Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Viking and His Ship

 Three Norwegian Viking Ships
Vikingeskibsmuseet Bygdøy, Oslo, (foto: Google)

 We face the technical skill and knowledge of the Viking in their ships - the ship is the finest they have achieved in the material culture. They developed the best ships of their time, ships which were a precondition for their journeys around the world. The ship was his instrument of power, his joy, his dearest possession - whether the ship slipped quietly from land on its splendid keel or it was figthing the waves with its ornamented stem - the ship was his favourite child, created by his skilled hand and spoken of in affectionate words in songs and poetry of the scald.

In spite of the indissoluble connection of the Viking and his ship only few ship wrecks have been found, compared to the number of ships the Vikings had according to contemporary sources.Three of the most remarkable ships from the Viking Age rest together in the Viking Ship Museum at Bygdøy, Oslo, in Norway.  They were discovered and excavated separately between 1867 and 1904, and they all date from the ninth century AD. All were used as burials of important people from the Viking Age. Each of the three ships — the Tune, the Gokstad and the Oseberg - was hermetically sealed and, thus, preserved by the blue clay, stones and turf which covered them. Mounds were then built over the ship burial. The Tune, the Gokstad and the Oseberg ship have all the attributes of the longship: the mast can be laid down and the ship can be rowed, but they are not made just because of the speed - spaciousness and good seamanship were also a priority.

The Viking ships were famous for their construction. During the Viking period there was no ship, which could be compared to a Viking ship. It was so superior to other ships that the equipment was copied by ship-builders all over Europe. The Viking ships were clinker-built, which means that the planks were not placed upon each other, but were overlapping. In contrast to ship-constructions from earlier times the Viking ships were equipped with a keel. The keel caused that the Vikings had benefit from the square sails and made it possible to cross against the wind. Now it was also possible to develope trading ships, since there was no need  for a big crew - and the ships could travel over greater distances, since they were not dependent on rowers all the time. The trading ships were short, broad and deep, with a deck front and back, and midship was the open store room. They were stable ships and they made a moderate headway.

The war ships were long and slender, and they had a shallow draught, and they could be driven both with sails and oars. They were ideal for a quick assault on klosters and fragile towns along the coast. The war ships were extremely fast, and because of the shallow draught they could be sailed almost up upon the beach, and the Vikings could just walk ashore and start an attack, before the poor inhabitants were able to escape or organize a defense. But there were other types of ships -  like the Oseberg ship, which might be described as a luxury ship. It was incredibly beautifully shaped, but not fit to operate in the open sea. A ship like that must have made a great impression, when it was sailing into a Norse fjord on a pretty summer's day.

There was not much comfort upon a Viking ship. There were no cabins, and the Vikings were sitting, eating and sleeping under the open sky. It was not a problem while sailing between local districts, but worse if the journey went to Greenland in biting cold and terrible storm. But the journeys were made - both to Iceland, Greenland and all the way to America. Thanks to their ships the Viking went far and wide. The ships could sail into almost every river, they could  handle the tough sea in the Atlantic, and they were not more heavy than they could be carried across land by the crew, if this was necessary on a short stretch.

In the European ship-history the Nordic ships from the Viking period are not in a starting position, but a final position. They mark the end of a century and the long development of the clinker-built rowing boat, which gradually gets a keel, a mast and a sail. Through the Viking period these longships were enlarged, Cnut the Greats largest ships were possibly twice as large as the Gokstad ship. But it was still the same type: a ship which might be used both in battle and in mercantile transport. The Baeyux-tapestry from the late Viking period shows the same type of war ship in all situations. But from the end of the Viking period and forward two main accounts were taken, speed and movement in war and broadth and space in peace.

The war fleet continued to be built after the same schedule, long narrow ships with appromixately equal use of oars and sail, pointed in front and stern and with both bows a little above midships. This was the ship of magnates and kings, while the private conscripted war ships might have been shorter and broader. The trade ships were a new development in the beginning  -  they became broader and more round in order to load more, and they went deeper into the water, the front and the back were higher, where the crew and the rowers were, while the low midship was used for storing wares high up along the mast. A trade ship like this was probably the so-called knarr, which went from Norway to Greenland and Iceland, while the word byrding was used for a short, broad transport ship, used as a provisioning ship in larger fleets.

