Who would think that a visit to a castle could be as much fun as a day at Disneyland? Warwick Castle in Warwickshire, England is just that, minus the rides. There’s so much to see and do there, it’s worth a full days visit if not more.
My cousin and I visited Warwick Castle this summer. I’ve always had a fascination with castles and British history so this was a special days outing for me. Little did I realize what great fun it was going to be, an adventure straight out of medieval times and also an opportunity to brush elbows with ‘the royalty’.
Warwick Castle, located on the River Avon, was built by William the Conqueror in 1068 and used as a fortification until the early 17th century when it was converted into a country house. The castle has an intriguing history, noted as a military institution over the ages and a power symbol during various rebellions. It has passed down in ownership over the ages but it was a bulwark of defence during the reigns of William the Conqueror, Henry II and Richard III. A number of executions took place in the castle during those years.
One of the features of the castle is the dungeon and that’s where my cousin and I headed as soon as we’d entered the central courtyard. The dungeon dates back to 1345 and was a festering place of misery for many victims. A sign warns visitors that it isn’t appropriate for young children or those faint of heart. You’ll know why when you go inside. We were greeted by a burly dungeon guard who warned us that what we were about to witness was too horrible for those of weak constitutions (And it was not to be photographed!). We were led into a dimly lit chamber where a victim of the dreaded plague lay on a slab. Creepy? Yes, but there was more spine-chilling scenes to come. Next we were led into the torture chamber and a masked guard demonstrated what methods were used in those days to extract information or for punishment. It made water boarding look like child’s play! Then there was the actual execution room, where victims were beheaded or simply left to die locked in a steel cage without food or drink. Scary!
For a little more light entertainment we made our way into the castle’s great hall where there is an impressive display of knights in full armour astride their bedecked horses, weaponry, costumes and even a breast-plate and death mask belonging to Oliver Cromwell. In the next room who should we meet but Henry VIII and his six wives! I had my photo taken next to Henry. Each of the rooms had life-like wax figures of various characters out of history who were once connected with the castle. We visited a part of the castle where all the scenes were of the everyday life of the inhabitants, from scribes to ironsmiths, archers, char women and ladies-in-waiting.
There was such a varied choice of activities it was hard to decide what to do next. For children there is the Princess Tower and Merlin in the Dragon Tower. You could wander in the castle peacock gardens or climb to the very top of the tower for a panoramic view of the grounds.
A tour titled “Secrets and Scandals” lured us and we dropped in to a Royal’s tea party, Victorian era, hosted by the Count and Countess of Warwick. This was definitely “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and included titillating bits of gossip of that time. Seems Lady Francis “Daisy” Grenville, was quite a playgirl with various affairs including one with the Duke of Windsor. In the hallway, the nursemaid stands cuddling Daisy’s child, offspring of one of her most notorious affairs. There was her husband, Lord Brooke, looking on, stoic and stuffy as could be. And what a surprise in one room, where a group of men were playing cards, to run into the young Winston Churchill who was attending the party just before leaving for Egypt to become a war correspondent.
The castle is the subject of many ghost stories as well as scandals. The Watergate Tower is supposedly haunted by Sir Fulke Greville who had taken over the castle in the 1600’s and was murdered by his manservant. The undercroft is rumoured to be haunted by a little girl. You can attend a live-action show in the Ghost Tower, “Warwick Ghosts Alive” which tells the story of Fulke Greville’s murder. The Kenilworth bedroom is where Daisy Greville held séances.
Outside the castle walls are displays which include the world’s largest collection of working siege engines. The trebuchet is the largest catapult in the world and is operated daily. There are also archery demonstrations and jousting. One of my favourite parts of the day was in the Birds of Prey Mews where various birds of prey: eagles, raptors, and vultures swooped over our heads and flew out of sight over the trees or up to the top of the castle towers, returning to the trainer on command. “Flight of the Eagles” is a seasonal attraction as are some of the other events at the castle.
Warwick Castle is one of Britain’s top 10 historic attractions. Over its 950 years of history the castle has been owned by 36 different individuals, eleven of them under the age of 20 when they inherited, including a girl aged two and a boy aged three. Three of the owners died in battle, two were executed and one murdered. Until 1978, the castle was owned by the Greville family, who became the Earls of Warwick in 1759. It was then purchased by the Tussauds Group and opened as a tourist attraction.
Written by and photos by W. Ruth Kozak for EuropeUpClose.com