Thursday, June 14, 2012

Time Travel Weekend Part I: 1480s Day at Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal hosted a medieval weekend recently. Talking to the reenactors from Rosa Mundi, they said they represented the 1480s, the time of much commerce and exploration, when Marco Polo had opened up the trading route with the Far East. Which allowed them to cook with cloves!

The encampment was situated between the Abbey and the Mill on a nice piece of flat ground with a river running next to it. Interestingly, the stream runs from the mill through and under the Abbey.

An idyllic, bucolic setting (as Polonius might say)

We met the first reenactor on the bridge over the stream. He was relaxing in the shade. He was sewing some leather, so we asked what he was making. He was working on a sheath for his knife.

Not too far from the madding crowd

He had a small cup (that brown flask between his knee and spear) from which he was drinking water, though he wished it was something more potent. His armor was quite heavy. Lucy did not want to try the helmet since it would probably have made her fall over. We moved on to the tents.

What immediately drew our attention was the fire with its simmering pots. We looked in and saw some beef and onions. The other pot had an exceptionally clear broth that we assumed was just water boiling.

No oven for bread, alas!

Nearby, some men were cutting up meat for another dish and they talked to us about what they were making. The beef stew indeed had onions and cloves and some red wine as well. One of us asked about the cloves and the fellow said that in the 1480s, they would have come from Venice through Marco Polo's Asian trading route. They also would have been quite expensive, since every time they traded hands, the merchants would have to mark it up to make a profit. Pepper corns were literally sold by the corn since they were so valuable.

Prepping in the shade

They were cutting up some bacon and vegetables for another dish. They had to feed the 40 or so people there and lunch time was rapidly approaching. Many of the tents in the back were not open to the public. It seemed like they were staying at the encampment overnight (they were there from Friday through Sunday). They must be die-hard reenactors.

We walked around some more and saw a tent with a jug out front that looked like it would dispense the sort of beverage the bridge man was looking for. No one was at the tent. Looking into the container, I discovered it was empty. With lunch not ready yet, I'm sure they wouldn't be serving strong drink just yet either.

The bowl on the ground indicates how valuable the contents of the jug would be

We saw a fellow dressed as a merchant with his tent set for trading and office work, such as it was in the late 15th century.

A table and some wares

The next tent had a fellow who was weaving a net. He asked us what we thought it was for. We guessed fishing. We were not right. He said he was making a trap for rabbits.

Explaining the rabbit-catching process

He told us how they caught rabbits back in the day. First of all, rabbit warrens were controlled areas, like pastures for cows or sheep today. If people were caught trapping without permission they could be in big trouble. If they did have permission, the typical way to trap them was simple. The net is placed over one end of the rabbit hole with the draw string pegged to the ground. A ferret would be sent down the other end of the rabbit hole, causing a mad dash into the waiting net. As the rabbits tried to escape, they'd pull the draw string shut and be easily picked up. The fellow said rabbit, if prepared well, is quite delicious and was a much more common dish long ago.

All this talk of food made us hungry, but not for rabbit. We went to the nearby tea shop. It didn't have a potty which was a disappointment for Jacob. It did have flapjack so all was right with the world. It also had nice scones and tea for parents. Lucy had a shortbread. She enjoyed it. It made a lot of crumbs. Luckily the weather was nice and we were sitting outside. Fortified for more adventures, we walked up the hill to the playground, which was really the destination that the children wanted to go to all along. We've already reported on their wonderful playground before.

Along the way, a crafts building had some family activities. The children weren't interested enough to stop, though Lucy did get to ride a sheep.

Ride 'em, cowboy, or I should say sheepgirl

We had a fun time at the playground, working off the snack so we'd be ready for a yummy lunch back home. Maybe next time we'll ask for beef stew!

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