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Taking aim at the past; 29th annual Medieval Faire takes place this weekend in Port Gamble

A young archer receives instruction at last year
A young archer receives instruction at last year's Medieval Faire in Port Gamble. This year's event runs Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
— image credit: Tad Sooter

Perchance ye fancy a wee peek at the Middle Ages? This weekend is your chance to learn about a time when chivalry ruled and hammered dulcimers were an instrument of choice.

The 29th annual Medieval Faire takes place Saturday and Sunday in Port Gamble. The event is organized by the Kitsap branch of the Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA). It has grown from several dozen attendees at the first fair to more than 10,000 people at last year's festivities.

SCA spokesman Eric Bosley said people from all different backgrounds attend the yearly event. From shipyard engineers and welders, to doctors and nurses, from babes in arms to people in their 80s, folks join together to celebrate a time that wasn't ruled by a work schedule or a cell phone, but rather by kings and queens.

“There is something romantic about the Middle Ages,” Bosley said. “I think that at some point, most men have wanted to be a knight, and most women have wanted to be a princess.”

This is a time to be creative and explore a different time period, while taking on a different persona. As long as your character falls somewhere between the years 600-1600, you're good to go.

CLOAKS, CORSETS  AND CHAIN MAIL

Dressing in period-appropriate garb is optional. The Medieval Faire is one time modern-dressed people are allowed to observe a SCA event. (They hold monthly gatherings and the public is invited, but must be dressed in period clothing.)

For those attendees who want to dress in the period but have nothing in their wardrobe, clothing is available to borrow. Just leave your ID as collateral. Bosley said there are hundreds of outfits to choose from and the fair is a lot more fun in costume.

Unlike other historical reenactments, this event allows for some wiggle room with clothing.

“We cheat,” Bosley said. “The outside layer will be from the Middle Ages, but the layer you can't see might be long johns or wool sweaters. We don't want to freeze to death.”

Because of western Washington's climate, Bosley said many SCA members choose to become a character from the Viking period. The Vikings' heavy clothing helps to keep participants warm. But when the weather gets hot, some people may put away their fur vests and choose to become a different character from a warmer climate such as the Middle East.

A tricky part of medieval costuming can be the footwear. Bosley said if you have the money to spend, local cobblers who specialize in the Middle Ages can handcraft an authentic pair of shoes  for you. A less expensive option can be a pair of modern boots. While not authentic, oftentimes boots can pass for the Middle Ages. But please if you choose to dress in Medieval garb, leave your Converse high-tops at home.

LET THE BATTLES BEGIN!

The combat demonstrations and competitions are big draws at the Medieval Faire. Because of the recent equine virus outbreak, horses will not be at this year's fair, thus eliminating the jousting events.  However, spectators can watch archery, armored fighting and thrown weapons.

In combat, competitors dress in replicated armor made from modern materials. Bosley said an inexpensive set of armor may be crafted from pickle barrel plastic. (A quick Internet search produced scores of photos and instructions on how to craft items in your recycling bin into wearable armor.)

A more expensive material of choice is stainless steel plated armor. And although stainless steel wasn't invented in the Middle Ages, Bosley said it sure beats rust, especially in our climate.

In combat, marshals are on the field for safety but whether a blow is landed or not is left to the honor of the participants.

“You are the judge yourself,” Bosley said. “Act chivalric. Was the blow sufficiently hard to pierce the armor?”

The combat is meant to be in good fun, with safety being paramount. Not to worry, the weapons used at this event are made from a bamboo-like material which allows for flexibility. Bosley said at some other festivals, steel weapons are used, which almost always results in an injury.

“The objective is to ‘kill’ your friends,” Bosley said. “But we want to be able to party with them afterwards.”

THE WHOLE PICTURE

The Middle Ages wasn’t all about clothing and combat. Rounding out the Medieval Faire will be a collection of crafts people who have become masters in their specific field of interest such as glass bead making and woodworking.

Cooking demonstrations will take place over a large fire pit. Culinary experts will show how to bake fresh bread and cook stews over an open flame.

Musicians, bards, troubadours and madrigal singers will wander the fair, entertaining those within earshot.

Vendors will sell wares appropriate to the Middle Ages. This fair has become so popular with merchants, that vendors are required to go through a selection process before being allowed to participate. They are judged on what they are selling, how their booth looks and how it fits in with the Middle Ages time period. For example, expect to see jewelry and fabric merchants selling replicated goods, not vendors selling “As Seen On TV” products.

When asked why Medieval fairs get poked fun of in television and movies, Bosley said, “I honestly don’t know why they get a bad rap. It’s something different and people often have problems with something that is different.”

He went on to say that people who participate don’t want to actually live in the Middle Ages; there were too many horrific aspects. (The Black Plague comes to mind.) Instead, the SCA and events like the Medieval Faire give people a chance to get together and recreate a part of history.

“When they become adults, a lot of people forget how to play. They can’t engage in dress up,” he said. “There is a whole world of different things for people to explore, and this is one.”

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