An oak gall created by wasp larvae

A Year in the Life of a Viking Reenactor: February

Welcome readers and all-round wonderful people to the amazing and fun hobby that is being a reenactor. Thank you for returning to read the next instalment of A Year in the Life of a Viking Reenactor for our group Vikings of Middle England. In case you have forgotten since January’s edition, we are a Viking re-enactment, living history and combat group based in Leicester, UK!

This month, as we all have grown accustomed to being somewhat more active as a group, we all begin to tackle the many projects related to the success of the group in all aspects of living history.

Living History

Our Viking encampment at Cromford Mills in 2023

For the uninitiated, living history means experiencing a taste of life as the Vikings could have lived. As closely as we can at events, we remove many of the modern-day trappings we all are accustomed to in our daily lives. All whilst trying to be historically accurate and present an authentic impression of the Viking-age. This covers the following aspects:

  • Clothing and personal belonging.
  • Tools used to practice different crafts.
  • Daily activities undertaken.
  • Everyday equipment, utilities and living quarters.
  • Facts about local, regional and other points of interest from the Viking diaspora.

Note: To answer a question I hear you forming. Although we spend the odd few nights in tents over the year as part of the events we offer, we all do have homes, mobile devices and modern luxuries. Our lives are not based 24/7 in Viking camps! (although some wish they could!)

A joyous part of our group is seeing collaboration. Various members have wide ranging interests. We all have a different origin in our approach to the portrayal, and contribute to our living history.

Our collective knowledge comes from group discussions and workshops. Individual research on specific topics shared back to the group forum, general fact-checking and cross-referencing of historical texts, and reviews of published works by Academic experts. In this context, the available projects members can contribute to is vast. Whether it’s something simple like making a new cloak, more complex like setting up a new or expanded Living History display, or learning a new skill such as woodworking, there is always someone willing to help and be your sounding board.


At our weekly sessions, Hrefna and Beigan have made savvy choices with the finishing off of their cloaks. Both of them have chosen the same colour and type of lightly felted wool. The difference lies with the contrasting-colour hand spun wool thread that each of them has chosen to finish off the edges. To do this they have rolled the cloak edges over and are doing a simple blanket stitch to add an adornment. It serves a functional purpose too – stopping the edges from fraying.

Don’t forget underwear!

þorunn (pictured above) is hand-sewing an undyed linen serk, a must have to wear under your thicker woollen kyrtle. This layering helps moderate your temperature whilst provides a comforting layer between your skin and the wool!

Boredom is not a complaint you ever hear us making! It opens up a creative part of the mind linked to muscle memory and learning through doing.

How about carving?

Our own Hermish (pictured above), coin master and Muster Caller Extraordinaire is this year embarking on a project to make a bag for his daughter who occasionally joins us on our weekend camps. She has seen people toting (pardon the pun) wooden bag handles. Some examples of these finds can be viewed here if you are interested. He intends to get some suitable wood and have a go at hand carving a set to go on a bag for her.

A walk in nature.

Later in the year, we will develop an interesting project that has stemmed from an interaction with a member of the public. They asked Lofthaena about the difference between the oak galls we use and the oak galls they had found themselves. Leading to finding the period correct oak galls for our Calligraphy display. We use oak galls for making ink for writing texts on parchment. Various species of wasp larvae cause galls to form on the underside of twigs and branches of oak trees. These galls are unsightly bumps, but when picked at the right time of the year and processed correctly, then added to the correct solution of water and iron oxide, turn the water dark brown and far more ink-like in colour and consistency than previously.

Hunting for wasps

Research so far discovered several types of oak gall wasp. Wasps have larvae that hatch and fall from the trees at different types of the year. Our challenge will be finding the ones belonging to the native species, the most likely candidate is oak apple gall wasps (Biorhiza pallida).

On the practical side, this project this will involve a woodland walk over surrounding regional areas to spot likely areas to find them. Then one of our favourite past times – experimental archaeology. Trying out what gets the best results and identifying future learnings to develop it’s potential. Look out for the November edition of a year in the life of a Viking reenactor where we check back to find out what happened with these projects!

Thank you readers for joining me on February’s a year in the life of a viking reenactor journey. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you want to meet us in person we will be at the Braunstone West Social Centre, on 14-2-24 from 7:45-10.15pm for our living history night where discussion will be on Viking Artefacts. Have you got a favourite Viking artefact?

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