The place to be in March by Kirstie Newton
It’s all happening in Falmouth in March. Not only is spring sprung, but a major exhibition opens at the National Maritime Museum, and Dawn French is to be installed as Chancellor of Falmouth University. It all combines to cement Falmouth’s reputation as a red-hot destination.
The National Maritime Museum was awarded the title of the UK’s most family-friendly museum by Kids In Museum in September. Children visiting the museum from late March are sure to agree, when they discover the follow-up exhibition to Search And Rescue. Over two years, Viking Voyagers will feature artefacts of national and international significance, exploring what it meant to become a Viking and demonstrating how their mastery of maritime technology was the secret to their success.
It will also delve into the popular image of the bloodthirsty raiders, perhaps even debunking a myth or two. Visions of horned helmets, unkempt beards and fearsome raiding fighters carried by longships come to mind when thinking of Vikings. This new show contrasts the mayhem of the raiders, pillagers and ransackers with the resourceful trader, boat builder, craftsman and family man, woman and child. In many ways, the Vikings were just like us: they wore jewellery and combed their hair, and many were entrepreneurs, using smaller boats and ships to do business and seek new opportunities far from their Scandinavian homelands.
In fact, ships and boats were vital to Viking expansion; they explored and colonised, were invaders and migrants, and the seas and rivers were the highways and byways to amassing huge wealth and power through raiding and trading. Their power was built on their knowledge of boatbuilding and seafaring, enabling them to cross the icy Atlantic waters to Newfoundland and Iceland, down to the warm Mediterranean to Istanbul, and east along the river Volga to Ukraine and Russia. They reached further than any culture had before them, and during the 300 years of the Viking Age, from the 8th to 11th centuries, they left huge legacies.
The humanising of the Vikings is conveyed through interactive displays that amplify what life was like, and artefacts showing a culture that enjoyed ostentation and hierarchy as well as ritual, religion and the simplicity of family life. These archaeological finds, which are over 1000 years old, include weaponry, jewellery, household implements, slave chains and coins, richly showing the global reach of the Vikings and their ships.
The theatre is provided by a beach market scene, and a full-scale replica of a 14m coastal cargo Viking ship, from 11th century Denmark. Climb aboard and discover what it was like to sail and row in these awe-inspiring vessels, and explore the wares they carried. A 6m Norwegian faering – the iconic Viking small boat – has been recreated by Falmouth Marine School, and provides the centrepiece of a ‘touch and feel’ boatbuilder’s yard. Visitors can hold tools and materials used to design these clinker-built ships with their shallow drafts, which allowed them to navigate inland rivers and conquer kingdoms.
The exhibition has been years in the making, with illustrious partners including the British Museum, the National Museums of Ireland and Denmark, and Manx National Heritage among others, leading to an unparalleled richness of exhibits.
Exhibitions registrar Dr Tehmina Goskar says: “The story of the Vikings is incredibly alluring. Not only have they left us with a legacy of beautiful storytelling in their Sagas, but also an astonishing material culture. Above all, the Vikings were sailors; their men, women and children thrived because of their skills with boats and seafaring. So with our harbour location, celebrating the sea and small boats, there is no better place to come to hear their stories.”
The exhibition launches in the middle of Falmouth Spring Festival, which runs from March 12 to 29, celebrating the town’s open spaces, terrific coastline and gardens. Events include the Run Falmouth half-marathon (March 15), now part of the Cornwall Grand Prix; CT wellbeing columnist Helen Tite hosting Fitness on The Moor (March 21); and guided walks around the town and surrounding countryside, from Helford to Flushing.
There’s an emphasis on flowers this year, with an exhibition of floral themed art works at Falmouth Art Gallery from March 2 to 28; while at the Falmouth Spring Flower Show at the Princess Pavilion (March 21 and 22), children will decide the name of Cornwall’s newest daffodil, which will be shown publicly for the first time. Grower Ron Scamp is the show’s new president, and has won the Royal Horticultural Society‘s gold medal 19 times for daffodils he has bred over 37 years. The new daffodil has been at least ten years in production; it is short stemmed, has yellow petals and an orange trumpet.
Some events prepare the town for the beginning of the main season: the Spring Clean Days (March 13 and 14) see around 100 sites tidied up and landscaped by volunteers. There’s also a major feel-good factor in events like Paint The Town Yellow Day (March 12), which sees neighbouring flower farms collaborate to fill Falmouth with a riot of 15,000 daffodils. To welcome Dawn French as Chancellor of Falmouth University on March 26, a procession will walk through town with schoolchildren giving daffodils to passers-by and businesses. The Cider and Folk Fair takes place from March 27 to 29.
The event is Falmouth’s first major festival of the year, and is organised by the Business Improvement District during the shoulder season in a bid to attract footfall outside the main tourism period, filling restaurants and booking rooms that might otherwise remain empty. BID manager Richard Wilcox confirmed that last year’s festival drew 7,000 extra people into Falmouth, particularly as day and short-stay visitors. “It gives the town an economic boost that’s much needed after the two leanest months,” he says. “I’ll be rolling my sleeves up – you’ll see me digging, running and delivering flowers in the time-honoured way, and I hope people will be inspired to join me.”
- Viking Voyagers runs from March 20 to February 22, 2017. nmmc.co.uk
- Falmouth Spring Festival runs from March 12 to 29. http://www.falmouth.co.uk/search/events/falmouth-spring-festival/
- Falmouth Spring Flower Show takes place at the Princess Pavilion on March 21 and 22. There are over 100 different classes; entry is free, and the closing date is Sunday, March 15. For a schedule and entry form, call 01326 313658 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org