It's been a very medieval start to the month for Herstory! On Saturday I headed off into the Welsh Marches on a fact-finding mission with Alan Stringer, who's my co-author for the 'Walk Towton 1461' guidebook scheduled for publication next Spring. Our primary objectve was checking out the Mortimer's Cross battlefield - but since the whole area's gagging with Wars of the Roses history, we decided to stop off first at Ludlow. As you can see from the pic on the right, Ludlow is dominated by Richard of York's spectacular castle - sacked by the Lancastrians in 1459 after York's strategic withdrawal from the field at Ludford Bridge, just south of the town. We could easily have spent a full day there... Ludlow's full of well-preserved historic buildings of all periods, great shops and markets and plenty to do... alas, we only had time for a whistle-stop tour before pressing on to Wigmore Castle.
Wigmore may have the been the place Edward IV stayed prior to the Battle of Mortimer's Cross in February 1461. It's a stiff hike up to it from the village, and although there isn't much left of the castle today, it's very picturesque - it's been allowed to overgrow with trees and wildflowers as a nature reserve - and the views from it are amazing (see left)!
After that, it was on to Mortimer's Cross. Whoops - we blinked and missed it. Yup, Mortimer's Cross today is still as it was in the 15th century - basically, just a crossroads (now with a pub called, very originally, The Mortimer's Cross'!!). I was quite surprised to find so little made of the battlefield, given the 'tourist trap' nature of the whole area... there's no battlefield trail or signage, and although there is a battle monument (erected in 1799), it's actually situated at the village of Kingsland and is also very easy to miss (a pedestal at the road junction, now standing just in front of a modern house). However, we did find an English Heritage-run historic water mill at Mortimer's Cross, which apparently has a battlefield centre in it... but with very limited opening hours - it was shut when we got there, on a Saturday afternoon in prime holiday season! So in some respects we came away little the wiser... though we did at last manage to take some reasonable shots of the battlefield, approaching north up the Roman road towards Mortimer's Cross - possibly the route taken by Owen Tudor and his troops on their way to meet the Yorkists.
Then we headed back... and after a day to recover from all the travelling, it was time to get ready for the annual TBS Open Evening ('Medieval Yorkshire') on Monday (below right). Luckily the forecast rain held off, so were were able to set up some impressive field displays including Dave Moss (below left) and Des with their armouries, Stu and Dawn (part of the Frei Compagnie's built-in 'multi-period' capacity!) as Yorkshire Vikings (below centre), the ever-popular have-a-go archery which kept hubcap busy all night, and around 15 students from Dean's sword class who came along to enjoy a bit of al fresco training. Altogether it was a busy and successful evening, as the pics below show... and we sold more TBS merchandise than we did at the International Medieval Congress last month!
Wigmore Castle: keep (above) and view (below)!
Hurrah - the Rockingham Arms in Towton has re-opened! Hubcap and I went to check it out on Saturday night, and very nice it is too. It looks very different inside - much more spacious, tastefully decorated and hung with lots of TBS member Rae Tan's marvellous moody photographs of local sights and Towton battlefield. And we enjoyed a great meal: a light starter of olives and possibly the best herb-roasted tomatoes I've ever tasted, followed by home-made chicken pie, mashed potatoes and veggies for Mick, and spinach/mushroom stuffed pancakes with Cheddar cheese sauce for me. Somehow hubcap also managed to squeeze in a sticky toffee pudding... while I indulged my sweet tooth with 2 squares of delectable home-made vanilla fudge (for the modest sum of 50p) - a great idea if you fancy something sweet but can't manage a full-sized dessert. All told it came to just over £26, which we thought was pretty good value for a 3-course meal for two. So good luck to the new managers - they certainly seem to have got off to a flying start!
What a cracking week this has been! Mick and I had a great night out on Thursday, courtesy of the Wetherby & District 41 Club. "What's a 41 Club?", you may ask. Well, we didn't know either until we went along as the after-dinner entertainment for their August meeting, where we discovered the 41 Clubs are an offshoot of the famous Round Table, founded in 1927 as a social organisation for young professional men to meet, have fun, and develop positive links with their local communities (including doing a lot of charity work). To keep the Round Table full of fresh young blood, members have to leave at the age of 41... so to maintain contact with all their friends and keep doing good stuff for their communities, former Round Tablers founded the 41 Clubs. And judging from the lovely time they all seemed to be having on Thursday, it seems to be an excellent idea!
