“You know why it was called the Dark Ages don’t you? Because there were so many knights.” A bearded magician in a doublet continues his routine from the small stage.
“He really wears on you after awhile.” The woman at my table in a ren-faire blue velvet gown gives the illusionist a long look. She speaks to no one in particular.
Lothar’s beard blooms so big it’s impossible to tell where it stops and his hair begins. He stands on stage twisting and cutting a rope for the audience’s entertainment. His eyes sparkle with each dad joke he tells, clearly delighting in his own act.
Harp music floats through the room as we enjoy cheddar cheese cubes and bread. I’m corseted into a purple dress with puffy sleeves that is doing nothing for my complexion. How did people live through Medieval times?
Lothar cuts his rope into three pieces then magically unites them into one long section. I wonder if he’s a hit at hardware stores. We clap and his eyes twinkle, another great performance in the books.
“If you thought that was amazing you’ll enjoy the salad!” Lord Daniel Huntington, as we’ve been introduced, booms from the head table on the elevated stage. He has a massive gold chain around his neck while gesturing with a thick wine goblet.
This is his kingdom.
Glamping in Medieval Times
Good Knights Medieval Encampment was a dream of Daniel’s, which this past summer became a reality. Fairy tale tents circle the open property as if a royal army had set up camp for the night…or am I supposed to say ‘knight?’ (sorry).
Glamping in the Middle Ages is my first stop on my road trip through the Canadian Badlands. I’ve driven directly from the plane to the plains to sleep in a tent. In a costume.
Normally I’m not much of a cosplayer, but this entire immersive Medieval times encampment experience and the people who flock here intrigue me.
I arrive to the campgrounds just outside of Three Hills, Alberta, in the late afternoon. There is a wooden fence probably 16 feet tall with a crow’s nest lookout built into it. A large maple leaf flag waves in the wind signifying this area has been claimed for Canada.
My bag is hefted onto a wooden cart and rolled through the huge gates like it’s part of a Monty Python movie. Lord Daniel himself pushes the wheelbarrow of luggage to each tent. I’m kind of surprised he doesn’t have a squire for this, but I suppose some kingdoms start out small.
The tents here are really lovely. Mainly purchased from India, they’re fancy with red and black stripes, scalloped detailing and an awning to shade the entrance. It’s like being at an upscale circus in the Dark Ages.
Daniel, I mean, Lord Daniel does a quick orientation. He points to a space heater with a faux fire. “That’s your heat if it gets cold later. Over there’s your outlets, and out here, that’s your throne room.” He pulls back the curtain to reveal a small toilet and sink with running water. Fluffy towels flank the pedestal. It’s nice.
I’m to quickly settle in and head over to the costume cottage to pick out my dress for the rest of my stay. The sooner I accept that it’s somewhere around the 15th century, the more this place makes sense.
A quick tour of the grounds and I find out there are all kinds of activities to occupy my time away from my phone. Unplugging is encouraged here at Good Knights. After all, mobile devices won’t be invented for hundreds of years.
More Than Camping
My first discovery is that of the trebuchet, which I thought was just a font family, but turns out to be a type of catapult. Now I’m really bummed that I didn’t get here earlier. I’m eyeing the area for things I can launch into the nearby field. This desire distracts me through most of dinner.
Candle making, archery, and even a pewter casting workshop are available, all of which I’d like to try, but did not have the time.
By the time I make it to the dress barn all of the cool costumes were taken. Purple princess dress is one of my only options. I feel like Season One Arya Stark, which consoles me when I realize I still have potential for being a badass.
The thing that makes this work is that everyone is in on it. Every person that works at the encampment or visits puts on a costume and suddenly, even if you were inclined to feel silly, you don’t. It’s a collective agreement that we’ve all time traveled together.
Back at the feast, my table full of strangers has become friends over a second bottle of red wine. Lord Daniel has ordered us all to play a guessing game, which erases any lingering self-consciousness.
Dinner turns into a medieval dance lesson and I duck out with my camera to capture the gorgeous prairie sunset. The breeze blows my princess dress as I stand in the clearing, trying to catch the perfect blaze of scarlet in the sky. I feel guilty at my instruments of anachronism, but damn it, this Canadian Badlands sky is a showstopper.
I hear laughter rising above the lute music in the distance. The level of commitment to a theme is really something here. I probably should’ve joined in the dancing, but outside of taking photos what I really wanted to do is catapult the leftover turkey legs across the field. Good thing Lord Daniel had his eye on me.
“Can I get you anything else for the night my lady?” Sun set, I’ve returned to take a final gander at the leftover dinner plates. Alas, they are empty save for a gherkin or two. Those tiny pickles will never make it over the fence.
“Just seeing if there was anything I missed.”
He hands me a lantern to help me back to my tent. Once the sun goes down it gets dark AND cold very quickly, and let me tell you, chiffon is not a great insulator. Lord Daniel anticipates that as well and hands me a cape. He really is a kind and benevolent leader.
Turns Out Glamping is Still in Nature
Navigating the grass-tufted dirt back to my tent, my black cape swirling around my legs, I feel like a secret badass. With my frilly purple dress covered I feel like I could hide a sword in the folds of my extra black fabric, strike the final riposte and disappear into the night, the enemy never knowing what hit them.
“Ack bugs!” I yelled when I saw my throne room. It was like an insect dance party in the bathroom. Of course, it was the only light and of course they would congregate here, but I’m just not used to camping in any capacity. But it’s all good. I’m a secret badass.
I shed my purple dress and slide into the bed covered in fuzzy animal print blankets. It’s actually super comfy and warm. A small erratic pelting sound hits the exterior tent walls in what I first take to be fat raindrops. As I lay there enjoying the idea of rain, I realize it’s actually large bugs dive-bombing the canvas. Which is not as romantic, but a peculiarly pleasant sound, nonetheless.
As I drift off to sleep I hear distant high-pitched yips and barks. Coyotes. A sustained howl is offered up into the night and the response sounded even closer. I thought for a moment about how I did NOT, in fact, toss any turkey bait into the nearby field so this cannot be my fault.
Fairly certain that coyotes aren’t interested in humans, I return to sleep. Even in a fancy tent with a fancy private toilet, glamping is very much about being in nature.
Planning Your Time at the Medieval Encampment
The next morning we were greeted with freshly baked chocolate pastries and an impressive continental breakfast in the communal kitchen area. Lord Daniel had once again provided for us all.
With the bright sunlight filling the campgrounds it’s easier to see the game area across the way; a large open-sided tent where board and card games are well stocked. There’s quite a bit to do on the grounds. It’s well thought-out and much more than just a place to camp.
Good Knights is actually some pretty good Medieval times, especially if you like dressing up and pretending to enjoy a very liberal feudal system.
My recommendation is to either get there earlier in the day (I got there at around 5:30pm), or spend a couple days so that you can take advantage of the workshops. I really would’ve liked to try the archery, or make some candles, or melt little pewter soldiers into pools of silver liquid. Though I think that last one is supposed to happen in the opposite order.
Unfortunately, I had to hit the road for my next adventure so I couldn’t linger. I gave my trebuchet a final look. Next time, I catapult.
The Canadian Badlands Board of Tourism hosted me during my stay at Good Knights Medieval Encampment. All opinions are my own, because seriously, how else could I tell this story?