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      August 2014 > In search of Noggin the Nog

In search of Noggin the Nog

“In the Lands of the North, where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale...”

Self guided walking holidays in Norway

Thus began the haunting narrative of one of the greatest Nordic sagas ever told, one that has been ingrained on my memory ever since I first heard the dulcet tones of Oliver Postgate as a child, his voice maintaining its steady dreamlike pace as he recounted the next daring exploit of that most heroic of Viking heroes, Noggin the Nog.

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I listened in rapt awe, wondering what he would get up to on his next adventure. How would he defeat his arch-enemy, Nogbad the Bad; and just where in the world was this magical kingdom of the Nogs? For many years, I simply assumed that the sagas were set in some fictional land drawn from Postgate’s imagination – a wild, dramatic land of jagged mountains and deep, black fjords that create the perfect backdrop for his stories – an idealised almost Disneyfied Vikinglandia. How wrong I was. The land of the Nogs does truly exist – and I should know, for I have been there and lived to tell the tale.

My Northland saga continues...

As our longship (well, diesel catamaran in reality) forged its way across the dark, foreboding sea into the face of an icy Arctic wind, a long line of almost imperceptible jagged mountains began to slowly appear on the distant horizon, like a row of dragon’s teeth, dark and sinister, growing with every mile we sailed. This was our destination – the fabled ‘Land of the Nogs’ of my childhood, yet today known as the very real Lofoten Islands, lying off Norway’s far north-west coast, beyond the Arctic Circle – very much accessible and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring places I have had the good fortune to visit.

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When approached by sea – the best way to arrive – it’s easy to see why they are often referred to as ‘The Wall’. The archipelago blocks the way ahead, a seemingly impenetrable line of mountains that begs the question, ‘why would anyone ever settle here?’ But, as you draw nearer and nearer, the perspective opens out – green, low-lying coastal meadows begin to appear and the mountains silently part to reveal passes and fertile valleys, inlets and natural harbours, where the hardy Lofoteners have eked out a hard-won living for centuries.

Self guided walking holidays in Norway

True, their ancestors were Vikings in every sense of the word, and a real-life ‘Noggin’ is known to have lived on these islands. In 1981, at the village of Borg, a farmer unearthed the signs of a once mighty house – a chieftain’s great hall – which startled archaeologists by its immense size. Based on its ‘footprint’, a magnificent reconstruction of that long-forgotten ‘Heorot’ has been recreated and, today, it is home to the fabulous Lofotr Viking Museum, which brilliantly captures how such communities lived on the islands over 1000 years ago. As I wander beneath its lofty beamed roof, costumed modern-day Vikings (the name comes from the Old Norse phrase fara í víking, ‘to go on an expedition’) entertain visitors with displays of traditional woodworking crafts, cookery and noisy swordplay. Down on the lake, they will even take you out on a longship.

Self guided walking holidays in Norway

This mighty chieftain’s hall is no imaginary ‘grand design’, but an authentic reconstruction of the 9th-century hall that once stood here based on the archaeological evidence that can be seen in the field beyond. It is the largest medieval great hall ever found in Scandinavia at 83m long; its location indicating quite clearly that the earl, or jarl, of these isles was indeed a mighty warrior and powerful leader of many men.

As I sprawled back on animal furs, clutching a foaming flagon of ale served by a typically blonde, blue-eyed descendant of those seafaring warriors, I became utterly absorbed by the heady atmosphere and, above the hum and chatter, I’m sure I could hear the raucous ghostly voices of those loyal karls echoing down through the centuries, taking their rightful place in the mead hall as they paid homage to their jarl.

My quest was at an end – I had indeed found the fabled land of Noggin the Nog and, for a few fleeting moments, I was him!

Viking connections:

In Helsingør on the Danish Riviera north of Copenhagen, the imposing statue of the Viking God Holger sits deep within the dark dungeons of Kronberg Castle, patiently waiting to be called to save his kinsmen in time of need.

Olso’s Viking Ship Museum is home to the enormous Oseberg ship, which dates from c.800AD. It was discovered in a large burial mound near Tønsberg, south of Oslo and is widely regarded as one of the greatest relics from the Viking Age.

Self guided walking holidays in NorwayIceland was settled by Vikings in the 9th century and is famous for the many epic adventures regaled in the Icelandic sagas. Archaeological sites include Egil’s homestead at Borg on the west coast and Eiriksstaðir in the north – home of Eirik the Red, discoverer of Greenland.

A Viking longhouse (72 feet long) and barn, dating from the 10th century have been excavated at Kvivik in the Faroe Islands. Only the bottom rows of stone still remain, while artefacts are on display in the Historical Museum in Tórshavn, 18 miles away.

Lindisfarne Priory on the Northumberland Coast was the site of the first Viking raid on England in 793, a raid that was to lead the long-term colonisation of eastern England, the Scottish islands and parts of Ireland.

One of those early settlements became an important centre for trade, and today you can visit the Jorvik Viking Centre in York, a reconstruction of the Viking settlement that once stood on this site in Yorkshire.

Self guided walking holidays in Norway
['Noggin the Nog' was created by Oliver Postgate & Peter Firmin; the films remain the copyright of Smallfilms.]

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