I got home yesterday after spending a week down in Somerset – not an area I know at all, having previously only driven through it on our way to Devon or Cornwall. We did visit sites in Somerset during the week but over the last weekend of our stay we drove 60 miles into Dorset to visit Corfe Castle.
We’ve been to this castle before, but on this occasion we were there to watch a re-enactment of one of King Alfred’s battles against the Viking Danes staged in the castle grounds.
The castle is a National Trust property and the car park and ticket office are on the opposite side of the road (A351). It holds a striking position high on a hill, as can be seen in these two photos. The first was taken through the windscreen of our car as we approached on the A351 and the second from Corfe Castle village at the opposite side 0f the hill.
We arrived at 10.30 am to find that both Saxon and Viking groups were already delighting crowds by demonstrating a variety of battle skills. Then we spent some time looking around the Saxon camp and the remains of Corfe castle. We have Oliver Cromwell to thank for the destruction (or slighting as it is properly called) of yet another magnificent castle. I intend to do a post about Corfe Castle, so I’ll say no more about that here. Here are a few photos of the many tents of the Saxon camp. Some show crafts and skills of the period.
The break for lunch was interesting, to say the least, as many of the re-enactment groups headed down into the village along with the crowds of spectators. Needless to say, most of the cafes were full, and we had to queue to get served in the one we opted for. But what the heck . . . it was all good fun and everyone was in festive mood.
The main battle was staged in the afternoon and was based on many such battles between Alfred and the Danes during his reign as King of Wessex. This one – in 893 – was late in Alfred’s reign, as he died in 899 at the age of 50. His eldest daughter, the fiery Aethelflaed, who became known as ‘Lady of the Mercians’ also features in the battle.
On this occasion, Alfred and his army held the castle and the Danes were attacking. Here are some of the photos of the event, although it’s impossible to differentiate between the opposing sides. There were several groups fighting with Alfred’s Saxons, including the Welsh and Cornish and different groups from the kingdom of Mercia. All had united against the common enemy, the Danes. In addition, Saxon and Viking battle gear was pretty similar (and Vikings most definitely did not wear horned helmets!). All had round shields and wore helmets, usually with nose guards. Many wore body armour of chain mail.
To his credit, Alfred’s army won the day!
All-in-all, it was a great day out and I can’t praise the re-enactment groups enough. They did a wonderful job of recreating not only the battle, but the whole feel of events at the time. The battle was not without its humour and the costumes were excellent. Bring on the next one!