Olavs Menn: the Vikings of Telemark

Modern Vikings take to the water for love, tourism, and even filming commercials

Photo courtesy of Olavs Menn Åsa waits for pilgrims.

Photo courtesy of Olavs Menn
Åsa waits for pilgrims.

Øystein Rivrud
Telemark, Norway

In centuries past, Vikings crisscrossed half the world in their ships. They discovered and explored Greenland and even reached North America. They went to Jerusalem. They sailed along the rivers of Russia, France, Spain, and England. In Scotland they used the Great Glen, today known as the Caledonian Canal, as a shortcut to the Irish Sea.

A couple of years ago Olavs Menn (modern-day Vikings; see “Vikings make Alpine pilgrimage,” in the July 4, 2014, issue of NAW) crossed the English Channel in a replica of the Gokstadship called Gaia. We left Brest in France and went to Newcastle. We rowed up the river Tyne on July 29, 2012, while thousands of people had gathered there because of the Olympic games. We wanted to say thank you to the English for sending missionaries to Norway during the Viking Age. We also brought with us 150 kilos of whetstones from Eidsborg as a present to the York Viking Museum. Whetstones from Eidsborg in Telemark were an export item during the Viking Age.

After visiting the museum we crossed the North Sea to Sandefjord. It is assumed that Saint Olaf left England from Newcastle when he went to Norway to become king a thousand years ago. By doing this we had followed Saint Olaf’s footsteps. He was baptized in Rouen in Normandy, fought a battle in the fjord outside Brest (Fetlafjord), and went to England to help his friend, the English king Æthelred II. After some years, he left England from Newcastle.

Photo courtesy of Olavs Menn Olavs Menn take whetstones to the Viking ship at Lastein, Dalen, in Telemark.

Photo courtesy of Olavs Menn
Olavs Menn take whetstones to the Viking ship at Lastein, Dalen, in Telemark.

Today we Olavs Menn have our own Viking ship, an Oseberg replica called Åsa. The original ship was built in Norway around the year 820, and dug out at Oseberg in 1904. The ship is made of oak. The length is 21.6 meters and the weight is about 11 tons. The maximum speed our Åsa has done so far is 12 knots, but it can do more. We have 15 pairs of oars.

As a Viking group, we sail with many different kinds of people, from kindergarten children to pilgrims. We have also started a business called Telemark Viking Team, which offers teambuilding and trips for tourists and moviemakers, birthdays parties, and so on. We also provide Viking clothes and Viking gear.

Photo courtesy of Olavs Menn Olavs Menn during filming of a commercial last summer on Lake Bandak. Øystein is in front with the helmet on, and at the top of the mast is Per Øyvind Gulliksen.

Photo courtesy of Olavs Menn
Olavs Menn during filming of a commercial last summer on Lake Bandak. Øystein is in front with the helmet on, and at the top of the mast is Per Øyvind Gulliksen.

It is assumed that there have been Viking ships in some of the lakes in Telemark before now. This is because of records saying that two ships were kept at the ready for the king’s command in this area (Leidangen).

Two years ago, we took part in the city of Notodden’s 100-year anniversary celebrations. We sailed against the current called Blodspreng, with the south wind supporting us, to reach the city of Notodden. A Norwegian folkdancer, Hallgrim Hansegård, ran on the oars, almost like the famous Norwegian Viking king Olav Tryggvason once did. However, he did this while we held the oars still; the great king ran on the oars as his men kept rowing. Perhaps to make up for this shortcoming, Hansegård also danced on a shield and jumped with a sword.

Last year we took part in filming a Hotel Marriott Resort Courtyard commercial at Bandak Lake in Telemark. Watch the commercial below, and you will see some fine Vikings in the shot!

For Pentecost Sunday every year, we row with pilgrims from Årnes to Nes. Then we usually join them at Nes Church for the pilgrim’s service with old psalms. This beautiful church is made of stone and wood and dates to 1180.

Sailing Viking ships is an old tradition that we hold very dear here in Norway and is something that we hope to preserve for generations to come. We especially hope to instill the passion for sailing in our Norwegian cousins across the sea in the “New World.” We hope to welcome many of you to experience the great heritage of the Viking ships!

This article originally appeared in the June 19, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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