I’m delighted to welcome Christina Courtenay with a guest post and giveaway as part of the blog tour organised by Rachel’s Random Resources.
In the 860s AD when the Vikings first started to settle on Iceland, it was completely uninhabited. There had apparently been a few Irish monks who had somehow made their way there to live in isolation, and possibly the odd ship that had been blown off course, but unlike most other places that were colonised, the newcomers didn’t have to fight anyone for possession of the land. It was just there for the taking. That must have been an amazing feeling!
The Vikings who arrived first were mostly from Norway as it is only about a week’s journey west across the sea from the Norwegian coast. They were used to a harsh landscape and climate, but what was new to them was the lack of suitable trees for use as building materials. When I drove round the south-western part of Norway a month ago, the first thing I noticed were the huge forests of fir trees, pine, oak and many other varieties. They covered every available acre that wasn’t cultivated, or so it seemed, and even managed to cling to the steep mountainsides in places. Along the fjords, they were reflected in the still waters and it was a stunning sight.
In Iceland, however, the only trees that grew in abundance were birch trees – small and fairly stunted ones at that. For people who were used to building great halls out of huge logs and long, thick planks, this must have been quite a headache. How were they supposed to manage with these smaller versions? Clearly, a new method had to be adopted.
There was plenty of stone and turf, and this is what they used. Houses built out of layers of turf are well insulated and therefore very suitable for the cold climate. Someone who came along on those early voyages must have known how best to construct such dwellings as there is a special technique to it if you want to be successful.
To begin with, you have to build a foundation of stones. The turf can’t be places straight onto the ground as that would make it damp and then the walls might collapse. (The turf is dried out before use).
Once the foundation has been laid, a timber frame is constructed. If they couldn’t find large enough trees for this, the Vikings might have been lucky enough to collect some driftwood along the sea shore. Huge logs sometimes floated across from Canada/Newfoundland and they would be perfect for building with. (I spotted some myself when I visited Iceland earlier this year).
Then you make the walls by piling up the turf in between the frame structure. The most insulation would be gained by having two layers – and inner and an outer one – with soil in between. On the inside, upright planks could be added if you wanted the walls to look nice, or one could put up woven hangings to cover the rough surface. Wooden benches were built along the walls on either side and a large stone hearth added in the middle of the room. (Most of these early turf houses were built along the same principles as Viking longhouses back home, with one large room for eating, sleeping and cooking, and possibly a store room at one end and a byre at the other).
The roof was also made out of turf, but with sheets of tree bark underneath it to stop rainwater or melting snow from coming through. It had to be sloping and sometimes goats could graze up there.
I was lucky enough to visit a reconstructed turf house at Eiriksstaðir in Iceland (see http://eiriksstadir.is/) and was amazed at how cosy and dry it was inside. The benches were covered in straw and furs, making them comfortable to sit on, and the fire would have added warmth and light. I can imagine that it might have been a little bit claustrophobic having to spend all those winter months crammed inside one building with lots of other people, but at least they were safe, warm and dry!
Born centuries apart. Bound by a love that defied time.
She couldn’t believe her eyes. The runes were normally so reliable and she had never doubted them before.
Madison Berger is visiting Dublin with her family for a Viking re-enactment festival, when she chances upon a small knife embedded in the banks of the Liffey. Maddie recognises what the runes on the knife’s handle signify: the chance to have her own adventures in the past.
Maddie only intends to travel back in time briefly, but a skirmish in 9th century Dublin results in her waking up on a ship bound for Iceland, with the man who saved her from attack.
Geir Eskilsson has left his family in Sweden to boldly carve out a life of his own. He is immediately drawn to Maddie, but when he learns of her connection to his sisters-in-law, he begins to believe that Fate has played a partin bringing them together. Amidst the perils that await on their journey to a new land, the truest battle will be to win Maddie’s heart and convince her that the runes never lie…
Christina Courtenay writes historical romance, time slip and time travel stories, and lives in Herefordshire (near the Welsh border) in the UK. Although born in England, she has a Swedish mother and was brought up in Sweden – hence her abiding interest in the Vikings. Christina is a former chairman of the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association and has won several awards, including the RoNA for Best Historical Romantic Novel twice with Highland Storms (2012) and The Gilded Fan (2014), and the RNA Fantasy Romantic Novel of the year 2021 with Echoes of the Runes. Tempted by the Runes (time travel published by Headline 9th December 2021) is her latest novel. Christina is a keen amateur genealogist and loves history and archaeology (the armchair variety).
Win a signed paperback copy of Tempted By The Runes, a pair of silver Thor’s hammer earrings and a Thor’s hammer Christmas tree bauble (Open INT)
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