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About A Week: Eric Bloodaxe

As he strides along a rural track Peter Hinchliffe thinks of Eric Bloodaxe, the Viking war lord.

I’m striding out along a rural track in the Yorkshire village of Lepton, thinking of Eric Bloodaxe.

Over there on the right is Castle Hill, Holme Moss, the high land of Derbyshire, all shiny and bright on this crisp, clear day.

If you could wrap up this view and carry it down to the bland Home Counties, folk would regularly fork out good money for a five-minute look, just to remind themselves of all that’s missing in their flat lives.

So why think of a Viking war lord? Why not just feast on the scenery?

Well this is Thurgory Lane, known locally as T’Oggeries, and all those with imagination who venture along this way are walking back into history.

Thurgory is the Viking word for burial ground. In a field between the lane and Wakefield Road there’s an unusual clump of trees, their heads and shoulders bent in permanent obeisance to the insistent highland breeze.

This copse could well mark the site where warrior-settlers who arrived in longboats were buried 1,200 years ago.

All around us are place names which are reminders of Dane Law. Lanes, villages, townships which confirm that Scandinavians with itchy feet found Pennine hills and valleys most appealing.

Places ending in -by, -thorpe, -thwaite. Denby, Gawthorpe, Ravensthorpe, Linthwaite, Slaithwaite. All of Viking origin. So too is Thurstonland and Thurgoland.

Many a “true blue Englishman’’ in these parts is a descendent of immigrants who came marauding across the cold North Sea.

If they watched the BBC’s splendid Walking With Vikings series they were, all unawares, dipping into the family album.

Viking words linger on in Yorkshire dialect. To gawp, meaning to stare open-mouthed, is derived from gapa. To lug, meaning to pull or carry something, comes from lugge.

Scuttle, as in coal scuttle, is from skuttil, agate, meaning to begin something or be on your way, from gata, and bait, a packed meal, from beit. Pitmen in these parts went to the coal face carrying their lunchtime or back-shift bait.

Then there’s hey up, that wonderful expression meaning look out, or be careful.

Long ago while dining with my Texas bride in a restaurant overlooking Niagara Falls, I knocked over a glass of water. “Hey up!’’ said I. “What does hey up mean?’’ asked Joyce.

“Well if you were a Yorkshire lass, coming down that river in a rowing boat’’ said I, looking far below at the exploding waters of the Niagara, “if you glanced over your shoulder and suddenly saw what your were heading into… What you’d say is hey up!’’

I should have said a Viking lass. Hey up is of Swedish origin.

Did Eric Bloodaxe and his witchy Queen Gunnhild come riding through Lepton? That’s not beyond the bounds of possibility. A meet-the-people tour round his Northumbrian lands…

Coins were issued in Eric’s name in York - a day’s ride away on a good horse.

Bloodaxe. A name to bring shudders to the spine. But there’s a suggestion now that Eric was a henpecked husband.

There’s a lot more still to be discovered about the Vikings, in our area and throughout the former kingdom of Northumbria.

By the way, if you go looking for Thurgory Lane you my have difficulty in finding it. Some 21st Century marauding bandit has apparently nicked the road sign..


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