One evening last July, whilst watching television, an advertisement was aired that immediately caught my family’s attention. It was talking about the “Dragon Slayer” Light & Show extravaganza at Warwick Castle. Apart from the stunning light show & fireworks, the Castle looked magnificent and there was a plethora of medieval activities going on. We thought it looked good & having not visited Warwick Castle before, decided to book an impromptu weekend away in August. Having sons in their early teens, Warwick Castle looked as though it was fun enough for them as well as mum & dad!
Having looked on the website, we decided to book a Woodland Lodge in the “hotel” Knights Village, located in the grounds of the Warwick Castle Estate. The lodges were semi detached wood lodges consisting of a double bedroom with the usual tea making facilities; a twin bedroom with bunk beds; and en suite shower and toilet facilities. My sons found their bunk beds slightly uncomfortable – possibly because they are designed to accommodate younger children. Being that the lodges were semi detached, I was worried that the walls might be paper thin – but they were totally soundproofed and a peaceful night was had by all.
The Medieval Banqueting Hall was the main restaurant where dinner and breakfast was served. A buffet breakfast featuring both continental and cooked traditional food. Breakfast was included in the cost of the lodge – there was plenty on offer. We had also purchased a dinner and “Dragon Slayer” show package – Hot buffet style 3 course dinner with free soft drinks. I had a delicious homemade steak pie but I found the salad starters rather bland and unappetising; and desserts consisted of mini doughnuts with a plethora of toppings or a fresh fruit salad. The children liked the doughnuts, of course! I suppose, in keeping with food in medieval times, it was more focused on hale and hearty meat dishes with an array of delicious seasonal vegetables. I can’t remember if there were any vegetarian/vegan options. If you are an adult, and you are not a fan of drinking water, cola, lemonade, tea or coffee with your dinner – there is a bar where you can purchase wine and beer. Beware, the price for a small glass of wine and a bottle of lager is expensive! We stuck to tea & coffee for the rest of the evening. If you do enjoy a glass of wine in the evening, I would suggest bringing your own tipple to consume on your lodge decking. The Medieval Banquet Hall, of course, was decked out like it would have been in the Middle Ages – long trestle tables, low ceiling, light was from candless dotted around – it was really well done BUT it was August, it was hot outside, there was no ventilation apart from the entrance doors, no air conditioning (of course) so it was stiflingly hot inside, and the restaurant was full of diners. You had to wait to be seated, and I’m glad that we were positioned both days near the doors! It was slightly claustrophobic so we did not linger over our meal.
We travelled to Warwick in torrential rain, but by the time we arrived mid afternoon the rain had cleared. Check in time is 4pm but when we arrived, just after 2.30pm our lodge had already been cleaned and was ready for arrival, so we were handed our keys. After a quick freshen up & a mug of hot tea we were ready to explore. The castle closing time is 5pm, so we decided to spend the last hour and a half in the castle grounds – we had a whole day pass for the next day too and as the weather forecast was hot and sunny we decided that was the day to spend in and out of the castle itself. Not forgetting the “Dragon Slayer” show later in the evening….
We made our way to the jousting field just in time to catch the final Wars Of The Roses Jousting show. There was adequate seating and standing room on both sides of the field – and an area dedicated to wheelchairs. To be honest, most people were standing and if you were seated on the benches you probably wouldn’t have seen a thing! Each stand represented either the House of York or the House of Lancaster – audience participation in the form of cheering and booing your “knight” was very much encouraged. The horsemanship was brilliant.
After the show, which was more enjoyable than I had imagined we headed over to the Birds of Prey field which overlooked the river. My youngest son likes watching Birds of Prey shows and we have been to many over the years. This was slightly different. As we perched upon the benches, with coffees in polystyrene cups in our hands, we were warned to keep as still as possible. There was a good reason for this because as the show progressed with displays from owls, kestrels, vultures, eagles and other rare birds of prey – not only did they perform in front of us but they expertly glided between the benches and over our heads with only inches to spare. The finale: all the birds swooped in a display literally inches above our heads. It was hard to take a picture!
Back at the Knights Village, once the castle is closed, entertainment for the family is provided in the riverside field, free of charge – Lessons in archery, learning to be a knight, learning to be a princess and handling birds of prey. These activities are available in the castle grounds, during the day, but at a cost. As you can imagine, the knights and princess lessons were not of interest to my boys – but the classes were packed with excitable 5 and 6 year old boys and girls in long dresses and tiaras, both sexes brandishing foam swords! My sons opted for the archery lessons instead.
