We are lucky to have two great venues relatively equidistant from our home. Each has subtle differences so depending on circumstances we get to choose, or sometimes visit both.
This year we decided to “go play” at the PA Renaissance Faire, located on the grounds of the Mount Hope Estate and Winery in Manheim, Pennsylvania. It’s quite a bit larger than the one in Maryland and has flush toilets versus porta johns, paved walkways, and numerous park benches all of which make the journey throughout the Faire a bit easier for the mobility challenged.
The Festival season runs from early August until the end of October, open only on weekends, generally from 11am – 8pm, and often sponsors specially themed weekends that deepens the experience.
We decided to schedule our trip for “Heroes of the Realm” weekend. In honor of all military, police, fire, and other emergency personnel – active and retired – the Shire offered admission prices at less than half price.
What is the PA Renaissance Faire? It is a 35-acre, historical fantasy that is patterned after an imagined European village, typically English or French, that might have existed during the Renaissance – that period of time in Europe, from the 14th to the 17th century. It’s like the ultimate, live action, role-playing game.
Each year, the Faire creates a new scenario for their Royal Court – who can be seen participating in events all throughout the day, fully costumed in opulent splendour, just as one would expect from the King and Queen of the Shire.
This season’s theme was centered in the year 1509. Here is an excerpt from their website:
“King Henry VII, victor of the War of the Roses and founder of the Tudor dynasty, has died. His eldest son Arthur, who was to have taken his place, has also succumbed to illness. And so England’s throne and future now fall to the king’s second son: Henry Tudor.
Henry has chosen the Shire of Mt. Hope as the site of his coronation, and on this glorious festival day our good Lady Mayor has spared no expense. She has prepared music, dancing, acrobats, jousting, and even a game of human chess! And after a day full of revelry and merriment, England’s new King shall be crowned upon the Globe stage with a fantastic celebration to start his new reign.”
As you enter the castle grounds – yes, you heard right – you are immediately immersed within another time and place. The crowded thoroughfare is filled with women in long, corseted dresses and men wearing their finest plumery, ranging from fierce knights dressed in kilts or armor to courtesans greeting you in the proper, medieval slang of the day. Music fills the streets, which are lined on both sides with quaint, European-style shops that sell hand-crafted items by true artisans.
You then make your way, pausing to look at all bits of finery for sale, as well as the many-splendoured costumes, and search the day’s program for times and locations of the various entertainment, such as bawdy comedy acts like the Sultry Sirens of Sin, short plays, human chess, a jousting tournament with real horses and armored knights, and even an aviary that demonstrates the art of Falconry.
Doug likes to visit the forge, which hosts demonstrations on how they make hand-crafted weapons using fire, hammer, anvil, and steel.
Whereas, one of my favorites is visiting the Herb Garden…
The Chapel is always a favorite for me too, especially since it doubles as a book store.
But a day at the Faire just wouldn’t be complete without imbibing some richly, brewed, artisan ale guaranteed to rouse some good cheer, especially whilst watching one of the many shows.
I especially love the bawdy comedies. They’re rated PG-13 so I mean bawdy in the noblest sense of just good fun. This year’s favorite performance, for both Doug and myself, was the “Washing Well Wenches”, made even more hilarious by our surprise in finding out it was an “interactive” show.
They would “pick on” various members of the audience to humiliate – uh, ad lib – as part of the show. And if we, the audience, didn’t cheer loud enough? One of the wenches would dunk a large cloth in the Washing Well water and drag it dripping across the stage before flinging the wet spray across those of us foolish (or fortunate) enough to be seated within range.
Lucky for us, we saw the show at the hottest part of the day and a little bit of water was very welcome. Yup, we were front row (of course!) survivors.
But out of all the wondrous sights and pleasures of the day, the crowning moment for me was in meeting the Queen, more specifically, what happened afterward.
First I must say, that all throughout the day, I was complimented by numerous women who remarked on my dress. They would stop me in the street, or ask to take picture, and I guessed I stood out because my dress was very different from most of the other Faire costumes.
I had sewn the dress myself, years ago after attending my first festival, and I chose a fabric and style that would please my own personal taste, that of the Italian Renaissance and reminiscent of a Lady in her garden.
So when I approached the Queen of the Shire, it didn’t surprise me when she said, “Oh fine Lady, what a pretty dress thou art wearing, of course you may have a picture of us together.”
After Doug snapped our picture, I thanked the Queen, and then held out my hand for the camera. I said, “Doug – would you like a picture with the Queen?”
He responded with a lopsided grin. “Yes! That would great,” and stepped forward, holding the camera out to the Queen, as if he expected her Royal Ladyship to snap a picture of Doug and me.
She and I both blinked, momentarily speechless with shared confusion. I started to explain, thinking Doug had somehow misunderstood, but stopped myself mid-sentence with sudden understanding, simultaneously with the Queen. We glanced at each other and laughed.
Doug smiled, probably thinking we ladies were a bit slow on the uptake, and said to me, “You are my Queen.”
“Oh Ho Ho! You Sir are of the quick wit,” said the Shire Queen. “Very nicely done, Sir, very nice indeed. You, fine Lady, are lucky to have such a gallant escort.”
I beamed with delight. “See? Here’s another reason why I married this man.”
I took the camera from Doug and motioned for him to stand with the Shire’s Queen, lest she become insulted and bark a royal order to the guards, “OFF with their heads!”
But I needn’t have worried. The Shire’s Queen bid us a hearty ‘Fare Thee Well’ in response to another episode of Doug’s wit. He had grasped each side of his 5-11 Tactical Battle Kilt and performed a pretty decent curtsy since he was, after all, wearing a “skirt”.
The weather gods had truly granted us a glorious day. The sun had been hot, but temperatures stayed in a moderate low 80’s with intermittent cloud cover and gentle breezes. After a long, enjoyable day we were tuckered out, and still faced the two hour ride home.
However, we mustered up enough oomph to check out a new gun store that Doug’s buddies had recommended, only a short 10 miles from the Faire. I quick-changed out of my costume into something a bit more comfortable for the extended ride home, and we headed out to Trop Guns.
We weren’t disappointed. The store was tremendous and even included an onsite range. I had never seen so many fine guns in one spot before. And true to my “champagne tastes on a beer budget” style, I immediately zeroed in on a polished, wood stock rifle racked horizontally on the back wall and surrounded by other rifles of varied make and model.
I made a beeline to the glass display counter with eyes focused on a rifle so beautiful, it practically glowed. I could almost hear angels begin to sing as I leaned in close, trying to find the model and caliber. That’s when I saw the price tag. $11,900.00 used. Ah ha. I should have known.
As tempting as it was, being surrounded by so many fine things that called to us, “take me home – pick me, pick me!”, we were soon ready to hit the road. We bid Trop Guns adieu and headed for the PA Turnpike.
Exiting onto the peaceful stretch of Route 15 in Maryland, we were far from the effects of Hurricane Hermine, yet we had her to thank for the beautiful cloud formations that accompanied our drive, all the way home to a West Virginia sunset.