English Heritage, hearing about our enthusiasm for Hands On History, kindly sent us a ticket for the Medieval Knights Tournament at Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens.
What is Hands On History? Pretty much what it says! As we previously wrote, English Heritage are particularly good at bringing history to life – allowing people to experience the sights, sounds and even smells of years gone by at their many historic properties. This is usually by way of reenactments and displays, and so much more.
At Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens, the Knights Tournament did just this!
We had never visited Belsay before, and were so very impressed. We bought ourselves a guide book (£4) which was very good value, and we feel sure we’ll visit again. The entrance to most of the site is via the gift shop, so this is very easy to buy (and very cleverly upsold by the lovely and helpful staff). The book tells us “Belsay has everything – a hall inspired by the Classical architecture of ancient Greece, a medieval castle with rare wall paintings, and magnificent gardens full of exotic plants and trees”. Can I just say, before going any further, every single member of staff we encountered at English Heritage was fantastic, helpful, and very knowledgeable too.
The field where the knights were fighting, and where all of their displays were, was quite some way from the entrance. Around 20 minutes’ walk, the staff informed us. This filled me with dread, as you may have read previously about Cal’s mobility problems. However, she was carrying a heart monitor and deliberately trying to make herself symptomatic for the purpose of monitoring, so what better way?! OK, she had to stop and rest on the way, and take it quite easy, but she managed! It’s worth noting though, if mobility is a problem for you. However, there were wheelchair friendly routes, and there were wheelchairs to borrow if needed. I had the dog with me, who was pulling my arm out of its socket in excitement, so I wasn’t really up for pushing a wheelchair too!
The walk through the gardens was truly spectacular.
What a marvellous place! The boys thought it felt very ‘Harry Potter’, and I know what they mean. The Quarry Garden, with its high rocks and exotic planting, was almost ‘other worldly’ and very mysterious. It’s a shame that our main objective was to get across to the castle to see the knights. We could have wandered for hours in this section of the gardens. The children were given a map to do their own adventure trail too. We definitely need to return. Probably with a wheelchair and without a dog!
The castle finally came into view, along with the medieval style tents and Knights’ fighting arena. It looked so effective with such a spectacular backdrop! I hung back with the dog, whilst Cal went across to the castle where the crowds were gathering. They were selling flags to cheer on your chosen team, and Cal chose to go inside the castle so that she could sit on the windowsill. It was a great vantage point (and good for photos, I’m told!). The castle is part ruined, but still retains many interesting features. Its remains are still dominated by a huge late 14th Century tower, one of the best surviving examples of a peel tower. There are also remains of 14th and 15th Century wall paintings.
The event was really well attended, with many experts having taken their own blankets and picnics. The children all really seemed to enjoy the battles. They were encouraged by the M.C. to cheer for their chosen team of knights. The fighting looked pretty realistic actually! It was also easy to follow thanks to great commentary and lots of historic facts. It was so much fun too.
After the battle, the whole team retired behind the castle,
where there were many more activities on offer including archery and shield making. Our boys were fascinated by the weaponry collection. They had it all explained to them, with the opportunity to hold many of the swords, by a really helpful knight. I was so impressed by how much time he spent with them, as were the boys. (He had no idea we were going to write about this, he just picked up on the boys’ interest and kindly spent some time explaining it all).
We had such a lovely time, and revelled in the great atmosphere created by this event. It really had brought the place to life. Afterwards, we had a great picnic for a late lunch. There is also a cafe (Victorian Tearoom) on site if required, but lots of people brought picnics too. The boys then excitedly visited the well-stocked gift shop to spend their pocket money. Sadly we didn’t have time to explore the hall itself, having spent all of our time outdoors. We were dashing off as I had work to go to. We also wanted to visit the Roman site of Birdoswald on our way. But we will, as I say, definitely return to this fabulous place.
With thanks to English Heritage for the tickets, allowing us to visit this fabulous site and interesting event.
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