Secrets of the Castle, BBC 2: TV review: Like being cornered at a party by a medieval history bore


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The Independent Culture

Born-too-late trio Ruth Goodman, Peter Ginn and Tom Pinfold will not be happy until a time machine is invented that can collect them from our present age of convenience and deposit them a few hundred years ago, where they can toil away to their hearts' content. In the meantime, though, there's Secrets of the Castle with Ruth, Peter and Tom, the latest from the team that brought us Tudor Monastery Farm.

They arrived at Guédelon, 100 miles south of Paris, already decked out in their period clothes (much-loved costumes brought from home, no doubt) and were introduced to master mason, Florian. Florian is just one of the many expert craftsman working on this extraordinary 25-year project to build a medieval castle using only 13th-century tools and techniques. "I prefer the image of the musical conductor," he said grandly. "We have to be all working at the same time. This is very important."

Without further ado, they got stuck into a show that combines an ambitious episode of Grand Designs with The Supersizers Eat...Medieval. If you found Sue Perkins' quips annoying on Supersizers, you're in luck, because here humour has been replaced by an unusual level of technical detail. The boys learnt about how a blacksmith sharpens chisels on a fire and lifted blocks of stone atop a tower by running in a wooden treadmill, like two over-grown hamsters. In her wattle and daub hovel, meanwhile, Ruth helped construct a grain arc with no nails or glue and prepared an evening meal from dandelions – "Anything to get a bit of bite!" It's a workshop in the forgotten crafts of construction and housekeeping.

Sometimes, Secrets of the Castle is like being cornered at a party by a medieval history bore. Anyone who listened attentively to Peter's detailed explanation of the different types of sandstone, for instance, deserves an honorary geology degree – but the re-creation approach to history still reliably uncovers imagination-firing details. Did you know that many English villages originated in the rubble of castle construction sites just like this one?