Wednesday, 28 April 2010


It’s more or less drummed into us.
‘In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue’
Well, tweak my troll. It turns out he wasn’t the first one to do so. Everyone who lives in Norway knows full well it was the Norwegians who discovered America. Long before Christopher Columbus was even a gleam in his grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s eye, Leiv Eiriksson, who was descended from a family from the Rogaland area of Southern Norway (the bit I’m still sitting in), sailed away from Greenland in the direction of some unknown place.
Leiv’s father , Erik the Red, was a bit of an adventurer himself and has been referred to as the father of Norwegian exploration. Erik was alarmingly keen on slaughter and had been banished from Norway to Iceland for murder (which seems to me to be ‘going some’ in those Viking days). However, he promptly murdered some more people in Iceland too, and found himself shunned by society once again. He sailed off in a huff and discovered a big lump of ice which happened to be an island. He reckoned this might make an excellent place for his new home, but he’d need a few folk to join him (they’d have to be really keen to move, me thinks). So, with embellishment worthy of a dodgy estate-agent, he named his icy new home Greenland.
The business of discovering new countries had been well-established by the time Leiv grew up in Greenland. He heard a tale of Bjarni Herjulfsson who had been trying to sail from Iceland to Greenland in the year 986 when he became spectacularly lost. A saga tells of Bjarni being the first European to see the American continent. Quite why he didn’t bother setting foot on it is not recorded. But at least he remembered to tell his mates back home.It was a strange tale that stuck in Leiv’s young mind.
‘Leiv’, my boy’, said his Dad, Erik the Red, one day. ‘I do wish you had a bit of ambition, a bit of drive. Honestly, you young people just sit about, lapping up the luxuries your hard-working parents have provided, no need to stir yourself from the comfort of your reindeer skin, stuffing your face with dried fish crisps and staring at the wall. It’s enough to drive me to mead. What do I have to do to get you off your bony backside, put your helmet on, act like a proper Viking and explore? Discovery is the family business, you know. And we’ll all be going to the dogs if you don’t move it and discover somewhere half decent.’
Leiv sighed a teenaged sigh. ‘Oh, it’s ok for you, what with your very own Greenland. Why do I have to be born into this dumb family that has to go around finding new stuff? Life sucks. It’s just SO unfair.’ He sloped off and, checking his Dad wasn’t looking, borrowed Bjarni’s boat.
Leiv had finally stirred himself in AD 1000 and, low and behold, found the American continent. Not bad for a day’s work. As a result, there were temporary Norse settlements in ‘Vinland’, the Northern point of Newfoundland. Despite several other Norwegian-based Vikings crossing The Pond, no permanent settlement was established, possibly due to attacks from fearsome Native Americans.
Whatever the reason, if the Norwegian PR machine had been a little more efficient at the time, Christopher Columbus would not have gone down in history as having stolen the show. But between them, Erik and Liev had started a trend....Norway was to produce some of the most epic explorers of all time.

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