Wirhalh Skip Felagr at Storeton Woods

On Saturday Wirhalh Skip Felagr, or the ‘Wirral Ship Fellowship’ as translated into English and Wirral Vikings held an event at Storeton Woods to recreate the Viking encampment deep in the woods that would have been in place before the Battle of Brunanburh which took place in the tenth century.

It is not known for sure where the Battle of Brunanburh took place but it is thought that the area between Storeton Woods and Brimstage Hall was the location for the battle which led to England becoming one nation as the Vikings were driven out of the lands.  Historians contend that 2017 marks the 1080th anniversary of the battle.

The event was run in conjunction with the Friends of Storeton Woods with the aim of explaining how the Vikings lived in their encampment by way of ‘living history’ and informative talks.

The Wirhalh Skip Felagr group love to demonstrate everyday life of the Wirral Vikings and how they lived locally.  The group look to demonstrate skills, techniques and ideas in as real a situation as possible.

The Skip Felagr focuses primarily upon the Hiberno Norse Vikings who settled the Wirral from Ireland in 902 AD.  The group offers a range of educational experiences to suit all requirements from talks and living history displays.

The Battle of Brunanburh was fought in 937 between Æthelstan, King of England, and an alliance of Olaf Guthfrithson, King of Dublin; Constantine, King of Scotland and Owen, King of Strathclyde.  Æthelstan had invaded Scotland unchallenged in 934.  The Scottish kings had therefore made an alliance with the Vikings and an allied force was formed.  In August 937 Olaf and his army crossed the Irish Sea to join forces with Constantine and Owen but the invaders were routed in the battle at Brunanburh by Æthelstan.

Æthelstan’s victory brought English unity.  The tribes consolidated, peace reigned and there was abundance throughout the nation.  Historians have said that Brunanburh was the greatest single battle in Anglo-Saxon history prior to the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

The actual site of the battle is not known for certain and scholars have proposed many locations.  From the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles it is known that after travelling north through Mercia, Æthelstan, his brother Edmund, and the combined Saxon army from Wessex and Mercia met the invading armies and attacked them in a battle that lasted all day where the Saxons triumphed and the invaders were forced to flee.

Olaf fled and sailed back to Dublin with the remnants of his army and Constantine escaped to Scotland. Owen’s fate is not known.  Among the casualties were five kings and seven earls from Olaf’s army and Constantine lost several friends and family members in the battle, including his son.  A large number of Saxons also died in the battle including two of Æthelstan’s cousins, Alfric and Athelwin.

The case for the battle having taken place in Wirral has wide support among many historians.  Charters from the 1200s suggests that Bromborough was originally named Brunanburh which could mean “Bruna’s fort”.  The nearby River Mersey was a commonly used route by Vikings sailing from Ireland.  Additionally, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle states that the invaders escaped at Dingesmere, and Dingesmere could be interpreted as “mere of the Thing”. The word Thing (or þing, in Old Norse) is a reference to the Viking Thing (or assembly) at Thingwall a short distance away from Bromborough on the Wirral. More lately a landscape survey carried out in 2004 has suggested a likely position for Bruna’s burh placing the burh at Brimstage.

It should be noted that other historians have suggested other possible sites including Burnley in Lancashire, as well as several areas in Yorkshire, Durham, and southern Scotland.  However I think the weight of expert opinion seems to recognise Wirral more than any other area.  Also I am told that internationally respected author Bernard Cornwell has recently come out strongly in favour of Wirral in his latest novel: ‘The Empty Throne.’

Whatever the truth today’s Wirral Vikings have shown how they might have lived on this site over a thousand years ago.

Snow in Storeton

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On Friday most of Britain saw the first real snow of the winter.  The snow was heaviest in south Wales and in the south and midlands.  Wirral being on the coast tends usually not to get too much snow but Friday saw a few centimeters fall across the whole of the peninsula as well.

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Our normal weekend dog walk in Storeton Woods gave us the opportunity to walk through this black and white world.  During the morning a fine sleety snow had started to fall which gave a further very fine dusting on the trees.

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Lots of families with young children were out enjoying the snow safely wrapped up against the cold but someone had lost their tiger hat which a passerby had thoughtfully placed on the sign at one of the entrances to the woods …

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In many areas the snow was melting and the wet saturated ground meant there were pools of icy dark water.

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In the fields between the woods and Storeton village the farmers were rounding up the sheep from the snowy grazing land to take them to another field or maybe even to market.

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The snow had enveloped all the plants of the woods with a thick blanket of white fluffy snow.

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And the trees were all painted with a white dressing of snow on their windward side.

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Not many birds were out, I manged to see a colourful Jay in Hancocks Wood but it was too elusive to capture a picture.  But I did get to see a Robin redbreast on a green tree in amongst the woods.

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Many interesting features were dusted in snow on our walk today.

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In a few weeks the winter will have passed and the bare branches will start to see buds forming and bursting open to reveal their leaves to soak up the coming summer’s sunshine, but they will be barren for a few more weeks yet.

