Just spent several hours at the Ozark Medieval Fortress today.
Wow! What a great experience! This fortress is a castle being built from scratch here on American soil in the northern reaches of Arkansas, just an hour south of Branson, Missouri. This was an idea that came from the French project started about ten years ago. It will take about 20 years to built the castle in it's entirety. You can go to ozarkmedievalfortress.com to get all the info. Some people may not want to travel three hours to see "only" the foundation of a castle, but that was really only part of the attraction.
We started with a tour from the Visitors center, and circled through the woods.
James - the tour guide extraordinaire
I really enjoyed the tour; I learned so much, even though I've been researching the middle ages for a couple of years now. The guides were well-informed and made intelligent comparisons with modern times so that various concepts could be understood. There was a motte and bailey fortress built on the grounds that I was not expecting. It was such a lovely surprise. The guides explained the changes to the palisade style fort from Roman days to our forts in America that were used as defense from the Native Americans.
There was a weaver and her various dyed wool, sheep (one could feed them for a $1 a bag ), a garden with the various kinds of plants (food, medicinal, dyes, spices) and then we came to the quarry. I really enjoyed seeing the guide there explain the way to find the seams in the rock and demonstrating the breaking of dolomite limestone from the quarry itself and then into smaller pieces. I learned what a "man-sized" stone was. And no, it wasn't 2 meters high.
Jacob- the quarryman
Then, we arrived at the castle sight. And even though there was no part higher than ten feet, it was still very impressive. All of the foundation was laid out and since it was on a hillside, some parts were higher than others. We could enter some of the towers' ground levels. It was amazing the workmanship on the stone, especially the doors and arrow-loop windows. I got into a wonderful conversation with one of the stonemasons and he was quite helpful and very informative.
Brad- the stone mason
He explained the ratio mix of the mortar (lime and sand mixed with water) and how it was actually cheaper for them to import the lime from France than to get it down the road. We talked of masons and the amount of men needed to build a castle and the length of time required. The whole while, he was on the wall, working and I was squinting up at him and his co-worker.
There are nine people employed to work at the castle site, including the quarrymen, the masons and the guides.
Anthony- Mason, rope-maker, quarry worker (Jack of all trades)
Others are volunteers who give their time to come and demonstrate their crafts. One such was the knight, Sir Eric and his squire, Brom. I had a lengthy conversation with the both of them about their armor, weapons, heraldry (the colors and pictures on their shields) and all sorts of other things. Sir Eric told me he had been doing reenactments for years and when he moved from the west coast, found Arkansas lacking in numbers when it came to medieval enthusiasts. Not many others in northern Arkansas wanted to spend their free time in sword-play. So he recruited a young friend of a friend ... and soon he had himself a squire. They did some great hand-to-hand combat with full chain mail on Sir Eric and leather armor on Brom. They used wooden weapons, but I'm sure their bruises were real enough. In the end, both were fantastic sources of information.
(Wish I had a photo of them, but unfortunately, I forgot my camera!)
There was also a young tour guide, Luke, who I discovered was their resident blacksmith. He worked the bellows and hammered out iron, showing us how he was working on some Damascus steel knife blades. Some of his work was for sale in the gift shop. It was great to see him work
. Luke- the blacksmith
Then in the gift-shop, I spoke with Mardie who takes tickets, runs the cash-register and seems to keep things running.
She was a fountain of information and so accommodating. She had some great suggestions, reading-wise and gave me a little more background on the whole castle project. She really "sold" the place with her enthusiasm. And when she demonstrated the little model trebuchet (a sort-of slingshot catapult) built by Jean-Marc Mirat (the Frenchman who owns the land the castle was built on), well, I was "sold" on that too. I had to bring one home for my boys.
So, I'd like to say a great big THANK YOU to the wonderful folks at the Ozark Medieval Fortress and for all the extra time they gave today in teaching and sharing. It was a fabulous experience.