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December 2017: A West Country Christmas – Dorset in December

Thomas Hardy’s celebration of Christmas in Dorset in his early novel Under the Greenwood Tree is perhaps second only to A Christmas Carol (a version ...More
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Brave Man of Balsham, Cambridgeshire

Much of our legendary folklore is difficult to pin down to a specific time, but the story of The Brave Man of Balsham can be dated to a precise year and event; a precision spoiled by the fact that the tale has two versions: should we take ‘brave’ at face value? Or as ironic?
In 1010 the Vikings made one of their regular great raids, Thurkill the Tall landing at Ipswich , ravaging Suffolk and Norfolk , and taking the towns of Thetford and Cambridge before moving on to the far less well-known Balsham, on their route back to the coast – Balsham stands at a corner of Cambridgeshire that noses Suffolk and Essex .
The village so legend has it was wiped out almost but not quite to a man, the Norsemen taking pleasure in putting all they found to the sword. And here is where the legend divides in two. In the first, heroic version The Brave Man stands in the doorway of Holy Trinity Church there, sword in hand, single-handedly keeping the Viking warriors at bay like Horatio at the bridge. The alternative has ‘The Brave Man’ leaving the fight to hide in the church, where for whatever reason the Vikings failed to find him: he later emerged as the sole survivor of the raid on Balsham. You pays your Danegeld and takes your choice.

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