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York To Towton

The march to Towton

Work pressures and logistical problems meant that I did not get to do the inaugural (well, second, technically) march from York to Towton in 2014. This year we did make it, and on reflection it feels like after many years my kit – our kit – is almost complete and correct.

We pampered ourselves on either side of the walk, leaving London midday after a good lunch to get to the hotel (Hazelwood Castle) nearest Towton which was dog-friendly. In the end it was a 5 hour drive, by the time we stopped on several occasions to walk the dog, but we arrived comfortably around 7:00pm, were unpacked and the dog settled in his crate for dinner at 8:00pm, then a reasonably early night. Of course, it would not be re-enactment if I was not sewing the night before, as I had discovered late in my preparations that I needed to move some lacing holes in my petti-cote. (A footnote for the now-bewildered, a petti-cote is a garment something like a waistcoat, with lacing holes along the bottom to hold my hose up).


Logistics the next morning were a bit fraught, as we needed to try to get to the Rockingham Arms in Towton by 7:30. Which was what time breakfast was starting at the hotel. We rose at 6:00, threw most of our kit on, threw kit in the car, threw the dog in the car, and lobbed into the restaurant at about 7:15 with a mournful expression. The staff rose to the occasion, and very kindly whipped up some bacon sandwiches in tin-foil for us and sent us on the way. We got to Towton in time to hurl stuff into the shared mini-van that had been rented, and we left the Rockingham Arms only 5 minutes later than planned. The driver was a textbook example of “surly”, and his anxiety to leave promptly was explained by his stopping to fill the petrol tank – and chat with half the village – before we’d gone more than a few miles. What sort of taxi company does not ensure the tank is full before picking up a booking?

Anyway, we arrived at Clifford’s Tower in good time, and with no more than the usual level of re-enactor fussing about and adjusting of kit, were on the road at 9:00. Then there was 15-ish miles of tromping. The end.


(Photo credit Mike Wilson)


Not really. Our guide and organiser and intrepid worrier Ghost had managed to work out a route that was almost entirely off main roads, and was about 50-60% through fields and parks. Necessarily we had to tromp through a couple of small villages, and Tadcaster, but were only along the side of the biggest road for about a mile. As Ghost put it, we were not necessarily along the route that the bulk of the troops took (as that has disappeared under a major road), but there are records of local musters gathering at various key places, and we would have been sharing parts of our route with those troops. And of course, the final approach up the hill and over the ridge to the battle site was where the Lancastrians would have moved in force.


(Photo credit Mike Wilson)


The walk ended (because this is England) at the Rockingham Arms, who did not seem at all fazed by 13 smelly re-enactors and a small dog piling in and strewing kit everywhere. A pint of a local pale ale – or two – was definitely welcomed, and earned. Back into the car, and we were unpacked and in the hotel bar by 7:00pm. Whereon we consumed a very nice Rioja in front of the fire. In retrospect, two ales and 2/3rd of a bottle of Rioja while dehydrated and exhausted was not the best of ideas, but totally worth it at the time.




(Photo credit Rob Atkin)

(Photo credit Rob Atkin)

You may have missed what I said above: 13 re-enactors and a small dog. Because we are not sufficiently mad to just do a 15 mile wander in 15th century clothing, we decided that it was completely feasible to take Bo with us. He was a champion, and seemed to enjoy the experience (mostly). At the beginning through the fields he was racing around like a maniac, running from one end of the troupe to the other, racing down to the river and back, racing around the fields and back. We walked 15 miles. He must have gone 20 miles. Later in the day he was much more subdued, and was not very happy about walking along beside the main roads, but he perked up a lot toward the end, and met quite a few dogs as we did the final leg through the woods and up to the site. Once we got to the pub though, the tiredness caught up with him, and he deflated big time. We put him back in his crate as soon as we got back to the hotel room, and he slept solidly for 12 hours like a soggy rag doll.


The logistics around Bo were a little mad, and it was something of a last minute scramble of getting a number of disparate pieces to come together at the last minute. We’d picked up some leather strap, and a 15th C cast buckle, and some rope (sadly not hemp rope, but not sisal or cotton either), and had made him a plausibly medieval collar. Which is to say, a short strap with a buckle on it and a rope tied to it. We knew we’d need to carry treats, and a water bowl, and other accoutrements, but we were working on the assumption that we’d need to carry him part way. So Delia found a company in Poland making reproduction wicker back-packs from the styles seen in period art, and they got it to us on the Thursday before we drove up on Friday. In the end, we did not need to carry him at all, and the backpack proved brilliant for carrying lunch, water bottles, spare coat and his (many) treats. But not the water bowl, which got completely forgotten. Thankfully he was able to drink from some streams and puddles, and was quite happy with that.

On reflection on the drive back to London, I had a sense that finally, after much scrambling since we’ve been here, everything just worked as we intended. The roof-rack arrived for the car in time for us to put the dog crate and a halberd on the roof. The soft-kit and my harness, and the dog and his stuff, and modern kit for around the hotel, all fitted. Snugly, because our car is very small, but comfortably. We had raided Cloaked and Daggered at TORM for a new doublet, braies and hose for Delia/Bob, and I picked up a pair of off-the shelf hose that were a remarkably good fit from Historic Enterprises. The latter are a stop-gap until Malina gets my soft kit done, but the thought had occurred to me it would be handy to have a pair that are sufficiently ok to wear while I’m on the field.


(Photo credit Ian Brandt)


I wore hose and petti-cote, with period braies and shirt, and the jack over the top. I limited myself to wearing just the sallet, and had the deerskin gloves I made to keep my hands worn. Pilgrim’s bag and water bottle over my shoulders, a Percy bend tucked into my belt, and pouch on the belt. Period shoes as well: I wore the low shoes that I made years ago, and which continue to stand up brilliantly – I’ve clumped replacement soles on a few times, so the bottom is quite impervious to stones. Very slick on the bottom of course, and muddy patches of the path were treacherous, but I was as comfortable as I am in my modern shoes.

Delia did not fair as well with her shoes – they are low ankle boots that are a bit big for her, and lacked a heel stiffener. Of course as she walked and they got wet, they accordioned down the back of her heel until she did much of the walk on the thin heel, not the sole. By the end they had worn through (probably irreparably), and it was as though she had walked the last 5 miles in high-heels.

The summary is thus: it feels like I have one set of kit that is sufficiently good and comfortable to be usable in a variety of contexts. If called on to do something tomorrow, I’m confident that I could competently present soldier-with-pole-weapon to a high standard.

Of course, that does not mean my kit is finished – is any re-enactor ever finished? We are the very definition of gear-fetishists, always trying to get the next bit done. I’ve got good soft kit in the queue being made by Malina which will see me comfortable with the basic clothes. I’ve got a decent jack, sallet, and breastplate. I’ve got decent belts, pouches, drinking vessels, spoons, bowls, etc. The missing bits are finally a manageable and not terrifying list:

  • we need scabbards and belts for my new longsword and Delia’s messer;
  • it would be very useful to have an additional stool or bench;
  • we both need good daggers;
  • it would be good to either get the poles and ropes for our giant tent, or get a small tent.

Daggers are an interesting problem – not finding them, we can get outstandingly good items from Tod’s Stuff, or from Dr Fabrice Cognot – but in a way we really need two daggers each: good functional sharps for demonstration and bling, and decent blunts safe enough to demonstrate knife-fighting technique. Longer term of course I’m also keen to have one or more decent sharp swords, to allow demonstration of cutting, but that is a very slow burn.


Apologies to anyone for whom I have missed photo credits, or have misattributed – yell out, I would love to get the right attribution for the shots published.

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