Glorious sunshine, medieval living history, archery lessons and a castle setting. With lots to keep us entertained in the sunny Sussex countryside, it was a great way to spend the August Bank holiday weekend.
The Walled Gardens of Herstmonceux Castle
Once pitched up, the Welsh One and I went for our first look around and we soon found ourselves at the back of the Castle entering a walled garden.
Built in the 1500s, the gardens are really impressive. The flower beds and lawns are well maintained with plants that look healthy and blooming. Everywhere there are signs of investment and care, the gardens are clearly well looked after and a joy to visit.
There are seven formal gardens, which begin with a large lawned area that leads onto a rose garden. In amongst the red, yellow and pink roses stands a giant sundial as its centrepiece. Behind this garden lay the Shakespeare garden planted with flowers and trees that appear in Shakespeare's plays. Around the garden little plaques identified the plants and a quote that mention the plants.
Through an archway in the wall, the Butterfly garden emerged, dedicated to plants and flowers that encourage butterflies to thrive. This area had an ancient stone seat in it and was surrounded on each side by a hedge of yew.
Finally at the back of this garden lay a small herb garden. Most of the herbs there were thriving and beside them were signs giving a summary of the uses of each herb, for instance, to aid liver function, to relieve headaches or to add flavour to food.
The gardens were such a beautiful place to visit over our time at England's Medieval Festival I kept returning to this tranquil place again and again.
Medieval Living History
The festival itself began to take shape around us and as the afternoon drew on into Friday evening, more and more Medieval encampments began to appear all around the Castle.
By the time we left the festival each encampment had transformed into groups of sturdy tents with medieval cooking equipment, fires lit and activities in full swing. Men, women and children in authentic costume sat at tables eating medieval food, talking to interested visitors, playing musical instruments or doing something else appropriate to life as it was led hundreds of years ago. It was fascinating to watch and I loved the women's costumes in particular.
One aspect of England's Medieval Festival is a competition that takes place during the festival to find the best living history recreations. Each group is judged by a panel of anonymous judges with prizes for the various categories awarded on Sunday evening of the festival.
The Owl and Falconry Display
It's difficult not to be amazed by birds of prey, especially when seen up close. Sussex Falconry were back at the Festival with an impressive range of birds. It was amazing to see the difference in size of some of the owls and we also learnt some fact busting myths while we were there. Owls don't only come out at night, their heads cannot turn 360 degrees and the little tufty bits above their eyes are not ears (I didn't think they were anyway).
The other incredible bird on show was the King of the sky, the golden eagle. Even from the distance we were stood from him, he looked awe inspiring.
Shading from the beating sun under one of the enormous sweet chestnut trees we watched as two mercenaries from the Lancastrian side helped each other strap on their fully functioning armour.
One of the great attractions of England's Medieval festival are the battle scenes. It attracts large crowds so it was good that there was plenty of space for both the spectators and those wielding great big swords to be far enough away from each other.
Above the sound of gun fire and sword clashing, a compere gave us a running commentary of the battle scene. The sides had gathered for a battle from the War of the Roses, Lancastrian against Yorkist. There were knights and mercenaries, women carrying supplies and flag bearers. In complete contrast to the small up-close-and-personal domestic scenes that were also taking place around the Castle, this large-scale battle scene gave a far less comfortable perspective on life in the middle ages.
Archery and Jousting
By the afternoon we were ready to become more involved and we decided to try our hand at archery. The fact that it was only £1 for three arrows made it incredibly easy to get involved at the Retinue of Herstmonceux Castle. Our instructor could not have been more helpful at showing us what to do. I didn't hit the target once, my arrows kept falling short. Next up was my Welsh Bowman, his arrows kept flying past, too high to hit the mark. It was still great fun and I'd definitely do it again.
For the younger ones there was a fabulous looking jousting ride. The rider sat on a miniature horse, held a stick and had to hit a target as they travelled past on a purpose built track. There was also a dedicated kids area, called the Kids Kingdom and it looked like there was loads of fun for the little 'uns to be had there building, crafting and playing.
Food and Drink
The main eating area was at the Buxom Wench commanding the best view of Herstmonceux Castle and moat. Busy from morning til night, there was musical entertainment laid on in the evening for those who had stayed for camping or glamping.
During the day a great fire was lit and a hog was roasted, while behind the bar elderflower cider and mead was available as well as other more familiar drinks such as Amstell lager.
As a dedicated foodie the Medieval Banquet sounds hugely appealing so I'll have to look into booking tickets to that for next year.
Standout moments - I loved seeing the living history encampments and battle, the costumes were fantastic. It was also lots of fun learning how to use a bow and arrow. I'd definitely recommend having a go, if you get a chance.
England's Medieval Festival, Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex BN27 1RN
With thanks to England's Medieval Festival for our complimentary camping tickets. The Festival takes place every year on 27th, 28th and 29th August and next year will be their 25th anniversary.
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