Vikingar – the saga of the Vikings in Scotland
A huge Viking fleet lay tossing at anchor off Largs in October 1263. King Haakon IV of Norway had determined to teach the Scots not to challenge his rule over the Western Isles of Scotland. Odin, the god of the skies, was stirring up the air. Fierce winds caused cargo ships to drag their anchors. Skirmishes fought ashore with Scots trying to capture the cargo added to the problems.
The Vikings had failed to bring the Scots to battle in the summer months, and now, with winter approaching, they left Scotland for the rough and dangerous trip home. They handed over the Western Isles in return for Scotland paying tribute in cash each year to Norway.
The story of the Vikings in Scotland is a gripping tale. The holiday town of Largs celebrates the period at a Viking Festival held in September, and Vikingar, a permanent attraction, tells the saga of the Vikings, including this final drama.
Vikingar starts in Norway outside a homestead alongside a fjord in A.D. 825. Accurate sounds and smells waft the ears and nose. In the fjord bob two moored longships; another is returning from a raid on Scotland. Four people stand outside the homestead. One of these looks slightly less wooden than the others. Taking everybody by surprise, he suddenly springs to life and tell sagas of myths and legends associated with Viking life and culture.
Next door are four wall carvings of the Viking gods. A three-dimensional hologram of Odin, the god of the sky and the chief god, thunders out stories of the powers of his four gods THOR, FREYJA, FREY, and NJORD.
A 10-foot-high image of ODIN also dominates the main auditorium.The 80-seat hall has five screens placed among battle-strewn rocks--swords, shields, spears, bows, arrows, and helmets litter the rocks after the Battle of Largs. The 18-minute film traces the history of a Viking warrior’s family, from arriving in Scotland through 400 years to the Battle of Largs.
The Hall of Knowledge, with seven replica stone carvings on the wall, continues the Saga of the Vikings in Scotland from 1263 to 1469, when James III of Scotland married Margaret, daughter of Christian I, King of Denmark and Norway. This ended Norway’s claims to Scottish tribute for leaving the Western Isles, and Norway handed the Orkney and Shetland Isles to Scotland as a wedding dowry.
A touch-screen computer offers more than:
3,000 pages of information,
two model Viking longships,
six Viking jigsaws,
a puzzle board set out in Viking Runes, and four Viking brass rubbings.
Coming away, I reflected that though the Vikings had bad press, they were no more savage than the times. They were also innovators and explorers. Their longships were revolutionary and enabled them to discover America long before Columbus.
The Kelburn Castle and Country Centre
The Kelburn Castle and Country Centre is very much a place for all or any member of a family. It gives a chance to experience the history, beauty, mystery, and adventure, which is Kelburn's special kind of enchantment. The Castle makes an impressive backdrop to its exotic gardens, and romantic glen—one of Scotland's most beautiful natural woodlands. A network of pathways and footbridges leads upwards past the waterfalls and gorges to spectacular views over the Firth of Clyde.
The castle has been the family home of the Earls of Glasgow from the 13th century but is often open to the public. When not reserved for private functions, it is open for guided tours in the afternoons from the 4th of July until the 20th of September. Group tours can be arranged at other times of the year, if booked in advance. Events are organised throughout the season including Kelburn's Country Fair, The Festival of Flight, Story Tellers Festival, Alice in Wonderland Fun Week, Outdoor Concerts, and Ranger Activities.
We enjoyed exploring the magical and ever changing Secret Forest, Scotland's most unusual visitor attraction. The Secret Forest is a magical place to be discovered and explored. By following paths and overhead walkways, cut through an otherwise impenetrable wood, you may come across a Castle with No Entrance, a Ginger Bread House, the Maze of the Green Man, a Crocodile Swamp, a mysterious Grotto, an exotic Chinese Garden, and even climb a 35 foot Pagoda and other surprises.
For the youthful and more energetic visitor, there are challenges on the Adventure Course and the Commando Assault Course—we gave it a miss! Children can have fun on the Adventure Playground, the Wooden Stockade, or the indoor soft play area.
