On an earlier post I made mention of Sandy’s Iron Age forts, and in so doing touched on Vikings too. It’s true. There were Vikings in this part of the world.
Unlike the Romans, who marched, built roads and fortified, the Vikings sailed their longboats down the natural highways of the River Great Ouse and Ivel.
Unfortunately, Vikings didn’t tend to fortify hills like the Romans did, prefering to build palisades on low lying floodplains and marshes more handy for their longboats. These plains and islands have long since been drained for the most part, built on and civilised with houses and schools. Indeed, where Sandy Place Academy stands at the end of Park Road off the centre of town, a Danish Camp was built to protect the Danelaw in 886.
Part of the Kingdom of Guthrum;
Enemy of Alfred the Great, successor to Ivar the Boneless, it was Guthrum who went on to finish the campaign against Mercia. In ten years of war this Viking defeated all the lands of East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria by 874. Only Alfred and the Kingdom of Wessex stood in his way.
And Sandy is part of it.
Here was a fortified town of Vikings. A place of fierce warriors, perhaps the most bloodthirsty Europe has ever seen. A place of trade too, being so close to the border of Wessex. Trade must have taken place; it was their way. Longboats in the water, sails on the breeze, and blood in the air. Now a walk along the banks of the Ivel in Sandy takes on new meaning. A short stroll down Ivel Road and across a small footbridge to what is a nature reserve called ‘The Riddy’, here where Norman mills once stood.
But while we’re on the subject of Vikings, there’s more. It’s called Tempsford, less than three minutes north of Sandy on the A1. A village famous for being cut in two by that same road, it also hosted the airfield where spies and the secret service flew out of in WWII.
It's a tiny place, but with the rarity of being home to the site of a Danish burh; a small island that would have been a fortified enclosure. It was likely used as a base for forward attacks on the English in the tenth century and in later years as the site of a manor house. All you need do to visit it is leave at the Tempsford junction on the A1 and stop halfway down Church Street; cross the playing fields to an old world. A dry island now. It is accessed by a low bridge over what would have been water and marsh. There, where giant oaks stand, trees that perhaps bore witness to a Viking hoard and their defeat at the hands of Edward the Elder, King of the Anglo Saxons and son of Alfred the Great.
You see, in 917AD, the Danes gathered their warriors at Tempsford. From Huntingdon, East Anglia and Mercia they came, gathered here in this little village with Kings and Jarls, for to launch an attack on the City of Bedford. It failed. And in response, later that same year, Edward the Eldar launched his own widespread offensive. Here at the Battle of Tempsford the Danish burh was stormed and in the bloody slaughter that followed, King Guthrum II, King of the Danes, and Jarls Toglos and Manna were killed, their followers taken prisoner.
Vikings and the Kings of men no less, in Tempsford and Sandy;
A killing field;
And so again, around every little corner in England there lies a tale. A story of famous figures out of history and legend. Alive again. All you have to do is slow down and stop, look and see. You might be standing where Ivar the Boneless once lay down his law. Such are these amazing Isles.