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Reconstruction of Viking longship to sail to Wirral on maiden voyage.

Byline: LornaHughes

A REPLICA of a Viking longship - claimed to be the biggest ever built - will sail to Wirral on its maiden voyage.

Construction work on the 35m-long Draken Harald H...rfagre - Dragon Harald Fairhair, in English - started last summer in Haugesund, Norway.

After a series of test sailings, it will embark on its first real voyage in summer, 2013, following the path of the Vikings from Scandinavia via the British Isles to Istanbul.

Organisers have agreed Wirral will be one of the first stops because of its strong Viking links, evidenced by place names and a genetic survey which showed a Norwegian influence in the DNA of the borough's oldest families.

They are now looking for 80 volunteers who can help row the boat to shore when it arrives in the borough.

The patron of the Viking Kings project is Norwegian businessman Sigurd Aase, who has a long-standing interest in Viking heritage.

In 2006, he sponsored the examination of a Viking ship wreck in a harbour at Avaldsnes and contributed to a project to find the Royal estate of the Harald Fairhair, the king who unified Norway into one kingdom.

Project manager Marit Synn[degrees]ve Vea said: "Our goal is to build a Viking ship that recaptures the superb sea qualities of an ocean-going Norwegian Viking ship.

"To construct the ship, we are using Norwegian boat-building traditions supplemented with the results of archaeological investigations and information in Old Norse literature.

"The Dragon Harald Fairhair will be the largest Viking ship built in modern times, but in the Viking age that size would have been quite typical.

"This time, the Vikings will come in peace!" She declined to be drawn on how much Mr Aase is spending on the project, but said he had international partners and the cost included research, as well as construction work.

Vikings are thought to have arrived in North West England over a millennium ago.

After their expulsion from Dublin in AD902, the Wirral Vikings, initially led by the Norwegian Viking Ingimund, would have landed in their boats along the North Wirral coastline.

The Dragon will be made out of oak, with a 3,200sqft pure silk sail.

Wirral Viking expert Professor Stephen Harding, of Nottingham University, is the North West England representative for the project. He secured the agreement that the vessel would sail to Wirral.

Professor Harding said: "Ideally, we'd like it to come into Meols because that's where we believe they first came in, but it may not be possible to do that because today Meols is quite different.

"It wouldn't be easy for a ship of this size, so one possible site is Birkenhead Docks. You don't need a lot of crew, but bringing it into harbour is not a simple job, and that's where the volunteer oarsmen come in.

"The vessel itself is named Dragon Harald the Fairhair. It doesn't mean his boat was the same.

"But it's very possible that when the Vikings came, they would have arrived in something similar." * TO VOLUNTEER as a rower, e-mail Professor Harding at Steve.Harding@nottingham.ac.uk analysis THE legacy of Vikings in Cheshire, Merseyside and Lancashire today survives through place names.

The Vikings arrived in Wirral from Dublin, but spread as far as Chester and across the Mersey to populate south west Lancashire.

Names like Toxteth, Formby and Crosby are all of Norse origin.

In Wirral, Meols was originally melr, meaning sandbank, while the name West Kirby comes from kirkja-byr, old Norse for "settlement with the church". It was given this name because of St Bridget's, the church founded there by Christian Vikings and named after the patron saint of Ireland.

Thingwall is one of a handful of similarly-named towns or villages in Europe thought to have had Viking settlements.

As the name means "assembly field", experts believe these were once seats of Viking power.

And, while Everton and Liverpool may boast more honours, Tranmere Rovers have the distinction of being the only team in the English football league with a Viking name.

Tranmere was founded as Tran-melr, meaning sandbank with the cranebirds or herons.

CAPTION(S):

Wirral Viking re-enactment LORNA HUGHES Building work on the Viking longship in Norway An artist's impression of the Draken Harald H...rfagre, which will sail to Wirral on its maiden voyage in 2013; inset: the boat takes shape
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EXNO
Date:May 25, 2011
Words:726
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