In the Centre's Courtyard licensed Cafe an excellent range of hot and cold meals and snacks are on offer. The Family museum and Don Aldridge's colourful and innovative Cartoon Exhibition presents Kelburn's long and eventful history. Maori artifacts, late 19th century photographs and other family curiosities are on display in the New Zealand Exhibition.
Kelburn offers a fun day out for all the family.
Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park
Just 20 miles from Glasgow and stretching down to Largs—with no fewer than nine visitor centres and miles of breathtaking countryside—Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park is large. Covering 100 square miles, it has lochs, woods teeming with wildlife, thundering waterfalls, walks, cycling, and water sports. Barnbrock, 6km north of Lochwinnoch, is the Park Headquarters and the site of the Parks’ eye-catching rural campsite that includes two wooden wigwams. Each wigwam sleeps four people. Book in advance to avoid disappointment.
An invigorating walk through rugged, attractive landscape of hills and glens and nature trails sets you free from care. If you're energetic enough you can cover the miles on two wheels instead of on foot? Hire a mountain bike and explore miles of cycle paths. The paths range from gentle level tracks to more challenging hilly terrains. Keep your eyes open for roe deer, badgers, and owls in the tranquillity of the woodlands.
If you'd rather be on the water, head for the water at Castle Semple Loch in Lochwinnoch, just off the A737 Irvine to Glasgow road. Take a boat out and learn to sail, or try windsurfing. If you prefer muscle power why not try canoeing? All the equipment you need is for hire and qualified instructors are available to help you improve your skills. For those who prefer to be on the loch bank or riverside the park offers outstanding fishing from rushing rivers and peaceful lochs.
There's plenty for children to do, from exploring rock pools along the seashore, to visiting the animals at Blackshaw Farm. The play area at Lunderston Bay can keep them happy for hours and by joining the nature club they can learn all about Scotland's natural plants, birds, and wildlife. Lunderston Bay, 2km north of Inverkip, is the nearest sandy beach to Glasgow and is popular for coastal walks, a children’s adventure playground and watching coastal birds.
Thousands of years of Scottish history has left its mark on the land. Historic trails, Roman roads, Iron-age forts, and medieval castles give you the opportunity to experience the heritage of Scotland. Muirshiel Centre near Lochwinnoch at the top of Calder Glen has great walking country high in the centre of the Park. There are woodland walks, a moorland walk to the remains of a barytes mine, or the top of Windy Hill. Cornalees Centre near Inverkip, provides an access point to the Greenock and Kelly Cuts for level walks with panoramic views of the Firth of Clyde and its islands or a wander in the native wood of Shielhill Glen.
If you prefer the quieter life, why not simply come for a picnic? Find the perfect spot, then lie back on a blanket in the sunshine and watch the clouds drift by.
Millport - a Victorian holiday town
Many people visiting Largs take the 10-minute ferry across to Great Cumbrae --which measures just 6-miles long by 2-miles wide. On the island is the Victorian holiday resort of Millport. It was one of the resorts on the Clyde visited by Glaswegians before the days of cheap flights to sunshine.
In Millport there two museums and lots of small shops, cafes, and pubs. Millport, unlike Largs, has sheltered sandy beaches. It has unique character and charm, including a rock on the beach shaped like a crocodile. Years ago, some bright spark had the idea of painting in the jaws and teeth and nowadays, fresh paint is applied as needed. The resort also has Britain's narrowest house and its own cathedral.
Normally when you think of a cathedral, you imagine it to be massive. Well, cathedrals can be little too. The Cathedral of the Isles in Millport is the smallest cathedral in the British Isles (and probably in Europe), seating barely 100 people. It opened in 1851 for daily prayer and celebration of Holy Communion, religious learning, and served as an educational and missionary centre. In 1876, the church was consecrated and designated the Cathedral of The Isles.
