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About Me

Capt. Alan Price

A global traveled lecturer on Viking Shetland-Pembrokeshire history, Alan, based in London, having turned down a position at the Viking Institute, now spends much of his time "in-the-field" gathering, and researching, fresh evidence on Shetland and in Pembrokeshire. Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland are, also, destinations well featured in Alan's itinerary.


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Over 1,200 years ago, the Vikings, in swift wooden Longships, equipped with both sails and oars, marauded and traded along the western coast of the British Isles. They regularly reached as far as, what is now known as "Pembrokeshire" on the west coast of "Wales".

Indeed, the region suffered from devastating and relentless Viking raids: St. Davids (formerly, Menapia, then the chief point of departure for Ireland), was attacked 11 times between 967 and 1091.

The Vikings overwintered and established many settlements and trading posts. Examples being: Fishguard (the name Fishguard derives from old Norse fiskigarðr meaning "fish catching enclosure") and Goodwick - from a combination of the old Norse forms: góðr (good) and vik (bay or cove) giving góðrvik. Compare formation with Reykjavik (Smoking Bay) where reykr = 'smoke'.

In some instances, North Pembrokeshire men became Viking mercenaries, others formed an alliance to guard against further Viking attacks - a Viking/Welsh alliance in 878 defeated an Anglo-Saxon army from Mercia. Christian followers of St. David (Bishop of Menevia; canonized by Pope Callistus II in 1120) and St. Justinian, sought Christian salvation for the Vikings.

Horsemanship connected both societies, as, the Vikings, well used to working with Shetland Ponies admired the talents and skills of their Pembrokeshire counterparts with Welsh Ponies - the best examples of which were to be exported to Shetalnd and crossed with the native stock.

And, in the Irish records, Welsh horses are mentioned on various occasions, they appear to have been the most highly prized during the Viking Age and a trade in them seems to be firmly established at this time. Clearer evidence for Viking contact with Wales comes from the Historic and Municipal Documents of Ireland. It records the names of the citizens of Dublin at the end of the twelfth century and records a number of people from Wales, including: Haverfordwest, and the north coast of Pembrokeshire - Fishguard to Porthclais / St. Davids.

Pembrokeshire mercenaries, on reaching Shetland, found the local women initially unfriendly as they claimed that they (the Welshmen) were not clean enough. To address this problem, and prove their masculinity, they decided to have a ritualistic cleansing festival. This eventually became known as HAAGDYVE

Mavis Grind, the bathing site chosen to enable participants to wash, connects the North Sea and Atlantic and, as such, is the only place on the mainland where a Longship can be dragged from the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean avoiding a long diversion north or south. The word grind means crossing place in Shetland’s old language. It appears the local women succumbed to the handsome and now cleaner Welshmen.

The Vikings and Welsh mercenaries returned to Northern Islands regularly, however, the Welsh remained on the British island, now called Shetland; whilst the Vikings returned home to prepare the next voyage.


Pembrokeshire mercenaries, on reaching Shetland, found the local women initially unfriendly as they claimed that they (the Welshmen) were not clean enough. To address this problem, and prove their masculinity, they decided to have a ritualistic cleansing festival. This eventually became known as HAAGDYVE.

It is important to note that along with the Welsh of North Pembrokeshie, records also show that in 835 AD the inhabitants of Cornwall (the West Welsh) were in contact with the Viking raiders whom they contracted with to fight against the Anglo-Saxon King Ecgberht. Ecgberht had subjugated the Cornish in 823.

Combined Welsh / Irish / Norse attacks were not uncommon: 1081 AD Gruffydd ap Cynan again appealed to King Diarmaid, who presented Gruffydd with a fleet assembled at Waterford, manning it with Norse, Irish, and Welsh troops. Gruffydd's plan this time was to land in South Wales and strike northwards, so the fleet landed at Porthglais, just slightly southwest of the Church of St. David at Menevia. Gruffydd sought a blessing for his troops from the bishop at St. David's, then Gruffydd's forces, with his ally King Rhys ap Tewdwr of Deuhebarth, marched north and met the enemy at a place called Mynydd Carn, engaging them in battle just before nightfall. Gruffydd's victory was short-lived, for Roger, Earl of Shrewsbury, with the aid of Earl Roger of Montgomery, lured Gruffydd into a trap at Rhug in Edeirnion, taking him prisoner. Gruffydd was kept jailed in Chester for several years. The Earl of Shrewsbury further rendered Gruffydd's forces harmless by decreeing that each man of Gruffydd's army would have his right thumb struck off, thus preventing them from handling bows or the dreaded axes that were their primary weapon.