Viking ship decoration in Fåborg, Funen
The real development speeded up among the early Hanseatics, with the Frisians beginning already in the Viking period. A new type of ship was the koggen, which is completely without oars. The kogge was a ship, which could carry a heavy load, it was big and clumpsy and with emphasiz upon a high up-building in the ends of the ship, front and back. The kogge was dependent on the wind, in return there was no need of the rowers, and more load could be taken. The longship of the Viking period is the extended and the enlarged clinky built boat. A boat like the leather boat and the tribe boat were also used in the homelands of the Viking, the leather boat at sea and the tribe boat in the quiet lakes and the calm river streams.  

Until the findings of the Danish Viking ships, the knowledge about Viking ships in general came from especially the three Norwegian ships: Tune, Gokstad and Oseberg. All three findings were burials. Common to all three is that they were reasonably well-preserved. They are three different types of ship  - and they show the development from Iron Age ship to Viking ship. The first achievement in this period was the  introduction of the keel. The Norwegian findings are from the beginning of the Viking period, and the Skuldelev findings (from Denmark) are from the late Viking period. This means there are now ship-examples from the whole period, and it has been possible to identify the development in the ship-building history from Iron Age over Viking period till the Middle Ages.

The Norwegian Viking Ships
(on exhibition at the Viking Ship Museum, Bygdøy, Oslo)

The Tune ship, Bygdøy
1) The Tune ship was dug out in 1867 from a gigantic gravehill, it had been placed down in stiff blue clay which had preserved the wood. A burial chamber was placed across the stern, built in oak with a flat roof. The burial chamber had already been plundered in ancient times. In the chamber were some burnt bones from a man and a horse, (the horse had been buried standing). There was only little left from the equipment, like a wooden spade, some carved wood pieces, pieces of clothing, rests of weapons, a few pearls etc. The ship itself is rather incomplete, but it was originally ab. 20 m long and ab. 4,35 m broad in midship, and ab. 1,20 m deep from rail to the lower edge of the keel. It is built in oak, the rudder is fir. The ship was placed in the mound with an upright mast. It had 11 pairs of oars, but they had been removed before the burial. The ship is characterized as a good solid ship for practical use without any decorations. It lay low on the water, obviously adapted to low land waters, like the mouth of a river.

In 1993 was made dendrochronological examinations of the oak of the Tune ship and of the rests of the burial chamber, which was also built in oak. Samples were taken from the ship, where one sample still had the sapwood. The result of the examinations dated the wood - which was used for the ship-building - and it showed that it was felled ab. 910 AD. The Viking ships were built of fresh wood, therefore the building time of the ship is  910 AD. Two samples were taken from the timber of the burial chamber, but here was no sapwood. The samples showed that the wood of the chamber might have been felled earliest 910 AD. The burial took probably place, when the ship was 10-15 years old , ab. 920-925 AD. The ship was relatively new, when it was used as a burial ship, which is the same for the other burial ships, the Gokstad and the Oseberg ship. In all three cases the ships were no more than 10-15 years old, when they were placed in the mounds.

The Gokstad ship
2) The Gokstad ship was dug out  from a 50 m broad and 5 m high earth bank upon an underground of blue clay. The ship had been placed rather deep in the well-preserving clay with the bow towards the sea. The mast was upright, but cut off in height with the roof of the timbered burial chamber in the sternpost. This chamber had also been plundered. A chief was buried here, lying in his bed in a pretty dress with his weapons; according to the skeleton a heavily build man, 1,78 m tall. He had plentiful equipment with him in his grave. In the front of the ship were 3 rowboats, 5 beds, in midship some kitchen utensils, kettles in bronze and iron, plates, cups, candlesticks, barrels and wooden spades, and also a gameboard and a sleigh with carved decorations. In the chamber were pieces of woolen clothing and silk with goldimpact, rests of a leather purse, an axe and a belt buckle in iron and strap fittings in lead and gilt bronze. Outside the chamber were bones of a peacock. Close outside the ship were 18 killed animals, 12 horses and 6 dogs. This grave at the Gokstad ship dates back to ab. 900. Dendrochronological dating suggests that the ship was built of timber that was felled around 890 AD.

