There seems to be some sort of magic about Castle Rising that always produces a great event and this August's bank holiday event was no exception. In fact, the custodian said that it was the best event he can remember in his 5 year tenure, his assistant who had been there even longer upgraded that to 8 years, which is high praise indeed considering the stonking events that we have put on at Castle Rising in the past. I think after our performances at Skipton and Castle Rising we can be rightly proud of how we have pushed on and improved in recent times.
I arrived on site on Saturday afternoon, already sunburnt during the drive over by the glorious sunshine that showed summer had finally arrived. We pitched the main camp inside the castle walls with the open display tents and arms and armour nearest to the public entrance. While we were setting up our six new recruits arrived and were introduced to the group, we quickly worked out the 6 degrees of separation - Ann, Francis and John from Derby; Gina joining independently from Derby she works on the same site as John; Elle returning to the UK did an event with us around 10 years ago at Barnard Castle, and her husband Heath who has been posting on this site longer than I have and is finally emigrating from OZ. In honour of the new arrivals from Australia and to make the most of the short summer, food on the Saturday evening consisted of a barbeque, we were planning to play cricket as well as we figured that between us twenty odd English men should be able to beat one aussie but the barbie went on longer than expected and bad light intervened.
Sunday morning after breakfast we took most of the camp out for a bill drill, in order to train up the new members. Master Clegg who was playing minor nobility for the weekend took the drill which steadily improved throughout the weekend, though the line was later criticized by the king for not being straight when we marching over a slope with six billmen and around 50 small children.
The event itself was set in 1483 and based on the idea of a foot tourney and competitions between the followers of Richard III played, as at Skipton, by Andy Horsfield and those of the Duke of Buckingham played by Andy Howes. Andy Howes seemed a little nervous, initially, to be given a historical figure to portray as opposed to just an unknown captain, but he quickly got into the role and it gave him a great platform to really involve the public in the show. The court and factions worked well, with the public encouraged the join in and support one side or another from the moment they walked through the gate and where challenged by the gate guards. Quote of the weekend came from Heath when during one of his long spells at the gate he challenged a party of American tourists with the line "I can tell by your accent your not from around here" (cobber).
The military part of the Tourney was achieved with set piece fights with Bills between Dean and Paul, with Sword between Andy Howes and Nigel and Poleaxes between Nigel and "Richard III". We also added in a quarter staff routine between myself and Darren to which we owe thanks to Dean for help with the choreography. On both days the pole axe fight ended prematurely with one or other poleaxe snapping, as we only had 2 poleaxes with us, this meant that we had to hastily re-shaft one on Sunday evening. Also on the military side, we extended the archery display to turn it into a competition between archers from the two households, namely Darren and Oggie, the display included the usual target shoot but we added in some more challenging targets such as cabbages.
The set piece talks about food, surgery and the arming of a knight that only involved one or two people were used to give the majority of us a break, while avoiding the lulls in activity that can otherwise occur in the day. The new feature of the weekend though was public involvement of with the games, while most of the games where the old favourites - tug of war, hat fencing, slap cock and buckler ball - were all played all outside of the arena, amongst the publics picnics. This gave the whole event a real holiday feel and once the public had seen the games in action a number of them started playing the same games themselves, which was great to see. The most fiercely competitive game had to be the tug of war contest. With the honours going to Buckingham's on the first day partly thanks to Verity quickly informing us of some of her sisters techniques, The second day though the Gloucester women had also picked up the techniques and delayed getting changed into posh costume in order to score a narrow victory.
Sunday was a replay of Saturday, except that the new recruits knew what was expected, every one else had refined their roles, and talks - my medicine talk was the best I have done I a few years. Every thing pulled together to produce a really slick show that ran to schedule, involved the public and held the crowds attention all day. In fact some of the public where so keen to participate that by the end of the day we had another 6 new recruits for Blore, though finding enough spare kit for them is going to be interesting.
Every one seems to have come away from the event buzzing, a number of members saying that it was they have enjoyed most in years, which seeing what a success Skipton was only two weeks earlier, shows how the group is really on a roll at the moment.
Thank you to all the re-enactors one who took part, to the crowd who came along to support us and to the castle for making us welcome. No doubt we will be back at Castle Rising soon.