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I wonder what weather we will have in 2013…

Autumn in the woods

I visit Storeton Woods regulary with my dog Toby and I have taken a few photographs which I have posted on this site over the past year.

A good time of year to visit is the autumn as the leaves start to change colour.  This year it has been as wet an autumn as it has been a wet summer and not that good for photography.

However on a rare sunny and dry autumn day I ventured into the woods and I’ve taken a few photographs.

Its getting late into the autumn and the deciduous trees leaves are changing from green to shades of yellow and brown.  With the heavy rains and winds that we have been experiencing over the last few weeks many trees have already shed their leaves onto the ground.

In some places there is a thick carpet of brown leaves.  On this dry and bright day the watery autumn sun was shining through the trees and lighting up corners of the woods.

But as usual despite a bright start to the day the rains came as the sun was setting rapidly in the west.

Walking with dinosaurs

I’m a regular visitor to Storeton Woods along with Toby my Golden Retriever.  It is a pleasant area to walk throughout the changing seasons to look at the greenery and wildlife.  But it’s also an area that previous inhabitants of the earth strode around as well.

Storeton Woods have grown up on the site of a sandstone quarry that was present since the times of the Roman occupation. The quarries were up to 60m (200 feet) deep by the beginning of the 20th century but they were exhausted and filled in during the 1930s with spoil from the excavation from the first Mersey tunnel. The current woods were planted on the site.

The quarry was the site of the discovery of fossilised dinosaur footprints 20m (65 feet) down into the quarry in 1838. No bones or other material remains were discovered. As the prints resembled human handprints the creature was named from the Greek words, ‘chir’ for hand, and ‘therium’ for beast: chirotherium or cheirotherium.  The full species name was Cheirotherium Storetonensis to recognise the site of the discovery in Storeton.  Similar tracks were also found on Hilbre Island out in the River Dee estuary off West Kirby.  Examples of the footprints can be seen in ‘World Museum Liverpool’ in Liverpool, the Williamson Art Gallery in Birkenhead and also in nearby Christ Church, on Kings Road in Higher Bebington.

From the footprints, scientists have extrapolated an image of the dinosaur and in the year 2000 a life-sized carving of a cheirotherium was made on a quarried wall of sandstone near to the Mount Road and Rest Hill Road junction.  I’ve included a drawing of what the Cheirothermium looked like which is contained on the Friends of Storeton Woods website.  It is by Dr Geoffrey Tresise who wrote an article entiled ‘Merseyside’s Dinosaur’ which was published in the February 1994 issue of the Friends’ ‘Newsleaf’ newsletter.  I’ve taken a photograph of the carving of the Cheirotherium but with the recent year’s wet weather the wall is going very green and the carving isn’t as distinct as it used to be.

Since the Friends of Storeton Woods purchased the woods in 1989 they have with the help and support of the Woodland Trust been working to conserve and protect the area for future generations to enjoy.  It is a mixed woodland a long with a wider varied vegetation and as the Friends state ‘a pocket of wildlife interest in the surrounding, increasingly built-up, landscape’.

Hogweed, foxglove, ferns and common butterbur

It was a sunny morning as we walked our normal route through Storeton Woods. There’s more to the woods than just trees.

As we walked into the woods from Rest Hill Road the Hogweed was stretching up into the bright blue sky above.

Further into the woods patches of foxgloves were in flower, a bright vermillion against a green backdrop.

The sun was breaking through the trees and brightening the ferns and bracken further up the hill.

They offer a cool place for a rest when you are getting on in years.

Crossing Rest Hill Road the woods here are not part of the Woodland Trust managed scheme.  Just past the telecommunications building set back from Mount Road into the woods there is a bank of the broad leaved plants known as common butterbur.  The sun was glinting through the trees across the leafy bank.

Brightening our day

This year two fields alongside Levers Causeway in Storeton are planted up with oil seed rape which is currently in flower. I’ve been waiting for a sunny day to photograph the field against a nice bright blue sky.  But we haven’t had too many sunny days up to now and the rapeseed flowers are fading away to be replaced by their seed pods and the bright yellow is quickly changing to green.

Storeton has long been an area for agriculture. Storeton has Viking connections and the name derives from the Old Norse meaning “great farmstead”.  The village is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1085 as ‘Stortone’.  It is much older as it has been thought that the medieval poem ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ refers to Storeton Hall in the dark ages before the Norman Conquest.  The later hall was built around 1360 for William Stanley.  Today it is now a house and farm buildings.

I’ve taken a few shots of the field and St Saviors Church on Gerald Road in Oxton high up on Wirral’s central ridge can be seen in the distance.

Whilst the fields are full to the brim of oilseed rape plants…

…the verges have many different wild plants such as Honesty in full bloom here.

Soon the fields will be all green and then as the plants seeds ripen they will turn brown and be harvested later in the summer.