The Gokstad ship itself is well-preserved, built completely of oak, it is about 23,30 m long from stem to stem, 5,25 m broad in the middle, ab. 1,95 m deep from rail to the lower edge of the keel. The weight is calculated to be ab. 20,2 tons. In 1893 a copy was built which crossed the Atlantic successfully. Compared to earlier ships from Nordic Iron Age the Viking period ship shows a progress: the flat bottom planks are replaced by a real keel, which is the backbone of the ship and at the same time gives it strenght enough to resist the water pressure from outside. The keel and each stem of the Gokstad ship are made from one piece of oak. The joining technique was clinching and sealing with tarred woolen cords. The ship had besides mast and sail 16 pairs of oars. When it stood in the mound it had along each rail 32 shields at each side; two in each oar-hole, the shields - painted black and yellow - formed a coherent set from front to back. This was meant for decoration when the ship was in port, not when it was out. The rudder had the shape as a large oar-blade cut in one piece of oak, 3,30 m long and placed outside on starbord side. The captain who sailed the copy of the Gokstad ship said that "the rudder was one of the evidences of the insight and experience of the Viking ship-building and seamanship. The rudder is ingenious," he said. "without any inconvenience a man could be steering the tiller in all kinds of weather and in the roughest sailing".

The mast was made of fir and was about 13 m high. The sail was probably a large square sail. The Sagas and other literature mention blue and redstriped sails or completely red. The Gotland picture stones often show diamond patterned-sails. In the front of the Gokstad ship was the iron anchor. Here were the oars  too, made of fir and with a lenght of 5,30 - 5,85 m, the oar-blades were small and lancet-shaped, the level of the oars was 0,48 above water level midship and a little more towards the ends of the ship. There wasn't any seats for the rowers, neither in the Gokstad or the Oseberg ship, maybe the rowers in Viking period used some loose ship-chests, a part of their own private equipment, as a seat.

The Gokstad ship
The gangway plank was found too, it was a 7,40 m long and narrow pine plank. Besides were found four heavy planks, which ended in carved animal heads, probably rests of planks from a tent, meant to be used upon land, while the ship was anchored. The animal heads were not only a decoration, but also meant as a threat against everything evil. The buried chief in the Gokstad ship had not less than eight beds, among these two magnificent beds with carved animal heads, meant as a guardian for the sleeping - these two beds probably belonged to the land tent. Besides were rests of duvets and blankets, the colour rests showed black and yellow as the dominating colours, but also red. The prominent properties of the Gokstad ship show according to experts a solidity and complete care in every detail.

Replicas of the Gokstad ship: The Viking, an exact replica of the Gokstad ship, crossed the Atlantic ocean from Bergen, Norway, to be exhibited at the world's Columbian Exposition in Chicago during 1893. Other replicas include the Gaia, which currently has Sandefjord as its home port, the Munin, (a half scale replica) located in Vancouver, B.C., the "Islendingur" in the Viking World Museum in Iceland, the Hugin in Kent, England and the replica housed at the Hjemkost Museum in Moorhead, MN.

The Oseberg ship
3) The Oseberg ship , the famous elegant revelation of a Viking ship. This ship is widely celebrated and has been called one of the finest finds to have survived the Viking Age. The ship and some of its contents are displayed at theViking Ship Museum in Bygdøy. It was found in 1903 and was dug out the next year from a 6,50 m high and 40 m broad peat-mound. The peat in connection to the blue clay of the underground created the preservative elements, which kept the magnificent carvings of the Oseberg ship. The ship was placed like the two others, north-south with the front to the south, towards the sea. Sinkings and pressure had damaged the ship, and disturbances like grave robbery had occurred once upon a time. The ship had been tied by a big stone in the hill itself, and behind the mast was a timbered burial chamber. Here were the burials of two women. One young 25-30 years, from her skeleton was only left little in the chamber, but more outside, ( the grave robbers had obviously wanted to removed her body). The other woman was older, 60-70 years and strongly marked by bone diseases, arthritis and stiffness of the spine.

It is not clear which one was the more important in life or whether one was sacrificed to accompany the other in death. The opulence of the burial rite and the grave-goods suggests that this was a burial of very high status. One woman wore a very fine red wool dress with a lozenge twill pattern (a luxury commodity), and a fine white linen veil in a gauze weave, while the other wore plainer blue wool dress with a wool veil, showing some stratification in their social status. Neither woman wore anything entirely made of silk, although small silk strips were appliqued onto a tunic worn under the red dress. Dendrochronological analysis of timbers in the grave chamber dates the burial to the autumn of 834. Although the high-ranking woman's identity is unknown, it has been suggested that it is the burial of queen Åsa of the Yngling clan, mother of Halfdan the Black (Halvdan Svarte) and grandmother of Harald Fairhair (Harald Hårfager).  Recent tests of the women's remains suggest that they lived in Agder in Norway, just as queen Åsa of the Yngling clan. This theory has been challenged, and some think that she may have been a völva.

