Thursday, May 14, 2009

Snailwell Medieval Fayre, the A1 and Raby Castle...

Some of the traders stalls at Snailwell Fayre

This is the forth year that I've told at Snailwell Medieval Fayre, which is just outside Newmarket, and as such horse racing dominates the scene as you drive to the venue. All around are grand looking stables, and the gallops (The exercising tracks) criss cross the surrounding fields. And the village itself is dominated by horse racing; so much so that I think I'm right in saying that one of the main roads in is sometimes closed off when horses are being exercised.

The fayre itself is smallish compared to some historic fayres and there are now a huge amount to choose from. That said it has grown each year and is very popular. I should explain exactly what it is really. For the uninitiated, its a mixture of historical entertainment (Sometimes authentic sometimes not, but always entertaining) Which includes storytelling, medieval music, some jesting, falconry and various re-enactment groups demonstrating horsemanship and knights and Vikings fighting skills. I did ask my son Sam, who helped me set up this weekend to take some photos of various aspects of the fayre. Needless to say as a teenage boy he was most taken with the arms and armour and most of the photos are of knights knocking the hell out of each other...

Demonstrating hunting on horseback

How to spear a sack on horseback!

I realise that some of you might be a bit suspicious of this sort of thing, that its middle age men living out their fantasies, but its not. As with other re-enactment groups that I've come across there are just as many women and children involved and they take their hobby very seriously. Many of the groups regularly go into schools and are valuable to bringing the past to life for young kids who would otherwise be uninterested in history. And the group in the photo below called the Knights of Honour are passionate that every aspect of what they do should be as authentic as possible. Any young people joining are fully trained up before they get to wield a sword and they do in fact become Squires serving the more experienced members of the group and earning the right to armour etc.

A fight to the death!

The other main aspect of the fayre are the traders stalls selling anything from
weapons of war to medieval shoes and pewter pilgrim badges, to Tudor musical instruments, to Saxon and Viking coins, to Roman glass and much much more. A full list of this years traders can be found on the Fayre's website. Some stalls are a mixture of all sorts others are more specialist, although what most have in common is that they developed out of the need to make things for themselves-for their various re-enactment groups. And what many also have in common is the incredible quality of their goods. Many traders like 6 of 1 regularly make replicas for museums as well as selling to the general public. Its worth remembering that their goods are saleable to all, especially in these days where everything is 'branded' and most shops seem to sell exactly the same products and indeed most shops look exactly the same and most cars and clothes look exactly the same! In this modern sometimes bland world,those of you brave enough to go to a historic fayre can come away with a something truly hand made and often unique.

Bernie the Bolt, trader in fine wools, linens, fleeces and hides

And the same goes for the overall feel of Snailwell Fayre. Allowing for the burger vans, ice cream vans and portable toilets, it is perhaps the closest you'll get to a medieval experience!

Thanks to Sharon and all her crew for the invite...

The A1

Normally I would have been telling all weekend at
Snailwell, but this year I already had a booking on the Sunday all the way up at Raby Castle in County Durham. I truly am an itinerant storyteller and travel up and tell in the north of England a lot. But I don't normally work the day before and so had to pack down my tent and skins and set off with Sam after a full days telling. We had planned to stop where we could just outside Raby, but by 10.30 pm and after driving for about four and a half hours we were still on the A1 and fifty or so miles away from the castle. And seeing as Sam has yet to bother with driving we had no choice but to find a convenient layby on the main road. The cars were hammering past, the lorries shook my camper van and we had to struggle around the mass of gear I carry about, but we had both been up early that day and what with putting up tents, taking down tents to say nothing of telling all day, both Sam and I slept remarkably well. Now if you have read earlier postings here you might remember I talked about celebrating the journeys as much as the storytelling venue i tell at. A layby on the A1 however doesn't count! Although it should at least demonstrate how dedicated I am to my art!

A rubbish strewn lay by on the A1 on a Sunday morning

Raby Castle

Raby castle with my storytelling tent in the distance

Not wanting to stay in a layby over long, we made an early start and arrived at Raby by 9.00 am. Plenty of time to set up and have a wander around. Although the castle itself didn't open till 1.00 and by then I was telling on the hour every hour, so i didn't get as much time to look around as I would have liked. There was however loads to see including ornamental gardens. Now I have to admit I'm not really into ornamental gardens, but I did like to old yew hedges. Firstly, they are very old and so were growing when all sorts of history was taking place. I know that's a bit of an obscure, daft statement, but its late and I've been working on new stories all day, so you'll just have to decide on the history for yourselves! Although my interesting fact for Raby (Because I was busy telling this is gleaned from Raby's brochure) is that the 'Barons Hall' at the castle is where the Nevilles, Percys and other Northern Lords met to make plans for their ill fated 1569 rebellion against against Elizabeth I. The other thing I liked about the yew trees were the shapes; big and bulbous. What can i say, I like big and bulbous yew trees.

Bulbous yews

The Castle itself certainly dates back to the medieval period, although it has clean almost 'new' look to it in places. It certainly not ruinous like many of the castles in English Heritage's care and I suppose that's the point; Raby has been in the same family, the Barnards since the early 1600s and as such must have constantly been being repaired and improved in line with the latest fashions. Certainly if you could go back to most castles at any point in their earlier history they would have probably resembled a building site as their owners attempted to keep up with the Joneses!

Sam liked the canons...

Unfortunately I didn't get inside, although Sam who did said he liked the Kitchen best. I think I would have too, because in truth I'm into history from below and like to see where the servants lived, worked and played. I did however have a good walk about outside and really liked seeing the Red and Fallow Deer roaming free about the parkland. I tell the occasional tale about hunting and deer parks and its always good to be able to point at what you are telling about! The estate also has some long horn cattle. I did stroll up to take a photo, but didn't get close enough for a good shot. I was born and raised in the country and so am not normally weary of cows, but this cow was giving me a funny look. I think it was the combination of really big horns and the the fact that it sensed that i was a soft Southerner that made it stand its ground. I think that if I had horns like that, then I too would be far more assertive.

Long horn cow with attitude

Anyway thanks to Katie Blundell and her team and especially the guy who waited for Sam and I to put away my rain sodden tent and stayed late to shut up when we were finally packed away and were gone...

And finally, it is about the journey sometimes. Having been working and driving, working and driving I was tired and we took a few wrong turns going home. But as is the way of things it meant that we saw things that we wouldn't have, including a really small suspension bridge. So small that it had a weight limit. It was crossing the river at Whorlton near Barnard Castle. It may look to some that I have a thing about bridges, but its just that I like anything unusual and this has to be one of the smallest suspension bridges in England. I suppose thats unusual?! You can find it on google map by clicking here...

Whorlton Suspension Bridge

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