I’m continuing my discovery of the Burgundy region in France, taking my time to explore the Top 50 places in France on a whim.
(See more WHY I’m doing this and where I started the journey here at Virtual Tour of Les Hospices de Beaune)
This morning, I checked out of the delightful accomodation and had a quiet breakfast alone in the restaurant. The only words I muttered was a “bonjour” and a “merci” when I was escorted to my table laid out with a white tablecloth and silver ware.
I love early morning time when I travel and I’m the first one in the hotel restaurant for breakfast. People still dozing in their rooms before the chaotic morning rush over the bain marie for the last croissant or piece of bacon.
First things first, coffee.
I look around the room, no coffee. The hotel staff sees me while she’s getting the room ready and instantly recognises what I’m after. I nod a thank you.
As she puts a cup of steaming hot brewed coffee (on a saucer!) on the table, I plan out the day ahead.
Today, I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do.
In some way, it scares me but in other ways it excites me. It will mean getting my hands dirty, working with some carpentry tools I’ve never used before and the most difficult of all, it will put my french to the test!
I will be visiting and undertaking a few days of back breaking work on the construction site of Guédelon.
Guédelon is the site of a medieval castle and they call it “experimental archaeology in action”. It is a place where you can contribute and build the castle all the while learning about sustainable building practices.
No lathe, electric drills and noisy machines anywhere.
It’s all about medieval tools and materials.
There is something delightful about going somewhere and only hearing birds and the sounds of hammers banging on stone and wood.
Having said that, I do hope I don’t get the first shift working in the quarry smashing stone. That would kill my lower back.
Oh hang on, this is a virtual tour. I have no back pain. In fact, I have no pain at all. I can do EVERYTHING. There are no limitations.
Right. It’s time to head off. Allons-y, c’est parti!
En Route to Guèdelon
Getting to Guédelon will take me about 2 hours.
The website says, “must have your own transport”. However, with the transport I’ve organised, unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot more than that.
Ah, here’s my transport right now. This is going to be interesting. I’ve organised a horse-led Romany Caravan (gypsy caravan).
How do we put petrol in that?!
Checking my map, it looks like there’s a huge National Park, Parc Du Morvan in the area and the horse can get fed and watered there I suppose. I do hope that while there, I can stop over to see the home of the hobbit. Yannick Boisfard has created this delightful hobbit home in the heart of the National Park. He sent me a text saying that he’ll put the coffee on and wait for me so he can show me around.
I do hope that I don’t have to bend down to get into his house because THAT would surely hurt my lower back! 😂
Getting to Guedelon was a nightmare to say the least. Or I think it was. I was asleep at the wheel for most of it!
The clip clopping of the horse put me to sleep at the wheel and I nearly had an accident as it seemed to have a mind of its own wandering off, stopping to chew grass from the side of the road. I couldn’t find the brakes so I shrugged my shoulders and went back to sleep.
After all, this is a virtual journey. I was going to rely on the cyber gods to get me to Guedelon with a click of a mouse button.
I arrived at Guedelon and parked the horse and caravan in the car park and only realised that I had no idea how it was going to get fed and watered for the next few days. Oh crap.
I looked at my watch and wondered where my friend Megan Strant @MeganStrant was who was joining me on this leg of the journey. I hoped that she was not on some train stopped in the middle of nowhere because some cow was sleeping on the tracks (after my own horse journey everything is possible) and was being chatted up by some good looking 40 year old French talent agent who wanted to practice speaking English. It’s tough being a woman alone in Europe. I hope she’s on high alert.
Within minutes, my Twitter notifications pinged and I checked my message. it was Megan!
Once inside and after I check ourselves in and get the welcome introduction to what we will be doing.
My first job is with Loulou at the limestone kiln. I can tell you it was really hard work – and HOT! I had to go into the kiln (I hate tight spaces) and collect firewood to get it going. I had to get it going before 9am and then add the firewood to it so it could keep going for 3 days! I smoked the whole place out.
(He had a genius idea of putting stones around the vents that acted as windbreaks!)
Luckily I wasn’t needed to oversee the lime burning (although I had, what we called back in my old Navy days, the “guts watch” or otherwise know as the ‘middle watch’ which is pretty much the worst watch of all.
It’s midnight to 4 am.
I have to be back here and supervise the burning at this godforsaken hour and then run the fire for three days.
However, I don’t mind as I don’t get to do this every day (unless you count starting and stoking the fire for the lamb on the spit every year for Greek Easter). There’s something about a fire that is enthralling and addictive. You can talk about it for hours and spend ages on it looking at how you’re going to stoke it to keep it going. There’s a real science about it and it puts you in a deep meditative state.
I loved Guèdelon so much that I decided to stay a week to have an opportunity to see most of the processes. Everyone who visited thought the same!
Things took a bit longer than usual because you had to plan and prepare, make and then wait for things to dry. For example, I spent some time with Bruno the Tiler. I love pottery so it was an opportunity to make some roof tiles and see how they were made.
As the tiles go to the higher parts of the roof, they are made slimmer to give the eye the optical illusion of it being even – also they aren’t even – but I’m not convinced they would keep rain out. Maybe the shape of the tile means the water flows down and not into the abode?
However, as I couldn’t explain my thinking in French, I kept my mouth shut and worked on.
(For readers, I was so enamoured with the this castle and watched the excellent series of the Fires of Guèdelon which is highly recommended)
Overall, Guèdelon was a life changing experience for me (if you can say, in the course of a week, my life was changed).
It made me realise the importance of keeping the old skills and practices alive. To some people, this would be a wasted effort because there’s no ultimate result.
What are you learning it for?
Why are you spending so much time learning a lost or dying craft?
Is it even necessary in this world where it’s all about learning something that will find you a job, build you a business, make money, become rich and famous or some thought leader spruiking your services and products?
It is something that I’ve often wondered for many years because I’ve gone against the traditional thinking of my peers in my field – and others – who would say that learning old skills are in effect a waste of time and effort. I never saw that at all.
To me, learning these are purely for the love of learning, appreciating the craft and finding new meaning in them – as well as a personal growth and self-development opportunity.
It is time for me now to say ‘au revoir’ to Guèdelon and thank you for the memories which I will hold dear. Not only have I learned about construction in the Middle Ages, I have made some new friends and my French language has improved drastically although I don’t know where I’m going to use French medieval tool names in every day dialogue.
I remind myself to send a note to my friend Gilbert (@KruidConsulting) who would have loved to experienced this but alas, he’s….
See? What did I say about fire? Everyone loves a fire.
Right, off to the next town.
I’m going to end my journey here. No, I did not leave my horse and Romany Caravan in the car park while I was here as I had it sorted to be removed.
You’ll have to wait for my next instalment as I have no plans for where to next as it’s going to be sad to be leaving Guedelon. I have made new friends here, a couple called Marcel and Elizabeth who are leaving at the same time and they offered me a lift to where I’m going next.
Guess I have to start planning that out now.
À tout à l’heure!