Last weekend we packed Baby into the car and took a trip back in time at Tewkesbury Medieval Festival.
The Festival happens one weekend every July and is a familiar stomping ground of mine, although this was my first trip as a civilian. Yes, back in my 20’s I was a medieval re-enactor in the Plantagenet Medieval Combat Society. The very club who run the battle at Tewkesbury every year. To the relief of Grumpy Dad my wool dress wearing and longbow shooting days are over, but I still love to head out to re-enactments now and again and Tewkesbury is the best in Europe.
This year we headed out on the Saturday, but arrived later than planned due to Baby logistics! As I had always camped with the re-enactors before I’d never experienced the cross country hike to get to festival. Sure, we could have gone the long way around which is paved and flat, but where’s the fun in that? As it was, by the time we arrived at the festival Grumpy Dad & I were already a little hot and bothered, but Grumpy Baby was raring to go and fascinated by all of the new colours, sounds, and smells.
The main attraction (besides the battle itself) of Tewkesbury festival is a large medieval market that runs all day on Saturday and Sunday and sells everything from swords to sweets. If you’re a re-enactor or just interested in medieval history you will find everything you need from garb and jewellery, to swords, bows and axes. You can even find everything you need to kit out an authentic medieval pavilion. If you’re not inclined to swap your Nike trainers for some leather boots there are still plenty of stalls with interesting odds, ends, and decorative items.
Within about 10 minutes of entering the market we found our first purchase. A small wooden sword perfect for Baby. It’s a little big just now but she’ll grow into it, and maybe next year she’ll be big enough for her own bow!
In addition to the many varied stalls there are also more than a few food vendors and a rather large beer tent which brings back a lot of fond memories. Including watching Schelmish, a German drum and bagpipe heavy metal band, and doing fire limbo at about 1am with a fire display team… However, this year we wouldn’t be staying for the after hours antics, so we plopped ourselves on the grass and tucked into a pork roll with scratchings while Baby threw bits of Banana pancake at us.
The main event of the festival is the battle re-enactment itself. Tewkesbury is the site of a famous battle where Margaret Anju and her son the Prince were defeated, bringing an end to house of Lancaster’s hopes of regaining the throne. Every year, the re-enactors at Tewkesbury try to recreate that battle as far as they can without anyone being maimed in the process.
As we settled down on our picnic blanket and Baby made the first of many attempts to eat the grass stubble surrounding us, I realised that I had never actually seen the battle before, despite being present for it at least 6 or 7 times. I’d always either been working as a marshal or off busying myself elsewhere. So this would be as much a new experience for me as it would be for Grumpy Dad and Baby.
As various re-enactors moved into position the mood in the crowd became far more excited. People with cameras started waving them around looking for the best view, others who hadn’t found a good vantage point now started plonking themselves down anywhere ready to watch as the first processions began and the archers ran across the field firing arrows at each other.
You may think that if they’re loosing arrows at each other they must know they will miss but this is not the case. As with all the fighting at Tewkesbury, it’s as real as it can be made. As such, the arrows have rubber tips but they do sometimes make contact with archers leaving a large, angry bruise from the impact.
The next combatants onto the field were the cannons and guns. While not terribly accurate these were noisy and smelly. I had worried that they would frighten Baby with all their booms and bangs, but she’s made of tougher stuff and if anything, found the loud noises funny.
From that point the foot soldiers took to the field, pushing forward and being pushed back. Given how energetically they hit each-other with pole axes and swords it really is a miracle that nobody was seriously hurt. They were really going for it, so much so that several needed medical care not for cuts and bruises, but for heat and exhaustion.
When the Yorkist King and the Lancastrian Prince stepped forward I was shocked to realise that the battle was nearly over. We had been sat on the edge of the battle field for well over an hour but it had seemed like only a few minutes. The Prince died dramatically and the Lancastrian army ran for the Abby and it was all over.
After the battle and the scrum to exit the field there was just enough time to wave hello to a couple of the re-enactors I recognised and grab some interesting meat jerky from Cowleys Fine Foods (a re-enactment tradition that I was not willing to pass up) before getting a very hot and tired Baby back to the car for the drive home after a busy and exciting day.
Advice for visiting Tewkesbury Medieval Festival
Tewkesbury Medieval Festival is a great day out for everyone, young and old, but if you are planning to attend future events these tips will help you make the most of your day.
Dress appropriately. This may sound like a no brainer but as we walked along the field path to get to the festival I was amazed at how many women were wearing high heels, and how few people were wearing hats. Tewkesbury festival is held in a group of fields, the ground is often uneven and if there has been enough rain, very muddy. If it’s sunny (or even overcast) it’s very easy to get heat stroke as there is very little shelter, so dressing appropriately is essential if you want to have a good time.
Take a picnic blanket or camping chairs. The battlefield viewing area is separated into sections, floor seated right at the side lines, chair seated at the back of the viewing area, and standing behind that. So, unless you want to stand for over an hour it pays to think ahead.
Take your seat early. The battlefield viewing area gets extremely busy just before the battle so if you want a good spot, make sure you get there early. There will usually be some form of entertainment for half an hour before the battle so picking your spot before this starts is a must if you want a good view.
Bring cash. If like me you are used to paying by card wherever you go, this one will seem a little strange, but many stalls will only accept cash due to difficulties getting a good signal for card readers at Tewkesbury Festival.
Bring plenty of water. Despite the number of food and drinks stalls available the ques can still be lengthy. Make sure you bring plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
Get in the spirit. All sorts of people turn up to Tewkesbury Medieval Festival meaning that it often looks like a mini Glastonbury! So, if you want to dress up in your medieval garb, cyber punk gear, or wear large sparkly fairy wings, just go for it. You’ll be in good company.