After watching the inspiring 5-part BBC Two Documentary Series #Secrets of the Castle, and reading about the exciting Guédelon castle project on The Good Life France website, I decided to make a trip there, as part of the research for my current novel, Blood Rose Angel, which is set in medieval times. A car journey from my village west of Lyon, up through the picturesque Beaujolais and Burgundy regions brought me to this medieval castle-in-the-making in the heart of the Guédelon forest.
I began my visit with the Guédelon presentation film, shown on a loop in the entrance barn. Then, along with the hundreds of other visitors, I immediately felt welcomed by the relaxed atmosphere and friendly faces of Guédelon’s employees: stonemasons, carpenters, blacksmiths, tilers, weavers, dyers, rope-makers, and many more, all working to revive the medieval crafts and skills required to build such a castle.
To a wide summer audience of every age, these workers were continually on hand to demonstrate and explain our ancestors’ skills: stone quarrying, rope making, blacksmithing, raising roof timbers, firing earth tiles. In fact, the ability to speak with, and entertain, the visiting public, seemed to be just as important as mastering the crafts themselves.
On my stroll around the site with the very knowledgeable International Press Officer/Community Manager, Sarah Preston, I witnessed some of Guédelon’s projects for the year 2015: building the castle’s final rib-vault on the first floor of the chapel tower, completing the northern curtain wall-walk and the wooden gallery skirting around the chapel. Paving tiles were also being laid on the Great Hall floor.
A challenging project of particular interest to me was the hydraulic flour mill. Just as the castle is being built with medieval tools and methods, a flour mill has also been constructed by Guédelon’s carpenters, stonemasons and blacksmiths, with the aim of producing the same type of flour as in the Middle Ages. Based on the remains of a 12th century water mill found in the Jura region, this project is the culmination of three years’ collaboration with archaeologists from Inrap (French National Institute for Preventative Archaeological Research). The baker even offered us a hunk of bread made from the Guédelon-ground flour and baked in the castle’s oven, which proved quite tasty!
Hot, dusty, but infinitely more knowledgeable about the internal and external construction of a medieval castle, as well as its related industries: tiling, weaving, painting and farming, amongst many others, my pleasant visit ended with another of Guédelon’s new and innovative projects– the film “Rendez-vous with the Stonemasons”.
Aware that it was becoming increasingly difficult for visitors to have direct contact with the builders on the chapel tower, the Guédelon staff took the decision to film the key events of the vault construction. In an open-air, but shaded space, with welcome bench seats to rest one’s weary feet, this film is screened several times a day (in French with English subtitles). One of Guédelon’s fixer-masons is present throughout, to answer any questions from the visitors.
Author Liza Perrat grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years. When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her family ever since. Find out more about Liza at lizaperrat.com
Love castles? Have a listen to our Amazing Castles of France podcast!