With hindsight it was clear that trouble had been brewing for some years. The Shetlands and Orkneys had both been overrun by Viking invaders in the later 8th century, while both Caithness and Sutherland in Scotland had been attacked and pillaged. In 789 three ships from Scandinavia put in to Portland on the south coast of England. When the local government official rode down to ask the new arrivals their business, they killed him and then fled.
Even so the people of Northumberland do not seem to have expected any trouble. They certainly took no precautions. They later said that mysterious fiery dragons had been seen in the sky and regarded these as omens of evil. Whether these were comets, meteorites or mere imagination it is impossible to know.
In fact the North Sea was already being travelled by comparatively large fleets of Norwegians intent on exploration, loot and violence. Whether it was pressure of population increase at home, a thirst for adventure or pagan savagery that urged the Vikings on is still an open question, but come they did. They were pagans who cared nothing for the Christian faith of England, treating churches with a contempt that shocked the English – or at least the monks who wrote down records of events.
from "Battlefield Walks of Northumberland" by Rupert Matthews.
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