Population pressure in Scandinavia leading to insufficient cultivatable land led to Vikings searching out new lands where they could settle and earn a living. They first looked for nearby and familiar places, but later expanded east and west to more challenging and sometimes inhospitable lands.
Shetland and Orkney were the first ports of call for the Norwegian farmers. The landscape was similar to that of western Norway and provided them with farm land, fish, fowl and whales. The influence on the islands was great – they named every feature in the landscape using similar names and words from western Norway. The isles provided stepping stones to the west coast of Britain and Ireland, and further west to Faroe and Iceland.
They sailed southwards to the Western Isles and along the west coast of Scotland, settling, and, from these bases, raiding coastal churches and monasteries in northern Britain.
England, Wales and Ireland
They continued southwards to north west England, the Isle of Man, Wales and Ireland. Dublin was established in 841 and grew into an important settlement and centre of trade. Other important settlements were established at Waterford, Limerick and Cork.
York (named Jórvík by the Vikings) was seized in 867 and by 876 had become the capital of a new Viking kingdom. They went on to raid and settle in other towns, including London, but the city was recovered by King Alfred the Great's army in 886.
The country was then divided up and an area, which became known as the Danelaw, lay north and east of a line from Chester to London and included the counties of Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire.
Raids on England began in 835 and continued almost every year.
The incoming Vikings gave their place names to features in the landscape, and many of these are still preserved today.