Considering the appalling behavior shown by some of my forefathers when they were last here, I am amazed and relieved that I am not being met by drawn swords and boiling oil when I meet up with John Emmett and Peter France of Wirral History and Heritage Association who have promised to show me around the Viking Wirral.
Even though our mail exchange have been very civil, for all I know they might have planned a plot to finally get back at one of the bastards. And I would and could not have blamed them. Having been kicked out of Ireland (no doubt on account of bad manners), the Vikings about 1100 years ago roamed the area as if it were their own playground. Plundering here, burning there and in general making a bloody nuisance of themselves.
I don’t know if it’s because we eventually shaped up and settled down, or due to the Wirralians’ forgiving nature, but the way in which I am treated gives no cause for alarm. On the contrary: Cordially I’m greeted, and cordially I’m showed around the area.
Wirral is the northern part of a peninsula framed by the river Mersey with Liverpool in the northeast, river Dee with Chester in the southwest and the Irish Sea in the northwest.
Its gently rolling landscape is as pleasing to the eye today as it was to settlers in prehistory, providing dry building grounds, good soil and ample natural resources. The many and omnipresent bodies of water facilitated and encouraged transportation and communication, and Celts, Romans, Anglo Saxons, Vikings and Normans are among the many groups of people who have made their mark on land- and in waterscape.
My two native, guidian angels are so full of knowledge and enthusiasm that soon both my mind and notebook are on fire. Trying to keep up or jot down everything is impossible. I take in as much as I can, all the while slowly, but surely coming to appreciate the love they have for the area and its rich and many-faceted history. A love constantly nurtured through surveys (mainly using non-intrusive methods), carefully selected diggings, research and protective measures. A devotion generously shared with both the general public and students through lectures, training, guided tours, websites and theme days.
The Wirral experience comprises a glorious multitude of historic and prehistoric delicacies. My eyes are pleased and my mind soothed as we drive through picturesque little villages; The church as always hovering over man and beast, the village green embedding the often even greener little pond, and the most fortunate communities still harboring an operative Red Lion , Fox and Hounds or Hole in the Wall in their midst.
Many of the villages’ inviting looking stone cottages and waddle-and-daub houses have had more alterations, extensions and additions done to them than the average gerascophobic, botox injected and silicon upholstered Holywood star. Leaving no straight lines nor right angles, but an interesting tale of changing times, needs and techniques.
Wherever we walk or drive, we keep following or crossing the extensive road system engineered by the Romans. Churches, in themselves well worth a visit, house elaborately and sometimes uniquely carved Viking grave stones. Pubs’ parking lots (well, at least one) cover remains of assumed Viking longships. Laid down by the same people who on a low, but centrally located hill held “Tings”, or assemblies, where decisions were made, indifferences settled, alliances entered into.
At Meols was, until it got silted up, a port most likely used for as long as people have lived in the area. Numerous finds spanning millenias, relate a never-ending story of subsistence activities, far reaching trade and communications, wars, pursuit of power, control and wealth.
I am being told about and shown the possible site of the crucial turn-of-event-power-structure-and-state-shaping battle field of Brunanburh, a Viking settlement now under excavation in Irby, the exciting and extraordinary find by Wirral Archaeology‘s John and Peter (Treasurer and Chair) of a one out of thirteen known Roman Nerva Coins in the world, the grounds of a Medieval Hospital for unfortunate sea farers…
My friends and the area are like cornucopias, overflowing with stories, history, archaeology. The air is so dense with names, artifacts, sites, stories and sagas, that I quickly realize we are just skimming the surface of a huge prehistoric treasure trove, containing goodies dating all the way back to the stone age. I have had a mouthwatering introduction to the area, a prelude which hopefully is the start of a beautiful and long lasting friendship with The Wirral, its history and ancient and present people.