The Viking Brand in Britain

Viking Bus Station in Lerwick, Shetland

Viking Bus Station, Lerwick

(c) TBirkett. CC BY SA

From Bus Stations to Burning Boats: Branding Shetland

There are areas of the British Isles where the Viking brand is closely connected to regional identity and where civic engagement with the Viking past is as important as commercial exploitation of the brand. The bus station in Lerwick is named after the Vikings, whilst numerous street signs bear the names of Norwegian rulers from the Viking Age. The Up Helly A' festival is held every year and with its procession of guizers in elaborate Viking-themed dress and burning of a Viking galley is an expression of the importance of Viking heritage in Shetland as well as (increasingly) a draw for tourists. 

Souvenir Runic Mugs from Orkney

Runic Mugs in Orkney

(c) Marjolein Stern. CC BY NC

Runic Branding in Orkney

In Orkney, as in Shetland, the importance of Viking heritage and the prominence of the islands in the history of Norse expansion into the British Isles has been translated into commercial branding by the tourist industry. In Orkney, the wealth of runic material has proven a ready source of inspiration, as demonstrated by these runic mugs, whilst runic knitwear, cheese and stationary also feature in most tourist shops. More examples can be seen on the map here.

Runes at Kirkwall Airport

Runic Airport Sign, Kirkwall

(c) Andrea Blendl. CC BY SA

Perhaps the most prominent piece of Viking branding in Orkney, however, is the large sign over the entrance to Kirkwall airport, which is the Norse placename Grimsetter written in runes of the younger futhark as krimsitir. Of course, such playful branding is a nod to a flourishing runic tradition in Orkney during the Viking Age and Medieval Period. The travellers who wrote elaborate coded runes and boasted of their runic prowess when sheltering in the neolithic burial chamber in Maeshowe were perhaps engaged in a runic branding all of their own! You can read more about Maeshowe and the runes on the Orkneyjar website.

Northlink Ferry in Lerwick, Shetland

Northlink Ferry in Lerwick

(c) TBirkett. CC BY NC

Connecting the Isles

As will be clear from the examples above, Viking heritage in the Scottish Isles is particularly prominent, and plays an important role in asserting an identity distinct from mainland Scotland. When looking at branding in particular, we can see a clear expression of a collective 'Viking' identity in the logo of Northlink ferries, which features a Viking pointing to the horizon. We find similar iterations of Viking heritage in the branding of Whisky from the Scottish Isles, though with local variations on this exploitation of a collective Norse heritage.

Swordsman Inn sign, Stamford Bridge

Swordsman Inn, Stamford Bridge

(c) Rebecca Hill. CC BY NC

Stamford Bridge Branding

There is an obvious connection to the Vikings in this particular village in the North of England, due to the battle that was fought here in 1066 against an invading Norse army led by King Harald Hardrada and the exiled Tostig Godwinson, brother to the English King. The battle represented a major defeat for the Norwegians, and was traditionally (and somewhat arbitrarily) taken to mark the end of the Viking Age. The heraldry of the village incorporates a Viking ship, and curiously it brands itself as 'Viking' (rather than Anglo-Saxon) through long-ship flower planters, street names and local companies such as the 'Swordsman Inn' pictured here. This may be because the Viking brand is much more developed in the public consciousness than that of the Anglo-Saxons.

Viking Road Sign

Viking Road Sign

Images from Stamford Village (c) RDale. CC BY SA

Odin's Table Scandinavian Cafe and Bakery in Nottingham

Odin's Table Cafe

(c) Rachel Sherlock. CC BY NC

The Missing Vikings?

Perhaps as interesting as the enthusiastic uptake of the Viking brand in the Scottish Isles and in parts of Northern England (Yorkshire in particular) is the absence of engagement in other areas of Norse settlement, including in the Midlands. The branding that we see tends to be specialist in nature (such as the reference to Odin in this Scandinavian Bakery in Nottingham), or drawing on a common, diffuse and internationally recognisable stereotype of the Vikings in popular culture. What is clear is that the Viking brand is not universal in the UK, but particular to regions, communities and towns with a tangible connection to the Viking past.