From No wool, no Vikings.
Gray clouds hang low over the Trondheim Fjord, a huge, convoluted indentation in the central Norwegian coast. A gusting wind blows the tops off the waves, tosses rain in my face, and fills Braute’s great square sail. It heels over, water splashing over its leeward gunwale and through the oar-ports, soaking everyone on that side of the long, open, Viking-style wooden boat.
Braute is sailing out from Fosen Folk High School, located in Rissa, on the north shore of the fjord. I’m sharing a hard wooden bench with some of the school’s students—mostly young Norwegians, with a sprinkling of foreigners. They’ve just spent nine months studying traditional skills that date back to the Viking Age, from boatbuilding and sailing to traditional farming and wool working.
On this, the last trip of the school year, we’re heading for Utsetøya, a little island near the mouth of the fjord. That’s where the school’s small flock of sheep, which provides both meat and wool, runs wild for most of the year, hemmed in only by the sea. Most of Fosen’s student body is crammed aboard Braute and two other Viking-style boats, along with staff, food, mounds of camping gear, and one shivering Canadian journalist. The plan is to camp on the island for several nights, check on the flock, and collect next year’s supply of raw wool.
It’s the end of May, but it’s cold. Viking life must have been like this—frigid, wild days in an open boat, constantly watching the waves and clouds to avoid disaster. Wool was as much a part of that life as the sea and the ships. The Vikings were great sailors and fearsome warriors, but they couldn’t have left port without wool. It provided the raw material for their clothes, their blankets, even the sails that harnessed the wind for their ships. [continue]