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Norstead Viking Village & Port of Trade sign
Norstead Viking Village & Port of Trade sign
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Have you ever wished you could travel back 1,000 years to see how the Vikings sailed ships to the New World? What was daily life like for the Vikings who settled in Newfoundland?

Norstead Viking Village, located north of St. Anthony, NL (1.2 miles northeast of L'Anse aux Meadows) answers these questions about Vikings.

The recreated 11th-century port and commercial trading site features four historically correct buildings, costumed re-enactors and a replica knarr (Viking ship).

Boat house

With maps of Norstead in our hands, we followed a boardwalk to the boat house. The triangular wooden structure is covered with a sod roof that slopes from its peak to the ground.

Inside, we found the chieftain, Bjorn, who was wearing a green wool cape, decorated with the emblem of a wild boar. Towering above him was the full-sized wooden knarr.

Vikings used ocean-going traders, like this one, to explore the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador. It was a shallow-draft cargo ship, built to float in as little as 3.5 feet of water.

"This boat is named Snorri after the first boy to be born in Vinland," said Bjorn. "It was built on Hermit Island, Maine, in 1996."

Boardwalk to sod-covered boat house
Boardwalk to sod-covered boat house
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Size of Snorri

How big is Snorri? Its length is 54 feet. The width is 16 feet and the depth is eight feet.

"The knarr weighs 12 tons and carries 13 tons of ballast," explained Bjorn. "Its 25-square-foot sail is made from canvas."

He explained that the Norse made sails from wool. "They wove strips on 9th-century looms and braided them together with walrus hide."

The yardarm is 27 feet long—well over the width of the boat. The mast is 47 feet long. It rests on the floor of the boat house next to the Snorri.

Open deck

The Snorri had an open deck. We climbed some wooden steps next to the Norse ship and looked inside.

We had just traveled around Newfoundland on an Adventure Canada ship. It was warm and comfortable inside, even when we reached the pack ice along the coast of Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula.

We wondered how Norse sailors survived the cold without an enclosed deck.

Bjorn points out rivets in the Snorri Viking ship
Bjorn points out rivets in the Snorri Viking ship
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Viking ship construction

Bjorn told us that the knarr was built mostly from pine, because it bends and flexes. "The planks are yellow pine from Florida. Norse shipbuilders would have used Norwegian pine."

He pointed out the prow, built from a single oak tree, and the 2,700 rivets in the planks. "They came from a bridge in England," he said.

"More than 1,800 willow dowels hold the overlapping planks together. The ship is covered with a mixture of pine tar, linseed oil and turpentine," he told us. "If the concoction was cooked together properly, it felt like rubber when it dried."

Sailing the Snorri

Bjorn told us that, in 1997, a crew of 12 men tried to sail the Snorri from the southern tip of Greenland to Baffin Island and then down to Newfoundland and Labrador. They were not successful because the rudder wasn't in the right position and the ropes kept breaking.

As we examined the Snorri's rudder, which looked like a large oar, Bjorn told us that the design of the Viking knarr was based on archeological evidence. "After unearthing a Norse ship, they realized that they had to move Snorri's steering board back by 11 inches," he said.

The following year, after attaching the rudder in the correct position, the crew successfully traveled the 1,500 miles between Greenland and L'Anse aux Meadows in 87 days.

Gudrid and Deirdre warm themselves by fire in the chieftain's hall
Gudrid and Deirdre warm themselves by fire in the chieftain's hall
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Chieftain's hall

Leaving the boat house, we walked to Norstead's chieftain's hall. Bjorn's wife, Gudrid, and a young lady named Deirdre met us inside the sod-roofed dwelling. "Welcome to our home," said Gudrid.

We sat on sheepskin-covered benches around a central fireplace. As we warmed our hands over the fire, we noticed clothing drying on a line overhead.

Bellows rested on the stone oven next to two overturned bowls. "The pottery bowls were dried in the kiln between the church and blacksmith's shop," said Gudrid.

Furs and skins covered the bed used by the chieftain and his wife. "Most people here sleep semi-sitting because they have bronchitis from the smoky fires," she said. "Norse women have a life expectancy of 25 to 35 years. Men live longer."

Viking food

"You are welcome to spend the night," said Gudrid. "If you do your share of work, you'll get two meals a day." We saw a spit for roasting chickens by the fire and a chain for hanging a pot over the flames.

Woman spins raw wool into yarn with spindle
Woman spins raw wool into yarn with spindle
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

We asked about what the Norse ate. Gudrid explained that they didn't grow anything, but they ate eggs, oats and bread. "We hope the next ship brings us a pig," she said. "Our main meal is usually stew."

She offered us some delicious sourdough bread with partridgeberry jam. "We don't have yeast, but we have honey, which we ferment to make a starter. We bake the bread for 20 minutes in the oven."

Spinning wool

We noticed Deirdre's knitted hat, made with a style of knitting called nalbinding. In the next room, we watched a woman spinning raw wool into yarn with a low-whorl spindle.

"Ladies need to know how to knit with a single needle and how to spin with a drop spindle," she said. Using a needle made from moose antler, she showed us how she connected loops of yarn to knit mittens, socks and hats.

As we left Norstead Village, we saw nalbinding knitwear for sale in the gift shop.

The living museum is open daily from mid-June to mid-September. Activities vary, depending on the day and the weather.

Whether you see costumed interpreters knitting, making candles, forging iron, looking after animals or reading rune stones to predict the future, Norstead Village makes it easy to learn how Norse people lived during the Viking era.


Norstead Village

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