Straight from the Sagas: The Vikings’ own guide to Orkney

By: David C. Weinczok

My guidebook on a recent week-long trip to Orkney was 800 years old. A little out of date when it comes to the more practical aspects of travel, sure, yet I could not have hoped for a better companion as I sought out historic sites around the archipelago. Orkneyinga Saga tells of Orkney’s Norse inhabitants from the ninth century to the start of the thirteenth. It is the only medieval chronicle centred on Orkney, with the action fanning out to Norway, Ireland, the Hebrides, and even the Holy Land. No one knows the name of its Icelandic author. The historical individuals it includes come and go like passing seasons; their days are filled with intrigue, farming, spiritual concerns, raiding, and poetry. For five centuries Norse customs, language, and politics dominated Orkney and Shetland, and Orkneyinga Saga provides an invaluable – if not wholly accurate – insight into that period.  

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