Sorry for the silence over the past couple of days… it’s that time of year when you still want to relax, but also need to gear up for the new year!
The day after visiting Nottingham Castle, we travelled further south for the famous Warwick Castle. We had to squeeze this castle into an afternoon because we also visited the nearby Cadbury World in the morning, because chocolate. In the long run I’m glad we put these two together, because we certainly needed to do a lot of walking for all the chocolate we sampled!
Upon fist arriving at Warwick Castle it was very clear that this castle was going to be much different to the others we had visited (except perhaps Alnwick Castle), as it is very, very commercialised. This isn’t much of a surprise as the castle was sold to The Tussauds Groups in 1978, and later incorporated into Merlin Entertainments in 2007. However, the commercialisation isn’t necessary a bad thing, as the companies have been directly responsible for the painstaking restoration of the castle to its current glory.
However, don’t think for even a second that Warwick Castle was never a “real” castle. It has a long and very impressive history. Ethelfleda, the daughter of Alfred the Great, was amongst the first to recognise the geographical importance of the site, ordering a fortification to be built in 914. William the Conqueror also recognised the point, ordering a motte and bailey castle to be built in 1068. Incredibly, two features of the landscape are the remains of this castle; the mound on which the keep would have been built, and a sunken ditch outside of the castle. Warwick Castle enjoyed the height of its fortunes under the de Beauchamp family, who owned it for 181 years. Since then, the castle has fluctuated between ruins, stately homes, and even the base for party weekends! Today the state rooms are staged to show off different time periods, and the scene is set well with the addition of life-like mannequins. I also was very impressed by the collection of weapons in the Great Hall!
What I discovered in my visit to Warwick Castle is that when you are talking about the castle, you are talking about a building that has played host to some of the most influential men in history. The two that stuck out in my mind were Richard de Beauchamp, who oversaw the trial of Joan of Arc; and Richard Neville, also known as “Warwick the Kingmaker”, who deposed two kings; King Henry VI and King Edward IV. Scary, important people!
Impressive history aside, there are plenty of other things to do and see at Warwick Castle, and there were two that struck me in particular. The first was the jousting demonstration. The castle was actually granted a jousting licence in 1194, and it’s the same licence that allows them to joust today! To get to the display, we exited the Central Court, walked behind The Mound and down to the Avon River. There we crossed the bridge to get to the River Island. The island actually has a long history as the spot for entertainment; in the 1890s it housed a menagerie inhabited by Japanese deer, Chinese geese, an emu (Australia represent!), raccoons, ant bears, and even a baby elephant! However, on this day in August, it was a crowd of people and a few horses that used the space. The jousting display had a plot line, but to be honest, I was there for the precise horsemanship and showy sword fighting… which is exactly what I got! The knights were very impressive both on and off the horses (and easy on the eyes, which always helps!), and the squires were fantastic at keeping the crowd entertained. Definitely worth the visit if you’re at the castle, although I recommend getting down there early as they block the bridge when the island is full!
After the jousting, my Dad and I decided to take on the wall work. Don’t let the 500+ steps put you off… it really isn’t as hard as you’d think! We first climbed Guy’s Tower, 39 m (128 ft) tall, and completed in 1395. From there, it’s across the wall, through the Gate House, and up Caesar’s Tower, 44 m (144 ft) tall and completed in 1350. Both towers offer their own unique historical events and beautiful views of the castle buildings and surrounding town. Both towers are also unusually shaped for English towers; Guy’s Tower is polygonal whilst Caesar’s Tower is quatrefoil.
Unfortunately, after completing the wall walk, it was near closing time and we had to make our way out. I’m both happy and unhappy about only giving Warwick Castle a half-day. Whilst I didn’t get to see everything, I did prioritise the things I wanted most. I don’t think it would have been easy to tear myself away from the birds of prey display, grounds exploration, gardens, archery, trebuchet display, castle dungeons, and fighting demonstrations if I had the whole day there! But luckily the castle caters to people like me… with some fancy looking accommodation, so you can spend as long as you want there!
To me, Warwick Castle seems like the place that would have something for everyone; important history, fun activities, and wonderful demonstrations. Be sure to put it on your attraction list if you’re heading off to the UK for a holiday! But if crowds aren’t your thing, get there as early as you can, because there will be crowds and lines everywhere!