Already in 1960 the Norwegian archaeologist A.W.Brøgger put forward the theory that the Oseberg-princess was queen Åsa, which did fit well with the dating, and according to the finding of plant rests the burial must have taken place in August-September. .

There were also the skeletal remains of 14 horses, an ox and three dogs found on the ship. Examinations of fragments of the skeletons have provided more insight into their lives. The younger woman had a broken collarbone, initially thought to be evidence that she was a human sacrifice, but a closer examination showed that the bone had been healing for some time. Her teeth also showed signs she used a metal toothpick, a rare 9th century luxury. Both women had a diet composed mainly of meat, another luxury when most Vikings ate fish. However, there was not enough DNA to tell if they were related, for instance a queen and her daughter.

Oseberg waggon
The two women had a rich equipment in the chamber: beds with duvets, blankets, pillows, several chests and bins, one with wild apples, four magnificent carved animal head posts, a woven frieze for wall decoration, two weave-stools, iron rattles, the rattles were like the animal heads made for scaring evil powers away. The grave robbers had entered the mound from the south, they had cleared a 3 m broad tunnel to the front of the ship, and they finally reached the burial chamber and broke a hole in the roof. In the front of the ship were many things of greatest historical significance and value. First of all a four-wheeled decorated waggon and 4 sleighs, these sleighs were decorated with carvings in a magnificent way; 2 land-tents, 3 beds, a stool, a hand-loom, a round stick with runes, three wooden bins, several wooden ribs, many oars, a big bailer, an anchor-stick, wooden tubs, gangway planks and much more. In the back of the ship was kitchen utensils: axes with handles, iron knives, wooden plates and spoons, two iron kettles, a kettle-rack, a hand grinder, etc. Upon a couple of oak planks were an oxe. Here and there upon the ship were found fruits, corn and seeds from plants, two kinds of apples, walnuts, hazelnuts, wheat, cress and the blue-dye plant vaid.

Oseberg sleigh
The so-called "Buddha bucket" (Buddha-bøtte), brass and cloisonné enamel ornament of a bucket (pail) handle in the shape of a figure sitting with crossed legs. The bucket is made from yew wood, held together with brass strips, and the handle is attached to two anthropomorphic figures compared to depictions of the Buddha in lotus posture, although any connection is most uncertain. More relevant is the connection between the patterned enamel torso and similar human figures in the Gospel books of the Insular art of the British Isles, such as Book of Durrow.

More mundane items such as agricultural and household tools were also found. A series of textiles included woolen garments, imported silks and narrow tapestries. The Oseberg burial is one of the few sources of Viking Age textiles, and the wooden cart is the only complete Viking age cart found so far. A bedpost shows one of the few period examples of the use of what has been dubbed the valknut symbol.

The Oseberg ship itself was well-preserved and built completely of oak, except part of the rail, which is beech. It is ab. 21.45 long from stem to stem, 5,10 m broad in the middle, ab. 1,60 m deep from rail to under the edge of the keel. Although the Oseberg ship is constructed and built according to the same schedule as the other two burial ships, it is obvious that it was more slender and weaker than these. It has few rooms inside ship for provisions, and the oar-holes were not made to be closed from outside, which is necessary in high seas. The oars, 15 couple, were short 3.70- 4 m -  they were elegant and decorated, made of fir and all quite new; they were obviously made for the burial. The rudder seemed also new and not very practical in use, the same for the mast. So the experts believe that the Oseberg ship at the time of the burial was a put away ship, which now had to be completed for its last use.

But even when the Oseberg ship was new, it was not meant for rough long voyages or hard use. It was a luxury ship and built like a luxury ship from the beginning. The Oseberg ship is captivating with its grace and purity and with its magnificent and wellkept ornamental decoration. The shape is absolutely perfect, the front of the ship is on both sides decorated with a pretty upwards rising frieze in elegant shaped ornaments, the friezes look like plant vines, but they are not vegetarian elements, they are genuine old Norse animal ornamentation as it looked like around year 800,  a free and yet scholarly academic drawing, an old ornamental art and never failing, like the almost threehundred-year old Nordic animal ornamenation in the beginning of the Viking period, when it was done by a master's hand.

