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Last Updated: Friday, 18 May 2007, 18:07 GMT 19:07 UK
Medieval enactment 'changed life'
By Hannah Goff
BBC News education reporter

Gail and her beau John
Gail found love with another re-enactor
When Gail Griffiths was introduced to medieval re-enactment she had reached a bit of a low point in her life.

Unhappily married, very overweight, depressed and with little prospect of a good job in sight - things couldn't have been much worse

But within months of joining Sheffield-based Knights in Battle, she had turned her life around - finding new friends, setting up her own business and becoming the Guinevere in a modern-day romance.

"I was going through a bad period," she said.

"I'd been into horses and show jumping and a horse I looked after died and I got very low.

"My friend phoned up and said why don't I come down and look at this medieval group at Conisbrough Castle instead of sitting around the house.

"Knights in Battle were going to be performing and I thought, well I like films and medieval things, it might be interesting."

You end up where you are completely in with the medieval world - almost living it

She added: "Then I thought well I wouldn't mind dressing up. I wouldn't mind having a go at swinging a sword around.

"I was very overweight at the time so I thought I am going to lose weight and join a medieval group - which I did."

As someone who had always made her own clothes, it wasn't long before she started making costumes for the other members of the group.

"I started looking up what I needed to be wearing and eventually I wrote a book for the club, a history of the period.

"The more I got into it the more there was to learn," she said.

"You end up where you are completely in with the medieval world - almost living it.

"If you want to you can let it take your life over which is what happened, in a way, with me."

Gail on her first venture into the medieval world
Medieval women wore high-necked dresses

After a couple of years the dress-making and costume designing took on a life of its own and she set up her own business, Guinevere's Dream, which has been paying the bills for the past nine years.

She now creates bespoke garments for medieval themed weddings and costumes for re-enactment and other events.

"Sometimes I have to try to stop myself from telling people to do it the proper way," she says.

But joining the group, not only brought Gail, now 49, alive mentally, it also had a far more personal impact.

There's an adrenalin rush when they say 'run up the hill' and it really is 'Yeah, Charge!'

"The other thing that happened was that I was unhappily married at the time and I met someone - another re-enactor."

John Pilkington had been helping out another friend in the group but then joined himself.

"We got friendly - just as you all get friendly - and then it turned into something else. He asked me to leave my ex and move in with him and we've been together for 14 years."

So what is it about medieval re-enactment that can be so life-changing?

Apart from leaping with both feet into the dressing-up box and learning about the history of the period, there is the excitement of the actual re-enactments themselves, says Gail.

Gail in the thick of it at the Battle of Hastings re-enactment
Re-enactors travel the globe to join in battles

"There's an adrenalin rush when they say 'run up the hill' and it really is 'Yeah! Charge!'

"It's just great fun. You are with all sorts of people you have never met before. It's just a laugh, it's total silliness."

She continues: "At the Battle of Hastings last year there were English, Canadian, American and Italians who couldn't speak any English.

"I was one of 140 archers. There were 120 men on horseback, and two and half thousand men at arms. There were so many people all moving as one thing.

"One group moves forward, then we send a whole load of arrows over.

"Then we move back through the crowd. It's just this great adrenalin rush all the time.

"It's the best thing. You are out in the fresh air getting exercise and you get to know people really well - you make some really good friends. It's changed my life."

Gail as an archer
Archers use arrows with rubber tips

Gail's knight in shining armour, John, now works as a tour guide at Conisborough Castle, where she was first introduced to this life-changing world.

So is there a medieval wedding on the cards?

"No," says Gail, "It's too much like the day job.

"Personally I've always thought the Cavaliers and the Roundheads would be nice for a wedding."

Introduction to medieval re-enactment is one of the courses featured during Adult Learners' Week 19-25 May.

If you want to see what the Knights in Battle get up to, join them at St Augustine's Church, Brocco Bank, Sheffield, at 7.30pm on Wednesday 23 May.

Knights making Yorkshire comeback
30 Jul 06 |  North Yorkshire
Knights in shining armour go fort
02 Jul 06 |  Highlands and Islands

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