Saturday, March 24, 2012

I Capture the Castle

Like many Americans, I am a big fan of castles.  I love visiting them to marvel at their antiquity, learn about their history or simply to wander silent among the somber stones as I try to imagine what life was like for the people building and living in these massive monuments of rock.  I mean, no telly—not even ITV—and not a power shower in sight; it had to be tough going.
And so, during our stay in Warwickshire, a visit to Warwick Castle became a matter of some priority, especially as it was recommended by just about everyone.  On the appointed day we were, as is our habit, up and out early, arriving in Warwick just as the Council workers were finishing the day’s first latte and well before The Castle itself was due to open.
Warwick, we discovered, is a pleasant place, accessible, tidy and agreeably quiet.  There was not, however, a lot of diversion that early in the day so we had a second breakfast at Costa Coffee and waited for the castle gates to open.
At opening time, we made our way to the entrance of the castle and stood in the queue.  We didn’t have long to wait—we were third in line and there was no one behind us—but during that short time, vague misgivings began to nag us.  There was no sign telling us what the entrance fee was.  Instead, there was a colorful, cartoon-like menu above the ticket booths offering a confusing array of options; apparently, we were to select from a number of dubious exhibits—such as The Dungeon Experience (where we could be introduced to The Castrator), The Princess in the Tower (a la Sleeping Beauty), and other exhibits that appeared to be part of a weekend seminar on murder and mayhem—like some sort of medieval Chinese take-away menu.
When we got to the window, we told the woman we just wanted to see the castle, no frills, just the basic tour.  She smiled, rang it up and told me the price.  Fortunately, hearing the amount took my breath away so I was unable to utter the heartfelt “Fuck me!” that was straining to leap from the tip of my tongue.  At least now I knew why the woman was smiling.  But we were on holiday, so I paid up and we set out for the castle proper.  At the gate, we showed our ticket and entered something that looked like Disney meets Time Team.
To our left, a huge caldron—surrounded by implements of torture—bubbled with faux-steam under a swaying hangman’s noose, to our right a banner announced The Dreams of Battle Experience to deafening rock music and in the distance—as advertized—stood The Princess Tower, recommended for ages 8 to 14
“I think this is mainly for kids,” my wife observed.
Undaunted, we toured the inner grounds and mounted the steps leading to the walls and the towers.  While enjoying the views the ramparts afforded of the town, we heard sporadic shouting and, looking down, saw hoards of grammar school children massed outside of the gate, apparently being whipped into a medieval frenzy by one of the castle keepers.  Then they let them in.

We're under attack!  Quick, get the boiling oil!
This was obviously a big day for them all (which you might expect, seeing as how their parents had to remortgage their bungalows to afford the entrance fees) and they were well up for the occasion.  Many of the children (and adults) dressed in period costume and there was a general air of excitement tempered with the feeling (especially among the older children) that the excursion was the culmination of a series of learning experiences and that they might be expected to produce a report before the end of term.

Top: Princesses and their Princess mums; Bottom: a row of Knights.
I won’t go into boring detail about the rest of the visit (well, not any more than I already have) but I would like to cover the highlights, and lead off with this endorsement:
It didn’t suck as much as I thought it would.
The children, once they dispersed, headed to exhibits we weren’t venturing into, so the day did not disintegrate into a huge scrum as we had feared.  We soon wandered into the more modern portion of the castle for what looked like a waxwork tableau showing how the privileged classes lived back in the day (that day being 1898).  I expected it to be incredibly naff but it was, in fact, surprisingly fascinating.  The figures looked as nearly life-like as a dummy is capable of and the stores they told were genuinely interesting, intriguing and educational.
Back outside, we wandered around the back of the castle so I could get a peek at the largest siege engine in Europe, though I wondered exactly how hotly contested that title actually was; I expect there is not such a desperate a need for siege engines these days.  The device—called a trebuchet (pronounced “Catapult”)—was a fascinating contraction, and we arrived just in time for their daily demonstration.

The trebuchet in action.
After that, we agreed it was time to leave, but upon returning to the courtyard, we encountered a man with a huge eagle on his arm.  Intrigued, we waited, and witnessed an amazing bird show.

Man and Bird.
After that, we felt we really had taken in all that Warwick Castle had to offer us, so we returned to town to hunt down lunch.
Though Warwick Castle was not what we had expected, the kids seemed to enjoy it and—as noted earlier (and I really think they should make this their motto)—it didn’t suck as much as I thought it would.  Visit the website for more details:

I encountered one woman dressed as a jester and assumed her to be an employee who was forced to dress that way; after taking her photo I found out she was actually a teacher on a tour with her class who simply wanted to "get into the spirit."  I didn't feel it would be fair to put her photo up here, so I made an appropriate substitution. 


  1. Got into photoshop have you? hahaha I wonder if any of your compatriots will recognise the "lady"?

    I went to Warwick Castle years ago, but it wasn't as commercialised as you describe then pretty much, climb the battlements, then visit the waxworks and "bugger off, that all you get" Not practical for us now sadly, unless they have installed disabled ramps to the towers? :-)

    Were the peacocks still there?

    1. I'd like to see a disabled ramp leading up to the top of the tower--that would be worth the price of admission ;)

      The peacocks were there; I took a photo but they didn't make the cut.

  2. Ha ha ha you really had me fooled for a bit there! I looked at the last picture and thought 'that's never a woman's face!' hee hee very funny.

    Never been to Warwick Castle yet but I would love to go. It sounds really interesting.

    1. It was fun, just not cheap. And I do wonder how many people are going to recognize The Jester ;)