A KEY figure in the research and excavation of Viking archaeology in Cumbria in the 1980s gave a talk at the Friends of Eden and Penrith Museum. 

Steve Dickinson directed a dig from 1981 to 1990 in the thirteen-mile-long Kentmere Valley at Byant's Gill, near Windermere at the border of the Lake District National Park. 

This was done as part of a wider project analysing upland archaeology in the Lake District. 

The Westmorland Gazette: The Bryant's Gill longhouse dig The Bryant's Gill longhouse dig (Image: Steve Dickinson)

The resulting outline of the footings of the Viking period longhouse found at the site shows a layout which lasted into medieval times and beyond. The main entrance to the building was via a cross-passage, centrally placed, with quarters for people on one side, usually to the left and for animals to the right. 

Internally a large part of the human area was in the form of a hall, along the sides of which were ranged benches and tables for communal meals, with a raised platform at one end.  One benefit of this layout was the warmth generated by the animals. 

The Westmorland Gazette: A plan of the posthole array of the 63m long hall located by examining satellite images of Gosforth Parish.A plan of the posthole array of the 63m long hall located by examining satellite images of Gosforth Parish. (Image: Steve Dickinson)

Steve said that although the Kentmere longhouse was one of only a few found in England, there were far more in the Nordic countries where the Vikings came from. 

He said that Vikings were more than warriors. They were nomads who travelled as far afield as China and their colony in Iceland. In areas where they settled, they formed close communities, supporting each other in times of need and they were hospitable to visitors. 

Unfortunately, the Vikings left almost no pottery as evidence. However, cores of lake sediments in Windermere, pollen in Coniston and some place names contain clues to how the Vikings lived in the area. 

Spearheads have been excavated as high as 1,000 ft up in the fells. 

The west Cumbrian coast, with its relative lack of rocks and cliffs, offered safe landing places for the fragile wooden Viking longships and the various river estuaries offered them safe haven during winter. 

It is believed that the coast around what is now Gosforth formed a Viking power base known as Lothlinn, with as many as five settlements inland from there.

In answer to an audience query as to whether the Vikings kept animals, Steve said that no evidence has been found in the Kentmere area that the longships had woollen sails, so it is likely that flocks had been kept to provide fleeces for spinning and weaving.