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Peter Ginn's Adventures in Guédelon

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Peter Ginn's Adventures in Guédelon, part 1

Testing out the treadmill on recce, Jan 2014

Testing out the treadmill on recce, Jan 2014

Armed with a French phrase book and my trusty pair of rigger boots I gently woke my fellow presenter, Tomo, who was slumbering on my couch. It was time to go to France and travel to the world's largest experimental archaeology project: Guédelon. Back in 1997 a group of French archaeologists, heritage builders and historians had embarked upon building a castle from scratch using only the tools and techniques available in the 13th century. 

 

Tom and I left my flat and engaged in the short walk to the Eurostar in London. Here I said "hello" to our executive producer and our production manager and then I said "goodbye" to everyone. They were all travelling by train but muggins had volunteered to travel over to Lion Television in Hammersmith, help the director load a transit van, set off to France (via Ebbsfleet International to pick up our sound man) to arrive in the north west corner of Burgundy sometime around midnight.

 

The monotony of the van ride was punctuated by two major events. Firstly, we were travelling with all the articulated trucks on the euro tunnel. As we arrived at the terminal we took a wrong turn and ended up in the truck x-ray machine. 

Inside the office where you have to stand, as all your sensitive film equipment is getting a hefty dose of radiation, there are a number of pictures of trucks in the machine that clearly show people or guns or explosives. Our x-ray showed a badly packed van that contained a couple of cameras, some sound gear, a Brompton bike and tea making facilities; although we were travelling to the land of wine, coffee and service stations that served île flottante,there was a vicious rumour going round that the French didn't do a good cup of tea.

 

As I watched our van getting x-rayed, I thought to myself just how different this project was going to be. Every other "farm" programme we had embarked upon we had brought buildings from the period to life. However, this time we were going to witness a building during its construction. A building that didn't exist when I was at school.

 

The second major event of our journey (I have mentally blocked out the wacky races that is the Paris périphérique) was a wall that we could see from the road. It was well constructed and quite picturesque. It was somewhere near Fontainebleau. Our Soundman became very animated. 

 

We arrived at our destination during the witching hour and unloaded ready for our first day on site. When morning came, we made our way through the early sunlight and low hanging mist to the forest in which the castle of Guédelon is being built. Walking around it was hard to remember that prior to 1997 all that was here was a disused sandstone quarry.

Shovelling mortar - March 2014

Shovelling mortar - March 2014

It was in the quarry that we were to begin our journey. Before you can build a castle like Guédelon you first need stone. My vision of a castle quarry was an area that was being worked by gangs of people. Hard work and multiple man hours. The reality is that two guys working in the quarry can supply enough stone for the castle building project.  To cut the stone you first need to read the stone, know how it lies and what it will do when you hit it. However, with an expert eye the effort required is greatly reduced and a small hole here, a wedge there and a good tap with a sledge hammer and you have another stone ready to be dressed and go to the castle.

 

Getting stone up to the great tower we had to use the double tread wheel. Guédelon call them "squirrel cages". Both Tom and I grew up with Star Wars and felt that it was like being in the gun tower of the Millennium Falcon. It is quite strange standing in this wooden cage with a view out over the forest as someone behind and below you turns you into position.

 

I've always had a good imagination and when we were hauling up stone I kept imagining the arm snapping and the cage being pulled off the tower. Tom and I had agreed that if that happened we would look at each other and give it the Roger Moore eyebrow. 

On our way to work - March 2014

On our way to work - March 2014

Using the cage was almost our most expensive filming day. I took the 5DS camera (an SLR stills camera that takes amazing HD video) and filmed as Tom and I were walking in the squirrel cage. I then pushed the camera out the side of the cage as I was still walking to give it back to our director. He didn't see it so I took my arm back in. I almost kept it out a split second longer and if I had it would have been mangled by the squirrel cage.

 

When we filmed Edwardian Farm we destroyed a camera in the mine with all the dust. We also destroyed a camera when the director got his car stuck in the mud in the dark and Alex and I had to push him out. Everything got covered in mud and then we couldn't find the P2 camera. Turned out it took the brunt of the mud spray.

 

Once the stone was up the tower it was time to lay them in place. I never appreciated just how precisely every stone has to be laid. Every so often the castle puts in a levelling course which allows them to take stock of the building and progress from a known point.

 

The project has given me an amazing appreciation of the processes and skills involved in building a castle but my next instalment will look at how to defend a                                                                                       castle. 

Go to the website: Watch clips from the series "Secrets of the Castle" and more behind the scenes info...

 

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