Another ornamentation at the Oseberg ship is also in animal style, but of another character. Its animals are Baroque heavy plastic creatures, they are not gracious, on the contrary they are ugly and with a robust humour. They form a new style in the young Viking period, probably inspired by a fresh unconventional Viking perception from Frankish, Carolingish decorative classical lion-images, they have amused the Vikings and were re-shaped into unprecedented tumbling clown animals and foolish creatures,  the socalled "gripping beasts" (gribedyr). The bow and stern of the ship are elaborately decorated with complex woodcarvings with those characteristic "gripping beasts".  The stem o f the Oseberg ship ends in a high spiral with a snake's head, the upper section of the sternpost is missing, but it might have been shaped as the snake's tail.  The ship appeared as a fabulous beast with a shining head and tail and with a broad stomach filled with humans, plowing the waves. 

Main source: Johannes Brøndsted, Vikingerne, Gyldendals Forlag 1960.

Other sources: Vikingaskeppet Oseberg - Sverre Kruger, Dronning Åsa av Oseberg - Per Holck, The Oseberg Ship Burial - Norwegian National League - Vikingeskibsmuseet, Oslo - Vikingeskibsmuseet, Roskilde - Wikipedia. 

photo: grethe bachmann and photocopy from Johannes Brøndsted: Vikingerne.
photocopy from wikipedia.

Later: 2) The Viking and his Ship:The Danish Viking ships.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ghosts and Legends in Danish Manors.

Hindsgavl Castle - 
The white Lady and other ghosts...

Hindsgavl today, with restaurant The White Lady.

Northwest of the present Hindsgavl castle outside the park lies a flat meadow, surrounded by high banks on three sides and with the waters of Lillebælt on the fourth. In the middle of the meadow, close to the water stands a high castle bank. It is the romantic ruins of the castle Gammelborg which was once a strong part in the fortification of the strait of Lillebælt and the island of Funen, but Swedes, floods and decay brought the castle into downfall - and now there are only vague foundations of the proud houses, which once stood on the bank with a view to the town Kolding and up and down the strait. It was said that it was the giant Grim, who built the first houses of the castle - and the place was first called Grimborg. The legend says so! A nunnery was built inlands at the same time. It was well protected by the castle, and between the castle and the nunnery was a church.

The Princess who became a Nun.
Hindsgavl, the castle bank

At the castle lived a knight and his very beautiful daughter - an elderly rich knight courted her, she did not like him, she had other plans. She was in love with a poor young guy and wanted to marry him. But she had to ask her father first. This was a necessary custom, and he told her to marry the rich knight instead. She refused, but when she discovered that she would never be allowed to marry her beloved young guy, she decided to become a nun. Then she would at least be left in peace from the irritating rich knight.

She was admitted novice in the nunnery , but on the day where she had to take the veil in the church, the rich knight appeared with his men to prevent this. They broke into the church just as the ceremony took place, and the young girl took flight together with some nuns and a priest through a tunnel, which lead over to the nunnery. As soon as they were out of the church it sank into ruins with the knight and his men.  The legend says nothing about if the father let his daughter marry the poor young guy or what else happened afterwards! You'll have to finish the story yourself!

The cooks from "The White Lady" has a break.
The White Lady
In the park at Hindsgavl people sometimes met a white lady, and if she caught the sight of a man she went up to him with outstretched arms, but when he came nearer, she disappeared with a sigh. The white lady is said to be the ghost of a bride, who was to marry the lord of Hindsgavl. She arrived to the place in a coach, drawn by four horses, but at a pond near the castle the horses grew shy and run wild so the coach rolled down into the pond. The young bride was squeezed between the seat and the bagage and drowned.
Today there is a restaurant "The White Lady" at Hindsgavl.

Hindsgavl, the Meadow.

The Ghost Coach

The same pond is said to be the place of another accident, which has caused some ghost stories about horses. Some young people from the town Middelfart had paid a visit to Hindsgavl, and in the evening they went back to town. When they had walked part of the way they saw a small coach coming towards them. At first they thought it was sent out to fetch them, but gradually, as the equipage came closer, they discovered it was not an ordinary coach, for just in front of them it turned to one side and disappeared. The youngsters thought this was rather odd and decided to investigate the case. They found out exactly where the coach had turned and disappeared - and they saw there was a small and deep lake behind some thicket.They were told by some old folks that a young lady from Hindsgavl had once taken a wrong turn at this space and drowned.

