The Romans are easy – straight roads, baths, draughty theatres and numbers that are letters.
But the Vikings? What they found, they knocked down (sorry Whitby Abbey) and what they built, fell down (the little pig who built his house out of mud and wood didn’t come off too well against the wolf).
But places names, oh yes! – by’s are everywhere, with a rather vague meaning of farm, village or place.
About as useful as FC, United or City, really. Hence Danby was ‘Danish village’ (try their pastries). There seems to be some dispute over whether Whitby was White Village or belonged to a Viking called Hviti, and I’m not going to be the one to get between fighting historians.
A few are rather super.
You won’t get better than Ugglebarnby (Owl Beard’s Farm). Staithes meant landing place, and anyone who assumed that the Vikings all just sailed up the Esk should know this is also the derivation of Toxteth (Toc’s Staith) in Liverpool. The word Riding (not in the horsey sense) comes from ‘thrithing’ meaning third. Sleights comes from ‘Sletta’ (flat field).
Although I guess after Blue Bank anything seemed flat.
They also set a trend for living high inland, mostly because they wanted a good view of ... rival Vikings attacking from the sea. If you’ve ever been to Raw, and thought just ... why? This is why.
And then there are their descendants. Although the Vikings finally suffered humilating defeat on their home turf at Stamford Bridge (history repeats itself) by ‘soon to lose his unbeaten record’ King Harold, many settlers remained.
Oswald Harding, in ‘Yorkshire, North Riding’ (1962) wrote “the village folk live in fierce detached shyness. The Viking blood is still strong-running. They are a silent dour people, busy among shore-wrack and sea-junk, nets, crab-pots, boats, tackle and such”
The men were probably not much more fun.
More sinisterly, when I tried to research...and by research I mean Google...the heroic rescue of the crew of The Visitor by Whitby lifeboatman in 1882, I found one lengthy, descriptive, if rather oddly written article about the deed which kept banging on about how the locals had never lost their pure viking blood.
It eventually dawned on me that I had stumbled onto a website of the far-right. And that, of course, is why I deleted my browser history.
Finally, they gave us the one Viking joke I know. Thor, the hammer-wielding, slightly camp, Thursday name provider, was riding Odin’s eight legged horse (this is a well-researched joke) through the heavens.
“I AM THOR!!!” he cried!
“You forgot your thaddle thilly”, said the horse.