Cycling: Cumbrae is a delight for cyclists. The 10.25 miles of quiet winding coastal road provide breathtaking scenery. The hillier inner route provides braver riders with stunning panoramas over the Firth of Clyde. There are cycle hire shops in Millport where all types of bikes can be rented.
Watersports: SportScotland has a watersports centre close to the ferry slipway. They teach dingy sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, and power boating, as well as offering their own cruising fleet. Though the centre is busy in the summer, they may be able to squeeze you in even if you haven't reserved a spot ahead of time. Anyway, it is interesting just watching the watersports. I have spent time there -- as a qualified sailing instructor.
Bird Watching: The island is rich in bird species. The shore road provides easy viewing of shore and seabirds, with small land birds in the shrub vegetation of the raised beaches. Sea cliffs have breeding fulmars and ravens. Inland, the inner circle road gives access to moorland and woodland species including buzzards, sparrow hawks, and kestrels, while the cathedral and garrison grounds are home to tawny owls and collar doves.
Wildlife and Flowers :In winter, a seal colony lives in Millport Bay; summer sightings are common, although less frequent. Plentiful numbers of smaller animals are on the island including rabbits (some black), ferret/polecats, hedgehogs, voles, slow worms, lizards, and newts. Wild flowers and ferns thrive, but the island is a particular haven for marsh and moorland species. At least nine kinds of orchids can be found.
Apart from Millport being rather noisy at times as coach-loads of children arrive for visits, the island is a peaceful and tranquil place that will rid you of your cares and worries.
It is difficult to think, as you walk about the pleasant little seaside town of Largs now, that it was the scene of the last battle in Scotland between the indigenous population and the Norsemen (Vikings) who had been regularly raiding the country for years and at that time still controlled the Islands and present day Argyllshire.
Well, if you need the proof and impressive proof it is, take a look at the images. This edifice, erected in 1912 in the style of an old Norse round tower, is locally known as the Largs Pencil and you can probably see why. It is worth havine a look if you are having a walk along the front.
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Rather better than I expected.
If you have read my other Largs pages, you will know that I visited the town for the wedding of two dear friends of mine. There were a number of us there (including children) and, in the way of these things, my mate had organised a tour to the Vikingar Centre. I have to say, I was slightly less than enthused about all this. I had walked past the place several times and, sitting lightly off the road as it does, it really didn't impress me. However, duty called and I am really glad it did because I had a wonderful time there.
If you don't know, Largs was the site of the last battle between native Britons and the Vikings in 1263. i have long had a fascination with Vikings, who I think are much maligned in history. Anyway, off we all duly trekked and pitched up at the venue which was fortunately about five minutes walk from my guesthouse (see seperate tip). We were warmly greeted by the lady on the desk who informed us we were a little early (damn. I could have had another ten minutes in bed) and suggested we may wish to wait in the restaurant. Well, it is really more of a cafe although it is licensed for alcohol.
I should mention at this point that my mate was in a wheelchair and the entire place was totally accessible to him. I like to include such things in my tips and he was well pleased with the facilities. I defer to him as he is the expert but it was nice to see that he was catered for.
After a short time, the lady came and asked if we would like to come through. We went through a fairly uninspiring entrance area with displays about Viking Life. Fair enough. Then things got good. the gentleman you see pictured, whilst undoubtedly Scots, appeared and said he was called (insert Viking name here) and he was going to show us round. In fairness, he was very knowledgeable and very entertaining. I will come onto that in a minute.
We were taken through several rooms and the guide told us about daily life in a Viking settlement. At one point, I felt compelled to point out to him that we had brought our own Vikings. My mate in the wheelchair and his helper, who is a physically huge man, are both Norwegians and define themselves as Viking. He never misssed a beat and indeed asked my friends for confirmation of what he was saying. He obviously knew his stuff but was quite prepared to listen to others who may have had more knowledge. I have no idea who this man was but he certainly was an asset to the place.
After an excellent time in the rooms, he left us to watch a film about the Vikings in a cinema type room and we went out again.