Anyhow, since the Wetherby members had recently enjoyed a visit to Towton battlefield, they kindly invited us to give them a talk to fill in some of the historical details. So 'Team Helmick' got kitted up, loaded the car with weapons and set off for the Bridge Inn & Hotel at Walshford, just north of Wetherby, where the local group had been joined by guests from the Boston Spa and Tadcaster 41 Clubs - an audience of 40, all told. They treated us to a wonderful dinner (roast turkey with all the trimmings, followed by ice-cream and tropical fruits in a brandy-snap basket - yum!), then we launched into our presentation (during which I called upon Mick to divest himself of his gentlemanly attire and array himself as the iconic Towton archer!). It all went very well - lots of interest, lots of questions, lots of maps sold for the Battlefield Society (so I guess a few more folk will be walking the Towton Trail pretty soon) - and at the end, lots of compliments and the gift of a beautiful bouquet of Yorkist white roses. So we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and hope we'll meet the '41-ers' again at some point.
But oh dear, we're really starting to feel our age - we didn't get home till midnight, and both felt dead the next day! In fact I was so exhausted by the evening I refused to help Mick load the van for our next event - the Community Fun Day on Saxton Village Green on Saturday - although I did redeem myself by waking him with breakfast in bed in the morning, then cooking up a batch of spiced crabapples and raspberry drop-scones to take along for the communal lunch!
And we had another smashing day, as you can see from the pictures below. It was the first time Frei Co had done an event specifically for Saxton Parish Council, and we were very pleased to support this community day to raise funds for the local playgroup. So we put on our usual show: the living history camp with medieval food, Alex proudly demonstrating braid-making with her new box-loom, me playing recorder (as in the pic above, by Tall Mike Wilson) and Dean and Stu showing off their weapons... plus the TBS tent, archery displays and have-a-go archery, bill-drill, and a finale of pole-arm and sword combat by Dean and Mick (Mick got killed twice!). I particularly like the shot of him below right, where he appears to be saying, "Ooh, you could really hurt me with that..."
Frei Co doing what we do best... local events for local people!
Top Image: the camp, with (left to right) Chris Murphy and his bosom buddy Bill; Mike Wilson; Stuart Ivinson
Above: Dean Davidson and hubcap doing their combat display
Left: archery by (left to right) Alex Harrison, hubcap and Mick Weaver, with a back-drop of the children's Play Bus
Oh, wah, woe... I've just had a VERY sad day... with extreme pain and reluctance, I've finally sold my scuba-diving gear. Well, I hadn't dived for nearly 10 years, and only have room in my life for one colossally expensive, time-consuming sport-cum-hobby involving tons of specialised equipment (ie re-enactment!). So, after much dickering and dithering, I disposed of the kit at the place I bought it from in the first place: Robin Hood Watersports in Heckmondwike. Oh, it was hell... standing in the shop smelling that lovely smell of neoprene drysuits and rubber, looking at all the posters for diving holidays... then parting from my dear little 'dumpy 12' cylinder, stab-jacket, aqualung and drysuit. I managed to hold it together in the shop - but I cried in the car all the way back to Wakefield, and had to sit down with a stiff whisky when I got home!
So today's entry is a tribute to my diving days when I was young, free and single (as opposed to middle-aged and married!).
