Thursday, July 14, 2011

Living like a Viking - or at least a Kirk Douglas Viking - in rural Wales

"Hail Einar!"

"Hail Ragnar!"

This is how Vikings greet each least, that's how they greet each other in the 1958 movie The Vikings, starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh and Ernest Borgnine. The movie revolves around the two male leads Einar Ragnarson (Douglas) and Erik the Slave (Curtis) vying for the hand of Morgana, a Welsh princess played by Leigh. Although they don't know it, it turns out Ragnar (Borgnine) is father to both of them, one by a Viking woman, the other by the Queen Enid of England. Through various twists of fate, they end up meeting as adults, and Erik actually turning out to be the successor to the throne of England.

These 1958 Vikings are a rowdy, raunchy lot and they often refer to women as "wenches."

But wait - it gets even more politically incorrect...

Odin's test for unfaithful wives (in the movie, anyway) consists of throwing axes at the accused wench's pinned pigtails; if they are cut off, she's innocent; if she's killed by an axe, she was guilty. One of the memorable scenes sees Douglas grab the axe from the hand of slighted husband, to save her from death by throwing it himself (he was the one who actually cheated with her!) while Borgnine yells, "You're too - drunk! You'll cleave the wench in half!"

The first of many pub stops in Wales.
As you can, women's rights did not get much consideration in this movie (keep in mind, it was made in the mid-50s).

So, you say, what does have to do with a blog about travelling and paddling (aside from the fact Einar's funeral consists of putting him in a boat and shooting flaming arrows at it as it floats across the lake)?

Funny you should ask...

Throughout the movie, both Einar and Ragnar keep referring to the kidnapped Princess Morgana as the "little wench from Wales."

Well, during time spent in Wales last year, you can bet I was on the lookout for .... (you guessed it!)... a "wench from Wales."

It didn't take long, actually.

Our first day in the country saw us wind up for lunch at a little country tavern called "The Pelican in Her Piety."

A pint of Brains served up
by a wench from Wales
Yeah, they do have some weird names for pubs, there. Even weirder: you can ask for a pint of Brains - and they'll give you one.

That's because Brains is one of the beers brewed locally in Wales.

Anyway, we're sitting down at this table and who should come over to take our order but .... (yep!) ... a wench from Wales.

Of course, I ordered a pint of Brains. Being someone who always likes to increase my intelligence level, I ordered more Brains. (I'll refrain, at this point, from making jokes about how beer made Bud wiser...)  

At the same time, I took the opportunity to chat up the wench from Wales, a little. I did, however, manage to refrain from asking if she'd ever had to undergo Odin's tale for unfaithful wives; I didn't even call her "wench." (She looked like she might have clonked me with an empty mug if I had.)

After lunch, we strolled through the ruins of an old castle, a fairly common site around the Welsh countryside. This one was Ogmore Castle, right by a small stream.

The next day, we got to do it all over again: lunch at a pub, Brains served up by a wench from Wales...and again the day after that.

Ogmore Castle, outside the Pelican Pub.
I was almost sad when we arrived at the St. Bride's Spa Hotel the fourth day of our journey along the southwest Wales coast. No wenches there - no Vikings, either; it was just too upscale. Although on our way there, we did pass through Swansea, the hometown of Catherine Zeta-Jones (Douglas), a modern-day wench from Wales (and a very comely one, at that!)

Hey, isn't it funny Kirk's kid Michael ended up marrying a wench from Wales...?

Wonder if watching Dad's old flicks had anything to do with it ... ?

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