WIRRAL Viking enthusiasts have stolen a march on American TV over the first overseas voyage of a giant Viking ship half the size of a football pitch.

Initial hopes of a Wirral visit were dashed when the Norwegian team switched their plans for the Draken Harald the Fairhair to visit America after being offered a lucrative television deal.

Professor Steve Harding, from Wirral - a Viking expert who last year was made a Knight of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit - said in March that Wirral could not compete with the offer but was still hopeful the crew would visit Wirral on the way.

This week brought confirmation of a change of heart by the Norwegians.

Steve said: "The news is good – the boat is coming.

"We had all but given up once they told us they were going to try to get to the USA.

"But there is a new team in charge now. They have decided not to go to the USA and we have managed to persuade them to come to us for their first overseas voyage.

"They will sail for three weeks and then stop at the West Float for two weeks - from July 18 to August 3 – before sailing back."

A team of Norwegians came over to Wirral last week for detailed negotiations before confirming their intention to cross the North sea to Britain.

The Draken if 35m long and eight metres wide. It takes 25 pairs of oars, each requiring two people. It is the biggest Viking longship built in modern times.

King Harald of Norway has expressed an interest in the project and hopes are high that his keenness will translate into a visit to Wirral to greet the Draken when it arrives.