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Family Af-Faire

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For George Appling, Sherwood Forest festival fulfilled lifelong dream. 

By Joanna O’Leary

This month, step back in time (and into spring) via a visit to the ninth annual Sherwood Forest Faire, situated roughly two hours from Houston on the outskirts of McDade, Texas. (Journey time by horse not available.)

The Faire is designed to make you forget you’re in modern-day America as you stroll through a medieval village with more than 100 different shopping, food, and entertainment venues. Actors in costume, some representing important historical figures, wander the grounds interacting with visitors, who are encouraged to dress up in order to embrace the “time travel” ambience. But don’t call this a Renaissance fair; Sherwood Forest is set in the twelfth century, and its backdrop is a real forest with Robin Hood serving as organizer of the merriment.

Co-founded by Eric Todd and George Appling, the fair fulfills Appling’s lifelong goal of marrying his business skills with his personal passion for historical fairs. Appling explains that the first step to realizing his dream took place years ago: “When I was 35, I wrote STOP! far ahead in my calendar on the day I would turn 40,” he says. “The notation was to remind me to finally stop working for other people and do something that I love.”

Appling made good on this promise to himself by launching the Sherwood Forest Faire, which continues to expand and thrive. Today, fair operations are a family affair, with Appling’s husband of more than 20 years working full-time and their three children greatly enjoying the perks of their parents’ business.

Arrive early in the day to allow ample time to peruse the many shops and craft demonstrations. Medieval accoutrements such as cloaks, weapons, apothecary supplies, flower garlands, and wands are available, in addition to more mainstream items such as perfume, decorative pieces, serving ware, beauty products, and even pet toys. And while the holidays are months away, the fair’s unique selection of goods makes it a terrific place to buy presents for friends and family.

Once you’ve had your fill of shopping, take a seat and watch one of the many musical acts (Celtic minstrels are a highlight) as well as sword-fighting, comedy, and stunt performances. To entertain your little ones (who should avoid the  violent full-contact jousting and ribald humor), visit the “Once Upon a Time” area, a two-acre section of Sherwood Forest with puppet shows, sing-a-longs, buskers, jugglers, and woodland creatures frolicing around the play castle. Food stations sell both kid-friendly grub and adult beverages. Gargantuan, juicy turkey legs are also on offer, but do split one with a friend (or three) in order to save room for the selection of internationally-inspired dishes such as Scotch eggs, gyros, stuffed grape leaves, bratwurst, shepherd’s pie, funnel cakes, crepes, and jambalaya. And those seeking to eat their way into a fried-food coma can look forward to battered mushrooms, artichokes, onions, eggplant, squid, mozzarella, cookies, and pickles. Hard and soft libations range from the pedestrian (tea, soda, milkshakes) to the more distinctive (Turkish coffee, craft beers, and “Thorin’s Viking Mead”).

Those seeking stimulation beyond shopping, eating, and watching the various shows should definitely sign up for the “Forest Quest,” a multi-chapter game (eight in total, one for each week of the fair’s operation) in which players solve puzzles and riddles to advance to the final installment. Those intrepid players who complete all eight puzzles will be entered to win a 45-minute “Rapture Experience,” a family-friendly opportunity to handle a selection of birds from the falconer’s collection.

Youth, adults, and (for the first time this year) families can also register for an opportunity to learn common medieval trade skills such as blacksmithing, leatherworking, herbalism, and courtly dance. And while campers can pitch their own tents on site, I suggest keeping in the spirit of things by taking advantage of the air-conditioned accommodations in the castle.

Tickets for Sherwood Faire can be purchased online; look for special “buy one, get one” offers, as well as discounts for military veterans. For Houston visitors not keen on trekking there and back in a single day, there are a handful of modest hotels nearby, as well as ample space in the adjoining campgrounds that provide a particularly festive environment to party long after the fairgrounds close.

Finally, if you find yourself particularly smitten with Sherwood Forest’s whimsical environment, the grounds and some buildings can be rented for weddings and other special life celebrations.

What: Sherwood Forest Faire
When: Weekends, March 3—April 22, 10 a.m. to dusk
Where: 1883 Old Hwy. 20, McDade
Info: sherwoodforestfaire.com

This article appears in the March 2018 edition of OutSmart Magazine.

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Joanna O’Leary

Joanna O’Leary is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine and a freelance food and travel writer based in Houston. Her exploits are chronicled on brideyoleary.com.
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