The Ghost with creaking Shoes. 
At the first floor of the main building - where the course rooms are now - was a room with a ghost. Many  overnighters in this room could tell that they felt there was something invisible in the room. They could even hear breaths and the sound of a person, who went in the room in creaking shoes, whoever it was. Now there are only students at Hindsgavl and the ghost hasn't shown since the room was changed into a school room!
Maybe the ghost hates schools....

Hollow oak, Boller castle park.
The Hollow Tree.
In the park is a piece of a hollow tree. In the old days the hollow tree was visited by people, whose children suffered from rachitis. The little ones were on a Thursday night - of all nights! -  pulled through the hole in the trunk. This was a symbol of the child's rebirth and had to cause that they got ride of the disease.

Gorm Benzon, Spøgelser og Sagn fra Danske Slotte og Herregårde, bd. 2. Syd- og Sønderjylland samt Øerne. Askholms forlag 2007.  

photo Hindsgavl 2011: grethe bachmann


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Harrild Hede, The Jutland Heath in August

The heath is a special place on a day with no humans to see far and wide except us two people and no sound from traffic or anything. It's so quiet. Like Björk sings: "It's oh, so quiet". Except for the humming little bees!

But I can imagine how it must have been to wander on the large heath from house to house, where the distances were far, to overnight by a heath-farmer and his wife or sleep out in the open air with the starry sky above. Many people lived like that , they had to in order to earn a living. They used the heather twigs for brooms and other things and they sold some heather peat, but they also sold woolen things like homeknit woolen socks, perfect and warm for the winter season, easy to bring with them and easy to sell, and this was tbe first beginning of the wool-fabrication in the middle of Jutland with the energetic  town Herning as a center of the wool-industry. But this is not about the wool - this is about the Jutland heath. And the heath has a special place in a Jutlander's heart.

Holtum Aa River.

Here at Holtum Aa river by Harrild a Danish movie was made in the early forties about some vagabonds, one of the most popular comedies in Danish film-history. The hero, who was one of our most beloved actors, was singing a lovely and happy summer song, which is still being played in the radio. And it is odd that he was walking here on this place singing this song.
Well, look at the photo, I stood there for some time imagining something - and the photo shows surprisingly perfect what I mean. Couldn't you just imagine Hamlet's Ophelia coming floating along upon the twining waterplants with the pretty white flowers? If you are a romantic soul I'm sure you could imagine just that !

John Millais, Ophelia (Tate Gallery)
Queen Gertrud about Ophelia's death:
"..............when down she fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide, and mermaidlike awhile they bore her up. ......................but long it could not be till that her garments, heavy with their drink, pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay to muddy death".   

Harrild Hede lies between the towns Ikast and Brande, just west of the Jutland  Ridge ( den Jyske Højderyg) in one of the largest wastelands of Mid Jutland. Here is an opportunity to experience open heath and grass heath, which alternates between plantation and clean, fast-flowing water-streams. Here is also a special fauna, since this nature gives good conditions for wild deer and some rare birds. In the southern part of the land are rests of prehistoric fields, some north-south turned, low, parallel earth banks, each with a distance between 20-25 meters.

Skov og Naturstyrelsen ( Forest and Nature Management)  takes care of the heath by removing unwanted tree-growth and by mowing and burn lesser areas at a time, by which the heather - which usually has got a longevity of ab. 25 years -  will be renewed.  The fringes along the water streams are being grazed in order not to leap into forest and to create good conditions for insects and flowers. The forest cultivation is given up in the future upon the unfit localitites, which then are allowed to become heath or fringe. In the cultivated forest the management will try to establish a network of belts, consisting of stable tree-species like oak, forest fir and larch. The purpose is to create a larger variation.

The image is a painting by Johan Fr. Vermehren from 1855: En jysk fårehyrde på heden (A Jutland shepherd on the heath. The painting is at Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. 

Harrild Hede holds several animals and plants, which are typically found in places like in these heaths and their connected moist lands. Plants are besides heather typically bell-heather, rosemary heather, cranberry, crowberry, lingbonberry and blueberry. The heather produces nectare which attracts the bees, and a honey from the heather (Danish: lynghonning) is a fine and expensive honey.

