What a difference a year makes... on the right, you can see a picture from the Frei Compagnie's first appearance at the Wistow Scarecrow Festival in 2013, on a glorious hot summer's day. And when we awoke on Saturday morning, conditions looked much the same - so we set out hoping against hope that the weather forecast would be wrong, and the predicted downpours would not appear.
Alas, the only inaccurate thing was the timing - the rain arrived an hour earlier than expected! Luckily we'd managed to get our kitchen awning and TBS pavilion erected, so we had plenty of shelter... but as we sat looking out on the drenched field, bare of all but a sad deflated bouncy castle and a children's carousel with all the seats folded up, we had a sneaking feeling that the whole day would prove to be a washout... and we were right.
We kept our spirits up with infusions of free bacon butties kindly provided by the event team, plus a little clowning: on the left, Mick poses with the happy tray he'd just used to convey hot tea and butterfly buns from the Village Hall, and on the right, models Rob Atkin's kettle-hat (a little on the large side for him). As you can see from the background, some of us didn't even bother getting fully into kit - it was so chilly that I wore fleece trousers and trainers under my kirtle, and Alex kept her wellies on (a sensible decision when you look at the amount of water Mick's medieval boots have soaked up)!
So Wistow 2014 goes down in company history as the first event at which our camp didn't receive a single visitor - the closest we came was a group of soggy-looking people who looked at us from the car-park and decided not to trek out across the sopping wet grass, (I don't blame them). Luckily we had a short window of dryness during which the chaps took down the archery net they'd recently put up; and another after lunch which allowed us to break camp before the real torrential rain started - so putting up, eating, and packing down was the sum total of our day.
In fact the only people who managed to do any living history at all were our lordly ones Stuart and Wayne, who, joined by common archer Rob, set out their armour and weapons on a table strategically placed next to the cake stall inside the Village Hall. And they had a successful day, staying until 4 pm fuelled by free tea and receiving a steady stream of visitors including Nigel Adams, the MP for Selby and Ainsty. Meanwhile the rest of us, since there wasn't room inside for us to set up displays, headed for home through the monsoon (after pushing Mick's bogged-down van off the field!). We felt very sorry indeed for the organisers, villagers and traders in the Hall, knowing from personal experience how much hard work and preparation goes into mounting an event; it was such a shame the weather spoiled it, because we did spot some cracking scarecrows around including the Flowerpot Men and a Punch & Judy show complete with scarecrow crowd. Fortunately Sunday was beautiful, which I hope made up for Saturday's total washout - but we weren't there to see it, as we'd only arranged to appear for the one day. Ah well... maybe next year...
The weekend of Midsummer Solstice saw the Frei Compagnie return to one of our favourite venues: the spectacular (and very haunted!) Bolling Hall on the edge of Bradford. It's an apt place for us, having a strong Wars of the Roses connection: the Bolling family were tenants of John, Lord Clifford of Craven, (portrayed by our own Stuart Ivinson), who was killed at Dintingdale near Saxton on the eve of the battle of Towton in 1461. It also has a poignant association with our late and very dear friend George Peter Algar, author of The Shepherd Lord (the story of Clifford's son Henry, spirited into obscurity after his father's death); Peter was a descendant of the Bollings, and it was thanks to him that we got our first booking at the Hall back in 2011. Previously, we've done the event at the end of the season, so it made a pleasant change to be there in high summer - and as you can see from the picture of Mick leading the children's bill-drill on the right, we enjoyed glorious weather throughout.
We were very glad it stayed fine, because we had an action-packed programme to deliver on both the 21st and 22nd. We started with a spot of archery to whet people's appetites for the have-a-go session at the end of the day. Stuart and Dean followed this up with Arming the Knight and a combat demo performed with their usual panache, then segued into what is rapidly becoming one of our most popular shows: The Death of Richard III. As usual, Wayne played King Richard, with all our other available soldiers kitted out to portray members of his army; and this year, thanks to gunner Des's pikes, we were also able to show how Richard's fatal cavalry charge may have been repelled by Henry Tudor's foreign pike-men. Afterwards came the firepower display with longbow, crossbow, and explosions so loud that the neighbouring school thought their boiler had blown up... but no, it was just Des, Hannah and Belah the big gun! We had chance for a little rest and our customary feast after that, while Mandy and Quentin of The Grinnigogs (left) entertained the crowd for an hour with some medieval music; then it was time for the ever-popular children's bill-drill (with so many recruits that we ran out of weapons), and finished off with an hour or so of have-a-go archery. And it all seemed to go very well; we got lots of visitors to the camp and had a good time ourselves, as you can see from the pictures below!
Doggetts at the archery tent, by Wayne L - R: Fran, Tall Mike and Hannah in the armoury Wayne readying Dean for combat
As well as being enjoyable for us, more importantly the weekend was a success for Bolling Hall: staff counted in 798 visitors on the Saturday (compared to the c. 200 they would normally expect). Sunday was even busier, since a Yorkshire Day funfair with rides, stalls and refreshments was held on the other side of the Hall and attracted over 2000 visitors; so the grand total for the weekend was more than 3000 people through the doors, and over £600 taken in the shop (a sum largely spent on children's sponge swords and wooden shields, purchases clearly inspired by our combat displays!). The sheer size of the crowd made for some very hard work, but it was extremely rewarding, and we got good coverage in the Bradford Telegraph & Argus. My personal high spot was seeing a pretty young girl beautifully dressed as a princess in pink; and when I pointed her out to Wayne (still armoured up after the combat show), he went down on one knee to her. The smile of amazed delight on her face made my weekend - if only I'd had my camera out! - and hopefully it will be a moment she will treasure, too. Well done, Sir Wayne - and well done to the whole Frei Co crew who worked so hard to make the event so good.