Sefton’s Viking Coast

By Peter Herring

This is a coast of sand dunes and saltmarsh with meres and mosses of peat behind. Look at a map of this coast and a hidden heritage is revealed – a Viking heritage. Norwegian Vikings settled here and the language they spoke was Norse. Their word for a sandbank or sand dune was “melr”, a farmstead was  “byr”, an island was “ey” and a birch tree was “birki”. So if we look at the map of the Sefton Coast from Crossens to Crosby we can see how the Vikings named these places. The Dictionary of English Place-names by Ekwall will explain their meanings.

Crossens was nearer the sea then and was a headland (a ness) on which were erected crosses and so they called it “krossa - nes”. Somewhere nearby the Vikings raced horses because Hesketh comes from “hesta skeith” - a race course. Blowick was “blar vik” a dark bay or creek on the shore of the huge, black, peaty Martin Mere - “mere tun”. Before Southport existed, the area was known simply as Meols from the Norse word “melr” meaning sandbanks. We still have North Meols and Ravensmeols was a sandy place where ravens nested or perhaps was owned by a Viking called Hrafn. Birkdale was a valley of birch trees and Ainsdale was farmed by a Saxon called Aegenwulf. Perhaps Saxons and Vikings lived together peacefully here because nearby Formby was owned by a Viking called Forni.

A Viking ship, painted by Peter Herring
A Viking ship, painted by Peter Herring

Alt is a river with an ancient British (Celtic) name and it ran through a marshy place where alders grew. We still use the word carr for an alder swamp and the Vikings called this place “alt kjarr” - Altcar. Further south we come to Crosby – a farm with a cross or crosses erected so a Christian place. We can follow the Vikings into Liverpool and at Toxteth the Danish Viking Toki had a staithe or landing place – “Toki's stath”. Croc had his landing place at Croxteth and Aigburth was a hill with oak trees - “eiki berg”.

The Vikings didn’t keep to the coast and settled inland too.  Kirkby and Kirkdale are obvious and Aintree was a place with just one tree. Litherland was “hlidarland”, meaning land that sloped and Scarisbrick was also sloping land owned by Skar. Orm built his church at Ormskirk and Skelmersdale was a valley owned by Skelmer. At Burscough there was a fort “burg” near a wood “skogr” and Sefton was a “ton” where rushes “sef” grew. A closer look at the map will reveal long drained meres and mosses. Farm and field names will reveal the names of Viking settlers and the use they made of their fields. The coast has changed and some places have been lost to the sea while others which were by the sea are now landlocked. The old Viking names tell us something about how the land looked 1000 years ago, who lived here and what they did here.

Viking Sefton Map

About the Author

Peter Herring

Peter is an artist and wildlife photographer.