The English Civil War, and Other Days Out

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Although we stayed at home for much of this year’s summer break, we did get away to the Seventeenth Century for a couple of days.

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Some time ago, my Mum and Dad very generously bought us a family membership to the National Trust. It came in very handy over the summer – not only were we covered for many of the Lake District’s (very expensive) car parks, but we made repeated visits to some local properties too.

For one long weekend, Sizergh Castle had an encampment of Sealed Knot enthusiasts. I took A and B for a day out there, whilst S was attending a friend’s Birthday party. They enjoyed it so much they insisted that we go back the following day so that S and TBH wouldn’t miss out.

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The chap on the left is using a Civil War era microphone, attached to a Civil War era PA system. To be fair, his talk was very entertaining. In fact, I found the whole thing very interesting and gruesomely informative. Notice his hat: you’ll see it, and him, again.

S was hobbling around on crutches, a legacy of his fall at Fell Foot Park, and when the desk staff saw him, they offered him the use of a wheelchair. Never one to miss an opportunity to be pampered, S jumped at the chance. Well actually…not jumped, but you see what I mean. In those circumstances we felt justified in not climbing the steep bank where the rest of the spectators were standing, but took a ringside spot right on top of the action.

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What I remember about the muskets is that they came in two flavours – matchlocks and flintlocks, that they took an age to load, were extremely inaccurate, prone to misfire and were almost as much of a danger to the soldiers using them as to their opponents. The huge, and far as I could gather, only, advantage of the musket over the the longbow – which is much quicker to fire, less likely to injure it’s user and has a longer range – is an economic one – it takes only twenty minutes to train someone how to use the musket and not the lifetime of practice needed for the bow.*

Which brings me seamlessly onto….

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One of our trips to Wray Castle, where, on Wednesdays, volunteers from Kendal Bowmen are on hand to coach anyone who fancies themselves as an archer and has £1 for a few shots. (I think it was advertised as 3 or possibly 4, but they were very generous with their counting.)

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The archery was in the old walled garden.

We’d intended to try archery the week before, and had parked further down the shore of Windermere at Harrowslack car park, had a picnic there, and then, whilst the others cycled from there up to Wray Castle, I moved the car and cycled back to meet them. The National Trust have upgraded the lake shore path to make it suitable for cyclists. I was a bit concerned when, after cycling for quite some time, I still hadn’t met the others. When I arrived back at Harrowslack, without seeing them at all I was perplexed: the route between Wray Castle and Harrowslack is entirely beside the lake – how could we have missed each other? Because, it turned out, TBH had mysteriously diverted uphill away from the lake – when we eventually found each other we were too late for archery.

Wray Castle isn’t really a castle at all – it’s a Victorian house with mock turrets and battlements, built by Liverpudlian surgeon James Dawson and his wife (an heiress). The house was donated to the National Trust as far back as 1929, but was used as a Naval Communications Training College and also as the headquarters of the Freshwater Biological Association. Although some of its former grandeur is in evidence, it’s generally a bit shabby inside. It’s only been open to the public for a while and the Trust have done their best to make it inviting for families. In the grounds there’s an adventure play area, a volley ball net, croquet equipment and an area in the woods where den building is encouraged. Inside there was all sorts for the kids to do – huge soft bricks to build with, an enormous Jenga set, table tennis, snooker, fancy dress, etc etc…..

Anyway, back at Sizergh, there were also numerous entertainments on offer – for some reason B was keen to have wet sponges thrown at him in the stocks. Disappointingly, A and I were shockingly poor shots and I don’t think we managed to make him even mildly damp.

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There were talks and demonstrations on throughout the day. The field surgeon’s talk was a highlight: grisly but good. A hurdy-gurdy player popped up before many of the talks – his explanation of how the instrument is played and how it functions was almost as enjoyable as the music itself. (I did overhear somebody claim that the tunes ‘all sound the same’, but he must have had cloth ears. They didn’t.) He did tell us that the instrument wasn’t called a hurdy-gurdy in the seventeenth century, but I can’t recall the contemporary name.

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Here’s the green hat and its owner again.

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After another hair-raising talk about the development of sword designs and fighting styles through history, these two gents put on a demonstration duel.

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It was evidently a rigorous aerobic workout.

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Cloaks and hats were employed in a vigorous dirty-tricks campaign.

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I wasn’t clear on who was for the King and who for Parliament, or whether that really mattered. Either way, both combatants looked to be having a whale of a time. Me too: I like a bit of swashbuckling, when observed from a safe distance!

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The English Civil War, and Other Days Out

8 thoughts on “The English Civil War, and Other Days Out

  1. I was also at that Sizergh Castle event with daughter Jill and granddaughter Katie, and we also visited Wray Castle early in the summer. Both excellent value. There were loads of activities at Wray for Katie – much better than looking at stuffy old stately home rooms which all tend to look a bit the same when you have seen a few.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Yes, we’ve really enjoyed Wray Castle, Sizergh and Fell Foot Park this year with multiple visits to all three. We toured the house at Sizergh too and the kids had a sort of treasure hunt to do and enjoyed that enormously too. Really good days out. What a shame that we didn’t bump into you – I feel certain that I’ll recognise you from the photos on your blog.

  2. I love all that historical, re-enactment kind of thing. Great fun.
    As for archery – I always thought I’d be a fantastic shot if I ever had a go at it. Couldn’t even hit the target. The school kids I was away with all could, though.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Yes, the re-enactment has all the fun of “let’s pretend” with the face-saving justification of historical study. The people who do these things often seem to have a wealth of knowledge and a real passion to talk about it, which is really great.
      I’ve also always felt that archery couldn’t really be all that difficult, but after a very poor show with a shotgun at a stag do last year, I begun to doubt my capacity to pick these things up. I managed reasonably well, although everything went slightly right of where I thought I was aiming. We had another go at a Scouting and Guiding event we were invited to and, using an 18lb rather than a 25lb bow I did rather better.
      I’ve watched the Kendal Bowmen practising at Kendal Cricket Club and thought that it would be a very relaxing pastime. (Except I would get frustrated when my aim, inevitably, was off.)

  3. Last time we went to Harlech Castle they had one of these things on. Watching the medieval fights from up on the battlements was rather good. Like you I live these sorts of thing and the enthusiasm of the people who do it. Not sure if they still do it but a village near my parents place used to do a full battle reenactment with cannons and hundreds of participants. It was great fun (the pub in the village was also rather fine I seem to remember 🙂

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Yes – great fun. Last year we went to one in Norfolk where there were soldiers from periods stretching from Romans through Saxons and Vikings ultimately to Napoleonic troops. Bit odd – like finding yourself in the final scenes of Blazing Saddles.
      PS – check out ‘Rock and Soul Music’ by Country Joe and the Fish recorded live at Woodstock – absolute classic.

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