Friday, April 30, 2010

Falconry Demonstrations Part of Opening Day Activities of Ozark Medieval Fortress

Watch as stone masons, blacksmiths, basket weavers, rope makers and a falconer transport an Arkansas Ozark hillside into medieval times on May 1, when the Ozark Medieval Fortress in Lead Hill opens to the public.

Workers clad in the authentic garb and using materials and techniques of the 13th century are building a genuine medieval castle in the Arkansas Ozark Mountains. A team of historians, architectural experts, and passionate builders are constructing the castle with 45-feet-high towers, a drawbridge, moats, and 6-foot-wide stone walls surrounding an inner yard.

Construction, which started in the fall of 2009, will not be finished when the attraction opens. Part of the allure will be watching 30 masons, carpenters, lumberjacks, and stone carvers work to complete the castle with only medieval tools. The project is supervised by Franco-American scientists with special knowledge of ancient building techniques. It will not be an amusement park, but an educational, environmental and scientific attraction venue.

This socio-historic project is the brainchild of Michel Guyot, who launched a similar concept in Burgundy, France 10 years ago with great success. The idea to build a fortress in Arkansas was born when a French couple who had relocated to the United States visited the Castle of Saint-Fargeau in central France and met owner Guyot. After discussion, they realized that there were no 13th century fortified American castles in the United States and decided to start the castle project, not as a vision of an event in American history, but as a rich and unique educational treasure.

Along with watching the builders, visitors can view other artisans producing tools such as rope and baskets that are used to for construction. As part of the grand opening activities at the Ozark Medieval Fortress, Richard Swinney, a licensed falconer, will be on hand to provide an historical interpretation of hunting techniques using live animals. Falconry is the taking of wild quarry with a trained bird of prey. Although this form of hunting has been practiced for thousands of years, it was particularly popular during the Middle Ages.

Hunting was a prominent part of medieval life, providing both food and recreation. Swinney and three other members of the Bramble Schoole of Defence, a scholarly historical reenactment group based in Springfield, Missouri, will be displaying, discussing and demonstrating a wide array of weapons, equipment and techniques employed in medieval hunting.

“He has a greyhound, a falcon and a ferret,” explained Julie Sonveau, general manager of the castle project. “They will have an encampment here and will be walking around and giving demonstrations throughout the day.”

The fortress accepts volunteers interested in experiencing and helping with construction. Special events will be offered each year, including demonstrations of catapults starting in 2011. Admission is $12 for adults, $8 for kids, and will be free for ages 5 and under.

Lead Hill is located halfway between Springfield, Missouri and Little Rock, Arkansas. Group tours are available. For more information, visit or call 870-436-7625. The fortress can be followed on Facebook or at usacastle on Twitter.

by Jill Rohrbach, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

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