I was looking for things to do around Largs, and I read that kids could undergo a Viking experience, and meet real life Vikings. In Largs, I thought? Really?!
But right enough, in part of the Largs Leisure Centre (strangely enough) you can visit Vikingar! We booked on one of their regular tours and, having arrived early, and not knowing what to expect, we waited in the Viking Gift Shop for our visit to commence. (Many of our friends’ children received Viking helmets and swords for Christmas as a result of this.)
First step, a female Viking (tour guide) arrived to greet us and we entered her Viking home. Here we learnt what Vikings cooked and learned a little about their diet. The tots pretended to cook up the most disgusting fish porridge – desperate times call for desperate measures but fish and oats does not appeal to me. The kids loved stirring the big pot hanging over the pretend fire. They ground some grains to make flour, pretended to drink from Viking horns, and generally busied themselves around the woman’s kitchen. We didn’t feel rushed and the boys cooked up a storm.
Next we were led through to a wood panelled room with carvings of the Vikings Gods etched on the walls. Admittedly this wasn’t quite so engaging for preschoolers but would work fine for older children. One example was Thor, the God of Storms, who created thunder when he drove his goat-chariot across the sky! Alongside a nifty magic belt, Thor’s main weapon was a hammer, which is why many Vikings wore hammer amulets as good luck charms.
What followed was a rather graphic film about the Battle of Largs in 1263. And this is where all the pieces of the jigsaw start to fall into place. I had no idea that vital Viking history occurred in Largs, a battle that changed the face of their rule in Scotland. In my ignorance I had thought it delightfully random that there was Viking experience in Largs. Now it all made sense.
The western seaboard of Scotland was under Norwegian control, and tensions between Scots and Vikings were always high. Following a bout of Scottish aggression the Norse King Haakon sent his fleet to the Hebrides, from there they anchored off the Cumbraes. Bad weather sent his vessels ashore near Largs, whereupon the Scottish army arrived – there was confusion, violence, retreating, and ultimately the Norwegians headed to Orkney and regrouped. It was by no means a clear victory or loss on either side, but whilst in Orkney King Haakon passed away. His son, King Magnus, signed the Treaty of Perth, whereby the Scots agreed to pay 4000 marks to secure peace, followed by 100 marks annually. From there King Magnus slowly gave up Scotland’s Western Isles (retaining Orkney and Shetland). A marriage between the two nations – that of Princess Margaret of Scotland and Eric II of Norway in 1281 – cemented a more peaceful future.
My tots watched the film goggle eyed (although there is a slightly graphic stabbing scene). We learnt more in the final room where interactive toys and display boards allowed the kids to play ‘sword and shield’ jigsaws whilst I took in more detail about the history.
In total we probably spent an hour in the centre. It’s a dark and atmospheric escape from reality. Whilst the tots were entertained in varying degrees in the different rooms (displays never work for them at their age), for me to learn something completely new about Scotland doesn’t really happen every day. Vikingar! was an unexpected attraction to find in a small Scottish coastal town. It’s not a vast Glasgow or Edinburgh museum, but for Largs it’s a real high point. For info on prices and opening hours please click here.
OUR STORY – We drove from Aberdeen to overnight in the rather fabulous Gleddoch Hotel and Spa. We then headed to Largs to set sail to the tiny island of Greater Cumbrae, where we fulfilled the challenge of cycling around the entire island. For a list of things to get up to on Cumbrae and in Largs please click here.
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