Red-backed shrike (adult and young)

Here breeds Eurasian teal, Wood sandpiper, Common snipe, Nightjar, Eurasian wryneck, Black woodpecker, Great-grey shrike and Redbacked shrike, Wood lark and Whinchat etc. Many other birds are seen like the White-tailed eagle, the Golden eagle, Cranes, Eurasian hobby, Red-footed falcon - several owls like the Eurasian eagle-owl, the Long-eared owl, and the Tawny owl etc. Last year and in 2010 a Short-toed Snake eagle stayed in the area for a period. In the forested areas is a big flock of roe deer and red deer, especially seen in the morning and evening hours. There are of course also many reptiles and  amphibians. And insects, ab. 30 dragonfly-species and 45 butterfly-species.

According to this list of flora and fauna I should really have lots of photos of  birds and animals in this post, but I wasn't there in the morning or in the evening hours. There were no butterflies here today - which is a mystery.  Maybe next year. But I did meet millions of bees, they were humming and summing and working, they were fetching honey for the many beehives which stood along the edge of the forest eveywhere, and I saw them fetching water too. The bees are divided into many job-categories. Did you know that? I didn't. Not in this particular way. Those little bees (please enlarge the photos)  were the water fetchers. They use the water to cool the beehive, not to drink it.

A water fetcher
nurse and housekeeper
Other bee-jobs: builder, packing pollen, honey-fetcher, guard, blowing-bee, scout, housekeeper, nursing kids

  A significant part of Harrild Hede was listed in 1954 in order to keep and take care of this fragile piece of nature, but this land is just a rest of the large heath which covered most of the Jutland peninsula about 100-200 years ago. In the 1700s the heath covered 1/2 of Jutland.   Today the large, widespread heath has almost disappeared, but not without a trace. There are marked traces in place names and farms and in the language and traditions - and the heath has also left rich traces in art and litterature. Some of  the most wellknown and loved Jutland poets are the heath-romantic writer and pioneer, Steen Steensen Blicher, and the environmentalist and preservation activist, Jeppe Aajær, who fought a fierce fight to save the Jutland heath from cultivation, and the smallholders' poet, Johan Skjoldborg, who wrote about  the smallholders and their conditions on the heath -  and finally H.C. Andersen, who wrote the wonderful Jutland national song.

What the heather was used for:
Bronze Age hills were often built upon heather-peat.  Up till about 100-200 years ago the heather was used by the heath-farmer for sheep and cattle fodder, it was used for fuel and thatching roofs, in early times even for building the house, it was good as a bed.straw in the alcove, as backfilling on sandy heath roads, and what was left and not used by the farmer at home was sold in the nearest town on the market - or the heath-farmer went from door to door in the large heath, staying out for weeks, selling brooms and other things made by heather and crossberry twigs, and selling some heather peat for peoples' stoves. The green heather was used for dyeing wool browngreen - and with alum the wool was dyed lemon yellow.

Harrild Hede is one of Denmark's most important bird habitats and also an Ef-habitat area. 3 hiking paths are marked in the area - and there are fishing places at Holtum Aa river. Brochures and information for free at the Tourist Bureaus and at the libraries -  and at the entrance to Harrild Hede itself.  Smoking is forbidden in the area due of fire hazard.

Are you ready for a walk? The path is longer than you think.....

I tried to catch a dragonfly - do you see a dragonfly in the clouds ?

...but then came a helicopter. What a dragonfly!!

photo August 2012 Harrild Hede, Jutland: grethe bachmann

Friday, August 17, 2012

Fine-Leaved Water Dropwort / Billebo Klaseskærm

Oenanthe aquatica

Previous names: Oenanthe phellandrium / Phellandrium aquaticum

Status:  poisonous.
 Most other species of Oenanthe are poisonous.

Oenanthe is from Greek and means honey-wine flower. The English name Water Dropwort: swollen tubers resemble drops, a signature in medieval times that it opened blocked urinary tracks drop by drop. Other English names are Water Fennel and Horsebane. The Danish name Billebo ( = a beettle's house). When the  plant has died the hollow stems are floating upon the surface of the water and little water insects like beetles like to use them as a getaway.
The plant is native to Europe and western Asia. It is biennial and flowering (white flowers)  in July - September in its second year of growth.  Its habitai is at the edge of lakes, rivers and ponds -in mineral-rich soil and slowly flowing water. It has a very distinct smell of parsley, which os useful when it has to be identified. The plant is quite characteristic with its strongly divided stem and garlands of thick roots at the bottom. The fruits are spread by water. 

foto: stig bachmann nielsen,
Medicinal use /Folk medicine:
The fruits have been used in chronic pectoral affections like bronchitis, pulmonary consumption and asthma, also in dyspepsia, obstinate ulcers etc. An alcoholic extract and essence of the fruits has also been recommended as a valuable remedy in the relief of consumption and bronchitis.

