Dungeons and dragons

Date Posted: 05/03/2012

Carrie Martindale went along for a family day out to Warwick Castle, and discovered a heritage attraction that's both fun and educational.  

I’ve now experienced Warwick Castle in a variety of ways; a long time ago as a child – with my family and as part of a school group – and more recently as an adult, both with and without children. Of course, the castle today is a very different kettle of fish to the relatively basic attraction that I went to in the late 1980s; it’s keeping up with the times and competing against an increasingly demanding consumer audience. This is not just a castle anymore.

The process of arrival and entry is particularly suited to group trips, and GTOs will find the coach parking located next to a priority entrance . It wasn’t really a problem to walk the short distance from the cars to the main entrance for my small family group, but older or disabled people might welcome a quicker entry.

Once you’re through the turnstiles, the view that greets you as you turn up towards the castle is magnificent – take away the crowds of 21st century visitors and you’re whisked back in time 1,000 years. I have heard people complain that the castle has been turned into an attraction just for families and school children, but I defy anyone not to be blown away by the architecture and history behind this fascinating building.

Of course, visiting with a seven-year old, a five-year old and a three-year old on this particular visit, meant that they weren’t as interested in the history as I was. Fortunately though, I have had a good look through the main castle state rooms on previous visits, and the treasures held within are truly magnificent. One historical aspect of the castle that the children loved however (even the youngest), was watching the Trebuchet (essentially a colossal catapult) being fired across the other side of the river, in true medieval style.

Another enjoyable element, if a little tiring – and I wouldn’t recommend it if you suffer from vertigo – is walking up to the battlements and hundreds of tiny stone steps to the top of the towers - where there are long-stretching views across the county. Funnily enough, it was only my three-year old goddaughter who peered down to the distant ground below without any fear. It’s pretty high up there.

At one of the older attractions at the castle, the Kingmaker, join Richard Neville, Kingmaker and Earl of Warwick as he prepares his extensive household for the Battle of Barnet in 1471. You can find out how weapons were made, how armour was crafted and see what medieval life was really like through sights, sounds and smells. Both the adults and children in my group really enjoyed this area, as it’s relatively interactive.

One of the most impressive things for me about the castle is the standard of character actors who act as guides, entertainers and attraction operators, and who all appeared to try and engage visitors – of all ages - in the fun. We were accosted by a knight of the realm (wearing real armour and carrying real weapons); a horrible-looking jailor; a bevy of beautiful princesses; and all sorts of merchants and peasants. There was an interesting incident where my cousin was too busy chatting on her phone to notice that she’d almost impaled herself on the honourable knight’s spear – but this is an inevitable problem, when you mix past and present – and one for which the knight seemed duly prepared!

We’d been lucky enough to get tickets for a relatively new attraction at Warwick, Merlin: The Dragon Tower, based on the popular BBC series, and one which I thought would be suitable for the children we had with us. If you’ve ever experienced The London Dungeon, of which there is a version at Warwick – The Castle Dungeon – then you’ll be au fait with the kind of interactive experience that this offers.

At first, my stepson was delighted to be chosen as the wizard who had to call up the dragon, but by the time we were mid into the experience, I’m afraid that it was a little too real for him – I would wait until children are eight or over just to be on the safe side. I enjoyed the experience however.

More for adults is the dungeon attraction, as mentioned above which has a brand-new area to it for 2012, The Witches of Warwick. Designed to shock, scare and haunt, The Witches of Warwick delivers a new level of fright in The Castle Dungeon’s final room as visitors - ‘victims’ - journey through hag history, hearing horrid tales of black magic and shocking truths regarding a witch from the castle’s past. Group Travel Organisers with a stronge stomach and a sense of fun should enjoy this spooky experience.

There’s also the ‘Secrets and Scandals of the Royal Wedding Party 1898’ where, once inside the former private apartments, you’ll step back to a time of the most lavish and extravagant parties at Warwick Castle. Meet Daisy, The Countess of Warwick and her friends preparing for their weekend party. I also found the Birds of Prey show really entertaining.

The grounds of Warwick, with the river Avon running through them, are truly gorgeous, and I would highly recommend a picnic lunch (if the weather permits) in this lavish setting. Go well prepared though, as there didn’t appear to be a great deal of picnic tables available, although I understand that there are catering options and areas available for groups.

Although it’s full of entertainment for children, and theatricality, I’ve always enjoyed a day out at the castle, and you don’t just have to be young at heart to do so. It’s good value for money, easily accessible (handy for those organising group travel) and a wonderful historic relic in a great setting.

Warwick Castle offers special discounts for pre-booked groups of ten people or more. Prices start at £6.50 per person.

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