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After a relatively quiet lull, things have once again got hectic and I seem to have many projects and ideas on the go at once. Most of them are just starting but hopefully will develop into something more fully fledged soon.

Arbeia & Crocketford Gala

The 3rd of August saw the Northumbria Vikings group descend on Arbeia Roman fort in South Shields to put on  bit of a display for the public. It was a fairly standard minor show with a good number of visitors and most of our local group showing up as well as a couple of people from Cumbria.

Arbeia itself is a rather nice little venue. As a Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall it is now in the middle of an urban area and the fact that there is a reconstructed gatehouse and series of buildings is rather odd – you drive through modern(ish) developments and suddenly are presented with a Roman gatehouse!

arb gate

The buildings are well made and are nice reconstructions with plenty of furniture and internal decor (unlike some places e.g Bede’s World) and informative signs dotted around. My only real quibble with them is that maintenance is lacking so run off from the roofs etc is causing black and green creep up the whitewashed walls, plaster is cracked in places and so on. Basically all the sorts of things that an army of slaves and craftsmen would be keeping on top of if it were a real Roman fort.

Slight quibbles aside, it is an excellent site and well worth a visit even if Roman archaeology is not your main area of interest.

This past weekend, some of Northumbria joined some of the Glasgow group for another minor show at Crocketford in Dumfries and Galloway. It was a pleasant little village show with free horse rides for the kids and we even displayed a boat that one of the group owns.

The family stayed for a few extra days after the show and as well as practising some forging (:D) we also got to take the boat out for an afternoon rowing around a loch which was excellent. On the way across to D&G we stopped at Caerlaverock Castle, which is a rather excellent triangular castle and well worth a look (I have photos that I will post when I sort them out.)

Skins & Tanning

One of the little projects I am most happy with currently are some skins I have rediscovered. A number of years ago (about 7-8) I acquired an assortment of raw skins and gave them a rough scrape and salt to temporarily preserve until I could get around to experimenting with some tanning. After salting they were popped into an airtight barrel and packed with more salt.

However, various circumstances (birth of the youngest, moving house & job etc) meant that the barrel was shoved to the back of a spare shed and rather forgotten about. Fast forward to last week and I uncovered the barrel while looking for some alum and thought that at the very least I should get it over with and empty the mess that undoubtedly lay within. Imagine my surprise then when I open the barrel to find that other than a slightly musty smell the skins were still perfectly salted! Excepting the uppermost (where the skin is fine but the fur is loose) all of the skins had retained their hair and were good and strong. So it looks like a project for the near future will be to building a stretching frame and get the skins finished off ready for some authentic tanning. In the past I have tried salt & alum tanning as well as oak bark and achieved mixed results, so this time I will maybe try something else.

Given the smell that accompanies most tanning operations (there was a reason medieval tanner were usually banished to outside the city limits) it would certainly make an interesting display for a show 🙂 Though I doubt I would be popular with the public, my fellow re-enactors or the client.

Prehistoric Artefacts

As I have previously mentioned, I was given a brief to make some artefacts that was, well, brief! That little job is now finally finished and I have a variety of Iron Age, Neolithic and “generic” artefacts for the customer including needles, necklaces, combs, pins and dice. In case anyone is interested, the artefacts were made for the visitor centre at the Tomb of the Eagles in Orkney and are now on sale there.


Above are examples of the Iron Age artefacts I supplied.

and the rest…..

Additionally, I played around with some dye stuff and bone (madder dyed bone is an amazing colour!), full details of which will follow when I finish off the others as well (verdigris etc). Also in the pipeline are some plans for a lathe designed to cut bones (based on a 14th/15th century design), a how-to for making a decent working bowdrill, and my latest project – another sharp sword, this time based around the horn and gold hilt from Cumbria.

So quite a lot on to keep me going, and I have a show at Chillingham both days this coming weekend, 3 days at Lindisfarne the weekend after and Largs a couple of weeks after that. Add into that a potentially huge change in the near future and I have a lot on my plate!