If you’re anything like me, you probably get bored of your seemingly boring, normal life, right? And sometimes you wish you could live in a much more exciting period of history- like medieval times, or the Renaissance. After all, it was a world of sword fights and knights and kings and queens! But it was also a world where everyone died by age forty and most spent their lives knee deep in cow dung. But I have found a way to experience all the joy of yesteryear without all the death and cow dung! And that way is the Abbey Medieval Festival.
The Abbey Medieval Festival is a long running medieval festival at Caboolture, Queensland, Australia and is the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere. I had high expectations when I arrived on a sunny but cold Saturday, but those expectations were still surpassed. I attended with the companionship of my partner Noah. Upon arrival we were greeted by a gypsy dance group jingling away. Their vibrant dancing distracted us from the ye olde mud road that led into the festival. Very authentic.
I know this sounds cliche and cheesy, but once you step past the gates of the festival, it really is like stepping back in time. Laid before you in a wide clearing among the trees are dozens of brightly coloured tents and arenas, and even a trebuchet or two. Rather than other festivals that merely present a glimpse into medieval life, Abbey goes the whole way and transforms the field into what actually feels like a real medieval camp, complete with not one but TWO medieval inns. While there were casual festival goers like me in normal clothing, the large majority of people at the festival were gowned in period attire- ladies in beautiful dresses and headscarves, men in fur lined cloaks and armour. Even the sounds and smells around you take you back to ye old times- from the moment I entered the festival I could hear the sound of a lute nearby as well as the clanking of armour. Even the air smelt how I would expect a medieval festival to smell- smoke, leather and oddly enough, cinnamon donuts.
Once I’d managed to take in my sudden transportation back in time, Noah and I made our way to the Castle Arena for the grand opening parade. The festival’s attention to historical immersion shone again as the participants in the festival were introduced as if they were attending a real tourney.
After the grand parade, we had ten or so minutes before the tourney. I followed my nose back to the scent of those cinnamon donuts and found them being hawked by a man wheeling a cart of donuts shouting “hot cinnamon donuts!”. I purchased three cinnamon and jam donuts and they are by far the best jam donuts I have ever had.
Next up was the “Tourney of Two Houses” presented by the Company of the Phoenix. Remember the tourney from Game of Thrones? It’s just like that except you get to experience it in real life. Everyone cast aside their knowledge that it was a re-enactment. We cheered on for the fight, gasped when a knight suffered a blow in combat and shouted words of encouragement to our favourite knights. For that brief period of time, I really did feel like I was there in a real tourney. The modern world seems far away at the sight and sound of clashing swords.
Next on our program took us a tad further in time to the Renaissance. One of my favourite local re-enactment groups is Prima Spada who teach and perform historical Renaissance fencing. Where as medieval knights are clad head to toe in cumbersome armour and swing their swords wildly, Renaissance swordsmen put more focus on fashionable combat. With capes and rapiers, Renaissance fencing shows that the Renaissance was a less barbaric time, although just as violent. Combat was like a dance with impressive footwork. Prima Spada exemplified a number of popular Renaissance weapon combinations- sword, rapier, sword and buckler, sword and knife, two handed sword, and my personal favourite, sword and cape. While the medieval tourney combat gets your heart racing for its sheer violence, Renaissance combat is more of a pleasure to watch.
Sound your trumpets, as it was now time for the joust. Rather than a re-enactment, the Abbey jousting is a real competition that attracts jousters from all over Australia and the world. I officially have to say that jousting should be a mainstream sport again and all quarrels should be settled with a joust. Each jouster had their own look, style and colours, and even their own personality in the way they rode around the field and presented themselves. The joust really gets you to get behind your favourite jouster, and announcer made sure that everyone knew how to give an almighty HUZZAH. Little did I know that there is more to jousting than just two people riding at each other with pointy sticks. There’s scoring involved, making it all the more competitive. Seeing the ends of the jousting sticks break off on the other’s shield and flying into the air is one of the most exhilarating things ever. Unfortunately we had to abandon the joust early because the stands lacked shade and it had gotten very hot.
Deciding it was time for a ye old meal and beverage, Noah and I made our way to the Stag Inn. If you ever wanted that authentic medieval inn experience, the Stag Inn delivers. It was hard choice between the steak pie or the venison stew, but I opted for a good old fashioned pie. Noah had the goat pie, which I avoided since I am still unsure about goat meat. With hay underfoot and a haybale as our seat, we enjoyed our very delicious peasant pies and washed it down with apple cider. I nearly opted for one of the many ales and meads the inn sold, but I was feeling a little sunstruck and alcohol probably wasn’t the best idea. The air was filled with the smell of cooking meat and smoke from a nearby campfire. And like every good inn, it was filled to the brim with boisterous, loud men talking and laughing heartily. The only thing that could have completed the experience was good tavern fight.
Briefly after lunch we decided to quickly glimpse the end of what could be my favourite sport- Turkish Oil Wrestling. I don’t have much to say about this save that it involved two sweaty, oiled up buff Turkish men rolling around on the ground attempting to slide their hand into the other’s pants. No really, look it up. That’s what they do. Easily the most homoerotic sport in the world, and very *cough* interesting to watch.
After catching the end of another tournament, we decided to take the time to explore the dozens of encampments before us. Many sold goods you would never find anywhere else- swords, shields, bows and arrows, leatherworks and jewelry, as well as a plethora of other medieval wares. I was very close to buying an authentic drinking horn. Noah was just as close to buying a sword. Like most medieval wares, we probably would never use either, but they make great conversation pieces. Strolling through the encampments is one of the best things about these festivals, because you can really take your time to enjoy the atmosphere. The best part is that the people in the encampments are acting out real medieval activities. I spent a good five minutes just watching a man string a bow. From fletching arrows, turning a spit or helping another put their armour on, everyone went about their activities like it really was a cool July afternoon in the 1400s.
There were a few more displays and tournaments that afternoon, but we decided to call it a day at this point. I don’t think I could’ve handled much more medieval immersion without spontaneously starting to speak in old English. After a quick flit around the stalls to spend the last of my money, we finally bade farewell to the Abbey Medieval Festival and returned back to the modern day. For one amazing day, I got to leave this sad, modern world behind in exchange for the glories of the past. For one day, I could pretend I did live in a world of chivalry and crusades, of knights and ladies and of swords and horses. And for that, I thank the Abbey Medieval Festival.
Interested in next year’s festival? Check out the link below