This weekend I have mostly been a pirate.
Tortuga 2006, the annual pirate gathering of the Society for the Study of Swordsmanship held in the 600 year old Bolton Castle in Wensleydale was a fantastic mix of fiendish puzzles, swordplay, challenges and hearty carousing.
I arrived an hour early with the journey being a lot easier than I had anticipated which gave me time to walk down to the local pub with some of the crew from the Newcastle chapter for a pint or two of Black Sheep. The weather took a turn for the worse whilst we were sat outside, so we retreated indoors and called a handy local taxi to run us back up the hill to the castle.
Things were getting underway as I dragged my kit and food indoors to register and get changed into my pirate gear. There were some fantastic costumes on display, particularly some of the very impressive leather corsets – hem, hem. A laptop was set up playing suitable piratical music as a soundtrack to the evening as we started playing quizzes and gambling for dubloons. Eventually, three captains with enough loot to buy themselves a crew emerged and started bidding for willing souls. I ended up as a deckhand on the good ship Surprise and we set to playing challenges to earn gold and clues to more treasure.
The closest I can come to explaining it, is that is was like an episode of The Crystal Maze only with more running up and down spiral staircases and rum. Games included bowling with cannonballs, running out the guns, getting our team over a fence without touching it, ‘Fire at Will’ which was a game of hide and seek with the object of hitting Will with a cannonball and ‘All hands on deck’ where we had to all keep hold of a deck of cards and manoeuvre under and over tables and through an opening in the wall. Great fun. Some of the forfeits were interesting too – with people ending up with inappropriate tattoos, marooned on desert islands, having hands replaced with hooks and floggings aplenty.
The food and drink was plentiful, although the constant activity meant that nobody got disgracefully drunk, and it was almost surreal to sit in the grand hall watching a succession of pirates on various stages of the treasure hunt whilst listening to sea shanties in the background. It seemed perfectly natural to slip into the appropriate lingo with many a ‘yo ho ho’ and a ‘yaargh!’ to be heard.
I started flagging some time around half past one and retreated to my sleeping bag in the same room that Mary Queen of Scots stayed in when she was stayed at the castle for six months in 1568. I didn’t get a great deal of sleep with lots of pacing out of treasure maps going on until the early hours, creaking floor boards, wind whistling and various other odd sounds of a crumbling pile of a castle.
Breakfast was a bacon butty cooked by a genuine Baron – Bolton Castle is unique in having stayed in the ownership of the same family since it was built – and a much needed mug of coffee. The scores were totted up, and my rather paltry total of 14 doubloons was not enough to win me any of the prizes but my resolve was fired to do better next time.
The other treat for the weekend was a three hour cutlass workshop which quickly moved from the basics to some truly nasty techniques for close quarters in fighting. Hoo-rah! We are the only group in the UK studying the cutlass, so it really was a unique opportunity and great fun. Very different to rapier, and even the sabre, and a perfect end to the weekend.
A bit of clearing up and lugging of kit, and twenty minutes spent trying to get a hangman’s noose down from a tree in the grounds (it’s a long story …) and then another hour and a half drive home listening to the soundtrack cds of the weekend.
Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me!