WHEN most people start a restoration project in France they don’t usually have to learn ancient building techniques or deal with the discovery of human skeletons.
But for Harry Atterton and his wife Jacqueline these challenges are all part and parcel of bringing back to life one of the oldest castles in France.
Le Donjon du Faucon Noir, near Tours, dates back over 1,000 years and has been named the ‘grandfather of all castles’, but for a place with such a proud past it was found by Harry in very poor condition and gave him the chance to restore a true piece of history.
“The castle goes back as far as William the Conqueror and was the basis of many in both Britain and France, “ Harry said.
Harry and Jacqueline have spent the past 20 years in France, moving over from Canada, although Harry originally hails from Whitby in the north of England. They have transformed a chateau in Berry into a hotel and restaurant and in 1999 began work on Faucon Noir.
The castle sits on a cliff overlooking the River Indre in the village of Montbazon and dominates the view for miles around. But with the castle using building techniques stretching back over the centuries, there has been much for local artisans to learn.
“The skills of the stonemasons and builders we have used to do some of the work has been incredible, and they have passed what they’ve learnt on to their apprentices,” Harry said.
“Although sometimes you never know what you are going to discover when working on a building this old, often you will cross a body that would have been dumped in the moat or fallen into the foundations.
“But because of their age there is no need to report the finding to the authorities, so you just check how they are, and carry on working around them.”
The French authorities are supportive of Harry’s work, because with 36,000 castles dotted across the country they are keen to see this heritage restored, although this support is in more of an advisory role than financial.
And Harry, who has just turned 70, is not ready to hang up his work tools just yet to enjoy retirement as he has plans for another project.
“We have put Le Donjon du Faucon Noir up for sale as the work is finished and there is a business ready for someone to take on as it is now possible to welcome visitors and for them to enjoy its history,” Harry said.
“So our next project is a castle in Normandy, it’s a bit like William the Conqueror in reverse, as the English head off into a corner of France.”