Every year, I rave about the Abbey Medieval Festival, and people (who haven't been) look at me strangely. It is held on land next to the Abbey Museum, at Caboolture, just north of Brisbane, Australia. Every July, people who are nuts about some aspect of the medieval era travel from all over the land to spend 2 days living their fantasy. I am not an enthusiast to extent of the participants, but it is certainly a fun day out. So much to see, and do. The kids love it.
The entry is a bit Shrek like in that instead of lights or buzzers, the check out ladies wave a yellow flag to let you know the next available operator. If there is a problem they wave a red flag, and the front end controller runs over in her big billowy skirts and wimple. Once inside, take a moment to get a grip on the scale of this. It is astonishingly large - there is a jousting area, a medieval market place including a food court, at least 2 taverns, a Castle List, and 36 participant groups divided into several camps. Take a deep breath and wonder if you should have got the weekend pass instead of the day pass.
We went straight to the 'Koffee Kastle' and ran into some friends. Gypsy Husband is either waving hello or hiding his identity, not sure. Then it was off to wander..
Druid Tree Walkers, a medieval girl band, and an educational fashion parade to start. It pays to plan your day using the program, as you don't want to miss things like 'Knights Order of Lion Rampant' giving a talk (demonstration?!) on Medieval Feminine Hygiene. But if you do miss it, later on they do a ..workshop??...on Medieval Women's Underwear. These are only 2 of 60 activities that go on during one day alone. Not including the banquet and the carnivale. Did I mention it is big?
My favourite place in any festival - the Marketplace! Buy some pottery, jewelry, medieval books, soap, get a vigorous medieval foot massage (!!) buy some tarts from the tart cart...the food court is full of things like 'The Shank Shack', which sells cooked shanks obviously; 'The Stag Inn' which is a pub selling mead out of wooden cups..lots of authentic things to eat like rosewater cordial, strawberries and cream, toffee apples. You won't find any hot chips because they are not authentic to the medieval era; no corn, tomatoes or capsicum either.
There are lots of authentic looking medieval clothes, including this fur cape outlet. They did a roaring trade. Obviously there was no PETA in the middle ages!
Knights getting ready for battle. I always wonder who makes their costumes and weapons? Do they learn blacksmithing skills in order to make their own swords? How often do they get together and practise fighting? Does their wife yell at them to send the boys home, dinner is about to be served? Do they have the chain mail equivalent of a stitch and bitch? Where did they travel from, and how do you get a battle axe onto a plane? Inquiring minds want to know!
Watching sword fighting is thrilling - the thwack of hitting someone on the back or head is just so loud.They certainly don't hold back. They also have these very long handled axe thingies that look super effective.
This was the tent of the bird handler. The birds are beautiful and well trained, but this crowd was 3 deep watching a man and his wife eat a mandarin in silence while the owls turned their backs and shut their eyes. Awkward.
It was overcast all day, and then finally the heavens opened, but still these knights got themselves ready for battle.
Another battle in front of the 'castle' - a very realistic wooden front. This is the main area to show off battle re enactments, canon firings, and archery. And earlier - 'Medieval So You Think You Can Dance'. Awesome.
We went to the Jannissary Barracks to see some traditional Turkish Oil Wrestling, but one of the wrestlers had scarpered off, and the Kazuri Tribe Gypsies where holding a dancing lesson. Which the 3 boys jumped into without any persuasion. They started off well, but it went on for ages and ages, the music was really slow. They got a bit distracted.
And started their own dancing, which wasn't welcomed, I don't think....anyway..
These are the Shuvani Romani Kumpania Gypsies, and they are awesome. They do a range of different dances including a 'Mother Daughter' dance that moves me to (embarrassing) tears.
Their camp includes a lot of authentic vardos and tents. There is a fortune teller, a gypsy horse, they sell gypsy wares..it fulfilled all of my childhood fantasies about what a Gypsy camp should be like. There was even an authentic Gypsy wedding that the crowd was privileged to watch - for real! The Gypsy leader's son married his sweetheart in true gypsy style, with hand fasting and everything. A celebrant performed the ceremony, so it was a proper legal wedding. Everyone laughed when the groom vowed to 'always remember his wife is right'. Then they both started a slow dance that all of the Gypsies joined in one at a time, holding hands and weaving back and forth in a circle.
It was thrilling, and I can't wait to go next year.
You can learn more about the festival here.