It was trial by combat as 50 heavily-armoured knights wielded swords, axes and spears as they battled for supremacy at a spectacular new festival in Corwen.
Gwyl Y Fflam – Festival of Flame – which celebrates the town’s links with Welsh hero Owain Glyndwr, has been praised by Battle Heritage for its triumphant hosting of the annual British Medieval Combat Championships, held in Wales for the first time ever.
Gŵyl y Fflam took over Edeyrnion fields in Corwen for all things medieval, including the opportunity to take a video tour of Glyndwr’s home at Sycharth, near Llansilin, with the annual Combat Championships Heritage Cup VI a crowd-pulling highlight.
Festival organiser Dylan Jones said hosting such a high-profile tournament was a triumph for Gŵyl y Fflam and for Corwen.
He said: “What a tremendous thrill for everyone here to see such uniquely skilled fighters in action. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it before and I doubt many people in Denbighshire have either.
“It’s absolutely phenomenal to think that in our inaugural year of organising this festival we’ve been honoured with the chance to host a national championship on this scale.
“It’s been a highlight of our programme for sure, helping us to draw in a good size gate.”
British Medieval Combat tournaments are a full contact martial art using historically designed weapons and body armour and 50 fighters from all over Britain competed in the championships with many camping in the town for the duration of the tournament.
In a series of thrilling duels and team bouts men and women kitted out in heavy steel helmets, chainmail and battle armour charged at each other in a 25-metre combat rink.
Among those competing was three times world champion women’s long sword exponent Lara Serviolle, of Ireland, and Rachael Waters, ranked third in the world in the women’s sword and shield duelling class.
Lara, who also fights with a potentially lethal pole-arm weapon, said: “It’s been a very positive event for us on all fronts, excellent facilities and a great crowd. Corwen definitely compares well with other tournament destinations we’ve competed at.”
Rachael, Battle Heritage vice president and a member of the London-based Team Invicta, added: “This is the first time the championships have come to Wales and it’s been a great success.
“The setting is beautiful with the mountain scenery as a fantastic backcloth and the local people have all been so supportive of us. We cannot thank Gŵyl y Fflam enough for the way the festival has welcomed us.”
She stressed that despite it being an all action physical sport there are strict safety regulations in place: “I wouldn’t be competing otherwise,” she said.
Rachael took up medieval combat about four years ago and has quickly risen through the world rankings.
She said: “I was a little hesitant when I first started but once I realised how protective the body armour is I gained in confidence and learned new battle techniques. It can be exhausting as the weapons and the armour are heavy but it’s exhilarating too. I love it.”
The sport has an increasing following internationally with regular competitions held as far afield as the Netherlands, the Ukraine, Serbia and Spain and successful combatants from Corwen will go on to the world championships in Spain next year.
Flying the flag for Wales was the Medieval Combat Wales team, based in Newport, and led by Dan King. He said: “We’re all so proud to see the championships come to Wales for the first time and Corwen has given everyone here an exceptional welcome.”
Dan, a former fighter, gave up competing following a knee injury. He now trains competitors, organises events and is a marshal in the battle rink, having helped supervise Medieval Combat tournaments all around the world.
He says it is a complete contrast to his day job working in a Welsh Government office.
It was as a result of contact with the Newport group that the idea of staging the 2019 British Championships in Corwen was born.
Dylan originally contacted them to see if they had anyone available to do display fights at Gŵyl y Fflam, but coincidentally it emerged Battle Heritage was seeking a venue for this year’s championship tournament and Corwen fitted the bill.
Dylan said: “We’d love for them to return again next year and in future years. This is such a fantastic attraction whether you’re familiar with the sport or not. It’s riveting.
“We’re now hoping to attract other similar activities. It would be brilliant if we could also get a jousting tournament on the site next year.”
Gŵyl y Fflam was launched as part of commemorations of Corwen’s links to Owain Glyndwr and his proclamation as Prince of Wales in 1400.
Other festival highlights were medieval-style performers, a jester, acrobats, musicians, dancers and specialists in sword fighting, archery and traditional crafts.
The Freemen of Gwent, and the House of the Black Star, from Whittington, Shropshire, set up camp on-site with tents furnished to offer a glimpse of what life was like in medieval Wales.
There were handicrafts stalls and exhibitions from the Owain Glwyndwr Society, Abbey Cwmhir Heritage Trust, Princess Gwenllian Society and Clwyd and Powys Archaelogical Trust, among others.
Musical trio The Whipperginnies, who have also performed at medieval banquets at Ruthin Castle, entertained the crowd with their traditional harmonies based on the songs of Middle Ages troubadours.
Ruthin schoolgirl Elsi Pimblett also loved getting into the fun spirit of the festival with some extraordinary multi-tasking. Thanks to the teaching skills of James the Jester from Chester Elsi learned to spin plates while balancing juggling batons on her head at the same time.
“It’s been great, lots of fun, with something to entertain all ages,” she said.
Festival visitor Esmor Davies, originally from Ruthin but now living in Buckley, near Mold, was hugely impressed with The Whipperginnies’ vocal prowess.
He said: “I didn’t know what to expect with it being the first festival of its kind held in Corwen but it’s been a great day.
“I particularly liked all the interesting displays from historical societies which provided a real chance to learn about Owain Glyndwr and what life was like in medieval times.
“As for the medieval combat championship battles, they’re completely amazing.”