Last Updated on December 4, 2016 by Jody Halsted
We love castles and have wandered through quite a few. The Tower of London… Westminster… Bunratty… Ross… But all the castles we have explored have been hundreds of years old and either beautifully restored or in ruins. The Ozark Medieval Fortress is just the opposite… It's new. And being built right now. By hand. Using 13th century tools and techniques. It's an incredible undertaking that will take nearly 20 years to complete.
A Castle in the Making
The Fortress sits in the middle of a hilly, forested area- it is the Ozarks- not far off highway 65 about half an hour south of Branson, Missouri. It is a short stroll from the large parking area to the visitors center (closer parking is available for disabled visitors). Stop in the visitors center to pay your admission, meet your guide if you have chosen a guided tour, or pick up a visitors map for a self tour. Restroom facilities are also available- thankfully featuring 20th century plumbing!
Touring the Fortress Grounds
Your tour will take you through time, beginning with an example of the wooden fort that preceded castles built of stone. From there you'll meet the GoodWitch and learn about spinning and dying wool, the uses- beyond eating- of herbs and vegetables and the animals that she would have cared for.
The girls were fascinated as they watched chunks of wool become a yarn used for clothing and they listened attentively as they were told how the dyes were made to color the wool; everything from plants and bugs to minerals are ground or boiled and then added to the wool. For a small fee we were able to create bracelets from the hand spun and dyed wool- a souvenir with a story.
The girls also helped a bit in the gardens. The GoodWitch pointed out different herbs and vegetables and their uses- onions for poultices, lavender to sooth, garlic the wonder bulb, potatoes to eat- as Brenna and Caelan pulled tall weeds. They were awarded for their hard work by getting to feed the weeds to the friendly sheep!
As you stroll along the path you'll see signs that will help you better understand how people lived in the Middle Ages. I strongly recommend a guided tour as James is a wealth of knowledge and can answer any questions you throw at him. He'll tell you why many castles fell to siege (and why this one wouldn't), show you how complex measurements were done using only a knotted rope and give you his take on romance and gallantry. James holds a degree in European history and writes a fascinating blog about the Ozark Fortress and Medieval life.
Approaching the Castle
As you come to the quarry you know you are getting close to the castle. Just around the corner you'll come to the stable where you will find a couple of donkeys and the huge Belgian, Honey, if they aren't out working. Caelan found the white donkey to be very affectionate. This was her favorite part of the day; she didn't want to leave “her donkey” and we had to return to say goodbye.
Surrounding the castle are the artisan workshops. Stonecutters who craft the stone, taking up to three days to craft a stone for a doorway; the blacksmith who creates and fixes tools, brackets, chains and also crafts horseshoes, armor and chain mail; the carpenter who fixes tool handles, creates hoisting machines and scaffolding and builds the workshops; as well as loggers, potters, rope makers, masons and stone cutters. Taking the time to speak with the artisans as they work is enlightening. In our “get it done and move on the the next thing” world watching them work and take such pride in their craft is a much needed reality check.
In the stone carvers workshop you have another chance to take home a unique souvenir- try your hand at carving a design into a piece of stone.
Be sure to take your time and talk to the artisans who are working before you explore the castle as it will help you notice their handiwork when it is before you. Seeing the rounded door edgings and the perfectly straight lines of the arrow slits is so much more impressive when you've seen the work that goes into it.
If it is not being used be sure to ask someone to demonstrate the magnificent tread wheel crane. With it a single man can “lift” a 2.5 ton stone.
As you leave be sure to browse the gift shop. Not only will you find some very authentic souvenirs (like the popular dried horse dung shaped like horses) but you'll also see images of how the castle is planned to look as it progresses.
We look forward to visiting through the years as the castle rises.
Tips for Your Visit to the Ozark Medieval Fortress
Remember that this is a construction site. Be aware of your surroundings, listen to and follow directions.
Although the paths are ADA accessible you are in the Ozarks. Wear hiking boots or sturdy walking shoes.
Bring bug spray and remember to check for ticks when you leave. For added protection wear a hat.
Picnic areas are available; the gift shop does sell drinks and ice cream (perfect at the end of a tour on a hot day!)
Tickets can be purchased online or at the gift shop.
*Children under 5: free
*Ages 6-16 $9
*Ages 17 & up $18
*Add the 1 hour guided tour for $2 per person
The Ozark Medieval Fortress in financed entirely through entrance fees and private funding.