Tag Archives: Scotland

The River Tees: Viking frontier

The Viking history of the River Tees is explored in a series of YouTube videos by David Simpson.

Low Force waterfall
Low Force waterfall, Teesdale. Photo © David Simpson 2018

In an English region where borders and frontiers have shaped history more than any other, the River Tees is one part of the North East that’s often overlooked. Yet this valley has one of the most distinct and varied histories within the region and was as much a frontier as the Tyne, Hadrian’s Wall, the Cheviot Hills or County Durham’s ‘Land of the Prince Bishops’.

The story of the North East role as a frontier is covered in our new You Tube series: The Five Frontiers with four short videos covering each of five frontiers from the Tees to the Tweed.

Surprisingly, Scotland’s borders once stretched to the Tees and in the first of four videos covering the Tees we look at this legacy and the influence of the Baliol and Bruce families, both of whom once dominated the Tees valley and both of whom would produce Scottish kings. We discover how the Tees became a short-lived border for Scotland and became a focus for Scottish raids that sometimes bypassed much of the region to focus on the Tees.

The Tees was not just a Scottish frontier, however. In fact the earlier ‘frontier’ history of the valley is crucial to understanding the role of the North East’s distinct history and role as a borderland. The revelation of the river’s role in this respect is revealed through an exploration of the Viking period when the Tees became a distinct cultural frontier that separated off the rest of the region and helped form the North East’s distinct identity of which the Tees itself formed a part.

Viking settlement in the Tees valley divided the Kingdom of Northumbria into two parts with much of the Viking settlement falling upon Yorkshire and stretching only a little to the north of the Tees itself.

In the first of the four videos covering the Tees we explore the period when the Tees became the Scotland border before heading into the earlier period of Viking settlement that would partly inspire the nineteenth century Scottish poet, Sir Walter Scott in his Teesdale-themed work ‘Rokeby’. Scott partly draws on Viking place-names and themes including the Norse inspired river and stream-names: Balder, Thorsgill Beck and of course the famous ‘force’ waterfalls with their Viking terminology. Scott’s poem is set in a much later period – the Civil War – but Scott seems to have understood the earlier role of the Tees as a frontier drawing on its distinct Viking place-name nomenclature.

In our second video covering the Tees we see how two of the most famous Viking Kings to reign within England had associations with the Tees. Eric Bloodaxe met his end here in this valley as a result of a political intrigue associated with the old fault line within the Kingdom of Northumbria that lay along the River Tees.

The river separated the political sphere of influence of the ‘Kings’ of Bamburgh from the Viking kings of York and the downfall of Bloodaxe really marked the beginning end of the end for Northumbria itself. The other great and powerful Viking king associated with the valley is Cnut, the Danish king of all England who held land within the valley which he bestowed upon the Community of St Cuthbert at Durham.

The third of the videos covering the Viking heritage of the Tees looks at the Viking Wapentake of Sadberge – the Viking territory that lay just north of north of the river as well as exploring Viking place-names along the entire course of the valley.

South of the river we explore the strong Viking associations in the Cleveland area, focused upon the prominent hill of Roseberry Topping, once called ‘Odin’s Berge’ a former centre of Viking pagan worship. In this video we also look at the legacy of the unique and fascinating Viking hogback sculptures that are unique to Britain and most significantly focused on the Tees valley and neighbouring Northallerton ‘Allertonshire’ area of North Yorkshire.

In the fourth video again exploring the history of the Viking valley of the Tees we find the story of the Sockburn Worm, a probable mythological legacy associated with the Vikings and set within a loop of the river that has significant Viking links as well as connections to the Christian heritage of Northumbria. Finally, downstream from Sockburn within another loop of the Tees we visit the town of Yarm where the remarkable discovery of Britain’s first Viking helmet find was made.

At some point the Tees-themed videos will be followed by more videos covering the other frontiers of the region, namely Northumberland’s border country; the River Tyne and Hadrian’s Wall Country; County Durham’s Land of the Prince Bishops and of course the region’s magnificent frontier coast.