Scandinavia in “The Voyage of Othere as told to King Alfred of Wessex c. 890”

Octher said, that the countrey wherein he dwelt was called Helgoland [Hċlogaland]. Octher tolde his lord king Alfred that he dwelt furthest North of any other Norman. He sayd that he dwelt towards the North part of the land toward the West […] yet it is all desert and not inhabited, unlesse it be very few places, here and there, where certeine Finnes [saami] dwell upon the coast, who live by hunting all the Winter, and by fishing in Summer. He said that upon a certeine time he fell into a fantasie and desire to proove and know how farre that land stretched Northward, and whether there were any habitation of men North beyond the desert. Whereupon he tooke his voyage directly North along the coast, having upon his steereboord alwayes the desert land, and upon the leereboord the maine Ocean: and continued his course for the space of 3. dayes. In which space he was come as far towards the North, as commonly the whale hunters use to travell. Whence he proceeded in his course still towards the North so farre as he was able to saile in other 3. dayes. At the end whereof he perceived that the coast turned towards the East[…] and thence he sailed plaine East along the coast still so far as he was able in the space of 4. dayes. […] forsomuch as the coast bowed thence directly towards the South [he is rounding the Kola peninsula in northern Russia, entering the White Sea], or at least wise the sea opened into the land he could not tell how farre : so that he sailed thence along the coast continually full South, so farre as he could travaile in 5. dayes; and at the fifth dayes end he discovered a mightie river which opened very farre into the land. […] which was the first peopled land that he had found since his departure from his owne dwelling : whereas continually thorowout all his voyage, he had evermore on his steereboord, a wildernesse and desert countrey, except that in some places, he saw a few fishers, fowlers, and hunters, which were all Fynnes[…]

[…] The Biarmes tolde him a number of stories both of their owne countrey, and of the countreyes adjoining[…] This onely he judged, that the Fynnes and Biarmes speake but one language. The principall purpose of his traveile this way, was to encrease the knowledge and discoverie of these coasts and countreyes, for the more commoditie of fishing of horse-whales, which have in their teeth bones of great price and excellencie : whereof he brought some at his returne unto the king. Their skinnes are also very good to make cables for shippes, and so used. This kinde of whale is much lesse in quantitie then other kindes, having not in length above seven elles. And as for the common kind of whales, the place of most and best hunting of them is in his owne countrey […]He was a man of exceeding wealth in such riches, wherein the wealth of that countrey doth consist. At the same time that he came to the king, he had of his owne breed 600. tame Deere, of that kinde which they call Rane Deere […] He was among the chiefe men of his countrey one : and yet he had but 20. kine, and 20. swine, and that little which he tilled, he tilled it all with horses. Their principall wealth consisteth in the tribute which the Fynnes pay them, which is all in skinnes of wilde beasts, feathers of birds, whale bones, and cables, and tacklings for shippes made of Whales or Seales skinnes. Every man payeth according to his abilitie. The richest pay ordinarily 15. cases of Marterns, 5. Rane Deere skinnes, and one Beare, ten bushels of feathers, a coat of a Beares skinne, two cables threescore elles long a piece, the one made of Whales skin, the other of Seales. He sayd, that the countrey of Norway was very long and small. […]

Octher sayd that […] From this countrey towards the South, there is a certeine port called Scirings hall, whither, he sayth, that a man was not able to saile in a moneths space, if he lay still by night, although he had every day a full winde. And he shall saile all the way along the coast[…] From Scirings hall he sayd that he sailed in 5. dayes to the port which is called Hetha, which lieth betwixt the countries of Wendels, Saxons, and Angles, whereunto it is subject. And as he sailed thitherward from Scirings hall, he had upon his steereboord Denmarke, and on his leereboord the maine sea, for the space of 3. dayes : and 2. dayes before, he arrived in Hetha, he had Gotland on leerboord, and Silland, with divers other Islands. In that countrey dwelt English men, before they came into this land. And these 2. dayes he had upon his leereboord the Islands that are subject to Denmarke.

Source: Richard Hakluyt, "[Scandinavia in] The Voyage of Othere as told to King Alfred of Wessex c. 890" in Hakluyt's Voyages with an Introduction by John Masefield, vol. 1, (London, New York: London: J. M. Dent & Co. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1927), 56-60.

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