Over dinner one night, my husband casually remarked, “Have you heard of Kryal Castle? It’s like a theme park type place, just out of Ballarat.”
No, I had not heard of Kryal Castle, and neither had my three offspring, and as his description of it unfolded, I had to wonder how such a place could escape our notice for so long (six years living in Melbourne and counting). As a family, we’re quite geeky about things historical, medieval and fantastical; the kids have read all the Horrible History books and are avid watchers of the TV show, and I couldn’t even begin to count the number of medieval high fantasy books the grown ups have read.
Him: It’s an actual castle – with a moat.
(I’ve always said that if I ever become ridiculously wealthy, I’m building a home with a moat. Or buying an island. Or building a house with a moat on my own island, although Number One Son says that’s redundant, because if you build a house on your own island, then the sea IS the moat. Shut up, son, and stop crushing my dreams…)
Him: It has sword fighting displays. And jousting.
Him: They closed it down recently for a $3 million refurbishment so they could install…[pause for dramatic effect]…animatronic dragons.
By this stage I was halfway out of my seat and looking for the car keys, with the kids not far behind. But Kryal Castle is only open to the public on weekends and school and public holidays, so a promise was extracted from The Husband to take us all to this magical place in the holidays, at the time only a few weeks away.
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Kryal Castle turned out to be a delightful melange of the authentic, the theatrical, the anachronistic and the outright cheesy. Its charm is intensified when you learn about its history; the castle is literally one man’s folly, the boyhood dream of one Keith Ryall (Keith Ryall…Kryal…I see what he did there). To enter the castle proper, one must first navigate the Dragon’s Labyrinth, which featured princes and princesses, dragons and enchanted woods, fake skeletons and suits of armour rigged to deliver jump scares, and a hologram-like message from the “queen” that looked suspiciously derivative and had me mouthing in the dark, “Help me, Obi-wan Ben Kenobi, you’re my only hope!” We’re certainly not averse to mashing up our histories, fashions and fiction genres – Number Two Daughter dressed for the occasion in her best Gothic finery and Number One Son thought that working at Kryal Castle would be pretty cool, as long as he could grow a beard and braid it Viking-style – so we fit right in.
Highlight of the day was unquestionably the jousting. The show was compered by a comedy duo, the two buxom wenches French and Saunders…I mean, Polly and Molly. Competitors take to the field accompanied by The Prodigy’s “Firestarter” belting out of industrial-strength speakers, said music giving way to something Number One Son informed me was folk metal. Then two horses with a combined weight of over a tonne carry riders in full metal armour rush each other, while the riders try to knock each other off with giant 12 foot sticks. What’s not to like?
But Kryal Castle also held other, quieter charms. While the menfolk went off on the Torture Chamber Tour, I minded the girls (it wasn’t their gender that excluded them from the tour, but their age, 12 being the recommended threshold). We perused the tiny “barnyard” and made friends with a miniature highland steer who seemed to think he was a dog, extending his neck for chin scratches, licking us affectionately and barking…I mean, mooing mournfully when we walked away. Adjacent to the animals was the picturesque chapel, and an extensive and lovingly tended herb garden (no doubt kept well fertilized by our new mate Fido) containing all the usual suspects as well as several lesser-known medicinal plants such as mugwort, borage and chaste tree.
Another personal favourite was the Wizard’s Workroom, a display that Number Three Daughter thought looked like Professor Trelawney’s chambers. Evidently it hasn’t always been a static display – a faded laminated sign announces “Psychic Readings Here”, with a second notice beneath, handwritten in an elegant faux Olde English script and doctored to look “ancient”, helpfully adding “Visa and Mastercard Accepted”.
Now that we’ve seen most of what Kryal Castle has to offer, will we be back again? Well, I’ve liked them on Facebook, followed them on Twitter and signed up to the emailed newsletter, so it’s safe to say my answer to that is a resounding “Huzzah!”