“Are we going round to Dave’s to get the spears?” “Yeah, might as well.” Probably not quite how the Norsemen of yore prepared for battle.
It was a dry, overcast afternoon in the mid Welsh university town of Lampeter as I stood on the pitch facing my opponent, Gerard. He certainly looked the part with his long hair and solid body, wielding his sword in one hand and shield in the other. I faced him with axe and similar shield, surprised by the weight of the wooden disc. He told me to hold it as I thought I should to defend myself, so I raised it directly in front of me and stood braced. “No!” Thwack! Ting! Bang!He came at me suddenly and scored a couple of hits before I knew what was happening, then showed me the correct stance; the shield held forward at an angle and axe braced diagonally against it. This forms a maneuverable defensive block which can be transformed into an attack instantly.
The band of students had taken me in the previous day when one of their number found me stretching by a tree in the university grounds. I’d been terribly sick all day, something I put down to a combination of possibly contaminated river water and the egg+bacon sandwich from the Co-Op bin the night before. I suppose it might’ve also been the icecream from the same place. I figured it wasn’t such a big deal, given that it’s the first time I can recall getting sick in almost 4 years of eating from dumpsters. I’d cycled feverishly for about 20 miles before reaching town then thrown up violently in the public toilets, and was just regaining my energy when Scott adopted me for the evening, taking me directly to the armoury where a gang was preparing for battle the next day at an international historical re-enactment in a castle.
While Scott valiantly got a ride to the Welsh Border to do battle, the others promised I could join them for training if I hung around, an offer I couldn’t really refuse. After my brief induction on the axe and shield, the five of us formed a ‘circle of treachery’ and battle commenced. Although the weapons are blunt and there are some rules (no hits above the shoulders, please don’t go for the groin etc), people don’t hold back! I felt myself get in the swing of things, quite literally, immediately, as I relished the feeling of duelling worthy opponents. The sound of steel on steel as swords clanged, of spears on wood as shields blocked their thrusts, the satisfying feeling of penetrating my enemy’s defences and scoring a hit. “Oh shit, that’s four. I’m dead!” We carried on for a couple of hours with training exercises, one-on-one duels and all in battles. I inferred that people were accustomed to seeing these warriors at their university as not many heads turned. After hefting those weapons and shields about my respect for anyone who did battle in that way has increased. I usually feel fairly fit on a bike but not as a viking; they’re bloody heavy! And I wasn’t even wearing chainmail. By the end of it I was sore all over and remained that way for a few days.
Historical Re-Enactment (not to be confused with Live Action Role Play, or LARP, lest you wish to find a dull swordpoint at your neck) battles take place around the world, attracting hundreds of international participants. Some choose to adopt their role not only on the battlefield, setting up camp, eating seasonal foods and living as they would have done in that era. The various groups span thousands of years worth of history, with some opting to act out Roman battles and others firing guns from WWII. I found it a brilliant medium to get out and fight, channeling that urge which many, if not all of us have inside. I know I’ll jump into battle again if the chance arises, so why not have a go yourself? Try searching and see if you find a local group – you never know where it might take you!