Just like olde times: 16th century pays Pierce County a visit

You won’t find the Village of Merriwick on maps of Pierce County, but it definitely exists.

Or at least it will through Sunday night.

Merriwick is a fantasy village erected each summer on 75 low-lying acres outside Bonney Lake for the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire.

For the past three weekends, Merriwick has been populated by thousands of lords and ladies, knights and a wild assortment of fantasy figures intended to hark back to Merry Olde England.

“We bring the 16th century to life” said Tracy Nietupski, vice president of the Washington Renaissance Arts & Education Society, the Gig Harbor-based nonprofit that organizes the event. “People can talk to Queen Elizabeth I; meet knights in armor; mingle with privateers, gypsies and fairies.”

This is the fifth year for the Renaissance Faire, and Nietupski said it’s grown each year. Last year 35,000 people attended, she said. “This year we’re expecting 45,000 over the three weekends.”

On Saturday, so many people attended that they overwhelmed traffic on the Sumner-Buckley Highway. Pierce County sheriff’s deputies directed lines of cars in and out of the vast grass parking lot set up for, as organizers put it, “metal steeds.”

Visitors are encouraged to come in costume, and most did so, using the 16th century as a rough guide only. They showed up in dress heavily featuring leather, animal skins and bustier tops. Swords, bows and arrows, and blunderbuss pistols were nearly universal accessories.

“It gives me a chance to be creative,” said Mandy Cox of Bothell, who wore a headdress with long, sharp horns that looked as if they had once been on a Texas longhorn. “Who doesn’t want to wear a Minotaur mask?”

After buying tickets at an impressive Tudor-style “towne gate,” guests had their choice of an array of entertainment, including jousting events — with real horses — puppet shows, Celtic fiddling, jugglers and fire eaters. One favorite was an acrobatic act called Cirque de Sewer, which featured trained rats.

At either end of the village, open-air pubs — the Hammered Troll and the Red Dragon Inn — were doing brisk business pouring cold meads and ales.

The historic architecture, including the towne gate, was created by an Orting homebuilder named Dale Hart, who said he learned the trade working as a set builder in Hollywood. Hart said he built the towne gate in his backyard, starting back in February.

“It all breaks down into 8-foot sections,” he said. “After Sunday, we’ll take it apart and store it until next year.”