We visit the Highland Renaissance Festival in Eminence, KY. See what we thought…
Here is a mild disclaimer before we get started. I absolutely love anything with a Medieval setting. That’s partially the reason for us promoting the upcoming release of Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Edition so heavily; it’s simply because I cannot wait for the release. Every Elder Scrolls release, I wait in line for the midnight release and often take the day off work to play nothing but that. Unfortunately as I get older and continue to gain more responsibilities this becomes increasingly more difficult and I’m just simply not able to always do this. This love for the setting also carries over to Film and TV Series and I have obtained quite a substantial collection over the years. I say all of this to help recreate my mindset going into this festival and potentially explain my excitement over….well…the little things.
After about an hour drive from Louisville we arrive at a gravel driveway that takes us back through a forest backdrop. Along the way you are welcomed by road signs that give a brief description of the time period and to signify the land you are about to enter is ruled by none other than King Robert The Bruce. Once you reach the end of gravel driveway and make your way to the parking area, you are clearly invited to a trail that leads through the forest. I thoroughly enjoyed this small walk and the peaceful nature of the trail serves as a great transition from present day to ancient Scotland. As the trail winds down and the trees start to clear you become welcomed by the stone entrance showcased above. I can’t stress how much I loved this unveiling enough. While these towers aren’t miles high and I wasn’t surprised by a monstrous castle, the heavily wooded setting does a great job of presenting this hidden kingdom that felt like it has been there for years. Seeing the vines crawl up the stone entrance really gave a sense of ancient wonder and longevity that is often only seen in film or other forms of media. The Highland Renaissance Festival is actually celebrating it’s tenth anniversary this year which surely does this phenomenon, but it’s still great to see.
With my ticket in hand, I head through the gates.
The sense of wonder only magnifies as you are quickly greeted by numerous cast members and vendors that are completely in character. Full costumes, suits of armor, and almost theater perfect accents to match. Sure there are other visitors like me who didn’t attend in full Cosplay fashion, but to be honest that only hurts the illusion. I’m sure some people see that kind of thing as embarrassing to fully commit to, but if you become a regular (and you most likely will) the thought of creating an alter ego quickly becomes enticing. Most vendors have a variety of built structures or tents setup throughout the encampment as others are walking around greeting you as you travel throughout the village.
That’s exactly the best way to describe the setting. Just like in your travels with Elder Scrolls, Two Worlds or any other exploration RPG, you discover a small village that is populated by local folk and feels very much lived in. They have their festivals, economy, hierarchy, and families…. that is exactly what this feels like. The Highland Renaissance Festival does an excellent job at creating this illusion for it’s visitors and gives an amazing first impression. Now what’s beyond that? Let’s do some exploring…
My first stop was Mikaela’s Inn which serves as the central pub and entertainment hotspot for quite a few social events. With it’s perfect location (Center Point of Town) and entrances on all sides, this tavern truly is very welcoming on a hot day. Whether you stop in for a moment of shade, grab some lunch, fill your stein with Ale or simply enjoy a song by some of the cast.
Entering the pub to grab a drink, one of these stage events were already in progress. The atmosphere is very upbeat and crowd participation is very much welcomed. The tavern includes a food bar which brings fairly standard offerings like burgers, fries, chicken, fish and various others including the period themed offering of a giant turkey leg. The bar in the far corner is centered around providing both alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages. The beer offering is a fairly modest selection and served to provide me with my very first tasting of Mead.
Upon my trip to the bar, I was quickly schooled in the currency system. “Coin of the Realm” is the term used. Basically all vendors and games accept this form of currency. While in my experience most won’t shy away from accepting cash to avoid an inconvenience to the customer, it’s obvious that this method is the preferred way of paying for things. Luckily these coins can be purchased from a dedicated booth or from a few other places in the event. To be honest it is a pretty smart marketing technique to help people spend money. You buy coins, then feel obligated to spend them before you leave. It helps create the illusion that money is already spent and throwing coins around isn’t as painful as handing over dollars on the regular. These coins are non refundable, but may be used on any other visit in the future. Having said these things, I never really minded the use of this system and if you feel so inclined you could purchase them $1 at a time to avoid excess. Besides it does help to create the illusion you are living in the renaissance.
Upon entry you are given a brochure detailing various info about the event including a brief rundown of the “Coin of the Realm”, and thankfully a daily schedule of events. Aside from the various vendors selling Armor, Swords, Crafts and various other items from the time period there are also scheduled shows. They are stair stepped throughout the day to ensure that you are able to see most everything during your visit. Walking around the festival you are welcome to take the day at your own pace. Stopping to talk to the cast, shopping for some craft, watching the blacksmith forge weaponry, or even trying on a suit of armor as pictured above. You are free to mix these sights with shows completely at your leisure and that’s the beauty of Highland Renaissance Festival. Not only does it serve to keep the day relaxed, but its yet another design choice to reinforce the illusion of a living world. After a walk around the event grounds, it was time to take in a show.
Yes, the Highland Renaissance Festival includes Jousting and boy was this fun. Shortly after arriving in front of the jousting grounds I was greeted by a boy. The only words were “You, come here… come with me” in his almost perfect Scottish accent. Being a good sport, I followed and was led to an open seat in front of a green shield. In the jousting event there are four competing Knights and I was drafted to cheer for the green one.
After the introduction of the reigning King and the four participating Knights the event was underway. Things started out with passes on horse to lance rings held by Squires and escalated to one on one competitions that managed to keep things exciting to the very end. By the end of the competition our green knight was in the final two and led to an epic showdown off horse with a sword to sword battle. After some (questionably honest) tactics by the green knight, he was named the victor.
This event was obviously scripted, but who cares. It was a good time and was followed by the horses and their Knights coming to the fence for meet and greets. Opportunity to pet the horses and talk to their owners was great part of the show for both kids and adults.
Near the jousting grounds were a few manual theme park rides. By theme parks I use that term loosely, as they are very much time appropriate. There are also opportunities to throw Axes, Knives, and Stars at targets and even try your hand at Archery (which apparently I am good at). While these opportunities have an extra cost, it’s very inexpensive and provides a chance to win a free drink of choice.
Aside from Jousting there are many other scheduled events including a Dog Show, Musical Guests, Maypole Dances, Village Parade and even a comedic show called Nuttin’ But Mud. All of these are a wonderful time and included at the cost of the event. There are many more of these that can be named, but honestly you owe it to yourself to see them in person. I spent an entire day at the festival and cannot wait to go back to see all the things I missed.
Whether you are looking for a way to escape into an realm of the past, spend a day with the family or live out your fantasy of the Medieval Era the Highland Renaissance Festival is an excellent place to visit. While you are best served to show up with an open mind and willingness to “Play Along”, there is truly something for everyone. It has certainly won me over and I will without a doubt return this season. Who knows you might even catch me in costume in the future.
For more information visit The Official Website