If I had one slight reservation about Vikingar,it is that there are very few actual artefacts. This is not a museum but it is, to my surprise, a very good way to spend a couple of hours. I had a great time, and the children in the party were positively bouncing as they left. If I am honest, so was I.
On a practial level, i don't like to post commercial websites here and the local Council website is not great but it will give you a start point.
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Become a Viking at Vikingar!
We were driving around the coast, and Largs was along the way. We knew of the Viking Centre that was there and decided to go inside. As it was a Tuesday there were a bunch of school kids, and my partner and I got a VIP tour/show.
The girl who took us through was great at what she did. She wore traditional viking clothes, and took us to "her" house and taught us about the lifestyle and different things. Was very interesting and enjoyable. Glad we made the stop.
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KELBURN COUNTRY PARK
Just south of Largs itself is Kelburn Castle & Country Park. Its the home of the Earls of Glasgow but the grounds are open to the public and are a nice place for a day out. There are woodland walks, gardens, craft workshops etc I remember as a child loving the bamboo forest but I'm not sure if that is still there or not
On one of my more recent visits to Largs I noticed a sign pointing off the main road to a viewpoint. Its up in the hills above the town and has views right over the town and nearby islands. It wasn't the clearest day when I was there but I'm sure the views would be well worth it when it is. I believe it was part of some park area so there may be walks here also.
Just off the coast from Largs is the island of Grand Cumbrae which is accesible by ferry from the town. You can just admire the lovely view from mainland or maybe take a wee day trip over there if you have time! Its always fun, and a popular activity, to hire a bike and cycle round the islands on a nice day
There seem to be a few different kinds of boat trips you can take from the shore at Largs. Some people seemed to whizzing around the bay in a speed boat which looked like a lot of fun but there were also some wooden boats, people on jet skis and in little yachts and sail boats.
A day at the seaside
Largs has something of the traditinional seaside resort about - ice cream, fish n chips, amusements and plenty for kids. It has the more upscale looking cafes and bars as well as the traditional pubs. Along the shore there are quite a few little rides for the kids which brightens the promenade up somewhat!
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As you drive into Largs from the south one of the first places you reach is the marina. I generally park here and then walk into the town along the path beside the shore. Its a nice walk and saves having to drive through the invariably busy town centre in search of parking. The marina itself is nice if, like me, you like boats!
Lot of Things to do in Largs
Largs is recomended for people who want to relax and appreciating the quality of life. Here you can play boowling, play golf, mini-golf, sports in marina, sports center, some walks over the river clyde or simple enter in the various pub's and enjoying the good mud !
The Vikingar offers a good family day out. The vinkingar experience is supposed to be pretty good although I personally have not done the tour but it tells you all about the vikings and what they were like and there are people dressed in costume who are story tellers who tell you all about Myths and Legends about the Vikings. This is sort of like a museum but with a lot of differences. This is closed December and January and is opened November and February Weekends only check times with the vikingar. It is open 7 days in March - October but times vary depending on month so again check with Vikingar about this. There are various other leisure and fitness facilities on site. There is a theatre and cinema both of which I dont know enough about to comment on but seem to be well used and have disabled access. There is also a onsite gym, dance studio and sauna all of which are open 7 days times vary so check with the vikingar for opening times. The gym has equipment that has been specially adapted for disabled people to use. There is also a swimming pool which I use regularly which has disabled changing rooms, family changing rooms, a disabled hoist for access to the pool they have lockers which require 20 pence piece that is returned after use. There is a seperate splash type pool for beginners, non swimmers and children. There is a small Spectating area at the pool the pool is open at various times 7 days a week . There is a small soft play area for younger children. They offer fitness classes and have facilities for badmington. There are vending machines throughout and a cafe/snack bar facilities on site. They offer other facilities on site so you could come here and spend the day and probably still find that you missed something. Each of the facilities vary in price and you should check with staff in advance how much this is.
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