It was possibly all a bit mad, but some of my household were enthusiastically planning to go to Crown and I was doing too much of that envious wistful thinking so I decided to go too as a holiday for myself. The Lady Cassandra sold Alays and me on the idea of taking in a visit to Abakhan while in Wales, or, as she calls it, The Fabric Wonderland. So it was set, we were going to Wales.
There was some of the worst weather imaginable while driving to Cassandra’s on Thursday evening (peering through the tiny hole in the glass devouring condensation on the windscreen, wipers slapping hysterically back and forth and rain hitting the windscreen horizontally through the dark and the spear thrusts of oncoming headlights – that sort of fun stuff) I was a little concerned weather was going to make a soggy mess of the whole affair. Luckily as the new day dawned – at the ungodly hour of 6 am (I am not a morning person) – things were definitely looking up.
My plan had been to have the black cotehardie Debbie and I had made a start on nearly finished by the time I got to the ferry. Unfortunately other stuff, TM, took over, and so from the time I plonked my rear end on the rather nice ferry seats of the Ulysses I was largely frantically sewing. With a pause for an enormous breakfast, because that’s what you do on epic road trips.
On arrival we entertained ourselves with welsh roadsigns and after a bit Cassandra brought us down a very interesting example of rural welsh country road on our way to Abakhan – all it was missing was the grass growing down the centre. I will say one thing for similar Irish examples, at least we seem to have a few more pulling into spots when you have to reverse madly to accommodate the oncoming car. Cassandra demonstrated excellent reversing skills, Alays and I were most impressed.
Abakhan itself was fantastic. I realise this a horrible understatement, but there you go. Ireland does not do craft shops well, and they all charge prices as if to suggest that only the fortunate elite are supposed to be allowed to spend their time trying to embroider something, or make a dress, or indulge in paper crafts. (Aren’t us normal Irish women supposed to be making hang sandwiches and making tea for the local GAA team anyway? And sure, here’s a couple of balls of wool, can’t you be doing a bit of aul’ knitting) We mentioned we’d spend an hour there, we left four hours later. I bought trim and green, blue and purple linen, cotton for lucetting and some other bits and pieces. Alays and Cassandra came away with stashes I may or may not have entertained thoughts of stealing (*whistles innocently*)
I took a turn driving over the mountains – my, the Welsh love their hairpin bends – and we arrived to Caerphilly Castle after dark. There are few things in life so satisfyingly awe inspiring as a large stone castle soft lit, solid and imposing against a dark skyline while shimmering in it’s own moat. I’ve not been to Raglan castle, so I was suitably impressed with everything; Juliette in full garb climbing through the small gate within the gate, going up through the towered building imagining flames and torches, ladies walking with that skirt hitching walk, wearing capes against the evening, their faces made up with soft light and shadows. The Great Hall was indeed great, and I happily sat and drank some Black Dragon Cider feeling the colour of everyone’s garb and conversation work against my tiredness as I started stitching again. My hall was pleasantly warm, and I slept surprisingly soundly for all I was sleeping on stone flagged floor.
The weather was glorious, ribbons of white trailed across a blue, blue sky, and though I decided to start what ended up being a supremely clumsy weekend with an inexcusably inelegant slip on the dew soaked boardwalk, everything dried up beautifully as we partook of breakfast. As participants flowed onto the field it became vibrant with red, yellow and blue. Lady Agnes and Lord Aodh were busy with their competitors, Cassandra, Alays and I found ourselves a bench and settled in as the peanut gallery with our sewing. We were there to support our own Viscount Cernac, fighting for Viscountess Susannah of York, with additional cheers to spare for Pan Vitus and Lady Valda Kevinsdottir. The boasts were wonderful, delivered in a glorious range of voices and accents. Agnes’s for Viscount Vitus and Viscountess Isabel was very beautiful, Aodh’s for Viscount Gilliam Blackhorn and Lady Tova fran Attemark, with its almost exclusive concentration on the Lady, was one the other consorts must have envied a little. There was a young lady whose voice was stunningly powerful, I alas do not remember her name. I am confident her future is bright, especially since I also heard her sing. The fighting was tough, with two injuries. The last fight Viscount Cernac fought in ( to decide the semi finalists) was breathtaking in it’s speed and intensity. We in Lough Devnaree are immensely proud of how well Cernac fought. (Still not King though 😉 ) The final was between Viscount Vitus and the eventual winner Duke Prothall, fighting for Duchess Cecilia.
Some observations of life in the peanut gallery: 1) Wooden benches are hard to sit on for many hours, cushions will feature in my medieval future. 2) Sewing and clapping are difficult to do at the same time. 3) Getting a wounded look from a fighter when you cheer their opponent and not them is guilt inducing, I still feel I should seek out Richard the Rampant and apologise. 4) It is very nice when a fighter acknowledges your good wishes.
Lunch in a great hall spoils you for the days when you have to eat lunch at your desk in work, scrabbling with a blog post. As I had forgotten to bring cutlery with me Cassandra and I ventured across to the charity shop to find something to tide me over, and to Tesco for ice cream. It is very funny to watch people alternating between puzzlement and studied nonchalance as you wander about in garb. There was more sewing and the panic of trying to get into an unfinished cotehardie before Court. Were it not for Cassandra it is likely I’d have hid up a tower or something. We changed in the bathrooms, and it must have been an odd site, seeing a fabulously dressed lady in Medieval Venetian dress just in the doorway sewing up the front of my dress with a tapestry needle and some ribbon. (I apologise, again, for the blister.) Court was held in a room in the Barbican, after some interesting lessons in how to climb spiral staircases in a long dress with a pinned hem. I was delighted to witness Lord Heinrich receive his Award of Arms, he and my eldest son seemed to enjoy each other’s company at Yuletide University last year, and Baroness Caitriona (in absentia) and Viscountess Susannah were awarded the Dragon’s Tear (I think it was called) for their services at 20 Year. The “Redneck Gift Basket” presented to their Majesties was definitely a hit, the poor Queen nearly killed herself laughing.
Straight after Court came Feast, which was presented all at once, a new experience for me, and resulted in some interesting plate juggling. Everything was delicious and I got extra peas pottage which I really love because not everyone is as fond of peas as I am. How sad 🙂 It also seemed to make feast seem shorter than usual for some reason, but all the more time to listen to the performances (and indeed participate in a small way as a member of the “Lough Devnaree Choir” during Viscountess Susannah’s performance.) Nessa told another excellent story and some young members made me jealous with their singing ability and their willingness to face their nerves and just do it. Around the fire later it was fun to listen to people from other shires laugh and joke and tease each other. And you really haven’t lived until you have seen a man try to suck port out of his tunic for fear of losing the drop.
The ferry home on Sunday was great, I love getting an opportunity to do an event port mortem with others. Spirits were good, even if folk were all pretty exhausted by then, and having a steady stream of tea, snacks (with or without the grape tax) and pleasant conversation certainly helped keep my brain functioning that bit longer.