So about Kelmarsh…
It basically did not happen. Here’s why-
See that rather wide and fast-flowing stream? That picture was taken Saturday morning. The stream was not there Friday night. Allow me to explain from the beginning…
Friday morning, Boyfriend Rob and I woke up and started throwing things together for the legendary Kelmarsh Festival of History. Having watched videos of shows from previous years and having listened to the war stories of Crusade’s seasoned veterans, we knew Kelmarsh was supposed to be the biggest show of the year, with pyrotechnics, WWII fighter planes, huge crowds and also alcohol (outside of official show hours, of course). Crusade was slated to put on a battle from 1066, a battle from the 15th century and also portray the camps of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Living History area. At the same time, there would be other battles and living history displays from basically any period in Western history anybody could think of. It was going to be a packed weekend and we were excited.
By 3:30, we were on a train south, with our friend and fellow reenactor, Gareth, and by 6:00, we were standing outside of a small train station in a small commuter town, a few miles away from Kelmarsh Hall. Unable to reach any of our Crusade compatriots by phone, we wandered up to a cab and asked for a ride. The cab driver grabbed our backpacks, sleeping bags, and suitcase of chainmail and plate armor (yes we have one) and put them in the back of the car, maneuvering carefully around his eggs and various other groceries. What followed then was a terrifying and very-much-over-the-speed-limit drive down to the event site, where our driver nudged his way around a line of cars waiting for directions from the organizers and dropped us off. We headed towards the Crusade camp, where the brightly striped squares stood out in the large field of white and used-to-be-white tents. We set up our little sleeping area and Gareth headed off for perrier (catapult) team practice, which included holding the perrier on its trailer as it was transported to the battlefield.
Rob and I took a turn about the camp. We looked in on the War of 1812-era life-size fort, with whole sections that were prepared to be blown off in the battle the next day. I had the supremely odd experience of hearing Confederate rebels speaking in obviously British accents. And we saw the very muddy and authentic-looking 10 foot tall WWI trenches. By that time, the sky had gotten very dark and was spitting bits of rain, so we headed back to camp for a quick dinner of meat pasties and conversation around the fire. By the time Rob, Gareth and I trudged to the portable toilets for a pre-sleep visit, it was pouring and the grass was highly squelchy. But my boots were dry on the inside and we had been assured that the field, usually used for music festivals, was equipped with drains, pumps, and other measures to keep flooding at bay. We may get a bit damp, but we’d be all right. Rain is not a new phenomenon to the British Isles, after all, and definitely not a new phenomenon for reenactors. I fell asleep around 12:30am to the sound of slightly intoxicated chicanery from around the camp fire and rain beating a loud staccato on the canvas above my head. I woke up a little while later to hear only rain, fell back asleep, and woke up again in a few hours to hear more rain and a horn blowing ceaselessly from the Viking camp not too far away. “Who’s blowing a horn at this hour?” I thought, “Its too early for breakfast…” I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.
It wasn’t long after that that I was half-woken by voices all over camp, saying things like “totally soaked” “water ankle-deep” and “show cancelled.” Eventually, I sat up and asked some slightly-more-awake people what was going on and discovered that I was sitting in one of the only dry spots left in the whole section of the camp. At some point early in the morning, the parking lot at the top of the field had decided to imitate the headwaters of the Nile and sent a torrent down the incline, straight into the Viking, Saxon, High and Late Medieval camps. The drains couldn’t keep up and at some point, some poor soul had woken up to find his air mattress floating out of his tent and down the hill, with him still on it. The horn I had heard was a warning, an attempt to rouse everyone before they, too, were washed away. In half of our tents, anything left on the ground was completely sopping, whether it be carpet, cow hide or sleeping bag. By the time I went outside, the Anglo-Saxons in the camp behind us were pulling stakes up from the middle of the stream, having lost the battle to keep their tent stable. The ground was so saturated that it seemed to rock slightly whenever my foot made contact with it and each step brought up a fresh pool of water. If a patch of ground wasn’t covered in water, it was covered in mud and in many cases both. Then the announcement came over the speaker system- show cancelled, entrance flooded, don’t try to leave because you won’t be able to. But on the bright side, free tea and coffee in the beer tent!
We ate a breakfast of packaged pancakes, bread, and cold brioche and set off to find the least wet way to the toilets. Many people had abandoned any pretense of footwear and simply walked around barefoot but my boots, bless them, were holding firm so I tried to avoid the biggest puddles/lakes and employed a complex method of climbing and clambering to get onto one of the raised toilet trailers without walking through Lake Michigan Reloaded, which had appeared at the bottom of the field.
Reports came drifting in over the next hour or so- Plastic camp (the non-authentic camping area in the field below) was almost washed away, with water over a foot high in some tents. The poor horses stood in ankle-deep water until they found a place to put them. People wandered around in the odd assortment of modern clothing and authentic kit that reenactors of all eras tend to wear when the public isn’t around- whatever is the driest in this case. The rain, oblivious to all the trouble it was causing, continued to sprinkle down from time to time. Some intrepid merchants opened for business. Organizers bustled back and forth in tough little carts or huge tractors. We all wondered when we could leave and what we should do before then.
By 9am, there was an announcement saying that anybody who thought they could leave without damaging the ground too much with their tires was welcome to try. Rob, Gareth, and I had no transportation back to the train station except for rides from Crusade. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem but considering the circumstances we didn’t want to be a burden. Fortunately, Rob’s parents live nearby and his dad graciously swooped in (or rather, drove to one side of the stream) to save us. An organizer gave our armor and kit a ride up to the car, we piled in, and spent the rest of the day in a haze of dry-and-warm-clothes induced happiness. From what I have heard, most people had bailed by Saturday night and everyone was safe home by Sunday. And while I’m disappointed that the show did not go on as planned, I am infinitely grateful for the dry bed I got to sleep in on Saturday and the real house it was in…
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And I’ll leave you with a few more pictures: