Viking battlefield site said to be in Borders

The site near Fountainhaill which Gudbrander Jonsson claims to have found the site of the battle between King Olaf of Scotland and the English King, Athelstan, in the early 900s AD.
The site near Fountainhaill which Gudbrander Jonsson claims to have found the site of the battle between King Olaf of Scotland and the English King, Athelstan, in the early 900s AD.
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An Icelandic helicopter pilot claims to have found the site of one of the most important battles ever to have been fought in Britain near a Borders village.

Gudbrandur Jonsson, from the city of Kopavogur, returned to the Borders at the start of this month with his wife, Maria Mariusdóttir.

Gubrandur Jonsson, from Iceland's Kopavogur.

Gubrandur Jonsson, from Iceland's Kopavogur.

The couple stayed for a week at Galabank Cottage, near Stow, 23 years after Gudbrandur first came to the region to indulge his passion for history.

His visit was part of a mission to find the burial ground of one of his ancestors killed in a battle between King Olaf of Scotland and the English King Athelstan in the early 900s AD.

The 65-year-old believes he has now traced the site of the battle to a field between the A7 and the Gala Water, near Fountainhall.

The result of that combat led to the formation of the United Kingdom, and it was arguably one of the bloodiest battles to be fought in Britain.

Gudbrandur used etymology, the study of words and the way in which their meanings change, and a magnetic locator with a sensor to source iron to locate the Viking burial site.

He used the Icelandic chronology of Egil’s Saga, which follows the lives of farmer and Viking Egil Skallagrímsson between the years of 850 and 1000, as his guide.

The Viking enthusiast told the Southern: “At the battle at Vinheidi, the two kingdoms of Wales and Scotland lost their independence to the kingdom of Wessex, leaving that kingdom to rule over all.

“My love for this story, Egil’s Saga, started when I was 17, and I started looking for the English silver given by King Athelstan to the Viking brother Egil.

“He took his silver treasure out in Iceland and hid it one night. It has not been found since, but I have a theory as to where it is.

“I have been looking for the battle site for 24 years, and it has haunted me ever since to go out there, locate the site, find the dead Viking, dig him up and take him back home to Iceland.”

Also using his pilot’s skills to scour the land, he now claims to have found the spot where Egil’s brother, Thorlof Skallagrimsson, was killed.

He first began his quest to source the burial site of his Viking ancestor in the Borders back in 1994. Back then, he drove up from Newcastle as Egil is recorded to have visited Hull and York during the years 936,937 and 938.

According to Gudbrandur, Vinheidi is the Icelandic name for Wedale and surrounding areas, and that is what led him to Fountainhall near Stow.

The battle, involving around 300 Viking warriors across both sides, has been subject to debate, with Icelandic and British historians disagreeing on its exact location and date.

The texts of the Icelandic saga argue that the battle at Vinheidi took place in 924. However, most British historians argue that it happened much later, in 937. British historians also argue that the conflict was one titled the Battle of Brunanburh, but Grudbrandur believes that it and the battle at Vinheidi are likely to be the same.

Most accounts of the Brunanburh battle come from poems and songs which Gudbrandur says are written in past tense and are simply requiems. He also said that the Icelandic name for fountain is brunnur, brunn in Norse and in Danish, suggesting that Fountainhall is in fact the location of Brunanburh.

In addition, he argues that the borgs described in the books, Icelandic for the word fortress, were where each side gathered. The locations of those, he claims, are Edinburgh and Melrose.

He added: “The dig stopped short of a grave site that could be that of the king of Scotland Olaf the Red out of respect for the locals.

“The possible grave site of the Viking is close by, with my instrument sounding out a possible magnetic sound from the armour of the dead Viking that is buried with him.

“However, my time had run out at the last day of the visit, so I will need to come back and finish this investigation with a final dig.”

The location of the site is on Cortleferry Farm, currently owned by John Weir.

During his stay, Gudbrandur donated four copies of Egil’s Saga to Stow’s community, and they can be found at the 18th century Galabank Cottage.