Hurrying back to Castelnaud to not miss a minute of opening hours, we pass under Beynac castle, squaring off with Castelnaud across the valley like fighters in their corners. Ooohhh, this one looks even cooler.
No stopping. We're on a mission. If there's daylight left for it, we'll come back.
There's a gift shop just below the castle keeping the same hours, and we stop there first. So as not to find ourselves exiting the castle after a well-savored visit to find them closing up and putting that toy ballista in the window forever out of reach, you understand. Darrell scores a put-together trebuchet and a url to order the other models.
Restored in the 20th century from a sad wreck, Castelnaud today is an excellent visit, concentrating on the warrior side of the medieval period. That's the part that Darrell likes best.
Inside, there's a video on trebuchets subtitled in english, apparently taken right here on the grounds or nearby. The engines are out in the yard, the very ones!
Then arms, and armor, guard rooms, towers with very short doors and narrow stairways, a few historical presentations. In role-playing games characters are always swinging their broadswords and maces in stairway fights, backing each other up two abreast. Yeah right! You couldn't swing your fist here without scraping your knuckles on the far wall and/or losing your balance on the steps 16 inches wide and just five deep, knocking all your buddies behind you down to the landing.
Of course, nobody ever really fought inside the corridors of these castles in armor and big weapons. They did that in the keep and on the battlements and eventually the major rooms. If the enemy got inside at all, it was because the battle was done.
Like here, when the English held Castelnaud in the 100 Years War, the French set up camp outside, set up their trebuchets, and laid siege. When eventually the defenders gave out, the takeover didn't involve swordplay indoors. It's all right there in the diorama.
We visit the ramparts, and the wooden hourds sticking out from the tower walls with their slots for pouring nasty things on attackers, and the collection of war machines in the yard. It's a shame you're not allowed to try them out, though I'll bet there are demonstrations in the summer.
There is some light left as we make our way back to Beynac. Castelnaud is small, and you only visit part of it. With no time spent on other aspects of medieval life, it's not more than a 2-hour visit.
To Castelnaud's pale ochre sandstone, Beynac is grey and somber. Again perched on a summit, its feet in its village, it too has been restored from near ruin. For centuries nobody really cared to preserve the medival fortresses that nobody lived in or used any more. These aren't late-Renaissance castles - which are often more manor house than defensive structure - and as people moved away from feudalism they used the old castles as quarries. Big pile of ready-cut stone, right there.
This time we just poke around the outside. They're closed, and the sun is setting and the temperature is dropping, so it's time to hit the road for home.