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Raiders of the Norse Largs

LARGS is famous for its views across the Clyde estuary and the islands of Bute and Cumbrae just offshore, as well as for Nardini's ice-cream.

It is also home to a significant part of Scotland's Viking heritage, which is celebrated this weekend as part of the annual Largs Viking Festival.

The festival, which ends tomorrow, commemorates the Battle of Largs - more of a skirmish, really - between Viking raiders and the Scottish defenders in 1263. Late in the summer of that year, King Haakon IV of Norway sailed into the Firth of Clyde in a large ship complete with dragon's head. At that time, he ruled over all the Scottish islands and had come to add Bute and the Cumbraes to his kingdom.

The Norwegian ships anchored in the sheltered channel between Great Cumbrae and Largs. Fierce storms blew several ships ashore and a Norwegian force was landed to cover attempts to refloat them. The Scots resisted and eventually forced the Norwegians back to their ships. Haakon's fleet, damaged by the storms, sailed home to the Orkneys.

The Battle of Largs was the last Norse raid on the mainland of Scotland. The Scots' victory allowed them to regain control of the western islands. Enmity between Scotland and Norway was ended by a royal marriage as a result of which Haakon's great-grand-daughter succeeded to the Scottish crown in 1286. The child is known in Scottish history as the Maid of Norway and her untimely death caused the disputed succession which led to the War of Scottish Independence.

The battle marked a turning point for the Vikings. In the face of defeat, they had to rethink their ways as a warrior race and instead turned to trading, farming and exploring - which proved to be a much more successful way of life.

The Battle of Largs is commemorated by the Pencil Monument, a 70ft-high structure completed in 1912, which lies about a mile south of town along the shoreline footpath. The role of the Vikings in Scottish history is still celebrated at Vikingar, the town's exhibition and leisure space. It tells the story of the Vikings in Scotland and also looks at the Viking people, their lives and beliefs, with exhibits ranging from the village homestead to the Hall of the Gods.

The weekend's events include the re-enactment of a Viking skirmish on Largs pier. Organisers expect visitors from around the world, including many of Viking descent.

• Largs Viking Festival continues today and tomorrow. For more details visit www.largsvikingfestival.com

 
 
 

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