Auðr the Far-Traveler …

Before I even officially started on this PhD-adventure, I wanted to visit all the places where Auðr is once said to have been and even places that are somehow remotely connected to her. So, I made a promise to myself that, once my project is finished, I will follow in Auðr’s footsteps and set out on quite another Auðr-inspired adventure.

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Viking longship sailing on the Roskilde Fjord at the Vikingeskibsmuseet. ©Björn Kozempel

As soon as I started working on my Phd-project, I made a map in Google to pinpoint all the places that are mentioned in the sagas in relation to Auðr. Though none of the sources nicknamed her víðförla (‘the far-traveler’), Auðr did travel quite a bit and set foot on foreign soil at least 4 times according to most sources.

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My Google Map of Auðr’s journey.

Auðr’s story starts in Norway, where she is born into an influential family that resided in Raumsdalr (‘Romsdal’) in the northern most part of Western Norway. These are the green pins on my Google Map.

Some time in Auðr’s youth, her family was forced to leave Norway and they opted to sail West over the North Sea where her father Ketill Flatnose is said to have stayed over winter.

 

So, the next stop on her route was Vestan-um-Haf (lit. ‘West-over-Sea’ or ‘the British Isles’), more precisely the Suðreyar (‘the Outer Hebrides’) and Katanes (‘Caithness’ in the north of Scotland). Depending on which source you consult or rely on, her whereabouts might differ a bit from source to source.

For convenience sake, let’s just generalize here and say that Ketill took his daughter Auðr with him to the Suðreyar (‘the Outer Hebrides’). There, he settled permanently. In order to secure his position there, he formed alliances with other ruling men in neighbouring countries. As such, he married off his daughter Þórunn to Helgi the Lean — the son of Rafarta daughter of the Irish king Kjarval — and Auðr to Óláfr the White — the first Viking king of Dublin.

Óláfr reigned over Dublin and the area around it. The blue pin on my Google Map marks Dublin. Some sources are silent about Auðr’s marriage to Óláfr, whereas others only tell the bare minimum. What little we know of their marriage is that they had one son, who was called Þorsteinn the Red.

When her husband is killed in battle, Auðr returns to her father’s abode on the Outer Hebrides accompanied by her only son Þorsteinn. He forms an alliance with earl Sigurðr and conquers land in the Northern part of Scotland, where he settles and marries. When he falls in battle much in the same way as his father, we are told that Auðr is at Caithness in the northernmost part of Scotland. On hearing these sad tidings, Auðr has a knarr (‘a merchant ship’) built in the forest in secret.

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Aboard a Viking longship at the Vikingeskibsmuseet in Roskilde. ©Björn Kozempel

When the ship is finished, she sets sail for Iceland taking family and friends with her on her voyage.

 

On her way there, she makes two stop-overs. First on the Orkney Islands, where she marries of her granddaughter Ólöf and then on the Faroe Islands, where she marries off another granddaughter called Gro. These islands are marked by a dark purple pin on my Google Map.

 

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Sailing on the Roskilde Fjord. ©Björn Kozempel.

From the Faroe Islands, she sets sail one final time … to her final abode, Iceland. She lands on the southwestern coast of Iceland, where she visits her brother Helgi Little-Mouth. Disappointed by his lukewarm welcome, she continues her journey further North along the coast and sets sail to Breiðafjörður. There, she is welcomed with open arms by her other brother, Björn the Easterner.

 

After staying over winter at Björn’s place, she went in search of her high-seat pillars. And thus, we are told that she has breakfast at a place now called Dogurdarnes (‘Breakfast-ness’), looses her comb at Kambsness (‘Comb-ness’), she has crosses raised at Krossholar (‘Cross-hills’) … before she settles at Hvammur. After she has passed away, she is buried on the shoreline where the ocean washes over her grave as she requested.

These are but the most well-known of places that are connected to Auðr. There are a lot more to add to this list, but all are located in either Norway, the British Isles, Ireland, the Faroe Islands or Iceland. I hope to one day visit them all, perhaps not by sailing to each of them with a Viking ship (I do tend to get a little seasick). If any of you have tips or suggestions to make on what I should visit, where to stay or what to do … . Or, if any of you want to join me on my quest, please do let me know.

I would highly recommend a trip on a Viking boat in the Roskilde Fjord. You can find all the information on trips and even Viking ship sailing courses on the website of the Viking Ship Museum of Roskilde in Denmark. It gives you a real feel of what life was like on a Viking ship. On top of that, it gives you an idea of what kind of muscle-strength it took to get the boat rolling on the waves. All the pictures in this post were taken in the summer of 2006, when I and other attendees of the Arnamagnæan Summer School in Manuscript Studies paid a visit to the Vikingeskibsmuseet in Roskilde. We were treated to a trip on the Roskilde Fjord in a replica Viking long ship. And as to muscle power … the boat with the most women on it was the fastest!

A handy and wonderful resource for anyone who is interested in the locations featured in the medieval Icelandic family sagas is the Icelandic Saga Map project. The project, which is set up by Dr Emily Lethbridge, aims to geotag all the family sagas as well as Landnámabók (the latter is a work-in-progress) to the map. For example, you open the map for Laxdæla saga and pinpoint all the places mentioned in the text on a map of Iceland. As such, you can have a little virtual trip around all the places mentioned in this post.

Enjoy the trip!

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