There I am above, with a big grin on after a successful dive on the wreck of the 19th century slate carrier John Preston in the Sound of Mull; on the right, getting ready to dive; and below, surveying the wreck (the latter pic, by Phil Robertson, actually made it into a book - First Aid for Underwater Finds by Wendy Robinson, published by the Nautical Archaeology Society to which I then belonged). Ah... they were good days... as well as recreational diving, I used to make an
annual trip to Lochaline on the Morvern peninsula, to take part in the Sound of Mull Archaeology Project (SOMAP) - a project to record the many historic wreck sites in those waters, and where all these pics were taken. Did lots of other fun stuff too... a couple of trips to the Red Sea, diving in warm, clear blue water with parrot fish and moray eels; diving with sand tiger sharks (yikes!) at the Sea Life Centre in Edinburgh (so frightened I didn't think I could get in the tank, but managed eventually - having seen none of my co-divers get eaten); numerous sorties off lovely St Abbs on the east coast of Scotland; and the inevitable sploshing about in flooded quarries like the famous Stoney Cove in Leicestershire, a favourite place for diver training (as I recall it was snowing lightly when I did my first ever open-water dive there; the water was, shall we say, interestingly cold). Yup, all good fun... so very sad to let my kit go, and accept that unless life radically changes (like we win the Lottery or I become a best-selling novelist!), I may never dive again... sob, sob, sob....
Phew... finally finished unpacking, cleaning and stowing away after our annual Bank Holiday weekend at the Cawood Craft Festival! As ever, we had a great time, great weather (mostly!) - and a great crew, as you can see from the pic on the right. Although it got off to a pretty traumatic start; the van was so fully loaded the back doors hadn't quite closed properly - so if it hadn't been for the friendly taxi-driver who chased us to let us know we were shedding gear down the road, I dread to think what would have happened. Luckily we'd only dropped a trestle leg and a bag of charcoal, so nothing broken - and no road accidents caused!! - but it was a big adrenalin-fuelled rush of panic we could have done without at 7.15 on Saturday morning!
But after that, we arrived without further mishap - and even managed to get a camp of 4 tents and the kitchen awning set up before the first rain-showers descended. And thereafter it was great fun...
Cawood Sunday squad 2011: L - R, Abigail & Dean Davidson, Bill Bamford, Steve Clegg, Mark Harrison, hubcap, Mike Wilson, Douggie Weake, Su Harrison, Neil Wilson, Stuart Ivinson, Mick Weaver, Alex Harrison
Saturday marchers: L - R, Alan Stringer, Neil Wilson, Mike Wilson, Me being interviewed by Douggie Weake for BBC Dean and guest Adam Roylance having a
Stuart Ivinson, Kevin Roberts, Steve Clegg, John Bamford, hubcap Radio York on Sunday morning (pic by Tall Mike) Sunday afternoon scrap
Saturday kicked off with a march round the village, in which 8 of our stalwart chaps paraded - among them Kevin, a chum from darn Sarf we got kitted up and pressed into service for the weekend. They came back to a splendid lunch thrown together by the Frei Co cooks (Alex, Dean's daughters Megan and Abigail, and yours truly) - including a chicken & vegetable potage, and blackberry girdle-scones made from the brambles Mick and I picked in the woods behind our house (it's amazing what you can knock up over a camp-fire!).
At the end of a busy day of archery and combat practice, us hardy campers went out for a slap-up meal at the Castle pub, then came back and toasted marshmallows round the camp-fire before turning in for a sound night's sleep in the lovely tranquil Garth field. On Sunday we woke to a cool fresh morning, the cooing of pigeons and doves, and the strange chuck-chuck of a partridge or pheasant; got up to light the fire and get the bacon butties going - then kitted up to do our show all over again! We were joined later that morning by a special guest: Adam Roylance, co-founder of Kunst Des Fechtens and one of the country's premier medieval swordsmen - quite a feather in Frei Co's cap, because he wanted to see how we do things with a view to setting up a similar living history group in Nottinghamshire. (Amazingly, he was impressed enough to want to join us again at Bolling Hall at the end of September!). And we had the excitement of getting on local radio again... which gave Mark and Su Harrison chance to talk about the magnificent bounty of authentic-recipe medieval pies and salads they'd contributed to the lunch table - and me chance to give Towton Battlefield Society a good plug. If you'd like to hear our interview with Douggie Weake, you can find it on the BBC iPlayer by clicking here, and running to 2.34.00 in the programme (that's hubcap in the background, beating his drum and crying 'Victuals!').
Altogether, another super weekend for the Frei Co... and despite the glowering clouds, it even stayed dry while we packed down on Sunday afternoon! So we'll definitely be back again next year for Cawood's special 30th Anniversary Craft Festival, which the organisers plan to make bigger and better than ever - make a date in your diary for August Bank Holiday 2012...