by Leo Owen
I’m finally wearing the rather ornate blue cape I couldn’t resist buying in Tunisia many holidays ago. Next to me, my boyfriend wears his heavy felt Lord of The Rings style cape and in the setting of Herstmonceaux’s annual Medieval Festival we look remarkably commonplace against the dramatic backdrop of the castle.
Held in the grounds of a magnificent 15th Century moated castle lifted straight from a fairytale (and close to Hailsham and Eastbourne), The Medieval Festival is aptly set. On entry, visitors must walk through a reconstructed Medieval Village, providing the opportunity to take-away a piece of history or merely learn about the crafts and skills of traditional medieval traders.
A jovial ringmaster announces riders and their steeds but after we’ve watched a few duals, it is time to move on – the day’s programme is full, we’re keen to get our money’s worth by sampling as much as possible. In its 20th year, the festival grows annually; Having started as a half-day fund-raising event to mark the reopening of the castle to the public in 1993, it’s now the biggest event of its kind in Northern Europe and the enormous line-up certainly reflects this.
The main draw of the day is the enormous castle siege re-enactment battle so we’ve planned our visit around this. From the skilled riders hoping to win the tournament, we move on to a medieval fashion show in the castle cloisters with dames both young and old modelling elegantly embroidered gowns.
Leaving the fashion show, we stumble upon two colourful characters – Herne and Andred. These enormous dancing figures and festival regulars are known as the “Eastbourne Giants” and are modern versions of traditional figures that would have appeared in medieval civic processions. Herne was an Anglo-Saxon horned god who is remembered still through place names like Herne Bay. Andred is the goddess who was summoned by Boudicca during her struggles against the Romans. Today, both seem to have abandoned their fighting stance and are in a jovial mood, bobbing away to the Pentacle Drummers who play at the front of the castle and literally beat the giant’s path.
After a hearty spit-roast lunch at The Buxom Wench, there’s just enough time before the siege to stroll through the medieval market past the Tourvere Minstrels with their animal masks and hear the bearded story-teller spin a yarn. As his tale concludes, the Grand Parade can be heard in the distance, signalling the second and final battle of the day is about to begin.
The battle re-enactments depict the historically famous bloody rivalry between of the Houses of York and Lancaster. Over 2,000 members of medieval groups based throughout the UK join together to fight, donning authentic medieval armour with horses, real cannons, siege machines, longbows and crossbows.
Watching the battle from a safe distance, I reflect on the unusual hobbies of its players. In front of me a medieval community is trapped in the future. I’m quite content in the 21st Century but it has been a pleasure to go back in time and a journey I’d happily make again in order to enjoy all the attractions I missed out on. A day’s visit just isn’t long enough with jesters, falconers, strolling minstrels, archers, fire-eaters and puppeteers still unmet.
This year’s festival runs from August 25 – 27.
Tickets and prices
£19 on the gate for one day adult tickets or £42 for three days advanced booking:
The Camping package is an All-in-One Camping and Festival Entry and includes access to water, use of serviced toilets and 24 hour security. Visitor camping is located in a secluded area in the woods as you enter the castle grounds off the Wartling Road
Alternative local accommodation can be found at:
For more festival information visit: