Viking-Age sailing routes of the western Baltic Sea – a matter of safety
By Jens Ulriksen
Wulfstan’s voyage : the Baltic Sea region in the early Viking age as seen from shipboard, edited by Anton Englert and Athena Trakadas (Roskilde: Viking Ship Museum, 2008)
Introduction: Included in the Old English Orosius, compiled at the court of King Alfred the Great of Wessex around 890, are the descriptions of two different late 9th-century Scandinavian sailing routes. These originate from Ohthere, who sailed from his home in Hålogaland in northern Norway to Hedeby, and Wulfstan, probably an Englishman, who travelled from Hedeby to Truso. The descriptions are not detailed to any degree concerning waypoints or anchorages, and in spite of the fact that lands passed are mentioned in both accounts, the information provided is sometimes unclear or confusing. For example, departing from Hålogaland, Ohthere refers to both Ireland and England on his starboard side even though he obviously has been unable to glimpse these lands when sailing along the Norwegian coast. The same peculiarity applies to Wulfstan, who mentions the present-day Swedish landscapes Blekinge, Möre, Öland and Gotland on his port side. It is more likely that neither of the two were describing sea routes, but rather describing the general geography to an audience with limited knowledge of this area.
Most interesting in the accounts of Ohthere and Wulfstan are the description of two very different ways of travelling. While Wulfstan’s ship sailed for seven days and nights from Hedeby to Truso, Ohthere described how a voyage from Hålogaland to Skiringes healh (Kaupang) took at least a month in fair wind and anchoring every evening.