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Want to be taken back to another era, where you can watch re-enactments of medieval sword fighting, see people in all sorts of weird and wonderful fantasy costumes and dance the legs off yourself to great music? Then the Castlefest Festival is the thing for you. This festival has been held in the gardens of Keukenhof Castle, in Lisse, Netherlands, since 2005. It’s a mediaeval/celtic/fantasy festival, based on the Celtic feast Lughnasa, which celebrates the beginning of harvest. This year it’s on from 2nd to 5th August, in the gardens of the Keukenhof Castle. The number of visitors to this annual gathering has been increasing every year and it looked like this year was going to be no exception.

The Castlefest terrain was bigger this year too. So along with the huge amount of artists, musicians, performances from groups all over Europe, re-enactment camps which you can take part in, stalls with wonderful displays of food, drink, clothes, jewellery, art and crafts etc, you’ll wish you could be in three places at once. A friend of mine told me that she and her son had attended the festival over the last three years and really enjoyed it. She asked me if I’d like to go with them this year and I said “Yes, why not”. I have an interest in these sort of celtic/fantasy events and I was looking forward to it, even though the weather wasn’t looking too good. I just had to be prepared to be rained on and bring an umbrella with me.

I met up with my friend Gertrude and her son Matt in Amsterdam West and we decided to cycle to Sloterdijk station. We got a train from here to Hillegom, with a change in Haarlem, which took about twenty minutes and from here, there were shuttle buses picking up people from the train station to go to the Keukenhof. The return train ticket cost us 9.60 Euros and the return bus cost 4 Euros. Well, when we arrived in Hillegom, it was absolutely bucketing down with rain! We had to wait for a few minutes on the platform under the shelter, until the rain eased off, which meant that we missed the bus to the Keukenhof. But another one arrived fifteen minutes afterwards.

The shuttle bus we were on was decorated on the inside with autumn coloured leaves, little elves and butterflies and the bus driver put on some celtic music. It was a nice touch and put everyone in the mood for the festival. Matt was dressed up in a black cloak, mediaeval style shirt and black pants and boots, with a sword and dagger. Gertrude and I didn’t bother with dressing up but there were quite a few warlords, fairy princesses and evil goblins who got on the bus with us!

The trip from Hillegom to the Keukenhof took about fifteen minutes on the bus and we got dropped off near the entrance of the festival. Gertrude said that last year, it was possible to buy a family ticket for two adults and one child for about 17 Euros per person and we were going to do that this year but this year there were no family tickets available, so we had to pay 22 Euros per person, for adults and 7 Euros for Matt, who’s 12. These were the ticket prices at the entrance on the day but there are cheaper tickets if you buy them in advance online: 19 Euros. There were also cheaper 3-day tickets for adults and children for different prices, if you booked them online.

Once we got inside the entrance, it opened out onto a small area with tents and stalls and a stage for music. We kept going though as Matt wanted to try and find the area where the sword fighting re-enactments were going on. He took part in this for the last 3 years and really enjoyed it, so naturally he wanted to go back and do that again. It was a short walk further to the main area and we eventually found the sword fighting behind the Castle. He got stuck in and Gertrude and I had a wander around the other stalls. It was like being in another era, as there were people walking around in all sorts of mediaeval, celtic, gothic style costumes, smithy’s working with their hammer and anvils, weapon demonstrations and stalls with old style clothing, swords and helmets. Some of the outfits were very good. The imagination and creativity used in making them was amazing.

We had a look around and went to buy some muntjes – discs to buy food and drink with. Every muntje costs 2 Euros and when you go to the bar, you have to pay 2 muntjes for the beaker you drink out of, as a deposit, which you give back when you leave and you  pay 2 muntjes for a beer/1 and a half for a wine. If you have any muntjes left over at the end of the day, then they will change them back into money for you. Gertrude had a beer and I had a wine and sat down for about an hour on the grass, listening to the band that was on the Forest stage:Asynje – a Danish band influenced by Norse folk music. We had a bit of lunch that we brought with us. The rain had passed off and the sun was out, so it was nice to sit down and enjoy the atmosphere.

After about an hour, we went back to the sword fighting where Matt was and he was engaged in a battle with 3 other kids and seemed to be loving it. I think this re-enactment was given by the KDF Nederlands, a group who attempt to recreate the daily life of the inhabitants of 14th century Brabant. They give various demonstrations in different types of mediaeval combat. We wandered off again after Matt had something to eat and had a  browse around another part of the grounds with different types of stalls. There were cauldrons boiling over camp fires and big, hanging barbeques cooking all sorts of meat. We sat down again near the Forest Stage and within 15 minutes, the band Shantalla began entertaining the crowds. They are based in Belgium and play Irish music. Most of the members of the band are from Ireland, apart from the singer, who’s Scottish. They were very good but the crowd had to dive for cover for a short while, when the rain came pelting down. It didn’t dampen the mood of the crowd though and only lasted for about 15 minutes. Soon again, the people were dancing and enjoying the music.

Gertrude had picked up Matt from the sword fighting and around 7pm we decided we’d head back home. We didn’t have long to wait for the bus, which brought us back to Hillegom train station. After changing trains at Haarlem, we got to Sloterdijk at about 8.15pm and cycled home. It was a good day. I enjoyed the whole atmosphere of the festival and it was a big help that the sun decided to grace us with its presence for most of the afternoon. It was something different for me and I was in really good company too. On Friday and Saturday nights, the festival goes on till midnight and on Sunday till 8pm, so if you want to burn the candle at both ends, it is possible to do that at this festival.