Some miles north from the sprawl of Chicago lies the land of Kenosha, and within it, the Kingdom of Bristol. For a few summer months every year, these grassy meadows are transformed into a place of magic and memories. A place where reality is left at the front gate, where past and present walk the mud roads together. Welcome to Bristol Renaissance Faire.
Upon entering the kingdom your senses are immediately under siege. The air is thick with dust from all the foot traffic. The smell of garlic and vinegar comes from a nearby pickle stand. Children ride small ponies in an endless loop, a sort of medieval merry-go-round. A knight rests in the shade, helm off, sword and scabbard at his side. Wizards, peasants, and royalty alike line up for an ice cold ale. Some drink from plastic cups while others pull from horns or wooden goblets. All of this seen on your short trip from the entrance to the first flushable privy you can find.
Traveling deeper into the kingdom you pass vendors of all sorts. One tent sells hand carved incense holders while the next displays parasols covered in cats and dragonflies. “Shiny things!”, yells a man surrounded by silver, gold, and jewels. A bearded fellow, who bears a striking resemblance to George R.R. Martin sculpts a unicorn from nothing but glass and fire. Blades of foam, wood and steel adorn the walls of another merchant, adequately providing weaponry for all levels of faire goers. Dragon claw shaped pipes are pawed over in one shop while fairy gardens are inspected in another. The vendors have nearly depleted your gold and your HP must be replenished if you are to finish this quest. Luckily, the heart of the kingdom draws near, and with it, the food.
Steam rises from a freshly baked Shepard’s Pie as a busty maiden hands it off to a drooling squire. You watch a family of Nordics devour a heaping pile of battered and fried vegetables. A stern man, clad in leather and iron, is comforted by a bread-bowl filled with a thick, warm stew. Pickles are picked at while mushrooms are munched on. A young woman says, “Taste my delicious nuts,” as she gives a spoonful of cinnamon and sugar covered chestnuts to a passerby. The most appropriate and, by far, most famous fare of the faire is the giant, roasted turkey leg. To eat the massive turkey leg is to undertake a feat of courage and stamina. It is guaranteed to cover you in grease and leave you lethargic the rest of your adventure. The monstrous meat may leave you sated but entertainment still awaits.
The crack can be heard before it is seen. Surrounded by a large crowd, a man yields a whip set ablaze. It breaks the sound barrier and creates an oddly soothing percussive melody. Farther down the dusty streets a brightly clothed man juggles with his mouth and whistles quite fluently. A loud face, set high in a green wall, gets pelted with tomatoes loosed from the arm of an insulted 8 year old. Two knights, their armor blinding in the harsh sun, charge each other on horseback, lances splintering onto the sand floor of the arena as they pass. The Queen sits with her court as they dance and drink next to the greenish hued lake. Suitors offer her gifts and refill her glass. Children wear flower crowns as they sing to her. The atmosphere is thick with happiness as the shadows grow long and the sun falls behind the wooded hills of Bristol.
From the first weekend of July to the first weekend of September, the fantastical takes form at Bristol Renaissance Faire. Young and old, peasant or royalty, Elves or Orcs, the faire welcomes all. Amongst the old keeps and muddy streets, from the stands in the arena or at the bottom of a horn of ale, joy is everywhere in Bristol. Huzzah!
To see more of Vinny’s amazing photos from this year’s Ren Faire, check out our album on Facebook!
Now click on over to our Facebook page and tell us about your medieval moments!