On Fealan Flot

In recent posts I have shown how Burnley was the site of the great battle of Brunanburh. Of the many clues that place the battle in that corner of East Lancashire was a passage in the Anglo-Saxon chronicle which states that the battle was fought somewhere between 15 & 40 miles from a place that could be navigable by Viking long-boats, from where they would enter the Irish Sea. The only other clue that the poem gives us as to the location of these is that the boats went to sea from a place described as ‘fealan flot,’ which translates something like ‘shingly place where boats can berth.’

The actual translations (from Boswoth & Toller’s Anglo-Saxon Dictionary) are:

Feallan: dusky brown (like all ancient names of colours, indefinite); of shingle

Flot: n. Water deep enough for sustaining a ship


The above photograph is of Walton Bridge, a lovely grade II listed block of stones which spans the River Ribble in Preston, Lancashire, twenty miles to the west of Burnley. What we can recognize is that the Vikings would have used the Ribble as an entry point from the Irish Sea. Thus, the shingle beach at Walton Bridge is a perfect match for the ‘on fealan flot’ of the Brunanburh campaign. The bridge was built in 1712 on the site of a Roman ford, which makes it a perfect place for the sea-lanes to meet road traffic.

Close by, at Cuerdale, a great hoard of Viking silver was found in the 19th century, dated to roundabout the time of the Battle of Brunanburh (937 AD). Intriguingly, a antique Lancashire custom said that anyone who stood on the south bank of the Ribble at Walton-le-Dale, and looked upriver to Ribchester, would be within sight of the richest treasure in England. After re-examining the evidence, I found the crucial clue that dates the hoard to Athelstan’s reign. It is common knowledge that a number of coins, perhaps as many as 2000, ‘escaped’ the original hoard, rendering impossible an accurate dating. However, before these ‘thefts,’ one of the earliest numistatists to analyze the hoard. Joseph Kenyon (June 10th 1840), recorded a coin of Athelstan himself, as in;

The Anglo-Saxon coins are chiefly of St.Eadmund, Alfred, Edward the elder, and Athelstan; and as the last named monarch died in the 941, the coins have probably been buried for a period of about nine centuries.

Where the Athelstan coins are now, we don’t know, but I expect them to have been part of the 149 given to Queen Victoria as a gift, most of which have dissapeared. Either way, unless Kenyon was lying – which seems improbable – the Cuerdale hoard must now be dated to Athelstan’s time, & its proximity to Walton Bridge makes a connection to Brunanburh quite likely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>