest in all its cultural and ecological glory.
Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough tells the magical story of the tree that sits at the heart of Christmas day – the pine tree . We’ll leave our cosy, bauble lit front rooms and head out through starry skies to the vast pine forests of the world, where Eleanor discovers a tale of economic power, political intrigue, and biological wonder. As we’re watched over by the world’s oldest tree – the Bristlecone pine – thousands of years pass. Whole cultures appear from the pine forests as the tree journeys to the tropics, the Middle East, and encircles the world in the North. Ships masts, log cabins, violins, baubles and scented air fresheners arrive and depart. Nations are built from the wood, wars are fought over it, gifts bestowed. As Eleanor warms her hands on the wildfires of the Cretaceous period the modern pine emerges from its flames, and she wonders why we still invite this tree into our homes and worship it above all others. An extraordinary story of global dominance, cultural influence, and slightly kitsch baubles.
What is it about forests that inspires our imagination? In this series of Essays for our Into the Forest season, Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough takes five woodland walks with writers and artists who find themselves moved by the sounds, textures and smells of the forest. She’s joined first by Fiona Stafford, author of ‘The Long, Long Life of Trees’ and expert on the Romantic poets. Fiona is fascinated by the moment in the late 18th century when Britain’s great forests were swept away by the demands of the Royal Navy and the Enclosure Acts. As the dark forests with their brigands and wild beasts disappeared, novelists and visual artists were free to conjure up their own dappled glades, to create spaces of romantic imagination. In midsummer week, Radio 3 enters one of the most potent sources of the human imagination. ‘Into the Forest’ explores the enchantment, escape and magical danger of the forest in summer, with slow radio moments featuring the sounds of the forest, allowing time out from today’s often frenetic world.
In the first of a series examining the great fictional forests of art and literature, Eleanor Rosamund Baraclough (pictured) is joined by Ingrid Hanson from Manchester University for a walk through the pre-Raphaelite forest. Their spirit guide is William Morris, the writer and designer who helped create the forest in his works of fantasy fiction and championed the Arts and Crafts movement, promoting the virtues of forest life.
Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough is joined by the writer and illustrator Chris Riddell for a walk through the deep, dark Germanic forest from the imaginations of the Brothers Grimm. The company may be agreeable and the conversation fascinating, but let’s hope they’ve left a trail of breadcrumbs behind…
Today, Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough is joined by Mark Atherton from Oxford University for a walk through Tolkien’s forest, uncovering his influences and the centrality of woodland to the sagas of Middle Earth.
Join Mowgli, Shere Khan and Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough in the lush and dangerous Indian forest of Rudyard Kipling’s imagination.Although he was born in India, Kipling had never visited the central Seoni region where he set The Jungle Book. As Daniel Karlin from Bristol University tells Eleanor, the vivid and detailed descriptions of the forest and its fauna came from books and travellers’ tales. Kipling was fascinated by animal behaviour but he wasn’t too precious to invert reality when the stories required a dash of cruelty or an expression of nobility.
Join Piglet, Pooh and Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough for a stroll through the warmest, most comforting fictional woodland of all. There are adventures here, even the occasional hint of danger, but there are always good friends to return to and the promise of a honey-sticky cuddle from Winnie the Pooh.
Part of Into The Forest, a year-long theme for Radio 3, as the station explores the enduring and magical influence of the forest on music and the arts.
For Christmas Day, Sheila celebrates The Wild Boar Feast – an ancient Viking tradition which still lingers on in Britain (think of ‘pigs in blankets’) and inspires our love of the Christmas Ham. Historian Eleanor Barraclough introduces Sheila to a stuffed boar’s head in the cellars of Queen’s College, Oxford, and explains about how the boar was at the centre of mid-winter pagan fertility rituals. In Cumbria, Sheila meets a field of wild boar and talks to farmer Peter Gott about the fearsome intelligence of his huge beasts. Scandinavian chef Trine Hahnemann reveals the huge importance of the Christmas boar in Sweden, and how to make a meatball sandwich for Boxing Day. And chef Giorgio Locatelli explores the passion for wild boar across Italy. With music from The Boar’s Head Carol, the oldest printed carol in English, and recipes from Trine Hahnemann and Giorgio Locatelli.
