Canada has been an independent country only since 1867, but it’s developing a distinct taste for the Middle Ages. Launched last summer by Good Knights Entertainment amid the dramatic sweeping plains of central Alberta, the Encampment is the only site outside Europe to offer medieval-style glamping and entertainment to those yearning for the days of damsels, rustic banquets, templars and sorcerers.
Themed glamping has proved a popular choice of holiday over recent years, particularly for families, neatly combining novelty and luxury with immersive activities for adults and children. But the strain that seems to have most powerfully captured the public imagination as a backlash against our tech-obsessed times is a journey into the distant past. Medieval glamping gives us a taste of a simpler era when life was in the raw and suffused with magic; in the UK, sites at celebrated historic locations such as Warwick and Leeds castles report burgeoning business.
Operating from mid-May to mid-September, the Good Knights Encampment comprises five large pavilion tents for double occupancy set on raised wooden bases, equipped with romantic period four-poster beds, a dining area and the essential attached “throne rooms” with washing facilities. Larger groups or sets of couples can opt for the Tudor double pavilion. Each tent is fronted by a fire pit for evening conviviality, with firewood provided, and the camp has a centrally located, sheltered communal kitchen. Continental breakfast is provided, while for occasional meals the kitchen is stocked with pots and pans and is fitted with a propane stove, charcoal barbecue grill, fridge and clay bread oven.
But the kitchen and living spaces are merely the tip of the jousting lance. Guests are encouraged to get into the medieval spirit of things by wearing the period costumes of knights and peasants, including a cloak to keep out the chill at night, and a wide choice of activities and demos are organised for adults and children. You can brush up on your longbow skills on the supervised archery range, learn to wield a long-handled sword clad in full armour at the Squires’ School, sharpen your magic and performance repertoire at the Jesters’ School, or just enjoy a life without the scourge of iPads on a nature walk in the vast Alberta countryside.
Demonstrations of Middle Age combat skills include siege machines including a working trebuchet, and there’s a selection of outside games authentic to the period. More sensitive-minded medievals can indulge in the arts of lucet hand-weaving and embroidery, leather craft and candlemaking, pewter-casting and the fashioning of figurines. Alternatively, you can always buy your own at the Toy Shoppe.
After a hard day learning the skills of yore, it’s time to head to the banqueting hall. “We hold a multi-course medieval feast with live entertainment every Saturday evening for guests and members of the public,” says the Good Knights president Dan Smith. “Last year was our first season and we had paying guests with us every weekend from mid-June until early-September, plus some mid-week bookings. There’s a great deal of interest here in what we’re offering.”
The Encampment is geared to special events with large groups, including wedding ceremonies complete with a five-course medieval banquet, and has become a favoured local venue for birthdays and reunions. “The families loved it and many of our guests are coming back again this year,” Smith says. The camp’s location near the friendly town of Three Hills provides easy access to additional hotel accommodation and shops; Calgary international airport is an 80-minute drive away.
Meanwhile in June, Good Knights will pay homage to JRR Tolkien by unveiling the Burrows, a series of three luxury living spaces built into the hillside, designed to accommodate two full-sized Hobbits and two youngsters. Each comfy unit is fitted with round doors and windows to let in natural light, with a bedroom, hall, bathroom, sitting room, fireplace and private garden space. All the units are fitted with electrical power supplies. As with the Encampment, costumes for all ages will be provided to get guests into the Middle-earth mindset. A large duplex unit is planned for next year designed to accommodate two families.
by Mark Curtis-Raleigh, International Editor