Vallerois-le-Bois Report

The following article is a guest piece by Ash Barber. He talks about our anniversary event in France. An event which will covered in more detail in the coming weeks.

After 11 hours on the road I was nothing but relieved to arrive at Castle Vallerois-le-Bois. I was unable to turn up at the start of the event due to personal reasons so I was arriving just after half way through. I put on all of my medieval clothes and left all of my modern necessities in my van. I walked up to the castle and all was quiet, until I went up the steps and around the corner. As I had arrived half way through everything was set up and had been under way for many days. It was like stepping out of a time machine in to the medieval world,  sights, sounds and smells. I was greeted by friends and was quickly given some work to do! First I had to deliver some pottery and personal items, I felt like a real travelling merchant. I stepped in to the kitchen where they where preparing a grand feast taking place on the Saturday. An amazing array of food was being prepared with smells filling the senses. The pottery jugs and other items where warmly welcomed and would be used to serve at the banquet.

The Camp - view from the tower (Photo by Eliane Caramanna)

After leaving the kitchen I reported to the Wolfgang and Mathieu to be assigned to the Halberdier block. A meeting had been called for the veterans of the company so I briefly helped decorate the hall for the feasting. Fabric and decorations where being hung and tables prepared. Soon I was called to the halberdiers, so I donned my helmet and reported to the block. This was to be a light drill, just to refresh everyone for the main drill in the afternoon. The call for lunch was made so the halberdiers where dismissed, removing armour and gathering eating implements. It was a Friday so fasting was respected, a lunch of fish, lentils, onions with mustard with fresh bread all washed down with watered wine. This was a good time to chat and see people I had not seen in over a year.  Stories where exchanged with news updated, new items that have been made and bought. 

Feast kitchen (Photo by Eliane Caramanna)
After lunch had settled it was time to parade and drill in armour. I put on my helmet and brigandine, both of which I had made especially for this event. The drill was hard in the hot sun and after a while we where to told to stand at ease and water was passed down to quench our thirsts. We formed up and drilled some more before waiting to be inspected by the captain. A runner arrived to inform anyone wanting to attend any of the seminars that they would be starting shortly. The first being The History of The Company Of Saynt George, eager to know how this legendary group was formed I put my hand up for permission to attend. The history, members and changes over the years where explained and it was followed by a talk on Interpretation experiences within museums by museum staff. The evening came and after muster supper was served. By this time I was tiring as I had not slept the night before because of travelling through the night. I spent a few hours drinking, talking, joking around with friends and basking in the twilight. My bed called and I crawled in to my bed of a straw mattress and warm woollen blankets, soon drifting off to sleep.

Saturday started as most mornings do in the Company, being roused by Christian at 6.30. Everyone gathered for morning prayer, the morning sun starting to rise in to the sky. Breakfast was served, egg, bread and cheese washed down with drinks. Muster was assembled and armour was donned as I stood with the Halberdiers. There was a lot of work to do today preparing for the feast and finishing the weeks work. I was assigned to help Ben and Klaas to finish the shelter for the bread oven. I set to cutting the boards for the roof. All the beams and joints had been cut by hand, attached by wooden pegs and nails made on site. Lunch was served and I had wondered where the time had gone. Sourcrout and duck served with bread and cheese filled our stomaches. After lunch a small drill and a demonstration of the guns took place, the ground shook as the big gun Margot fired. The smell of burnt powder filled the air. There was an opportunity for merchants to be able to see their wears to members. I walked down to collect some of my brigandines and armour. I walked past men practicing western martial arts, fluid movements and grace studied from surviving manuscripts. It took several trips but I brought up five of my brigandines for people to see. Brigandines where tried on, commissions where discussed and taken compliments gladly received. I walked around some of the other lovely created items in the market. Suddenly everyone was called up. There was to be a competition between Baz and Klaas, based on a manuscript. Each was to lay on all fours with a circle of rope around both their heads. Bets where taken and a very close contest was fought, Baz won with an applause. Towards the late afternoon a play was put on by volunteers, the story of St Barbara. The story being narrated by Andy the storyteller proved very entertaining. Living historians seemed to take to acting very well, with some filling several roles!  There was a last muster of the day before everyone cleaned themselves and changed their clothes for the Banquet.  

Competition between Baz and Klaas (Photo by Eliane Caramanna)

The evening started by being seated, candles lit the table although some sunlight was still coming through the windows. Drinks where poured, beer, cider and wine. Conversations started, music and singing filled the air and there was an anticipation to what was coming. The dishes started to be served, soup, fish, prawns, the selection too numerous to remember all the dishes. Tastes and unfamiliar spices echoed my senses and this was just the first course! Next came meat, beans and vegetables with an array of other dishes. I sat there very full realising the very logistics of cooking this amount of food for this many people. My gratitude really went out to the cooks who must have worked hard not only that week but for weeks before. Then came the dessert, hyppocrass, cheese, almonds, figs and the most wonderful peach tart. Conversations that took place through the meal continued, laughter and enjoyment filled the air. More musicians came and people started to dance. Drinking continued, ideas discussed and new friends made. As the night grew on people retired to bed, lanterns disappearing in to the camp.

The feast (Photo by Eliane Caramanna)

Sunday was an early 6am start. The castle had to be put to order and the camp broken down ready to be transported. A muster was called and each section of the company where assigned duties. Like an army of ants we set to work. As the day went on people started to leave, catching trains, flights or driving home. People came from all over Europe, all working together for a common goal. The companies kit was packed for its return to Switzerland making sure everything was dry and clean.

As I said my goodbyes I was disappointed the event had ended, but hoped I could go back next year.

By Ash Barber, Company Guest