One of the most original of the various Viking festivals springing up around the UK, Moorforge Althing is the brainchild of Pole Rafał Wszebor Wawrzynek, who is currently planning out the next big event in 2024.

“There weren’t that many Viking festivals that I personally would like to attend,” this genial UK resident tells The Viking Herald. “So I decided to create one myself.” 

Eastern approach to Moorforge

In 2022, the inaugural event took place, organized by the groups Storrada Hird – Drużyna Wojów Świętosławy, and Odr Hird, in cooperation with David Watson, who owns the Moorforge Viking Settlement in a picturesque part of Cumbria near the Scottish border.

“The style of combat is different from that usually practiced by British-based reenactors, with the Eastern style being much more intense and entertaining for onlookers,” Rafał told The Viking Herald at the time. 

Rafał is best placed to know, of course, having always had a keen interest in history. Before coming to live in Scotland, he grew up close to Wolfsschanze, where Hitler spent more time than anywhere else during the war. Yet Rafał always found medieval reenactment activities to be more attractive than war-time ones.

“It’s so interesting to see how life was like 1,000 years ago,” Rafał now tells The Viking Herald. “As for the actual combat reenactments, the Eastern style is more like a martial art. There are fewer limitations. 

Participants hit with full strength. There are certain rules, of course, but it feels more real. Also, I love the concept within it of drużyna, which loosely translates as ‘team’ or ‘group’, but it has deeper connotations than that in Polish.”

Rafał is also keen to point out that Polish-born Świętosława Sygryda Storrada was the wife of Sweyn Forkbeard and the mother of Cnut the Great – as well as the inspiration for his group.

Hundreds of reenactors gathered for the 2022 edition of the festival. Photo/illustration: Courtesy of Moorforge Althing Festival / Rafał Wszebor Wawrzynek

Hogbacks and blacksmiths

Then there’s the site itself. Overseen by David Watson, Moorforge lies a short distance from the wild Cumbrian coast, between Maryport, Aspatria, and Cockermouth, close to the tiny village of Gilcrux on the fringes of the Lake District National Park.

While its name is Brittonic, possibly influenced by Old Norse, the area around it lacks the immediate historical ties to the Vikings as the Northeast coast, the other side of Carlisle, where you find Bamburgh and Lindisfarne

Anyone with an interest in Norse history, however, with a few days to spare, could visit the festival and take in the newly restored visitor center at Lindisfarne.

All the same, “they have found a few hogback gravestones around here,” says Rafał, referring to the arched grave markers, a Scandinavian burial tradition prevalent in the tenth and eleventh centuries. 

Their shape is thought to resemble a house for the departed concerned, often a Viking warrior, a trend possibly set by Danish settlers in northern England in the 870s. 

The four largest-known examples in Britain form part of the Govan Stones, currently on view in Glasgow, a two-hour drive north.

The organizers have high hopes for the 2024 edition of Moorforge. Photo: Courtesy of Moorforge Althing Festival / Rafał Wszebor Wawrzynek

Bigger and better in 2024

Moorforge owner David Watson is the village blacksmith at Gilcrux. Before the 2022 Althing Festival, Rafał’s group helped lay paths and erect timber structures around the site. 

School visits, craft workshops, and regular sessions of folk music were already on the agenda before nearly 100 reenactors, traders, and even a fire dancer made the initial event a memorable occasion.

Even better is expected for Moorforge 2024, due to take place over the weekend of July 12-14. 

“We’re looking to develop Moorforge as a leading center for Viking activity,” says Rafał. 

“Next year, we’re hoping to attract twice the number of reenactors. We don’t want to make it too big, just the right size for people to enjoy. We would love for Western-style groups to get to know our Eastern style and for us to learn from each other, for this to be a real meeting of West and East.”

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