I think we’ve hinted before that we are big fans of the Horrible Histories books and TV show (with the kids overheard reciting the chorus to the song listing every British monarch in history). We always had plans to visit a castle or two across England, Wales and Ireland we were lucky to receive a Christmas gift from the kids’ grandparents of two days at the Disneyland of British castles – Warwick Castle.
Whilst we love the atmosphere of a windswept ruin, this castle has beautifully decorated interiors evoking different eras – from a vaulted medieval banquet hall complete with suits of armours and hanging banners to Victorian-era drawing rooms.
Situated on the Avon River a couple of hours drive from London, the castle and/or its inhabitants have played a role in pretty much every major event in English history since it was founded in 914 as a modest fortified settled by Ethelfleda, the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great (why had we never heard of her before??). It was subsequently ‘upgraded’ to a wooden hill fort by William the Conqueror in 1068, and a hundred years later into a stone keep castle by King Henry II.
It’s possible to see a lot of the castle in one day but we recommend two days, especially in high season there’s even more activities scheduled and when the lines can be long. Being winter and a weekday, we had the castle largely to ourselves and had a total ball with the benefit of being able to visit a couple of the attractions twice. The fact a castle can keep our kids thoroughly entertained for two straight days speaks volumes.
So, what is there to do? There’s a wonderful Time Tower exhibit that take you through the castle history, Kingmaker exhibit (about Richard Neville’s role in the 15th century English Civil War), Princess Tower, Victorian-era exhibit, gaol, several towers and ramparts to explore (with exploding lungs from all those steps!), and extensive gardens with roaming peacocks.
Many of these exhibits were wonderfully detailed in fully recreated settings complete with realistic wax figures that visitors can freely walk around.
But occupying number ONE position is the Horrible Histories Maze – hilarious and informative.
There are numerous guided talks throughout the day, bird of prey shows (a large kite swooped so low over the tops of our heads it sent us all ducking for cover and anything you might have heard about me squealing is just a vicious rumour), archery and, during peak times, light shows, medieval tournaments and trebuchet demonstrations. We only steered clear of the live dungeon show on the basis of the age and easily-terrified disposition of our kids.
We stayed overnight in the neighbouring Knights Village, a cluster of modern, comfortable, medieval-themed wooden cabins on a sea of typically green and immaculate lawn dotted with towering trees. We ate at the Village restaurant that evening where their resident knight, Sir Philip, kept the kids busy with a dinner version of ‘knight school’ involving wooden swords and compulsory shouting. He also gave us some useful tips on the best weapons to choose for our next close combat with a vicious Saxon or Viking.
We purchased two days entry plus one-night accommodation – through an online winter deal – for around GBP150 (AUD$280) which was definitely money well spent. Whilst there are many other places to stay in neighbouring towns, we loved the feeling of being immersed in history by staying on-site.
Keep in mind that Warwick Castle is operated by the Merlin Group which runs many of the high-profile attractions, aquariums and theme parks around England (including Legoland and the London Eye). We flirted with the idea of an annual Merlin pass which gives unlimited access to all of them (outside of public and summer holidays), so if you’ve set your sights on doing many things Merlin, this option can definitely save a lot of money (even more so if you’re lucky to nab the passes during one of their sales).