Research And Reconstruction

Cross Country Marching - Also known as ‘testing to destruction’!

I was at a re-enactor wedding not so long ago, describing a Comitatus Walk along Hadrian’s Wall, when it occurred to me that my audience didn’t understand why anybody would want to march or camp as our ancestors did. “Why suffer the discomfort?” “Don't your costumes get ruined?” etc etc.

Well all re-enactors entertain. And some educate. And put simply if you claim to educate you must lay some claim to accuracy. You can accurately re-create crafts and skills from the past, given time, dedication and often money. With some research you can recreate clothing and personal equipment that challenges Hollywood myths and Arthurian clichés. We are not trying to recreate costumes, but well made clothes for outdoor life. We have to choose the best materials we can get, ensure we get the cut right and that we can walk, run and fight in them, day and night, rain and shine.

When you think your clothing and kit is realistic, you may wish to test it, to see how well it lives up to the claims of accuracy and authenticity. One way of testing your work, and yourself, is by putting it in realistic situations. Which means marching, scouting, camping and generally having a good time!

Many groups over the years have carried out various styles of walks. Soon after the American Civil War, veterans were recreating the famous marches of their recent past. It was something I’d always wanted to do, and in January 2005 I was able to convince some other members of Comitatus to come with me.

I was very aware this could be the first and last walk we undertook, so it had to be special. With some careful planning we were able to spend a memorable night near a fantastic Roman fort, cross a river and bog, climb the tallest mountain in England, enjoy sub zero temperatures, and get back to base camp in the dark. It was a great experience, and we were able to raise a good sum for charity along the way. Everyone enjoyed it, but compromises were made. Most of the group wore modern footwear, which was not what I had in mind. We needed another walk.

With a little research it soon became apparent that close order troops would march with heavy armour, bedding and tents on wagons. Armour would be donned on the march to contact the enemy. Light troops would carry what they needed, including some form of bedding when scouting for several days. The next march took the form of a walk along the Wall in armour, as if to battle, with period tents and cooking for two nights thrown in. This was followed by a coastal walk following in footsteps of those guarding the North East Coast. Soon after we carried out a march following an old Roman road, dressed as scouts carrying everything we needed for a three-day patrol. This was a great day, with horizontal rain sleet and snow across the North York Moors. Last autumn we returned to the Wall for a good fast march on a great sunny day. The scenery was very special.

We have certainly proved our uniforms and footwear are not costumes. Our overall level of competence has increased. We can set up or break down camp in the pitch dark in no time at all. Simple period cookery using dried ingredients is now second nature, and my mess tin is a great friend. Good quantities of dry kindling and a spare pair of period boots are always carried, just in case.

But there are more experiments to try. We haven’t yet camped out in woodland carrying all we need for an extended period of time. That scouting expedition may be next. As well as walks aimed at the group as a whole.

I certainly appreciate that the walks may not be for every member of Comitatus. But I strongly recommend them to all. The group aims to give members a wide range of opportunities and experiences, and the walks give the opportunity to see another side of our hobby, and one very much in tune with the British countryside.