Forsooth, time draws nigh in the Kingdom of Dragon Croft. Jousters ready their steeds, minstrels practice tunes of old, cooks prepare meat and mead, and grounds are deemed worthy of adventure. Behold The Alabama Medieval Fantasy Festival, where visitors step back in time and enjoy the good ol’ days of 800 A.D.
Dragon Croft is like a town you want to visit but your choices for getting there are time travel or through Greenville, Ala. Choose Greenville. Now in year seven, about five miles from the city’s downtown, the pageantry continues.
This year, the kingdom opens its public gates from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 2-3, rain or shine, for the weekend event attended by hundreds. Visitors meander 35-plus acres of historical expressions including blacksmithing, sword fights, jousting matches, crafts, merchants, food, fun, and history.
Reenactors remain in character throughout the day, speaking in Old English and wearing period dress. “It’s called ‘garb,’” Dragon Croft’s Nancy Ardoin (Queen Annwyn), corrected me with a smile. “Their garb (clothing) has been thoroughly researched and sewn by specialty seamstresses.”
Actually, everything here has been thoroughly researched down to the last chalice. Visitors enter a Renaissance/Medieval world of discovery and adventure. The queen adds, “This is a place of pleasure, creativity, laughter, and enchantment. Our guests will meet historical recreation groups, knights, fairies, and more.”
The queen shares the royal land with her real-life husband Greg Ardoin (King Gregory the Grey). Like many in the Kingdom, the couple is not from Greenville (the queen and king live in Mobile) but travel here from across Alabama and beyond. They work with 100-plus volunteers to make the medieval fantasy a reality.
“We looked for property in three other states, but we love and live in Alabama,” she says. They made a list of criteria for what they were looking for: rolling hills, ponds or creeks, close to hotels and eateries, and nice people. “Greenville covered all of that, so we bought the property. We have been working with the aid of our valiant volunteers from around the state to build the faire ever since.”
The festival’s objectives are summed in three words: Informative, educational, and fun. Guests experience all three. Visitors can be spectators, or they can immerse in the experience.
“There are opportunities for guests to interact with over a hundred characters,” Nancy says. “We are one of the largest Renaissance fairs by volunteers and land (35 acres) in Alabama. We also have the hardest working and most creative talented workers anywhere.”
Others agree. The local newspaper, The Greenville Advocate, awarded The Alabama Medieval Fantasy Festival with two Best in Butler (County) Readers’ Choice Awards. One is for Best Local Attraction and the other, Best Local Event.
The uniqueness of Dragon Croft is key to its success. “This is an era of history, something we do not have today,” notes Dr. Carl Franks, a professor of literature at the University of North Alabama. “Dragon Croft is a chance to create a character and leave the modern world behind for a while.”
He adds, “If as a child you wanted to be a knight, a wizard, cleric, scholar, or any other role, you can do that here.” Dr. Franks, also known in the kingdom as Master Carl the Scholar, notes Disney World as an example.
“If you walk around a theme park with mouse ears on your head, nobody thinks twice about it,” he explains. “It’s the same way here. We are all in character. We are people who love history and sharing it with visitors.”
Music, food and more
The expansive village is nestled in forest and meadows, with feast halls, cottages, kitchens and merchants selling crafted wares. Music, comedy, theater, food and drink, demonstrations and games add to the Medieval mix.
Organized activities coincide with impromptu events as the people of 2024 mix and mingle with characters who lived when King Arthur was a teenager.
On today’s visit, two months out from the event, Dragon Croft is holding its annual Yule Feast. There is much excitement in the kingdom with music, dance, fellowship, and amazing food – real food, delicious, savory, as prepared in the pre-microwave era.
Hammond, Louisiana’s Janet Wright, the kingdom’s culinary historian, prepares the feast over wood-burning pits for a guest list of 65. “We start out with globi, a Roman dish of ricotta cheese, flour, with honey and poppy seeds,” she says, while stirring the pots. Other entrees include meat pie, beef and barley soup, and pork tenderloin. She and others offer medieval cooking demonstrations during the fantasy faire, too.
During the March festival, in addition to medieval fare, current cuisine is offered, including burgers, hotdogs, and other 2024 favorites.
Volunteer performers range in age from babies to 83. Mobile’s Sir Chester Arterburm is the latter. “I am a woodworker,” he says, showing samples of this work. “People ask what keeps me coming back. I tell them, I just like these people. It is fun and I belong. As long as my health is good, I will be here.”
As one might imagine, children love this place. “They always ask about the weaponry,” says John Holcomb of Florence, Ala. As Jarl Bragi Thorbjorn, he is a leader of the King’s Guard. He and Adam Driver (Lord Adam of Driver, Master of Horse) noted that children are fascinated by sword fights and similar demonstrations.
A disclaimer: While most of the festival experience is immersive, some venues, such as sword fights, are not. Nor is jousting. Two knights on a collision course to knock the other off his horse is a sport best left to professionals, least ye visit the royal ambulance.
On a soothing note, one of the most popular Dragon Croft features is the music. The faire includes harpists, cellists, and other instruments, performing actual tunes from back in the day. “I find it fascinating learning about this history and even more enjoyable learning with others interested in the history as well,” says cellist Elizabeth Weaver of Citronelle. “I researched some old carols and adopted them for the cello.”
Sophia Monday of Sylacauga, the kingdom’s magistrate of music, is a harper. She agrees with fellow musician Elizabeth about researching musical history, especially as applied to strings.
“There is just something magical about playing the harp,” says Sophia, while strumming her fingers over the Celtic string instrument. “I came here with a huge interest in medieval history. I researched the harp and its history and now I perform both.”
From dance, song, jousting, demonstrations, food, fun and fantasy, the Alabama Medieval Fantasy Festival has something for everyone. Gadzooks, get ye here on March 2-3, at 4776 Fort Dale Road, Greenville, Ala.
Come for the day. Stay for the knight. We bid thee safe passage.
For more information, follow the Alabama Medieval Fantasy Festival on Facebook at facebook.com/ALMFF or visit their website at almff.com.