Step back into Medieval moments at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival.

Tennessee Renaissance Festival a Lifelong Quest

Photo courtesy of Tennessee Renaissance Festival

Once upon a time… before watching Game of Thrones or touring castles in Europe… I taught my  children and literature students tales of fairies, dragons, and knights. That chivalry must never die and dreams do come true. 


Love of history, fantasy and escape is alive and well at the Tennessee Renaissance Fest. Here you can feast on turkey legs like a king, see fairy houses, or hunt for dragons’ eggs.

We’d then travel to The Tennessee Renaissance Festival to wander Covington Glen, a 16th Century village located outside of Nashville.


There I tried to teach my son and daughter archery as my dad had tried to teach me. I still remember the archery tournament in Kentucky where he’d won the “Robin’s Hood Award” for hitting the bull’s eye with his first arrow, then splitting that arrow with his second shot. He wanted me to compete in contests, too. No pressure. 🙂


Two decades later… a couple of weeks ago my daughter chose to celebrate her birthday at the Fest where we watched jousting and my son handed me a bow and quiver of arrows to see if I could still hit a target. Last weekend I returned to finally meet the man who created the beloved tradition that throngs of folks enjoy–many in costume–yearly. 

Photo courtesy of Tennessee Renaissance Festival
Fans dressed as mythical creatures line up at Tennessee Renaissance Fest
Great Family Fun at Tennessee Renaissance Festival
Renaissance Festival
Fest Fans



Outlander fans will feel at home at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival, too.
Photo courtesy of Tennessee Renaissance Festival






Mike Freeman greets guests outside Castle Gwynn, located on forty acres he bought in 1976 near Triune. Friendly, fun, and sincere, he tells the inspiring story of a lifelong quest:

The first two most commonly asked questions are, ‘Do you live here?’ Yes I do. For the last 31 years I’ve lived here with my wife, Maggie, and our 2 dogs. The 2nd most commonly asked question is, ‘When are you going to get it finished?’ The answer: ‘When one of you wins the lottery, please remember me!’ I’ve been doing that for the last 34 years. It hasn’t worked yet. (laughs)

In 1970 I was a senior in high school who drew my dream house, a castle, in architecture class. Being a poor boy from Flat Rock, the only way I could do it was to build it myself. I am proud to say I built something from scratch, which means I started with zero. I did have a lucky break. By chance I got into photography my senior year of high school. My next door neighbor had been in Viet Nam and won a camera in a poker game and had forgotten how to work it. The deal was to learn how and teach him.

He did, and by graduation of his senior year, he photographed senior prom. Next he worked for a photography studio that needed 13 high school composite shots done in a month.

I got it done for them, and it only took me only 360 hours—90 hours a week. I used to think that was a lot of hours until I went into business for myself. (laughs) It you are willing to work 12-18 hour days, I guarantee that you can do absolutely anything in the world if you want to bad enough. I proved that, but to say I did this all by myself would be a gross exaggeration. I had a whole lot of help from a whole lot of people to make this dream possible including yourselves for coming out to the festival this year.

The color of Castle Gwynn, Welsh for “White Tower,” is typical of medieval castles. Anyone trying to scale these fortresses would have been seen in the dark.

He gives credit to his wife, Jackie Harmon, who he married in 1988, the first wedding held at Castle Gwynn; to his parents, and to a master mason and his four sons who worked with him weekends for almost two years laying the brickwork in the kitchen. They started with 8 brick arches, but by the time they finished, they had 60 of them. 14,000 bricks Hosting four weddings helped with the cost. For the full story and credits of building the castle, go here.






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I asked Mike what inspired a high school senior to want to build a castle. He said when he was five, his father returned from WW2 with a book of postcards of castles along the Rhine River. I asked if any movies or books were influential, and he immediately said Charlton Heston’s The War Lord, a 1965 film about Medieval warfare in 11th century Normandy. His interest in history and sense of humor can be seen throughout the property.




My favorite hero is in the top left corner.

No costume? No worries! But if you want one… there are many on site.









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I confess I returned, too, to stop by the Lady Smith Jewelry booth to look again at her cameo mermaids and sterling silver Celtic pieces.



The Fest runs yearly every weekend of May through Memorial Day. Check schedule for jousting, shows, and castle tours. Vendors for food, beverages, rides and games accept cash only though the admission gate and some vendors accept credit cards. Other Rules of the Realm are here. Stop by, sit a spell, and enjoy the magic.





For a magical perspective, stop by the Tennessee Renaissance Festival.



Discovering Costa Brava, Spain’s Medieval Coast: Part I

Discovering Costa Brava, Spain’s Medieval Coast: Part I


Adventure, beauty, relationship…basic human desires. All were met recently exploring Spain’s Costa Brava (Wild Coast). Between Barcelona and Jimmy Buffett’s Coast of Marseilles, I snorkeled in open waters, biked through Medieval hill towns, and laughed over meals and a pottery wheel with bloggers from Canada, the US, and Europe.

I’m a romantic. I’ve always loved the Middle Ages and the sea. My first fling in Spain in 2009 made me a Gaudi Girl, but this spring I fell in love with the country’s beaches.  I also value independence, freedom. So when I received an invitation to “Discover the Medieval Coast,” a sponsored trip to familiarize travel writers with Catalonia, Spain’s autonomous community, this castle-craving pirate princess was on the boat ready to ride.

Day One began with feeling all Game of Thrones on a walking tour of Lloret de Mar.  The former fishing town with Iberian and Roman ruins was transformed by fortunes made in Spanish-ruled Cuba and was site of the 2015 European  TBEX held days earlier. We followed the seaside promenade to 11th century Castle of Sant Joan, defense against sea attacks.  Though all but the tower was destroyed in 1805 by the British navy battling Spain and France, I climbed along the wall, each turn a new view of waves crashing into coves and crags below.

Once perched at the peak, I remembered Madeleine L’Engle’s words about artists–fitting since Catalonia is the land of free spirits Dali, Picasso, and Gaudi.  But since all of us are creations and creators of our own lives, they speak to moments when we face powerful forces. For this expat writer they are so true:

Artists have always been drawn to the wild, wide elements they cannot control or understand–the sea, the mountains, fire. To be an artist means to approach the light, and that means to let go our control, to allow our whole selves to be placed with absolute faith in what which is greater than we are.

As I headed to l’Esartit, I knew slipping into the sea– becoming one with it–would be wonderful.  And terrifying.

L'Loret de Mar


l'Loret de mar

L'Loret de Mar, Spain

L'Loret promenade

Lloret de Mar

Lloret de Mar

Lloret de Mar

Lloret de Mar

Lloret de Mar

Even when what’s around the corner is painful, when we shift our gaze we see  hope on the horizon.

Lloret de Mar

Lloret de Mar Lloret de Mar Lloret de Mar Lloret de Mar Lloret de Mar Lloret de Mar Lloret de Mar Steps to the sea Lloret de Mar Lloret de Mar


Getting to Lloret de Mar:  The closest airports are Barcelona (airport code BCN), 90km (56 miles) away and Girona-Costa Brava (airport code GRO),  30km (19 miles) away.   I flew RyanAir from Marrakesh.  My flight there was approximately $50/return $21, then took the Sarfa bus, which runs approximately every 30 minutes. Tickets may be purchased at airport bus office or on bus for 10 Euro.

Thank you to Catalunya, Costa Brava Pirineu de Girona, and El Consell Comarcal del Baix Empordà for an amazing stay and introduction to all Costa Brava offers!  Note to readers: the opinions on this 5-Part series are all my own.  I recommend only travel experiences, destinations, services, accommodations, and restaurants I personally enjoyed.