In the November issue of BBC History Magazine, historical novelist Robert Low selects Avaldsnes in Norway – once a seat of power for Viking kings – as his favourite historical destination. HistoryExtra caught up with him to find out more...
Q: When did you last travel to Avaldsnes and why were you there?
A: Two years ago as part of the annual Viking Festival. It never fails to delight me that a band of around a dozen British Viking re-enactors are chosen to bring a Norwegian historical exhibit to life because we know the old skills – forging, pole-lathe etc.
Q: Why do you love Avaldsnes so much?
A: Mostly because I can drop the mobile phone, the tablet, the watch and all the trappings of 21st-century civilisation. Those not so involved in re-enacting can also get closer to reality along these coasts, even if only by staying in a lighthouse, or a fisherman’s hut for a night.
Q: What top 3 sights would you recommend people visit while they are there, and why?
A: Definitely St Olav’s church, built in the 13th century by King Hakon Hakonsson on the site of other, older structures. There is a huge standing-stone obelisk next to the church, which, according to one legend, is a sewing needle dropped from heaven by the Virgin Mary.
Another, darker legend, says that the stone is in fact a magician who built the church in one night. He was allegedly turned to stone after he was tricked out of payment and tried to destroy the building.
The Viking Farm on Bukkoy makes for a interesting visit, and the Norwegian Film Festival in Haugesund is internationally famed and well worth seeing – it usually takes place in August.
Q: During what period of its history would you most wanted to have visited Avaldsnes and why?
A: Just at the point Harold Fairhair (850–c932) reached his prime as the unifiying ruler of Norway and the Viking court at Avaldsnes was at its zenith. You can’t really argue against the idea of hoisting a horn of mead with his son, the wonderfully-named Erik Bloodaxe, can you?
Q: Where else in the world would you most like to visit and why?
A: Istanbul and the Hagia Sophia. I’ve been there before and like to imagine it is still Byzantium or, as travellers called it then in a distant echo of New York’s Big Apple – Omphalos, Navel of the World.