Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Warwick Castle.



Last month, we had a little road trip around England on the way down to Salisbury for a family wedding. Our first stop was just outside of Warwick, entirely due to the fact that I love Warwick Castle - or at least I thought I did...


I'd visited Warwick Castle once before with my family, while it was in a mid-Summer tourist frenzy with all sorts of amazing attractions going on. This visit however was in early February, so despite it being a beautiful day, it was much more low-key. There was still a fair bit to see and do, and we managed to avoid any ridiculous crowds.


The overall tone of the castle had changed a bit in the maybe 15 years since I'd last been. It's worth noting that it is owned by Merlin Entertainments - the same company that owns Alton Towers, Thorpe Park and many other attractions both in the UK and abroad. This means that unlike historical buildings owned by, say, the National Trust or Historic Scotland/England, it is very much run as a tourist trap as opposed to a straight historical property. It was owned by the Tussauds Group when I last visited and definitely still had the feel of a corporate-owned family day out, but since Tussauds Group merged with Merlin in 2007, the Disney-fication of the castle is really noticeable. Essentially, if you're looking for serious historical insight, Warwick probably isn't it. If you're looking for a a fun, light hearted introduction to medieval history (and can put up with hoards of screaming children) you might enjoy.


Warwick Castle is around 950 years old, if we don't include the fortification built on the land by Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great, in 914 AD. It was originally constructed as a motte-and-bailey style castle by William the Conqueror in 1068. As you can imagine, there have been a considerable number of owners, and lots of changes to the property since then. I'd have to write a full book to go into every single one, so I've stuck to the highlights. The castle has been the possession of some of the biggest names in English history: the Beaumonts, Beauchamps, Nevilles. Plantagenets, Dudleys and Grevilles. For me, this is super exciting; my personal favourite period of history is from the War of the Roses to the end of the Tudor age, and there's so many names and stories here that intrigue me (don't worry, I won't even attempt to go into them). In terms of the owners, seven monarchs have owned the castle, three owners were killed in battle, two were executed by the Crown, and one was murdered... all fascinating stories if you're interested!

The Great Hall

Victorian vs. Medieval decor. The bottom bedroom is reputedly haunted!
The castle was originally a defensive structure, but became a (pretty bloody beautiful) country home when the Grevilles gained possession of it. As much as I'm a wannabe Tudor courtier (that's probably the saddest thing I've ever said but it's true), I'm pretty sure living at Warwick when it was a luxurious country pile wouldn't be much of a hardship. Why wasn't I born into nobility?! The interior of the castle has both medieval and Victorian interiors, as part of the building was repaired following a large fire in 1871. I actually quite like this; it means you get the impression of the building in both its defensive and residential roles.

You can see the trebuchet and a flooded River Avon!

Enough of the history lesson though, what was the day itself like? Taking it purely as a day out, it was pretty good. It's bloody expensive, I won't lie to you. But it was a beautiful warm sunny day, and we were there for the majority of the day. I think if you were taking children they would have an incredible day out. There are loads of things there aimed directly for the younger visitor, particularly in the summer season. There's a Horrible Histories themed maze (how good was that show by the way?), the Princess Tower, and a playground in the design of a fortress. There is also always a LOT going on at Warwick - multiple guided tours focusing on different aspects of the castle, daily bird of prey shows, and the firing of the giant trebuchet in the grounds. Alongside this, when you buy your ticket you have the option to upgrade it to include access to the Dungeons, where you can get to grips with all the castle's gruesome and scary stories with the aid of live actors.


Beautiful St Mary's Church from the top of Guy's Tower.
As I said, going off season means it's a lot more low-key, and apart from the many school trips it was pretty quiet so we got a proper look around the castle. One of the best parts of Warwick is that you can climb up the ramparts and towers, and walk right round the defensive walls. I mean, I obviously chickened out at the first tower seeing as I'm a massive wimp, but it looks so cool and I'm quite sad I didn't just bite the bullet. What we did do though was go see the (off-season version of) the birds of prey display. It was really impressive, those birds are massive but so beautiful.


I have to say that I'd prefer the castle to be owned by a historical preservation charity as opposed to a company as commercial as Merlin. Overall I enjoyed the day, but I really felt that the actual history of the castle is glossed over in order to present what is basically a slightly medieval-y 'theme park'. I think the castle is perfect for introducing children to medieval and Victorian lifestyles, and I can't begrudge anyone or anything for encouraging an interest in history. However, I'm just a bit sad that it had to be in such a beautiful and expansive castle. The obvious corporate greed in charging a bomb to enter, plus car parking fees, extortionate prices for food and drink, and extra for certain exhibits, means that this is by no means a cheap day out. It all feels a tiny bit tacky in that regards, and it is pretty clear that the money doesn't really go back into the upkeep of the castle. It feels a bit to me like a beautiful historical building is being abused by thousands of visitors for the sake of Merlin's profit. Maybe that's just the cynicism of adulthood though, as I loved it as a child!


Have you been to Warwick Castle? What did you make of it?
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4 comments

  1. Great post! Did you take any of the pictures? I love your insight into the castle. I did a history degree so this stuff really interests me :)
    I hope I can read some more of your writing in the future.

    www.meanderingmanatee.blogspot.com

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    1. Hi! Thank you so much, that's really kind of you :)
      I did, I took all the ones that weren't riiight at the top of Guy's tower as I was far too scared to go up there. All those ones (5th, 13th, 15th-18th photos) were taken by my husband :)

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  2. You know what, maybe I'm just a big kid, but I love Warwick castle! I really enjoy going to historical buildings, but it is a lot more fun when there are people dressed up, fire being flung around and general happiness on everyone's faces!

    Lucy xx

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    1. Yeah it's really fun to have history brought to life and the amazing stuff going on the first time I visited was really cool. Maybe it was just because when I visited this time it was off-season, so there was actually less of that going on but it just felt a bit like there was no history stuff but also nothing else really happening? When the people are all dressed up and showing off they are almost always teaching you things but I just felt a little bit like it was only open to make money. I'm just fussy! But thank you so much for your comment :)

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