Kryal Castle - proof that jousting should be an Olympic event.
It was serious business! Competitors had come from far and wide (and possibly the Middle Ages, judging by their outfits) to compete in the Kryal Castle archery contest. It was traditional bows and arrows only, no fancy-pants high-tech gear allowed. This didn’t extend to the pants themselves, however, which were quite fancy.
In fact I’d arrived in the carpark in time to witness the archers unload their steeds – mostly small to middling station wagons – and don their medieval clobber. Except for one chap in coat and tails, who’d chosen to represent an entirely different century.
The competition continued throughout the day and included both speed and accuracy tests, and although it was serious stuff, everyone seemed to be having a rollicking good time. Now and then I wandered by to see how things were progressing.
For the rest of the day there was plenty to do.
Kryal Castle was built in 1974 and is fashioned in the style of a medieval fortress. Once you’ve passed beneath the portcullis, you’re in the era of knights, blacksmiths, wizards and, on some days, wood-oven fired pizzas – a modern touch worth checking out.
There are activities and shows throughout day, so keep an eye on the program provided at the entrance.
The Kryal Castle team members I spoke to were genuinely immersed in the medieval theme. Flint, who’s the full bottle on weaponry and combat styles, is furthering his knowledge under the tutelage of Cameron the blacksmith, who’s been pounding the anvil since blacksmithery was a trade in its own right. And the pantomimes that pop up at various locations around the grounds are performed with melodramatic gusto.
The Torture Museum is a showcase of some of history’s most imaginative and gruesome punishments. Among old favourites like the rack (although the stomach-mounted, belly-burrowing rat in a cage was an optional extra I hadn’t seen before ), there’s also the shin crusher, the neck piercer and a metal mask with a tube for pouring boiling oil down some poor sod’s throat. Probably not seeking a wordy confession if you're using that one!
If all that energy and inspiration had gone into something more productive like, say, curing bubonic plague, maybe the Dark Ages would have brightened a little earlier.
Downstairs in the gloom of the dungeon I discovered that an Iron Maiden isn’t just an English heavy metal band, but a contraption best avoided. The torture devices down there come with realistic mannequins and associated unsettling sound effects. There’s a notice at the top of the stairs suggesting that it may not be suitable for under 12s.
A highlight not to be missed is the arrival of the knights and their display of skilful horsemanship. This is the real deal with shining armour, galloping horses and two blokes charging at each other with jousting lances.
The expertise shown on the skills course is truly impressive. To be able to hook three tiny rings with the end of a lance while bouncing up and down on a feisty horse is not something you’re likely to learn in an afternoon.
At he end of the battle there's a meet and greet with the knights and their steeds.
Kids are king at Kryal Castle. There’s a maze, a playground, a lolly shop, nursery rhyme dioramas and, at the top of Oggle Watch Tower, a wizard setting potions ablaze. And there’s even an opportunity for kids to test their ability with a bow and arrow.
This was where I first bumped into Flint, who was guiding the tikes through the proper techniques for shooting an arrow at a hay bale. Initially, very few bales were seriously threatened, but the young-uns soon got the idea.
Towards the end of the day I found my way back to a seat in the stands. Following their militia training, kids with toy swords were battling it out at one end of the arena, while at the other end the adults continued to enjoy medieval dress-up in the guise of an archery competition.
Wear that gear down Main Street and it might be an interesting day, but the folk at Kryal Castle embrace a fantasy world that allows a brief respite from the suits and ties of adulthood.
RAA Members receive a discount on entry. For more information, click here
Nuts and bolts
Where: Kryal Castle is on Forbes Road, which runs off the Western Highway, east of Ballarat (see map below)
When: Kryal Castle is open weekends, gazetted Victorian School Holidays and Public Holidays from 10am to 4pm. (Last admission from 3pm)
Cost: RAA Members receive a discount on entry. For more information, click here.
Refreshments: Food and drink is available onsite but visitors can also bring a picnic, and there are several picnic tables sheltered by thatched roofs.
Special events: Murder Mystery nights, which include a three course meal, are held every month. Other special events are held throughout the year.