The Abbey Medieval Festival, hosted by the Abbey Museum of Art & Archaeology, is a living history event. I have always wanted to attend the festival and see, firsthand, some historical re-enactments. Spoiler alert: it was epic. We spent the whole of Sunday walking around the festival stalls, watching some jousting and archery, and eating what was literally called meat on a stick.
Arriving at the Festival was an experience in itself. The line to buy tickets was very long so I was glad we had pre-purchased our tickets online. If you ever think of attending this festival, I strongly advise you do the same. I am an absolute champion of pre-purchasing tickets for cultural institutions because it usually means less time waiting.
As soon as we walked in, I was shocked by the sheer size of the festival. I knew it was going to be a huge event that would be incredibly busy, but, even this didn’t prepare me. To give you an idea of just how much of a big deal this event is, various areas of the festival grounds are dedicated to different re-enactment groups from a variety of time periods. These groups formed encampments meaning there were individuals who lived at the festival during its entirety. Quite a few time periods were represented including the Dark Age, High Middle Age, Late Middle Age and Early Renaissance.
To orientate ourselves, we purchased maps and consulted the timetable of activities to plan our day. Our number one priority was to get good seats for the jousting tournament. I have always wanted to see jousting so I was unbelievably excited to head to the stadium. To start, we were entertained by jesters who walked around juggling and performing all sorts of tricks. Then we were introduced to the jousters. There was one in particular, Luke Binks, who has literally made a career out of being a jouster. He has travelled all over the world jousting in New Zealand, Belgium, Holland, France, England, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, USA, Norway, Sweden and Russia. It was also great to see quite a few female jousters. In fact, almost 50% were female!
When the knights joust each other it is called a pass. Generally, three passes equals one round. As you can imagine, the sport is played very quickly and there is potential for serious injury. We witnessed one jouster completely knocked off his horse. This added level of ‘authenticity’ meant you were watching something that was not watered down by modern-day restrictions.
After the jousting, we began our epic food journey. This included meat on a stick, crepes, and a toffee apple that almost pulled out all of my teeth. I can forget that getting older means some sticky foods are now a serious threat. I was also really impressed with the sheer number of cordials on offer. Flavours included summer berry, elderflower and mint and spanish orange. Never did I think I’d use the words impressed and cordial in the same sentence.
In the later part of the afternoon, we spent some time listening to the Women in History group. Different members of the group assumed different roles throughout the day and spoke to visitors as that character. While we were there, one woman was playing the role of Catherine of Aragon.
We then went to watch some archery in the main arena. Archery is one of those sports that looks straight forward and you think ‘yeah, I could do that.’ Then you pick up a bow and arrow, try to aim, pull the bow and fail miserably. Well at least that was my experience of archery at camp. Anyway, it’s not hard to see that there is much skill involved in becoming a good archer. We arrived just in time to see a bit of an ‘arch-off’. I don’t know how some of them managed to hit a target from an outrageous distance.
Towards the end of the day we spent time exploring the different encampments and catching the end of a talk on Medieval music. One of my favourite encampments had to belong to the Vikings. It was so well set up and made you feel as if you had travelled back in time and were walking around their actual camp. The smell of fire being used for cooking and weapon making as well added another sense to the experience. There were quite a few bits and pieces that people could buy including Viking-style necklaces and objects made in the fire at the festival.
By this stage we were absolutely exhausted and ready to head back to Brisbane. For those not familiar with Queensland, Caboolture is about an hours drive from Brisbane CBD. If you are driving during the school holidays, this is going to take much longer!
In terms of criticisms, I guess there would be people who could pick up on parts of the encampments not authentic enough to their liking. The admin, entry process and what was actually on offer was, to me, unproblematic. It seemed like a great way to promote the Abbey Museum through an event that directly aligns with their aim and mission statement. Not to mention, an event that has so much potential in drawing a crowd that may or may not have visited the actual museum. In my opinion, nothing felt cheap or tacky.
I was glad to have visited the festival and support the Abbey Museum where I volunteered in 2015. Even if support meant eating meat on a stick.