“Enter to thy Merriment!” Reads the sign above the 20 foot tall walled entrance. You can already hear the cheers of the joust arena.
In my home state of Maryland, each autumn holds my favorite things of the entire year; Pumpkin EVERYTHING (I’m looking at you Pumpkin Spice lovers), the crimson and gold leaves, Halloween, and the crisp fall weather.
And the über favorite of autumn in Maryland is quite possibly the coolest festival in the world I’ve been to, and one you’ve probably never heard of!
The Maryland Renaissance Festival is held from August to October, where you are transported back in time to a world of knights and jousts, plays and performances, artists and artisans, competitions of mind and might, and dare I mention the bloody delicious food!
I literally count down the days to the Renn Fest as we call it with history-nerd delight, and count it as the most fun place you may ever visit in the Delmarva (DC, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware.)
And this year, the stakes were high as my best friend and I entered into a dual of might, setting up a battle axe throwing contest.
Travel back in time.
Light streams through the canopy of tall trees shading Revel Grove from the harsh summer sun. Your feet crunch on the mulch covered pathways trailing off in various directions about the town. Right away, performers fall from the sky, performing ribbing acrobatics. You don’t even know where to begin.
Like I mentioned above, you are literally taken back to the medieval/dark age/renaissance eras. On a massive plot of farmland in Baltimore, Revel Groves fortifications climb out of the field, surrounding a town with acres of blacksmiths, leather shops, armories, taverns, and everything else you would imagine being necessities.
And then the aromas strike you…
I will be completely honest — I break any and all dietary commitments once I cross the threshold of the castle. All year I look forward eating myself into oblivion and gaining a good 10lbs feasting on stews in bread bowls, steak on a stake, giant turkey legs, and fried cheesecake.
The first thing I did, which I had been fantasizing/salivating about all morning was the beef stew in a bread bowl. Every year I go I begin the festival with the stew, because a day at the Renn Fest means the mead will be flowing from the taverns and into my belly, and you need something hearty!
Yes…I ate a smoldering hot beef stew in 95 degree weather…
And while there, you can never run out of choices for your nom-nom-domination. I ate like a King. All. Day. Long.
Mead, I need mead!
Without waiting too long, and in need of a thirst quencher in the hot sun, it was time to hit the taverns and fill my drinking horn with the beloved honey mead made locally.
Yes…I have a drinking horn. Come on now, I have Viking roots! What other proper way to drink mead then out of a war horn with a bottom that twists off to blow in victory after downing a few too many?!
(Drinking horn set down to shoot arrows. Not sanitary, but I didn’t care much after a few horn-fulls.)
Just as frequent as the food stalls are the taverns and stalls selling local beers, mead, and wine. Around most are also drinking halls, where plenty of intoxicated lords, ladies, knights, and the voluptuous wenches gather for drink and listening to the musicians playing merry tunes live all day.
Did I stumble into Valhalla? Because I don’t think there is a cooler place to grab a drink than at a table full of knights and wenches…
Comedy, music, drama, and sword-swallowing oh my!
Now that I had a full belly and a full horn of mead, it was time to check out the shows. Everywhere you look there is a performer, jester, musician, or artist looking to catch your attention and vying for “oohs and aahs“.
The Renaissance festival has more than 5 main stages that perform everything from fight scenes of Shakespeare plays, to comedy shows involving juggling chainsaws, to sword-swallowing.
Folk musicians from all over the United States and some from around the world come to blare bag-pipes or play harps, and they are REALLY good. My favorite is probably the performance above with the Irish bag-pipers.
(A reenactment of Henry V battle)
(Johnny Fox, a sword-swallower performing for his 33rd year at the festival)
Oh, and this chap doesn’t just swallow swords (get your dirty minds out of here) but also balloons and the occasional giant screw-driver.
People watching (and gawking) at its finest.
Even if you tire of the performances (impossible) or you just want to wander, there is still more to feast your eyes on. A ton of “regular” people who attend the faire goes seriously all-out with their costumes. Some of the most unique, interesting, and incredibly detailed costumes you will ever see. And some, I’ll admit, are jaw-dropping sexy…
(These two are just a couple of “normal” attendees…that look like they could be cast in the Game of Thrones…)
(A jester jeers and laughs at people as they pass by)
(A girl making bubbles so big they fit around the lil’ kids watching)
Shops of spectacular things!
One of my favorite things at the festival is just to poke my head into all of the various shops for artisans and crafters selling goods at the Renn Fest.
I have rarely found more high-quality, detailed, and unique things in one place; from swords, to hand-made fountains, to pottery, to hammocks, to herbal shops, to beeswax candle shops. Let your imagination run wild and try on suits of armor, or even browse mythical beast museums.
But don’t let your wallet run wild! I’ve personally spent TONS of money on swords and trinkets. This year, since I am budgeting for Southeast Asia, I only splurged on food and drink.
(Weapons shop, and my addiction)
(Hand-crafted guns, jewelry, and swords everywhere you look)
(Shops with natural foods, herbs, remedies, teas, and incense)
Probably the pinnacle of the day (besides the axe throwing contest to come) and the favorite of most at the Renn Fest is the epic and thunderous joust. A hoof-pounded dirt field is surrounded by the roars of the crowds as knights, armor glistening under the sunlight, ride out on massive war destriers.
The King, on a balcony overlooking the battlefield, announces the knights by name and the sides at which they fight for of the arena. A woman holds up a sign that reads, “HUZZAH!” to let you know when to cheer for your knight.
Before the joust starts, each knight partakes in a series of challenges to test their accuracy with swords, lances, and spears.
And then the helmets go on, and it is time for the knight to prove themselves in the main event!
Axes will be thrown, and one shall win!
Before ending the day, my friend Sebastien and I still had to prove our manhood and to put an end to all of the trash-talking throughout the day. I will say, I was pretty confident going in, being that I won the prior year.
But he was confident as well. So we stepped up to the line, donned the “Stupid Hat” as they called it, and hefted up the weighty axes.
Battle-axes up, and AWAY!
And after the battle was over, and all axes had been relinquished, one victor stood…
Right through the center of the heart, my axe pieced the target. Now you know who to call if there is a Zombie Apocalypse.
And the victory speech went something like this, “So, I won, which means you call me King Ryan, and I call your Princess Sebastien. Oh, and you owe me a beer and turkey leg!“
Ah, it felt great once again to tap into my primal instincts and become reigning battle-axe champion. My trophy? My enormous ego…and the heart of the Warrior target pendant. And gloating rights.
Have you ever been to a festival like this?