There is something that pulls us back to this festival year after year. You see it is not your average festival - it is a truly magical place, transporting you back to times gone by. England's Medieval Festival takes place at Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex every August Bank Holiday and this was its 26th year.
This was our third visit as a family and we are already looking forward to next year. For me I just love the atmosphere, the people, the music and the market place. The fact that people make huge efforts with their costumes never ceases to amaze me. We met a family of little Vikings - with Viking hairstyles, one of the boys was called Thor!
We have camped here for the past 3 visits, the festival is huge and although many people come for the day - you really need more time to experience everything that is on offer. We made friends last year and have kept in contact with them, we managed to synchronize arrival times, they travel all the way from Yorkshire to Sussex!
If you choose to camp you are welcome to arrive from 2pm on the Friday. The great thing about camping here opposed to other festivals we have been to is that you can park next to the area you want to pitch up, unload your car and then move you car to the parking area. There are areas for the re-enactors to camp, a family camping area, general camping and glamping in a large field overlooking the castle.
As a camper you get to enjoy evening entertainment including an outdoor cinema showing two films per night, music at the Buxom Wench tavern and a torch lit parade from the camp site to the front of the castle led by drummers and fire performers. It is all pretty epic. There is food available at the Buxom Wench and along by the Knights Tavern in the evenings.
You will find basic portaloos around the campsite, taps and sinks for washing up and drinking water. You are allowed to use off-ground fire pits and BBQs. The only qualm we have is that it is a fair walk to the showers, they are by Bader Hall and are about a 10 minute walk away from the campsite but they were hot and there are a few to use. The toilets don't have lights inside so if you need to go in the evening you will need a torch.
Glampers have use of showers at the back of the glamping site, there was a chill out area with beanbags, a communal fire pit, bell tents and larger Knight's pavillion tents. The bell tents have air mattresses, matting, a small table and bedding inside and the larger tents had an actual double bed with a mattress.
The campsite is lit by festoon lighting in the evenings - there is a quiet time in place from 11.30pm until 7am and the site is patrolled by security. I always expect a bit of general noise whilst at a festival, as we had camped closer to the general camping area this time we did have a rowdy group of men next to us - if you want a quieter evening we'd stick to the family camping area.
The festival opens at 10am every morning - it is a very short walk through to the castle grounds. The grand parade kicks the day off with the fantastic Pentacle Drummers, horses, all followed by the re-enactors and performers then the battle takes place in front of the castle. There are gun shots, arrows and a trebuchet plus sword fights - a spectacular sight to see. The parades and battles take place twice a day throughout the weekend. Dogs are welcome at the festival but be aware that the shots might spook nervous dogs.
We were blessed with beautiful weather on the Saturday and enjoyed exploring the medieval market and listening to music. We saw Rough Musicke and our favourites PerKelt perform - these guys blow us away every year. The Mud Theatre, Birds of Prey and Jousting take place twice a day also as well as shows in the Kid's Kingdom with performances from Devilstick Peat and The Fool's Puppet Show.
Flora the Singleton Giant moves around the grounds throughout the day. We enjoyed storytelling from the Solstice Storytelling Circle, making swords at Herstmonceux Forest School and chatting to the Living History re-enactors.
At 6pm the gates close to the public but from 7pm the campers are welcome back into the grounds. We watched Brave, it had just started to rain but the kids sat on hay bales under umbrellas and retreated to the marquee when the rain got heavier.
Unfortunately Sunday was heavy rain and winds all day. The festival went on but a lot of visitors left early as they were soaked through. We took advantage of looking around the stalls and seeing the Living History area before retreating to our tents. Apparently the knight's went ahead and jousted on foot, Monty Python style during the lunchtime performance but the afternoon show ended up being cancelled due to the extreme weather. Despite the rain we still made it to the outdoor cinema that evening and I enjoyed a nice warming mead!
Thankfully Monday was drier, the festival was bustling again. Today we went and watched some of the skills workshops and archery. There are plenty of have-a-go stands including axe throwing, spear throwing and jousting as well as drumming school and a princess and warrior school. My daughter and myself picked up some beautiful things from Minerva Craft, Anne hand-makes all of her pieces. Shannon couldn't resist a fairy skirt and wings and we both bought these pagan style headbands with flowers and twigs.
My son bought a wooden axe and a wolf pendant and I picked up a sari silk skirt and some viking beads. The shopping here is fabulous - you will not find this sort of variety anywhere else.
For the first time we went into Mouse Town, it is 50p per person, I wasn't sure what to expect to be honest, it is inside a covered marquee - maybe the Jumping Mouse Circus from the film Coraline? It was adorable - an encased little village with intricate shops and pubs and the mice were scuttling about going into shops and popping their heads through windows.
We are gutted we missed the jousting this time, apparently it was spectacular this year. We had opportunities to watch but we were just busy in other areas - this is why we recommend staying for the weekend.
As campers you are welcome to stay until Tuesday lunchtime although the festival shuts down on the Monday evening. We left on Monday afternoon and had the most magical time as ever.
We 100% recommend this festival, plenty going on for all ages, interesting, quirky and great fun. If you are planning to camp next year I hope we have given you a useful insight. Our advice is invest in a decent tent, bring warm bedding as the temperature drops in the evening and bring wellies (just in case).
There is a lot I have not covered as to what goes on at the festival - come and see for yourselves next year!