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Review: L'Anse aux Meadows

Attraction - Museum

St Anthony, Canada

Site of the first Viking settlement in North America

  • By SilverTraveller ESW

    2354 reviews

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  • 2011
  • Husband

73 people found this review helpful

L’Anse Aux Meadows is the major tourist attraction in the Northern Peninsula.

It has the lot…. The site is on a windswept bay dotted with islands at the tip of the Northern Peninsula. A stream flows through boggy and grassy areas with granite outcroppings and Moose can often be seen grazing in the valley by the visitor centre.

It is now a small fishing village but around 1000AD the Vikings had a short lived settlement here.

There were stories in the sagas that the Vikings had discovered North America and settled in a place called Vinland. No-one knew exactly where this was. In 1960 the explorer Helge Ingstad was searching along the Atlantic coast of Canada for possible sites for Vinland. He was shown the grassy humps and ridges which the locals had always thought was an aboriginal camp site. He excavated the site and found the remains of the waterfront and the foundations of three dwellings, workshops and an iron working smithy.

The site was the settlement established by Lief Erikson who is thought to have arrived with 3 ships and 60-90 people about 1000 AD. It was occupied intermittently over 20 years as a base and winter camp. There were a few all year residents who would collect food and fuel to support the settlement during the winter. Butternuts found on the site suggest the Vikings got as far as New Brunswick, which was possibly Vinland.

Ships could be hauled ashore, checked and made ready for long voyages. Not having to return to Greenland for supplies meant more time could be spent exploring and collecting valuable cargo for resale Greenland, especially wood. It is uncertain why the settlement was abandoned, It has been suggested it could have been the result of harassment by local Skraelings.

Allow plenty of time for the visit. It is best to go on a dry day as it is a ten minute walk from the visitor centre to the Viking remains and there is no shelter. The path is well made and suitable for a wheelchair. Access to the reconstructed site is good; less so to the actual remains.

There is a huge car park and a large intrusive Visitor Centre which makes no attempt to merge into the landscape. In September 2010 the exhibits were being refurbished so there was little to see. The gift shop had a good selection of books. There is a video explaining how the site was discovered and giving a bit of information about what can be seen.

The Parks Canada web site is disappointing and there is little detailed information about the site and no map. You are given a leaflet with a map of the site and when you buy your ticket and staff explain where to go and what to see.

Guided tours in English and French run throughout the day and take about an hour. They take you round the remains and put the site into context, explaining how it was discovered, its history and significance in North American History as well as the story of Lief Erikson. The remains were re-instated after excavation so it is worth doing the tour to understand what the different lumps and bumps are.

A Viking long house, shed, smithy and smelting hut have been reconstructed on the site. This is a good example of experimental archaeology as PArks Canada staff have managed to smelt bog iron (the only local source of iron) to obtain iron, proving that the Vikings could have done this. They needed a supply of iron to make nails for their boats.

The long house is surprisingly civilised. This is real hands on stuff. All the artefacts are modern and you are encouraged to touch, feel and try on everything. Put on the helmet and pick up the sword…

There are costumed interpreters who include Bjorn the chieftain, Thora his wife, Gunnar the ship’s captain, Harald a smith and Kol a serf who was building a boat using traditional tools (and hoping he wouldn’t be asked to sail it as he didn’t think it would meet the exacting requirements needed by the Vikings). All are very knowledgeable so allow plenty of time to talk and ask questions.

There is a nice 3km walk from the site along the cliffs which takes you back to the car park past the Skin Pond where seal skins were soaked to remove hairs before curing.

My only negative comment is there was no tea room attached to the centre (but this was the case in many of the Parks Canada Historic Sites we visited). The nearest are at the Norseman Restaurant which serves meals and looked and felt pretentious.

This is definitely a well worth while visit – Parks Canada at its best… informative and entertaining but not dumbing down.

The Parks Canada website for L’Anse aux Meadows is here:

http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/nl/meadows/index.aspx

Our website of pictures of L’Anse aux Meadows is here:

http://homepage.mac.com/wasleys/Canada/canada_10_mw/aa_NL1/09_LAnseAuxMeadows/index.html

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