“We need authentic female role models to look up to.” We asked inspirational women what moment changed them the most this past year.
Have recent events made you wonder if the world is coming to an end? When you hear someone in the media talk in apocalyptic terms, do you respond with scorn, scepticism, or a nagging feeling that they may just be right. Are we in fact hard-wired to think apocalyptically? History suggests that we might be. Myths and stories of “end times” recur at many different times and in many different cultures. Scholar, cultural historian and New Generation Thinker Eleanor Barraclough sets out to explore some of the less familiar visions of the world’s end and what these beliefs tell us about ourselves.
On Hadrian’s wall we find out from historian John-Henry Clay how the prophecy of the twelve vultures that foretold the end of the Roman Empire proved uncannily accurate. On the mystic Isle of Lindisfarne we learn from medieval historian James Palmer why the Christian Anglo-Saxons believed Doomsday was terrifyingly near. Old Norse expert Heather O’Donoghue shows Eleanor images carved on a 10th-century cross depicting the terrible scenes of Ragnarok, meaning ‘the doom of the gods’: One wolf swallows the sun and another swallows the moon, the mountains fall down and the world collapses. The Norse regarded Ragnarok as something far off and mythical, rather than an imminent threat. Flor Edwards, however, grew up believing the world would end in 1993 when she was twelve. She and her parents were members of a Christian apocalyptic cult called The Children of God. Flor explains how she attempted to come to terms with knowing she and her parents would die before she reached adulthood. Malise Ruthven, historian of Muslim theology, examines the links between apocalyptic thinking and early Islam. The political philosopher John Gray discusses how George W Bush responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks by evoking traditions of apocalyptic myth which Gray believes had their roots in Puritan fundamentalism. He explains how, in his opinion, Christian apocalyptic thinking introduced the idea of progress in history. But how do Eastern faiths see the end of the world? Theodore Proferes from the University of London explains how Hinduism and other ancient eastern religions emphasise a cyclical perspective on time. He tells Eleanor about the World Ages, or Yugas, where worlds die and are reborn in a continuous rotation. Tim Barrett, a specialist in the religions of China, reveals how scriptures from many centuries ago are now coming to light and yielding surprising details about Daoist ideas of apocalypse. Author Naomi Alderman is the co-creator of a fitness app called Zombies, Run! She explains why the idea of the zombie apocalypse became a popular theme in the 1960s and tells Eleanor about Jewish visions of the end of the world and the great battle between Leviathan and Behemoth.
At the end of this cataclysmic journey Eleanor asks whether humans have a predisposition towards “end times” thinking, and if so, what purpose does it serve? Does she come to a suitably apocalyptic conclusion?
Norse Mythology and Marvel Comics
What do The Mask, Thor and The Saga Of The Viking Women And Their Voyage To The Waters Of The Great Sea Serpent have in common? And what has this all got to do with Richard Wagner? Norse mythology expert Eleanor Barraclough explains all.
Vikings at the British Museum
Nordic Noir and the Sagas. New Generation thinker Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough is a specialist in Old Norse Literature at Oxford University. She’s just returned from Denmark where she has been studying original manuscripts of Icelandic Sagas – dark tales of murder and mayhem. Eleanor is also an addict of Scandinavian TV crime dramas like The Killing and The Bridge and in her first piece for Night Waves she reflects on the possible relationship between Nordic Noir TV and Old Norse Tales.
Icelandic Culture Discussion
As the Iceland Symphony Orchestra appear at the Proms, Radio 3’s New Generation Thinker and expert in Nordic sagas Eleanor Rosamond Barraclough joins novelist Joanna Kavenna to discuss Icelandic culture.
Their conversation will range from trolls and the myth of Thule to Nordic Noir, from the 19th century British visitors who included William Morris and Anthony Trollope to modern poets Glyn Maxwell and Simon Armitage.
Tove Jansson Review
A review of the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Tove Jansson exhibition, to celebrate the centenary of the Finnish artist and author’s birth.