Guest post: Blue skies smiling at me ...

Donal was sick over the weekend but was very interested in participating. He had even asked if there was a limit to how long his entry could be, to which I said "have at it!" So I gave him a bit of an extension and he finished this in the wee hours of the night last night. Since LiveJournal was being squirrely (that's a technical term), he sent this to me in an email, which I am re-posting here. ------------------

My Blue Sky has been with me in some form for many years. It would almost be plausible, if the right financing could be found – like winning a lottery.

It begins with a large piece of land – about 100 acres. Part of it would be cleared, part would be wooded. Most of it would be pretty flat, but some of it would be somewhat hilly – rolling. There would either be a small lake on it, or it would front on a lake or a fairly large river.

Somewhere in a secluded but accessible location on this land, probably in a clear area near the woods, would be a house. It would take the form of a fortified manor, taking its inspiration from some of the “castles” in the Scottish Highlands that were intended more to protect from marauding neighbours and reivers than to resist a determined attack.

But the house is not really the focus of the dream. That would occupy an area some distance from the house, and cater to a very different sort of visitors.

The dream is a summer camp, a very specialized one, with a Mediaeval theme, where boys and girls (quartered suitably far apart to protect the boys from the girls) would spend a couple of weeks engaging in the sort of activities associated with summer camp, along with a number of historically-based subject areas. There would be indoor, classroom-type instruction, indoor and semi-outdoor hands-on activities, and outdoor, hands-on activities. Each camper would have some of each, to ensure a diversity of experiences.

There would be a family session each year, where family groups would attend and take much of the instruction together, though splitting up for some of the athletics.

There would be an adult session with emphasis on the historical activities such as the various combat sports and historical equitation.

In the off season, the site would be available for SCA and other historical reenactment and re-creational events. The Great Hall would be a perfect site for feasts, the various instructional areas could be used for seminars or an SCA-style “university,” and the outdoor areas would be well-suited to SCA heavy combat, fencing, coursing (simulated hunting with dogs), and equestrian sports. The undeveloped areas could be used for SCA “wars” with large teams pitted against each other in open field, in the woods, or in scenarios representing assaults on castle gates, bridges, and the like. Siege-engine competitions and training sessions could be held also, with enough space to allow the big siege engines to achieve maximum range.

The main part of the facility would be set up as a castle, though it might be constructed largely of wood rather than stone. Around it would be a variety of activity venues: a riding stable with horses, several riding areas including jousting lists, a quintain course, and other training setups; an archery range, a javelin range, an axe-throwing range, and a siege-engine park, Inside the castle walls would be a Great Hall with its own fully equipped (modern) kitchen, living quarters of various kinds, and examples of the workshops that might be found in a Mediæval castle: blacksmith shop, armoury, carpenter shop, leatherworking shop, and so forth. There would be some open areas for training and practice of historical martial arts, a number of classroom-type areas, and a chapel.

The facility would be close enough to the lake or river to give access to a waterfront with a swimming area and facilities for rowboats, canoes, and sailboats.

Near the structure would be an area for tent camping, with water risers available. This contributes to the secondary role of the facility as a site for SCA and similar historically-based events. The water sources would be concealed in small structures that look like wells. There would be one or more “bathhouses” with flush toilets, sinks, and showers – if more than one, placed so that everyone would have fairly easy access to them. Depending on the size of an event, porta-johns might still be needed to supplement the sanitary facilities.

Outdoor activities would include SCA-style “heavy” youth combat, historical dueling (fencing), archery, court tennis (also called “real” tennis*), historical badminton (played with wooden paddles and a heavy shuttlecock), and historical riding, including training in jousting (using targets and quintains). Historical camping skills such as building and tending fires, cooking with fire, and the like.

Indoor activities would be largely in the “arts-and-crafts” area, and many of them would straddle the modern/historical line, such as woodworking, leatherworking, pottery, and painting. Some crafts, like armouring and blacksmithing, would be mostly demonstration activities, to familiarize the campers with the work, though the older ones would be able to do some hands on activity. Calligraphy, illumination, embroidery, vocal and instrumental music, historical dancing, and various other forms of needlecraft would also be included..

Classroom instruction would include subjects such as formal courtesy, heraldry, traditions of the tournament, history and development of armour, clothing, and architecture.

The campers would wear historically-based clothing for much of the time: Tunics and long or short leggings for the boys, longer dresses for the girls. For activities for which such garb is not suitable, modern clothing would be worn, and changing areas would be available in those areas, Meals would be served family style, with the campers instructed in and expected to use historically-based table manners (though with allowances for modern sensibilities). After dinner on some nights, there would be time set aside for dancing (might even be mandatory). Meals would also be used as a means of teaching some Mediaeval-based practices, such as serving at table, pouring drinks (don’t worry, it would be iced tea or ‘bug juice’), carving, and the like. The campers would take turns at these tasks, including the more formal serving at the “high table,” in this case the table for senior staff and instructors. Campers would be required to use historical forms of address and courtesy.

The daily routine would be based on our best understanding of life in a castle. A bell would signal the beginning and end of activity sessions, meals, and chapel services. In keeping with the tradition of the time, there would be chapel services daily. Attendance would be mandatory, though active participation would not. Those whose faith traditions are not Christian should consider it part of the cultural experience. Campers would have one or two “better” sets of garb to wear to dinner and for court. Some sort of ceremonial court would be held several times during each session, to confer awards and to give the campers practice in court etiquette.

In all, the experience would be as close to cultural immersion as one could get, without losing the conveniences of running water and electricity. And that’s my Blue Sky dream.

* “Real” doesn’t imply that lawn tennis is ersatz. It’s a French term meaning royal.