There’s two pieces of backstory you need to know before we get started. The first is that my oldest friend is beccamarsh. It’s Rebecca Marsh (technically) but we’ve been spelling and pronouncing it without a space or a capital for a decade. The second thing is that, at around the same time we both dropped maths in year 11, beccamarsh and I decided that it would be pretty cool to live in a castle.
There is, it turns out, a surprisingly small number of castles in Australia. Or at least there are surprisingly few castles that aren’t just houses with turrets and also that you are allowed to go and visit. Or maybe there are a surprisingly large amount, it probably depends on your perspective on castles.
There’s one in Adelaide but it is a fancy hotel and crazy expensive. If anyone wants to commission me to write about it in return for us going to stay there for free, I actually have a lot of good story ideas. I am not at all joking about this.
And then there’s Kryal, just outside Ballarat. It is “Australia’s only medieval theme park” because of course it is. People in Victoria think that Kryal Castle is terrible. I know this because when I have mentioned wanting to go there, the primary response is “but why”. The answer to that question is clearly “Australia’s only medieval theme park”. Luckily I have beccamarsh and beccamarsh gets it.
Last weekend she came to visit and we hired a car and we drove to Kryal Castle. And Kryal Castle is, in our opinion, very great. It sits against a stunning view of blue-green hills and eucalyptus forest. It has a moat. There is a scary dungeon with holograms and moving suits of armour. It made me jump a lot, even the second time we did it when I knew what was going to happen (yes we did it twice). Everything was about 50% better than we were expecting it to be. The place is kitsch, sure, but it takes it’s kitsch seriously. There’s a goldilocks level of seriousness you want in this situation – too much and it’s cringeworthy, not enough and it’s just kind of lame. Kryal actually kind of nails it.
We bought lenticular cups and drank an ill advised quantity of lemonade to take advantage of the free refills. The women at the counter smiled good naturedly every time we came back (both the cups and the refills are intended for children). On the whole, the castle’s employees (dressed in costume and in character) seemed to think we were funny. We were the only adults without children. In the wizard’s tower we talked to the wizard about peasants for a good five minutes. One of the jousting assistants asked me where I got my “tunic with cats on” and I hesitated because I didn’t know if I was allowed to mention the internet or if that would ruin the vibe. All the people who are working seemed to really honestly enjoy their jobs. They wandered around the park, making fun of each other in character. It was fun because they were having fun.
Every afternoon there is jousting. It is proper jousting with horses and huge long pointy sticks. The “black knight” had this enormous black horse that was just so into jousting. You know when you see a big dog do a trick and it is so pleased with itself? That’s what this horse was like. This giant black horse whose trick was jousting. It was delightful. Also the jousting was very impressive. Take it from me – legit jousting.
Don’t get me wrong, the whole place absolutely feels like it was built by some random eccentric in the 70s. It is undoubtedly a medieval theme park in regional Australia. But that is exactly why you should go. There is a throne room and a huge round table and a sword you can try and pull from a stone. We Instagramed heavily. Kryal Castle is worth the ticket price for the selfies alone. Do it for the #content; this is my official review.
We recreated photos from the last castle trip five years ago. Back then we were taking photos with my long-lost digital camera; my phone was still a Nokia, with a monotone version of Blister in the Sun as it’s ringtone. This time we had smart phones but we still used an elaborate collection of improvised tripods and timers to stage our photos.
beccamarsh and I have been friends for 13 years now. She has known me since I was 12. I am endlessly grateful for the friends that I’ve made as an adult, who have helped me become someone with a confidence and a self-assurance that 12-year-old Alex couldn’t even imagine. But there is also something so freeing and so important about a friendship that remembers the bumbling, painfully-awkward person you used to be. We grew up together. We like the same things because we discovered them together. We go to castles because it seemed like a good idea when we were 16.
Find friends who will go on ridiculous adventures with you; who will commit to stupid jokes so fully that they become tradition; who you can sing in the car with and not feel self conscious. Find the people who’ll go to castles with you, who don’t ask you to grow up. Those people matter.