The Abbey Festival 2010

The Abbey Festival (10-11 July 2010) was huge! Rumour has it that 18,000 people went through the gates before 3pm on Saturday. The spectacles and demonstrations that I saw were fabulous. There was falconry, archery, jousting, seminar talks, a couple of very interesting weapons demonstrations, stalls (selling medieval hot dogs? hmmm…) and lots of practical hands-on activities in the encampments. All of this was brilliant fun.

(Of course, there was the embarrassing and pointless flailing about with swords by fat nerds in armour under the pretext of a tourney. I’ve spoken about them before and there’s no need to repeat myself.)

When we last went to the Abbey Festival six years ago, we didn’t have to wait in line for 40 minutes just to get the chance to pay out entry. We stood there watching holders of pre-purchased tickets cruise on by and into the event. Pre-purchasing tickets is a necessity next year. The only other complaint is that there was way too much to see in the one day we had available to us.

For me, the falconry and birds of prey spectacle was the highlight. A group in Melbourne (I forget their name. Link anyone?) presented a 30 minute piece showcasing the hunting talents of the kestrel, prergrin falcon, a couple of types of owl and a wedge-tailed eagle. The birds were put through their paces chasing furry lures, snatching them mid-flight and returning to their handler for a reward. The eagle was much bigger than I expected. The woman handling it appeared to have trouble at times lifting the animal on her arm. It’s wingspan was wider than she was tall. As a friend commented afterwards, it made every pet you’ve ever had seem small and worthless. I want one!

The jousting was, as always, lots of fun but I’m not entirely sure that it is a good choice for a modern spectator sport. People are too familiar with the Hollywood myth of spearing knights off their horses. The reality is a touch more prosaic. The aim of the participants is to break or preferably shatter the soft wood top metre or so of the lance against the other guy’s shield. This year included some international competition. One of the jousters hails from La Belle France. The other international was from New Zealand. The sound of horses thundering downt he list and the crack of lances breaking is just plain good fun.

The “Interview with Vlad the Impaler” was dead interesting. Steve Weier of the Order of Dracul impersonated the great man on the eve of battle to take the Principality of Wallachia for the third time in his long and bloody career. Vlad was outlining his life and reasons for his chroniclers, the auidence. Steve’s presentation left you with the impression of a man betrayed on every side. Vlad came across as a brutal and unsympathetic man but, at least, an understandable one. I reckon this interpretation of Vlad Tepes is probably accurate and definitely much closer to the mark than the mythic version we have inherited through popular culture.

Other events which were reported to be equally as good were:

The archery and football were public participation events. There was also a bunch of hands-on workshops and activities in the encampments. More of this type of event is needed. Public participation spurs an interest history – something now terribly lacking.

I’ll be there next year without a doubt. If there’s any chance of it being as big as it was this year, I’ll be pre-purchasing a two day ticket.