Travel

A knight to remember: Medieval glamping in Alberta

An inside look at Good Knights medieval-themed glamping experience — complete with sword fighting, axe throwing, archery and more

  • Jul 06, 2023
  • 1,003 words
  • 5 minutes
A prairie knight. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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Located about an hour’s drive from Calgary, Good Knights is a one-of-a-kind medieval themed-glamping experience. Something this strange and marvellous only comes about through unbridled passion, so allow me to introduce Sir Daniel and Lady Linda Smith: retirees, Dungeons and Dragons devotees, and dreamers. The Smiths fell in love with medieval Europe and each other as teenagers on a high school trip. It was Linda’s first time outside Alberta, and the majestic old castles did them both in. Thus began a fruitful union that resulted in children, successful careers and a lifelong passion for medieval sword-play, armour, fairs, archery and costumes. The medieval sub-culture is not so much a rabbit hole as a Hobbit burrow —  packed with characters, weapons, music and history.

Preparing the Grand Hall for the Saturday night feast. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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Medieval-themed fairs and events take place around the world. Along with procuring antiques and thrift store treasure, the couple travelled to overnight fairs and delighted townsfolk with their luxurious royal tent. Upon retirement, Linda wondered if they could offer their opulent medieval experience and the festival atmosphere to anyone interested. Daniel, a sprightly fellow with a can-do attitude and unlimited energy, pounced on the dream. Having already relocated to a quiet 20-acre site outside of Three Hills, Alberta, they got to work.  

Inspired by the aesthetic of a safari tent in Africa, they built their tents with wooden floors and ensuite bathrooms, comfortable beds and cozy, era-specific furnishings. They also took on a 600-square-foot Hobbit-inspired burrow,  built directly into the hill, with five furnished rooms, a cedar hot tub, circular doorways and a living roof. Like many retirees, the Smiths took on a project and found themselves working harder than they ever had: raising the money, figuring out the construction, getting the permits, and opening for business. Volunteers and bannermen helped out, while a local costume enthusiast provided hundreds of costumes for guests of all ages to get into the spirit. Activities like swordplay, traditional dancing, archery and storytelling keep guests busy, although it’s enough to roam about under that big prairie sky, robed like a princess or squire, on the way to the castle ball.

Guests in costume. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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Blame the enthusiastic town criers. With fantastic word-of-mouth, Good Knights has become very popular throughout the summer, hosting wedding parties, families, students and anyone with an imaginative penchant for flowing dresses, elaborate hats, lyre music, games and feasts.  You don’t have to be a fan of Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter or Robin Hood, but if you are, you’re going to love this. 

The Burrow interior. (Photo courtesy Good Knights)
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My six-year-old and I arrive at Good Knight’s wooden fortress gates with our two roller suitcases. I half expect horns to sound and foot soldiers to appear on the turrets, taunting us like the mischievous French knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Instead, we’re greeted by affable Sir Daniel, who shows us to our accommodation for the night: a brand new, custom-built Romani-inspired vardo. It looks exactly like a wagon for travelling minstrels. As with the tents, the vardo has power, a latrine, a sink, ample storage space and a queen-size mattress draped in colourful blankets. We’re ushered to the costume shed and select our style: royalty, warrior, or peasant. Furnished in leather and cloth, we meet the weekend townsfolk, which includes a group of young teachers from Edmonton, a family from Calgary, and a combined stag/stagette party.   

“We seem to book more and more of those,” explains Sir Daniel. Mind you, these are not clubbing-dancing-fall-down-drunk stags. Good Knights attracts gentle folks who have more than enough fun dressing up in elaborate outfits, sharing tales around a campfire, and playing obscure games like Pegs and Jokers in the Grand Hall. There’s still plenty of ale to go around. 

“The guests are the best part,” confirms Lady Linda, joining us for coffee the next morning after singlehandedly preparing a fantastic breakfast from her kitchen. This is even more remarkable given the fact that Linda is confined to a wheelchair with polio (the encampment is proudly accessible for others with mobility issues). Later, my son and I will walk up the hill to catch a marvellous prairie view, after which we hopscotch on hay bales, practice axe tossing (not real axes), archery, and sword fighting skills with Sir Daniel (some real swords). Trying on Sir Daniel’s authentic and incredibly heavy chain mail, I’m surprised knights didn’t keel over from exhaustion just walking about. 

The Royal. (Photo courtesy Good Knights)
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The Imperial tent. (Photo courtesy Good Knights)
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Noble feasts are included in packages for weekend guests on Saturday nights in the Grand Hall.  Knightly tales are shared over goblets of ale and wooden plates with Irish soda bread, soup, meats and vegetables. Later that night, I watched satellites float across the sky, warmed by a thick hooded cloak for all guests. The Encampment operates four months a year, with the self-catered Burrow open year-round. Business is brisk, but given the small team running everything behind the scenes, Sir Daniel tells me there are no plans to expand. Nine themed tents can accommodate between thirty and forty people, which is exactly the way they like it. The vardo is something new, and more wagons might find themselves rolling into the Encampment. As harbingers for an exciting new world of themed glamping, let us praise the Good Knights and the Ladies of the Prairies for their passion, hospitality, and courage to take up the gauntlet.

Sword play with Sir Daniel. (Photo: Galileo Esrock)
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Axe throwing. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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