Archaeologists have discovered what they believe to be the first Viking ship ever discovered in
Britain, buried beneath the Railway Inn car park at Meols. The vessel is thought to be a
1,000-year-old relic from the Norse occupation of the Wirral peninsular and was detected using
state-of-the-art ground radar technology.
At 30ft long by 5ft wide, it would have been able to transport dozens of Viking warriors, as well as
their goods and cattle. The boat has lain untouched and almost unknown since 1938, when builders
employed by the Railway Inn in Meols stumbled across a fragment whilst laying the car park.
Frightened that the discovery could hold up work, the foreman ordered it reburied, but not before
one of the builders drew a quick sketch.
The drawing ended up in the hands of his son, John McRae, who handed it in to the local museum
and authorities in 1991 after seeing a regional television programme about Vikings on the Wirral.
There it lay, virtually unread, for more than a decade.
Professor Stephen Harding of the University of Nottingham, who carried out the ground scan commented:
"That was that until a few years ago when the pub made an application to build a patio. Then it was
unearthed that the patio foundations were not allowed to go below a certain point, because of the
boat. The pub landlord mention this news to a few local people, including a policeman with an
interest in Viking history, who told me".
Prof Harding, an expert on the Merseyside Vikings, paid £450 for a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)
survey of the site, which revealed the precise location and dimensions of the vessel. He believes it is
either a Viking transport boat, similar to a longship, or a ship from the centuries that immediately
followed the Viking era. It has overlapping planks, typical of Viking "clinker" boats.
"If indeed Viking, this would be a very very major find anywhere in the world, and unique for Britain.
If it is not, it is still very interesting." He is now applying for European funding to excavate the site,
which would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. The boat is thought to lie 6ft to 10ft (2m to 3m)
underground. Any dig would probably be led by Norway's Dr Knut Paasche, the world's leading
expert on Viking ships.
"You would have thought that it's an archaeologist's dream to have a major find in front of a pub
entrance, but it's actually a bit of a nightmare. The dig would take months, and we would need the
permission of the brewery and the pub," he said.
Whilst Viking boat burial sites have been uncovered in the UK before, the wooden vessels have
always been rotted away, leaving only their more durable contents. But the Wirral boat is preserved
in waterlogged blue clay, and thought to be almost completely intact. Prof Harding says it could
eventually be removed and displayed in a museum, or even made accessible from the pub's cellar,
allowing patrons to enjoy a stunning historical view with their beer. The curious thing is that the
Meols longship is several miles from the coast, Prof Harding suggests that it could have been washed
inland during flooding before sinking into a marsh.
|The lost Viking Clinker in a Marsh - From ITV's "Lost Treasures"
|The Railway Inn & Car Park
|Historian Mark Olly & Prof Stephen Harding at the Railway, Meols
|John McRae whose father discovered the vessel in 1938
|The remains of a Viking Boat in a Museum