Forges de Pyrene

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This is made up of two museums. Musée des Metiers d’Autrefois is an open air museum tracing the history of over 120 different trades and crafts. It has a daily programme of activities. Musé de Fer covers the history of mining and steel working in the area and is the home of the last working tilt hammer .

That is what the internet said. The general information book about the area from tourist information gave the impression that there were demonstrations of different crafts. We were really looking forward to the visit.

The museum is on a large site in the centre of Montgaillard village, just south of Foix. It has a huge car park which was busy when we arrived. There was a large banner by the entrance proclaiming ‘Fete du Pain 19th Mai’ . This sounded interesting.

There was a long and very slow moving queue for tickets. We were given a plan of the site and a brief explanation in English about what was happening. We were warned there was no English information on the site and the activities were all in French.

There is a large exhibition hall with a series of displays about old trades and the tools connected to them. These covered crafts from bee keeping to hat making with wheelwrights, blacksmiths, saddler, candle maker, glass manufacture, clay roof tiles, barrel making…. There was a dentist chair, cow bells, post boxes, fire engine.

Outside there is a large open barn containing carts and agricultural machinery, none labelled. There was a building containing a blacksmith’s forge, a bakers oven with a large demonstration area outside and a long building containing clog maker and comb maker. Another building contained a band saw. There was a ‘traveil de marechal ferrant’, a wooden cow restraint with leather restraining straps used to hoof cows. There was also a woman spinning.

There was a series of 30minute ‘animations’ during the day. We decided to start with the clog maker, hoping to watch a demonstration of clog making. In fact it was a 30minute talk in very fast French. The only demonstration was to slice a thin piece of wood off a wooden log. We were shown the machine used to shape clogs and the tools for hollowing out the centres and how they checked size. We think the talk must have been entertaining as everyone kept laughing. We managed to pick up the occasional sentence but it was a long half hour on a very hard bench seat. I was reduced to looking at the paw prints of a cat in the tiles on the floor. There was no chance or time to ask questions. We decided if the other ‘animations’ were similar, there wasn’t much point in us going to them.

The Fete du Pain consisted of a 30 minute talk about bread and the different sorts and a 30 minute chance to make your own bread. It was mainly children doing this and they were having a lovely time and getting very sticky hands. It was interesting to see the wood fired bread oven in use.

There was a sampling table with breads made from different sorts of flour including chestnut, maize and rye. We particularly liked the chestnut flour which made the bread light and gave it a lovely flavour. There were honeys, rhubarb jam, local cheese and pâté to taste.

The tilt hammer is in a separate building, La Forge à Martinet. This is a big, dirty building with forge and a waterwheel working the tilt hammer. This was a massive beam of wood with cogs. There was that typical and very evocative ingrained smell of coal and heat everywhere.

The ‘animation’ began and two pieces of metal were put in the fire to warm up. There were a couple of brief demonstrations of how the water flow to the waterwheel was controlled. We waited and waited. After about 20 minutes, the iron was hot enough, the waterwheel started and the tilt hammer began to work. It was well worth the wait and was fascinating to watch how the metal was manipulated first to make the ‘handle’ of the blade and secondly the central ridge in the blade. The noise was deafening. This was sheer naked power at work.

The museum is quite expensive at €8 entry and we felt it didn’t deliver good value for us. The tilt hammer was well worth seeing but we were very disappointed by the animations as we had expected demonstrations rather than a talk. Not speaking French fluently was a disadvantage.

The shop was disappointing too.

We wouldn’t bother about visiting again and would only recommend a visit if you can understand rapid spoken French and have a particular interest in old crafts.

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