Welsh leaders were also prepared to travel considerable distances in order to negotiate with the Vikings: ca. 1087 AD Gruffydd ap Cynan went to the Orkneys (south of Shetland) to assemble a fleet of Norse warriors to help him conquer the kingdom of Venedotia in North Wales. King Goðred Mac Sytric, ruler of Man, the Hebrides and Dublin, was willing to assist Gruffydd in his venture and provided him sixty ships and troops to man them.

“HAAGDYVE (Word origin): Derived from the "Norm" language. ” — Dr. M. Williams

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Bishops Palace at St. Davids Cathedral: Many of the bishops were murdered by raiders and marauders, including Bishop Moregenau in 999 and Bishop Abraham in 1080.

Norn is an extinct North Germanic language that was spoken in the Northern Isles (Orkney and Shetland) off the north coast of mainland Scotland and in Caithness in the far north of the Scottish mainland. After Orkney and Shetland were pledged to Scotland by Norway in 1468/69 it was gradually replaced by Scots. Norse settlement in the islands probably began in the early 9th century. These settlers are believed to have arrived in very substantial numbers and like those who migrated to Iceland and the Faroe Islands it is probable that most came from the west coast of Norway. Shetland toponymy bears some resemblance to that of northwest Norway, while Norn vocabulary implies links with more southerly Norwegian regions.

The Viking Age

During the Viking Age, Scandinavian men and women travelled to many parts of north Pembrokeshire, Europe and beyond, in a cultural diaspora that left its traces from Shetland to Newfoundland to Byzantium. This period of energetic activity also had a pronounced effect in the Scandinavian homelands, which were subject to a variety of new influences. In the 300 years from the late 8th century, when contemporary chroniclers first commented on the appearance of Viking raiders, to the end of the 11th century, Scandinavia underwent profound cultural changes.

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Fishguard in North Pembrokeshire, was also known as Fissigart, Fisgard, Fysgard, Fiscarde, Fiscard, Ffiskard, Fishgard, Fyshcard, Fisshecard, Fishingard, Fissingard, Fyshingegard, Fysshyngarde, Fyshinggard, Ffishingard or Ffishinggard. From O.N. fiskr, "a fish" and garðr, "an enclosure." Fistard, on the southwest of the Isle of Man, is identically derived. The name probably refers to the location as being an ideal one for catching fish, and the harbor at Fishguard is an excellent one that would have attracted Hiberno-Norse traders.
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Goodwick, adjacent Fishguard in North Pembrokeshire, probably derives from a combination of the old Norse forms: góðr (good) and vik (bay or cove) giving góðrvik. Compare formation with Reykjavík (Smoking Bay) where reykr = 'smoke'.
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MS Stena Europe - 1,400 passengers, 452 berths, 456 cars, 1,120 freight lane meters - is a ferry owned by Stena Line whose headquarters are in the Viking city of Gothenburg, Sweden and operates on their Fishguard—Rosslare service. Thus, North Pembrokeshire, to this day, remains of strategic importance to Scandinavian business.

Genetic legacy

Studies of genetic diversity provide indication of the origin and expansion of the Viking population. Haplogroup I-M253 (defined by specific genetic markers on the Y chromosome) mutation occurs with the greatest frequency among Scandinavian males: 35% in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, and peaking at 40% in south-western Finland. It is also common near the southern Baltic and North Sea coasts, and successively decreases further to the south geographically.

Female descent studies show evidence of Norse descent in areas closest to Scandinavia, such as the Shetland and Orkney islands. Inhabitants of lands farther away show most Norse descent in the male Y-chromosome lines.

A specialised genetic and surname study in Liverpool showed marked Norse heritage: up to 50% of males of families that lived there before the years of industrialisation and population expansion. High percentages of Norse inheritance—tracked through the R-M420 haplotype—were also found among males in the Wirral and West Lancashire. This was similar to the percentage of Norse inheritance found among males in the Orkney Islands.

Recent research suggests that the Celtic warrior Somerled, who drove the Vikings out of western Scotland and was the progenitor of Clan Donald, may have been of Viking descent, a member of haplogroup R-M420.