A Grand Day Out
A veritable flood tide of humanity pours into the grounds of The British Museum the very second the mighty gates swing open. Every nation is represented and they rush to the mighty forecourt to secure their dream. With their backs turned to the iconic building, camera-arm outstretched, they strike a pose and get their selfie. With proof of their presence, only now can they finally relax and look around. Their grand day out has begun.
Ours began as we departed The Longshed at 5am towing Sae Wylfing our 45ft Anglo-Saxon longboat away from the deserted waterfront. After a journey along the Embankment tourist sites and a loop around Trafalgar Square, we squeezed through the Museum gates – but only just, to become part of a special day to announce the national Festival of Archaeology. We have taken our craft to church fetes, to county shows and to maritime celebrations, but the British Museum is a different order of magnitude with 18 thousand visitors a day. How could we quench their thirst for knowledge as we were drowned by a deluge of questions? Only ONE Anglo-Saxon ship in the whole world? Why did they bury it on top of a hill? 90 ft long! OMG! I thought this boat was it. EIGHT times bigger than this? You’ve gotta be kidding. When does the build start? Next Tuesday! Wow! How many years of research? How many years to build? Where is Woodbridge? Angle-land – Oh Yes! I never realised that.
We had the great good fortune to be helped by Raedwald (Paul Mortimer) and another historian reenactor from the academic Wulfheodenas, both of whom were in truly authentic dress. They were a magnetic photo-opportunity. The iconic helmet, the pattern-welded sword, the ivory-lidded purse with the 37 gold coins were the stuff of dreams to Americans who had been told of such things when they studied Beowulf as part of their standard high-school education. How had the fortunate stars aligned, for them to cross the globe to arrive on the one, single, day when we could make their myths become reality and they could touch that sword, hold those coins and see the ghost ship itself? They were appreciative. They were overwhelmed.
We lost our voices. Our backs ached. Our feet were numbed. Hungry and exhausted, we loved every minute and, as we waved goodbye to those heavy gates and our day out concluded, we wondered – Can we come back again next week?
To learn more: Facebook Wulfheodenas.
Sae Wylfing usually goes from event to event on its trailer as in the video above, but of course is can also float on water.
Here are some brief glimpses of her being launched, travelling to where she will be used and then in use for a filming assignment.
Moving her by water for a short distance can be done under oars, but to travel further it is much quicker to use an outboard.
Being an Anglo-Saxon boat she has no method of attaching an outboard motor, but this can be done on sheltered water by using an inflatable. She behaves very well and is quite maneuverable as she has a shallow draft and no long keel.
In this second video she is being taken from her launching site at Granary Yacht Harbour on the upper reaches of the River Deben downstream. She passes the Sutton Hoo site and then Woodbridge. The distinctive, white Tide Mill can be seen with the Woodbridge Waterfront development under construction to the left of the Mill. The longshed door is open.
At the end of the trip she approaches the pontoons of the Waldringfield boatyard where she is secured.
The filming work meant that the rowers had to be wearing something Anglo-Saxon as the filming was partly from a drone. The Rowing Club and Riverside Trust members were vaguely Anglo-Saxon, whilst the re-enactors were precisely Anglo-Saxon, as they provided their own equipment.