We must never lose the treasured Orkneys

When, last summer, a group of Orcadians declared they’d like to leave the UK and join Norway, it became clear just how little most of us in the south understand Orkney. Friends who know I go there often ask me where it is (somewhere near the Hebrides?), how many Orkney islands there are, and whether they are mountainous or flat. As Peter Marshall explains at the start of this astonishing tour de force, the 70-odd Orkney islands lie just 25 miles north of Scotland, separated from the mainland by the Pentland Firth – the point, he says, at which ‘the North Sea meets the Atlantic, a place of hidden, treacherous

Set in a silver sea: the glory of Britain’s islands

Islands always intrigue, hovering on the horizons of our imaginations – seen, according to your lights, as territories to be taken, ancient redoubts, repositories of secrets, even loci of lands of youth. Where there are no islands, we often imagine them – Plato’s Atlantis, the Celts’ Avalon, the Irish Hy-Brasil, Zeno’s Friseland, Columbus’s Antillia – and occasionally find them, like Terra Australis Incognita, postulated long before Europeans made landfall. Orkney was a trading station long before London, and Iona was the epicentre of Celtic Christianity Britain was once itself an imagined island – or rather islands plurally, called by Pliny Britanniae, one archipelago among others in the great geographer’s speculative

Should have been even longer with less gore: The Northman reviewed

In Rus, which we now call Ukraine, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgard) begins his pursuit of revenge. A sea captain who later aids him is called Volodymyr. But these incidentals have no relevance to the current war, except in one aspect that I want to come on to. Though the film’s hero is called Amleth, the original of Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet, you can forget Elsinore. The director Robert Eggers’s world in The Northman is that of the Norse sagas, of corpse-eating ravens, runes, mud, gore, human sacrifice and sudden violence. One of the runes on the title cards between scenes is named after the word for ‘ulcer’. The sun never shines. It

If you want to avoid intrusive anachronisms on TV, you have to go foreign

The iron law of TV these days is that if you want to avoid series that are suffocatingly right-on the only way to go is foreign. Any TV emanating from the Anglosphere is guaranteed to be chock-full of intrusive anachronisms. Bridgerton,which reinvents Regency England as a melting pot of diversity, is an extreme example of this, but even previously immune series have been infected. Season five of The Last Kingdom now has a resident black monk, whose ethnicity no one notices, though such a phenomenon, you might think, would have been considered quite remarkable in 10th-century Wessex. Vikings, too, I gather, has allowed its shield wall to collapse and has

How Denmark made England

International football is good for many things other than the sport itself. Politics, culture and history are all in play in the best matches. I’m hardly a football fan but I’d watch, say, Spain vs Portugal just for the spectacle. And who could turn away from Serbia vs Croatia, or Finland vs Russia? Like a lot of countries, England fixtures are often seen through the prism of the country’s history of conflict. So far, Euro 2020 has heard echoes of battles ancient and modern, as England played Scotland then Germany. And everyone knows the history of those meetings. But what about England and Denmark? How many people know that this is about