Dappled sunlight floats through the mullioned windows and onto the rough-hewn table as a girl in apron and cap sets down a wooden board. Carefully, she slices four round trenchers of bread and sets out cheeses, fruit and a thick mushroom soup. There are no forks, no spoons, no plates – but there is plenty of historical atmosphere.
This is Camlann, a medieval village an hour east of Seattle so carefully replicated that after a few hours you’ll have settled into a tranquil groove of archery practice and quill pens.
The magic begins as you drive into the countryside from Carnation, about an hour north of Tacoma, and pull into the Camlann parking lot. You hear only bird song – no cars, no power equipment, nothing that might lure you back into the 21st century. Walk through the entrance arch and into the village proper, though, and you’ll really step back in time.
This is no jumped-up Renaissance Faire, mingling time periods with jolly abandon and serving up as much coffee and Nutella as medieval sweetmeats. No, Camlann is a tiny slice of 14th-century rural England, built nearly 30 years ago with complete authenticity as the goal, and staffed by folks who do their utmost to maintain medieval character.
The first person you meet is Roger Shell. The founder and CEO of Camlann, Shell exudes the kind of harmless eccentricity that goes with a passion for this period of time. Clad in long green jerkin, brown pants and slipper boots, he’ll take your entry fee and point you to the various establishments you can visit at Camlann: the scriptorium, the Bors Hede inn, the forge, the bowyer, the candlemaker, the spinner and the open-air theater.
He also will proudly point out Camlann’s newest building, a replica one-room peasant’s cottage painstakingly assembled with medieval tools in wattle-and-daub by Shell and his volunteers. Kids (and adults) will gape at the tripod cooking fire, the glass-less windows and the sheer discomfort of an actual straw pallet.
And here’s where Camlann comes into its own. Unlike the Renaissance Faire – which lets you live like the 16th-century rich for a day with jousts, expensive clothes and entertainment – Camlann shows how ordinary folk lived in the Middle Ages. They probably didn’t know how to read or write, just like Kristen the scribe’s apprentice, who will marvel as you experiment with her quill pens, ink and parchment. They made use of everything, as Vincent the blacksmith will explain as he tillers a bow (distributing strength and material to find an ideal balance for shooting). They (or someone in the village) handmade most of what they owned, from boots (Vincent made his own) to candles (you can dip yours, too) to bowstrings (another hands-on activity).
They also ate without silverware or plates, and you can do that too at the Bors Hede. Medieval food might seem odd to modern palates (vinegar as an exotic sauce?) but there’s nothing more fun than eating with your fingers (after washing them at the table, of course) and breaking off bits of your bread trencher to dip in the soup. You can even lick the bowl, if your family lets you.
And the food here is worth coming for: Lunch means a plate of delicious English cheeses and fruit, plus a hearty soup and choice of two medieval desserts – the bread pudding-like Crustad Lombard and the winey-sweet Erbole, both addictive. The inn also does dinner after the village shuts down, offering 12-course authentic medieval banquets on certain feast days. It is served in a half-timbered, sconce-lit atmosphere that’ll put you in mind of Harry Potter and every period film you’ve ever seen.
It’s easy to while away two or three hours in the dappled tranquility of Camlann. The volunteers know everything about their craft, from how parchment is made to which kinds of wood make the best knife handles. You can try your hand at archery, or watch the Middle English drama “Ywayn and Gawayn.” There are sheep to feed and trees to climb. You can even get into the spirit yourself by renting period clothing on site.
Starr and Chris Date of Bonney Lake were among the visitors on a sunny May afternoon, watching their son Brandon dip wicks into hot wax over an outside fire under the candle-maker’s watchful guidance.
“It’s more authentic than the Renaissance Faire,” Starr said. “The Renaissance Faire is more exciting, but this is more realistic.”
Brandon, meanwhile, was enthralled, watching his candles get thicker with each dipping.
If you’ re not into history, you probably won’t find Camlann quite as enthralling. But for anyone with a spark of curiosity about how life was lived 600 years ago, it’s a fascinating experience – and a lot cheaper than a plane ticket to England.
What: Camlann Medieval Village
When: Noon- 5 p.m. summer weekends; Bors Hede restaurant, open year-round 5-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays by reservation; summer feasts at 6 p.m. in Bors Hede, July 28-29, Aug. 4-5, 11-12, 18-19, 25; special events are Michaelmass Sept. 29, All Hallows Oct. 27, Yuletide on December weekends.
Where: 10320 Kelly Road N.E., Carnation
Information: 425-788-8624, email@example.com 253-597-8568 blog.thenewstribune.com/arts