The Vikings are thought to have first visited the Isle of Man, which lies halfway between Ireland and England, in the late eighth century. Not only was it strategically well placed for their raids around Dublin and North-West England, but it also offered plenty of arable farmland.
The Northmen would stay until the tenth century and beyond, with intermarriage between the Celtic-speaking locals and the Norse-speaking Vikings thought to have been a common occurrence.
Indeed, the invaders-turned-settlers would leave a significant and long-lasting impression, not to mention some fascinating historical sites and abundant hoards of treasure.
So what should you look out for when enjoying a Viking-themed exploration of one of the most scenic and historical locations in the Western Hemisphere?
The Braaid site at the Isle of Man. Photo: RICHARD FARAGHER / Shutterstock
The Braaid: Norse and Celtic culture side by side
The Braaid, situated just six kilometers from the island's capital, Douglas, provides an intriguing indication of how the Vikings were much more than mere raiders.
The site contains not only the remnants of a large Nordic longhouse and a smaller rectangular house thought to be a byre, or cowshed, but also a roundhouse built in the Celtic tradition.
The site appears to be a Norse farmstead, and is believed to have been inhabited until the early 12th century.
The fact that the three buildings are located in close proximity and have deteriorated at a very similar rate suggests that they were built and lived in around the same time.
Whether this coexistence was a peaceful or hostile process, however, is anyone's guess.
Tynwald Hill at St John's is one of the Isle of Man's most famous landmarks. Photo: RICHARD FARAGHER / Shutterstock
Tynwald and Tynwald Hill - the oldest parliament in the world
At first glance, the Legislative Buildings of the High Court of Tynwald may not look like they have much to do with the Norse invaders, given they were built in the 19th century and are located right in the middle of Douglas, the Manx capital.
They are, however, the modern representation of what is thought to be the oldest continuous parliament in the world, founded by none other than the Vikings.
The buildings are easily accessible and well worth a visit on their own merit – they are open to the public on weekdays, and admission is free of charge.
To see the original Viking location, however, you should head west to Tynwald Hill, where Viking settlers (and perhaps even earlier Iron Age Celtic dwellers) are thought to have met to debate the issues of the day.
In July, the site plays host to Tynwald Day, an annual ceremony where the year's laws are officially passed, and the local people celebrate with reenactments, fairs, processions, and copious feasting. In 2023, this falls on Wednesday, July 5.
The remains of an ancient keeill, a small chapel, at Balladoole. Photo: Chris Gunns / CC BY-SA 2.0
Balladoole: Layer upon layer of history
Balladoole is rich in history and contains significant finds from several eras, including prehistoric flints, Bronze Age burials, earthworks from the Iron Age, and lintel graves from the early Christian era.
For Viking fans, the most thrilling find has to be the Norse burial site, encompassing not only a selection of precious items, including a shield, a knife, ornamental harness fittings, spurs, stirrups, and buckles but also the remains of an 11-meter-long burial boat.
The site was originally excavated by German archeologist Gerhard Bersu when he was interned on the Isle of Man during World War II. The Viking tomb was built directly on top of the Christian graves, and there has been much debate in the years since over whether the Vikings did so deliberately.
Some historians see it as an act of religious desecration, others as a sign of familiarity with the local culture, while some believe it may just have been an unfortunate accident.
In addition to visiting the site itself, you can also view a model of the Viking boat burial in the Manx Museum.
A photo of the entrance to the Manx Museum taken in 2003. Photo: Joseph Mischyshyn / CC BY-SA 2.0
Manx Museum: An enormous chest of treasures
Many of the finds from the numerous archeological sites dotted around the island are today housed in the secure confines of the Manx Museum, which provides a detailed presentation of the island's long history, including its Viking past, of course.
Particular Norse highlights include a beautifully preserved gold arm-ring, two intricately decorated brooches, and various gold and silver treasure hoards.
The museum's Viking Gallery also contains information boards narrating the story of the Vikings on the island, mannequins in period clothing, and a whole host of other precious artifacts and relics.
The remains of the Cronk ny Merriu coastal promontory fort. Photo: Nigel Homer / CC BY-SA 2.0
Cronk ny Merriu: Come for the history, stay for the views
Cronk ny Merriu, found in the south of the island next to Port Grenaugh, is a spectacular location that features the remains of a promontory Iron Age fort and a Viking longhouse.
Historians believe the earlier Iron Age and later Norse fortifications in this exposed position were used to watch over the sea and guard against attacks.
The clear shape of the building set against the sparse landscape provides a glimpse into the sometimes arduous life of the foreign invader – indeed, the archaeological evidence suggests that the house was not occupied for any significant length of time.
But one thing is for sure: the views are incredible. It is the perfect location for a hearty windswept Viking picnic after a heavy climb up the hill, and a fine place to explore, admire, imagine, and wonder.
+1: The crosses
One other thing to look out for on the Isle of Man is the famous crosses.
They are intricately carved stones, part Celtic and part Viking in origin, that often display characters from Norse legends and runic inscriptions.
You will find them in many of the village churches dotted around the island, with the examples found at Kirk Michael and Jurby particularly notable.
Peel Castle, originally built in wood under the rule of King Magnus the Barefoot but later reconstructed in stone, is also worthy of a visit.
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