How better to spend a glorious summer day than travelling back to the medieval times to the beautiful grounds of Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex?
We’d been to a couple of medieval festivals in Germany (see our post on the The Landshut Wedding) and wanted to discover England’s Medieval Festival this year over the August bank holiday weekend. This year is the 25th year the Festival has been running, and so when we were invited to visit for the Sunday, we were excited to do so.
Getting there from central London
We travelled by train for about 1 hour and 20 minutes from London Victoria to Polegate in East Sussex. From Polegate we took the dedicated shuttle bus to the Medieval Festival at Herstmonceux Castle. The shuttle bus ran every 30 minutes on Sunday and was £7.00 for an adult return ticket. This was by far the fastest and easiest way to get to the venue from central London by public transport and we were pleased with the efficiency and service. We sat on the shuttle bus with other excited day-trippers like ourselves, as well as with seasoned medieval festival campers who were in their traditional gear and carrying rucksacks.
From the bus stop we walked across the grassy car park to the Festival gates. We walked passed the observatory domes of Herstmonceux Science Centre, which is an interesting feature of the area. We later learnt that the Herstmonceux Castle grounds was home to the Royal Greenwich Observatory from 1957 until 1988, when the observatory relocated to Cambridge.
From the Festival entrance we walked passed many tents, some for participants, and some for non-participant viewers. We were immediately struck by how large the Festival was. We’d definitely recommend picking up the guide, which we did for £4.00. The guide sets out a map of the Castle grounds, as well as a schedule of events.
It wasn’t soon after we were walking through the grounds that we found ourselves in view of a battle re-enactment. I quickly geared up my camera to try and take as many shots as possible of knights running out of the drawbridge of the beautiful Herstmonceux Castle.
We then met our friends and discussed lunch. There was a good selection of traditional and contemporary foods, from hog roast to seafood paella. No question at our end, we opted for the hog roasting over open coals… it was tasty and tender and ample sauce to boot. The sun warranted an ice-cream in the afternoon.
We strolled across the vast Castle grounds and discovered there were so many things to watch and to take part in. The Festival is a great day out, or a weekend away, for families as there are lots of activities and entertainment – traditional music, minstrels, and archery for the kids. For the grown-ups, lots workshops and interesting people to chat to in the medieval village – we found ourselves entwined in a fascinating conversation with Maud, the expert wool weaver, who is an enthusiast and seasoned participant at these events.
The authenticity and attention to detail was amazing, adding to the historic atmosphere. Each participant taking part in the grand parade was thoroughly checked, and awarded a gold star once they passed the mark. See the knights below lining up for their armoury checks… and also the knights who are chillaxing after a long day in the sun (or having returned from battle, not sure).
The highlight of the day was definitely the jousting. I’d never seen a joust before, at least not between knights in shining armour! It was fun, exciting, and also looked a bit dangerous, actually, as it’s clear that it takes a lot of sporting skill and experience – I can imagine that only very few horsemen can carry the weight of the armour, aim the lance and command the horse at the same time!
Herstmonceux Castle is one of the oldest significant brick buildings still standing in England, dating from 1441. The parks and gardens of Herstmonceux Castle are Grade II listed, while the building itself is used today by Queen’s University of Canada as the Bader International Study Centre. It is a beautiful setting for an unique experience, which we hope to enjoy again next year.