We didn’t spend too long in the entertainment field as it was time to venture back into the castle for the main Dragon Slayer Show. First half was taking place back in the jousting field, where the Wars of the Roses show had taken place that afternoon. The show is about the brave knight, Guy of Warwick. As legend has it, Guy of Warwick was a 10th-century English hero who travelled the world on a series of daring adventures in order to impress the Earl of Warwick’s daughter – Lady Felice – and win her hand in marriage. Sir Guy’s daring exploits include slaying a dragon, fighting a giant and battling in holy wars. In this part of the show, the legend unravelled using fire eaters, daring deeds on horseback and a lot of audience cheering & even a unicorn ….
It was soon time for Part 2 – the slaying of the dragon, which took place inside the castle walls, in the central courtyard. The castle walls were the screens as in front of our eyes, the dragon came alive, with a spectacular light show with flames that kept the audience absolutely mesmerising. It was the most dramatic light show I have ever seen – absolutely brilliant. There was a lot of standing, approximately 3 hours, but it was absolutely worth it. Unfortunately, I was so mesmerised watching the show that I didn’t take a photo or video. Yes, it was one of those wow moments. There are plenty of videos on YouTube though of the show.
Day 2 – Warwick Castle itself. Blazing sunshine and warm temperatures greeted us this morning – just right for visiting Warwick Castle itself. The terrain is pretty hilly – so make sure you’re wearing comfy shoes, trainers or walking boots. There are sweeping pathways suitable for wheelchairs & pushchairs – however, apart from the grounds, the state rooms, main castle cafe, dungeons and ramparts are not. Warwick Castle is a medieval castle developed from a wooden fort, originally built by William the Conqueror during 1068. I loved looking around the Great Hall, State Rooms and Chapel. The Great Hall was first constructed in the 14th century, rebuilt in the 17th century and restored again in 1871 after being badly damaged by fire. various suits of armour line the Hall. The State Rooms are lovingly recreated with wax figures depicting the various centuries. The Queen Anne Bedroom has her actual bed that she died in, in 1774. The 1st Earl of Warwick, Francis Grenville was given Queen Anne’s furniture by King George III, along with some gorgeous Delft tapestries, dating from 1604.
The Castle Dungeon Tour is where the ghoulish history of Warwick Castle comes alive with the help of some talented actors and special effects, including smells. I’m a bit squeamish so I baled out of the tour, relaxing with an ice cream in the castle courtyard instead, whilst my husband and sons merrily explored the depths learning about the days of the Plague to the tale of Moll Bloxham.
If you have a head for heights, and mobile, then climbing up the towers and ramparts is a must. The views from the top are astounding. There is a strict one way system in place as the stairways up to the ramparts are so narrow, so the only way is up! Caesar’s Tower is the tallest tower at the castle, standing at an impressive 44.8m tall. It was built on the orders of Thomas de Beauchamp in the 14th century. The lowest chamber of Caesar’s Tower is the Gaol – the original dungeon. You can still see graffiti from prisoners 100s of years ago on the prison walls.
A big surprise was the beautiful gardens, 64 acres of rolling landscaped gardens with peacocks strutting around. The gardens were transformed in the 1750s, under one of Britain’s greatest landscape gardeners, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. It is believed that Warwick Castle was Brown’s first independent castle commission. There are over 20 peacocks and peahens running around the garden. The Peacock Garden was designed by the Victorian landscape gardener Robert Marnock and consists of topiary peacocks, manicured hedges, pond and fountain.
The Horrible Histories Maze is also in the castle grounds and it is quite fun, whatever your age! Due to uneven flooring, pushchairs and the wearing of high heels are banned – although the maze is wheelchair accessible.
Weather is very important. If the weather is dry then this is a fantastic castle to visit as apart from The State Rooms & Great Hall, everything else takes place in the open air. For an estate of this size, there isn’t a lot of seating but plenty of grassy areas for sitting on the ground. There is a lot of walking, and a lot of standing (especially for the shows) . There is a castle cafe, which we didn’t visit, and plenty of food stands selling everything from pulled pork rolls to ice cream, tea & coffee to soft drinks. There is a lot to do, activity wise, for all the family – some activities have an added cost eg the archery, Dungeon tour, Knight training – but the jousting and birds of prey are included in your castle entrance fee. Young children will adore the knights and princesses; adults will appreciate the castle, gardens and everybody will love the jousting!
Warwick Castle itself 8/10
Knights Village. 4/10
All photographs © Linda Hobden
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