Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Warwick's thousand years

Roger St. Pierre treads in the footprints of history

Warwick Castle 'one of the ruins that Cromwell didn’t knock about a bit'
Warwick Castle 'one of the ruins that Cromwell didn’t knock about a bit'

Warwick Castle is, to paraphrase the old song, one of the ruins that Cromwell didn’t knock about a bit.

Behind those gaunt walls lies a thousand years of history – sometimes glorious, often tragic.

Today, this stately pile at the heart of England is a living museum, with a special appeal to family groups looking for a fun day out as well as confirmed history buffs.

Be warned, the mighty towers and lofty battlements contain more than 350 steep and sometimes winding steps while the castle dungeon can be scary for the very young with its convincing actors and spine-tingling special effects.

Sometimes they verge on the Hollywood version of reality but re-enactments are part of the fun, with shows that include spectacular jousting tournaments, the fast and furious ‘Warwick Warriors’ mediaeval battle staging, and the ‘Sword In The Stone’ telling of the Arthurian legend.

In the castle’s underground passages, the defining moments of its never less than colourful past are revealed in dank and dark rooms that have not been unlocked for years. Their dark secrets are tales of battle, siege, power struggles, murders and hauntings.

More suited to the younger set, the new ‘Foul Fayres’ attraction brings to life the foulest and funniest moments from the castle’s history. This event will be staged this summer from May 25-June 2 and from July 20 through to September 1.

Birds of prey demonstrations can be enjoyed in the expansive grounds while the mighty trebuchet, Europe’s largest siege machine, is fired twice daily.

Some 64 acres of beautifully landscaped flower-filled gardens are there to be enjoyed and in summer the rose garden is truly spectacular while the Edwardian conservatory and the peacock garden are other visitor magnets.

Warwick Castle is much more than a mighty mediaeval fortress. Home to the aristocracy, it adapted to passage of time and change of fashion.

Filled with armoury and heraldry, the massive Great Hall, with its vaulted ceiling, leads to outlandishly luxurious state rooms, decorated in High Victorian style which down the years have welcomed the high and the mighty, including a succession of monarchs.

Spare time too to visit charming Warwick town itself, with its picturesque mish-mash of what appears to be Mediaeval, Tudor, Elizabethan, Jacobean, Queen Ann, Georgian, Regency, Victorian, Edwardian and art nouveau architecture.

Many of the seemingly oldest buildings are, in reality, reproductions as most of the original town was destroyed in the disastrous 1694 Great Fire of Warwick.

Set on slopes rising above the languidly winding River Avon, a site occupied since the sixth century, Warwick is well served with interesting little boutique shops and a wide range of restaurants and watering holes.

Nearby places to visit include Kenilworth Castle, Coventry’s re-born cathedral, Leamington Spa and Shakespeare’s Stratford-Upon-Avon.

 

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