Sunday, August 05, 2012

From a Castle to a Palace...

No funny caption for once.  Just an insufferably cute picture of James and Vix at Hever Castle recently.  Awww!  Bless!

And the jousting bandwagon rolls on through the summer...  On Thursday 2nd August we were at Leeds Castle for a jousting event, with two shows to do - one at 12.30pm and one at 2.30pm.  As usual with a Leeds event everything was very well planned and organised, and a big crowd turned up for both shows.  But at the end of the show, this was no time to relax - James (my son and squire for the week) headed to my sister's place for a night, before getting up very early on the Friday for a drive up to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire for a weekend of jousting there.
We were up at 5am and on the road by 6am.  The plan was to try and blast our way round the M25 ahead of the rush hour and then stop for a breakfast somewhere up near Blenheim.  At first it seemed this idea was enormously flawed as we got on the M26 and were treated to the site of stationary traffic and red brake lights.  But this soon passed and we made good progress right round to the M40.  I had been advised by all the jousters that any sat nav would try to take you off the M40 at junction 8 and bring you to the town of Woodstock straight through the middle of Oxford, but I should ignore this and come off at junction 9 as it was much easier, and were they right.  James and I stopped at a Little Chef for a breakfast commonly known as "Heart Attack on a Plate" and then made our way to Blenheim Palace itself.  What a fantastic site! Such beautiful grounds and a stunning building.  The jousters were set up on the back lawn and it was good to see them again.  James and I helped set up the arena with them and we prepped for the day hoping against hope that the threatening clouds above didn't rain too much.
We had good turn outs on all the days at Blenheim - not really in the Leeds Castle or Hever Castle amounts of people, but still enough to build up a good atmosphere.  After the first day it was great to see my old friend Claire Venables and her son Tolly in the audience.  I hadn't seen Claire in years, so it was great to see her and meet Tolly for the first time.  So good to be back in touch.  After the second show James and I made our way to our hotel (a simply enormous Travelodge near Bicester, which was functional and comfortable, which is about all you can say about most Travelodges).  The service area next door was over-priced to the point of robbery.  I took James over there on the first night and bought him a few nibbles and magazines, things to keep him amused, but nothing major.  The bill came to over £27!  When I asked the bloke on the counter if it was correct he printed off the bill and showed me.  I requested to keep the bill so I could frame it for posterity.  We then drove back to near Blenheim for dinner with the jousters at the White House Pub right next door to the Palace.  The food was OK if a little uninspiring, but the company great fun.
Saturday's shows were fun as well, aside from a terrific downpour during the children's parade on the second show.  In the break between shows, Ashley (one of our blue knights) flaked out on the ground next to the horse box for a quick snooze.  As he lay there in his full jousting gear, Steve, one of the red knights, took it upon himself to make a lasso out of some rope, and gently tie it round Ashley's ankles.  He took such time and precision with his work that the rest of us were mesmerised, waiting anxiously to see what would happen to the poor slumbering blue knight when his plan came to fruition.  He seemed to have everything in place, then wrenched the cord hard to snap the lasso closed around Ashley's ankle - and the whole Heath Robinson designed unravelled in his hands and he fell flat on his back - accompanied by loud guffaws from the watching crew.  Ashley stirred into life and wondered what everyone was laughing at, lost interest and lay back down to sleep some more.
Saturday night we ate at the much more pleasant Woodstock Arms pub in central Woodstock.  Again an evening of great fun was had by all, and once again, as I had young James in tow with me, I had to leave early.  James and I checked out of the luxurious Travelodge on Sunday morning and headed over to the Palace for the final two shows.  The Knights and I were joined by Sarah Morris, one time Tudor Rose and soon to be published Anne Boleyn novelist, and she was Queen for the day.  During the first show, Sam of Hever took a bit of a blow to the face with a sword and had to be taken to hospital for a patch up and a couple of temporary stitches, but he was back in time for the second show which was delayed for a short while by a downpour of quite Biblical proportions which ended up with all of the Knights, Squires, Knight Marshall's et al crammed into Steve's tent trying to dodge the rain.  But all the shows at Blenheim were good fun and the crowds, though not massive, were certainly good.
James and I drove away from a sodden soggy Blenheim, only to discover that less than 10 miles down the road the ground was parchment dry!  We got back to his Mum's house in Essex and settled down for the evening.  I am off back to Leeds Castle tomorrow evening for a corporate joust show, then back at Leeds on Wednesday for another corporate evening bash.  Tired, but happy!

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