Adventures in castle camping and camp cooking

Art and I recently (June bank holiday weekend) went along to Strawberry Raid at Sigginstown Castle, Tacumshane Co. Wexford, hosted by Liz and Gordon – who are doing the incredible work at the castle itself (and Dun in Mara generally) – and Agnes Boncuer and her event team. To say it was fantastic is an injustice, I came away as fired up and enthusiastic about the SCA as I was when I first discovered it. As I’ve said elsewhere “The people in the SCA are some of the most joyfully enthusiastic people I have ever met; encouraging, always helpful and prepared to make sure everyone has a good time, be they an absolute beginner or seasoned veteran.” People may or may not have gotten the vibe from me (painfully awkward) but it was just so incredibly good to see everyone in the flesh, in real life again, wandering around and getting their SCA on. Curse the plague.

Unfortunately I’ve left this about a month to write and I am currently feeling absolutely crap and missing the first Laochra na Bharntacht (baronial games) in my home Barony of Eplaheimr, so bear with me while I try to tap into the moment, it might take a few turns of the crank. I also took absolutely no photos the entire weekend, which is unusual for me, so apologies or the lack of illustration.

The main camping event in the SCA for us until recently has been Raglan Ffair in Wales and while I have always loved the atmosphere and the event, the trek over in a standard car with at least two other adult size people has never encouraged an encampment sort of thinking, which I think other people who love camping events have been embracing for many years now. I always felt I was getting by and the budget was never strong enough to get some of the nice bits and pieces. Art and I arrived down in two tiny little mundane tents. We got to camp in with everyone else and be in the thick of it all which was lovely but I got to remember exactly why small mundane tents and garb do not go.

Rolling into the site and easily finding my designated spot, seeing all the already established tents and some hints of fluttering banners in the sun made my little heart soar. Noticed some cleverly neutral coloured mundane tents nestled in with similar coloured period tents and was very impressed with how fast the eye could skim over the modernity. Definitely a way I would go if buying a new mundane tent. The sun was shining when we arrived, and there was a good breeze since it’s so close to the sea, and life was most definitely good.

My plan for the weekend was to do not very much at all, explore the castle to see all the amazing work they’ve done since my last visit making tiles, maybe some archery, bring Aodh to the shops and to Kilmore Quay for fish, and help a bit with the camp cooking for our corner of the campsite and catch up with friends i haven’t been able to talk to in literally years. The event had serious names in the heavy fighting arena along to attend classes organised by Nessa and given by her knight, Duke Sean, over from the States. I’m not a heavy fighter but the feedback floating around in the evening air in Wexford was stellar, and it was wonderful to see it go so well as an onlooker. Fencers too stalked around in their best, all visibly delighted to be there for Master Duncan Chaucer’s elevation to the Order of Defence (so thrilled for him!) & so Art had a great time and, I’m told, sent some time in a giggling fit on the fencing field being taught some valuable lessons by my evil step laurel, Baron Etienne. Every so often Annelyne or Alays would call about the various Arts and sciences classes, there was enthusiastic showing off of books bound mingled with snatches of songs being taught or new foraging lore being passed on by Alison, and while the weather turned a bit hostile unfortunately, the general air of happiness was incredibly strong.

The fish expedition to Kilmore Quay after the big shop and booze run for the first strawberry raid run at the supermarket was well worth doing. I was expecting a sort of small fish shop and instead got standing in front of a large briny puddle at the back of a pebble dashed building with a thick plastic chain holding us back at an up and over door from a veritable 70’s tiled cave with crates of ice and people in fish-prepping zone, calmly and industriously doing all the necessary tasks that make handling fish easier for the squeamish folk like me. We got a selection of fish and headed back to the camp. Between Aodh, Nessa and Micheál great effort was put into taking a large amount of encampment and site equipment down to the site in the preceding days, and I have no doubt Aidan was as stuck into getting it up and stocked as he seems to have been in a great number of the tents all over the site. Aodh has been interested in camp cooking .. well since forever really … so his own cooking encampment version 1.1 was usefully kitted out and featured a covered cooking area which proved very useful. I think being rained on as much as we were definitely revealed a few things that need to be sorted for round two, but it’s great to have them in the mix before a longer camp is tried out. We egged and floured and herbed the various fish pieces, and some chicken for the people not fond of fish, and spent a contented evening frying them up. I have to say lemon sole cooked that way in Wexford amoung friends has to be a huge favourite now.

The location of Master Duncan’s vigil will, I think, draw envious sighs, taking place as it did on the first floor in a tiny room in the lovingly restored keep, with the echos of people chatting and laughing below and above ebbing and flowing within the gently swaying soft light and a deep sense of layers of history falling on that spot. He looked, as he is wont to, absolutely fantastic; he well deserves his peacock reputation. I was stunned by the details of the work he and Annelyne had prepared. I adore vigils and elevations, the raw force of enthusiastic fan-personing over friends is just amazing, I wish we did more of it in mundane life. I was reminded, again, just how grown up Art has become in our time in the SCA, as he stood as vigil guard on the floor above, half watching the game of Byzantine chess below.

The next day the heavens opened. People were away doing fighty things om other fields and A&S things in the tower. Archery had to be cancelled because of the wind, no one fancied becoming a surprise target. Every so often people would wander around for a chat. One of the things about Medieval Irish people is that the poorer folk went barefoot a lot, a practice I’m very fond of all of my life. Our climate is very wet and the shoes presumably didn’t last very well but also I was reminded how much I prefer letting my feet cope with the elements than wearing soggy shoes, they seem (presumably with practice) to regulate for heat better. My shoes are leather but I suppose I better treat them with a waterproofing of some kind. I had to remember very early on that there was a “wear shoes on the site (it’s a building site after all)” policy, which was bad of me and which I shall definitely pay proper attention to, but I at least had kept to my own small section of the site at the time. I don’t mind getting wet in summer and Saturday, though I was completely drenched through I had no bad chilling effect I suppose because I was constantly moving and steaming gently beside the fire making fillings and later pies. My strongest memory is contentedly humming away in my own personal little cloud of steam rolling back towards me from the fire with the drumming of the rain on the canvas above and the smell of onions gently yellowing in butter. Lessons were learned about food plans and inclement weather and the necessity for more waterproof containers.

At court that night the very best of excellent news; as well as a wonderful and heart singingly lovely elevation for Master Duncan – beautiful words by everyone but I especially remember those of Lady Fianna – Aodh, Nessa and Sela all received writs commanding they choose an event at which to sit vigil and contemplate accepting places in the Order of the Pelican. I was down the back and missed their reaction up close, but videos and photos on Facebook tell a glorious story and to say I am happy for all three doesn’t remotely do the feeling justice. Only their actual elevation will make me feel more full-to-burst proud of them I suspect. After that the evening was a bit of a tired blur and maybe a small bit too much wine and a lot of spirited singing of some distinctly .. interesting .. songs. Cucumbers in gin may never be looked at in quite the same way again.

The next day the cold did get to me, I wasn’t cooking and while I stayed dry I wasn’t really moving much either. I got talking to lovely people, planned future encampment things and ended up back in the tower out of the cold that evening for more singing and to enjoy Gordon and Liz’s fabulous singing and entertainment and went to bed thoroughly happy and warm and full of every good feeling about the SCA I have ever had.

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