WIRRAL coastal communities will be confronted with a sight that struck terror into earlier inhabitants when a Viking longship careers towards the peninsula after voyaging from Norway.

But instead of being manned by rampaging,  axe-wielding Scandinavian warriors the reconstructed vessel Draken Harald the Fairhair will be rowed ashore by a specially trained crew of UK oarsmen and oarswomen who will make up a Wirral/Merseyside "Viking Navy."

Liverpool Victoria Rowing Club, based at West Float, Wallasey, has played a major role in training the crew.

The 35m long Draken is the biggest reconstructed long ship built to date.  It was recently launched at Haugesund and has been undergoing tests around the fjord and along the coast of Norway.

Its maiden voyage to Wirral – provisionally planned for May next year – has had to be put back for 12 months for tests to completed to ensure a safe journey across the North Sea.

The venture will consolidate the growing links between Wirral – once home to a Viking assembly – and Scandinavia.

Viking expert Steve Harding was lrecently received by King Harald of Norway in recognition of his work in the study of Viking heritage and developing links between schools in the two countries.

Steve, a professor of applied biochemistry at Nottingham University, said: "Naturally everybody is disappointed about the delay.

"However the Norwegian team has been extremely impressed by the formidable progress of out 'Navy' and to compensate for the delay negotiations are now underway to us to visit Haugesund in late May/June next year.

"Once there we will have the chance to practice – alongside the local Norwegian crew – in the local fjord.

"Our hosts will take us around the nearby Viking village or Karmoy and its fantastic historical centre."

Steve went on: "The Norwegians are exploring the provision of sheltered accommodation while we are there. However, because there would be so many of us we would – in keeping with true Viking tradition – almost certainly need to be prepared  to rough it a little by taking our own sleeping bags."

The delay, said Steve, would provide a greater chance to be able to welcome King Harald to Wirral to mark the occasion.

He disclosed: "I was fortunate enough to have the chance to meet him on a one-to-one basis in the palace and he confirmed his keen interest in the project and asked me to send him some details.

"He himself was once a strong oarsmen when he was a student at Oxford; although it is unlikely he will be taking an oar on this occasion.

"The other advantage with the delay is that it gives us a chance to find the rest of the funds to put up the Igimund statue of a Viking holding an oar at Meols Park in time for the visit."