Legendary Travellers

They don’t make them like Leif Ericson anymore.
Leif Ericson discovered America about 500 years before Christopher Columbus, proving there was a whole lot more to being a Viking than pillaging and wearing horny headgear.

Born in Iceland around AD 980, Ericson came from a distinguished, but violent, pedigree. His grandfather had been banished from Norway for murder. Then his father, Eric the Red, was cast out of Iceland for three years after he too killed a man. Instead of pointing his longboat towards Europe, Leif’s dad turned northwest and in doing so discovered what we now know as Greenland.

The name Greenland was just a clever marketing scheme. When Eric’s three years were up he sailed back to Iceland and invited settlers to return with him to the land he’d discovered, calling it Greenland because he thought a name suggestive of warmth and life might be more enticing. Sexyland might have worked better, but the branding campaign seemed to do the job; the next year there were 600 unlucky souls camped out in the bleak Arctic winter, no doubt feeling mightily ripped off.

Leif called the continent Vinland (Wineland), and the great American PR machine purred gently into life

Fast forward six years or so and Leif gets his chance to step out from his father’s shadow. Leif’s travels so far had only extended to summer breaks in Norway. In 999, he nagged his father to take him on a voyage of discovery; a mission to find the rumoured continent that lay beneath the setting sun. But on the way to board the ship, the decrepit Eric fell off his horse and broke his leg. “Stuff you Dad,” thought Leif, and sailed as leader instead.

Heading west, Leif and his crew eventually came across a well-timbered coastline. On a nearby island they “went ashore in the afterboat and found dew on the grass, and they put their hands in the dew and put them to their mouths and thought they had never tasted any so sweet as it was.” It was, scholars agree, the east coast of America. Leif’s Viking party built huts and wintered on the new land. All that was left was to give the place an attractive name… a job made easier when Leif’s father-in-law discovered grapes and was found “rolling-eyed, tiny-faced and miserable to look at.” Leif called the continent Vinland (Wineland), and the great American PR machine purred gently into life.

If you want to show some love for Leif, then raise a glass of Chardonnay on October 9, which was officially declared Lief Ericson Day in 1964 by US President Lyndon Johnson.

Looking to embrace some of your viking curiosities? See where it all began and check out these cool Scandinavian deals on right now. (*Battle axes and horned helmets not provided.)

Image: A statue of Leif in Greenland.


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