The root has sometimes been used as a local remedy in piles. When eaten in mistake the results have sometimes proved fatal. The symptoms produced are those of irritation of the stomach, failure of circulation and great cerebral disturbance, indicated by giddiness, convulsions and coma.

Medicinal use today:
Homeopathy only.

The fresh leaves are injurious to cattle, producing a kind of paralysis when eaten. When dried they lose their deleterious properties.

depressive, death from paralysis. Overdose of fruits causes vertigo, intoxication. Symptoms: irritation of stomach, failure of circulation, cerebral disturbance, giddiness, convulsions, coma

foto: stig bachmann nielsen,

Story from the 17th century:

Case recorded by John Ray 17th century: quoting letter from Irish physician Dr. Francis Vaughan: "8 boys went fishing in Clonmell, Tiperary. They mistook Oneanthe aquaticum for Sium aquaticum and ate the roots. 4-5 hours after arriving home they had fits, 4 died, the other 3 ran stark mad, but came to reason, another's hairs and nails fell out. All had their speech paralysed.

The Water Dropwort /Billebo is from the umbelliferae or apiacea family. It's a relative to Carrot, Fennel, Dill, Anise, Caraway, Angelica and other plants with clusters or umbels of flowers and fine feathery leaves, plants and herbs we know so well and use in the kitchen, but there are among the umbelliferaes also some extremely poisonous plants like the Cowbane and the Poison Hemlock and the above mentioned Water Dropwort, and they can be difficult to identify.

Source: Danmarks Natur, Felthåndbogen; Fugle og Natur; Herbs Treat-and Taste; A Modern Herbal.
Photo Vejlbo Mose: grethe bachmann nielsen
Photo Moesgård: stig bachmann nielsen, naturplan .dk . 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Vejlbo Mose, Silkeborg


For several hundred years was dug peat here in Vejlbo Mose by common people from the town Silkeborg, who needed fuel for their houses in the winter season , but in the 1800s a paper factory was established in the town. They needed fuel for the factory, so they got a contract on peat-digging. A peat factory was established after French role model. The peat production stopped in 1870.  At that time the moor had been dug through in full depth, and the present lake emerged.

Bog Arum

path around Vejlbo Mose

 Vejlbo Mose is a raised bog-lake, characterized by its acidic water, which is coloured brown by the dissolved humic substances. It is a very popular recreational area, close to the town of Silkeborg and with a good path and a varied nature. Vejlbo Mose has a rich flora and fauna. Although it is obvious now that the birch is growing fast and covers a part of the edge along the lake there is still sweet gale and heather here, and cranberry, lingonberry, blueberry, the bog arum and water lilies and many other water plants and also the poisonous cowbane. There are usually many dragonflies and butterflies and of course the sweet ducks and other water fowls and there are reptiles too, which I haven't seen often, lizards, grass snakes and vipers. In spring time are especially good opportunities to see vipers - and Naturstyrelsen (Nature Management) tell us  to tread carefully.

autum colour in the green

ducks on stalks of water lilies.

dark green water

and deep blue

what's up - what's down?

The raised bogs: 
 In Denmark and in several other West European countries it was obvious after WWII that the raised bogs were threatened by complete extinction, and many raised bogs are today protected and the extraction of spaghnum is submitted to control by the State. This is not the case in some East European countries ( and Sweden). Here are still important raised bog areas which are considered more or less as an unlimited ressource, and extraction goes still on and  in a speed which is much faster than the natural regeneration.

Depending on geological and climatic conditions it takes from several hundreds till several thousands of years for a raised bog to regenerate, but in many cases it is not possible because the climatic conditions are different from when the raised bog was originally formed.  In many countries - also in Denmark - the raised bogs are also threatened by natural degeneration,  since birch and fir start to grow in the dry parts of the  bog, which then grows into forest.

photo Vejlbo Mose 11. August 2012: grethe bachmann