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March 26, 2012

A Great Day Out – Warwick Castle!

by Val Reynolds
Caesar's Tower, Warwick Castle

Caesar’s Tower, Warwick Castle

Whatever time or financial limits parents may have at half term, a special trip is always a lasting memory especially when you are very young. Can you remember the first time you visited a zoo, or a circus. I must have been all of six years old when we visited Whipsnade Zoo and still have the memory of the taste of my first ice cream! It was a Walls ice cream wafer sandwich that dripped all down my front and the memory includes the smell of the elephant house and the screaming of some monkeys in their big outdoor cage. In Balance reader Karen, with her husband, six year old Ben and four year old Aeryn visited Warwick Castle last half term and had what was clearly a memorable visit and would love to go again.

Karen writes:

I have visited Warwick Castle several times – around the age of 8, 15, mid 20s and now in my mid 30s with my husband and two young children and I can happily say that I have thoroughly enjoyed every visit and can foresee more visits in future, it is that good.

We decided to base our day around the verbal and visual displays that were well described on the website.

So we started off at the ‘Raising of the Portcullis’.  It was great to see the portcullis being lifted and to imagine that you are walking into the past.

We went straight on to the ‘Attack & Defence Tour’. The lady made a point of getting the children to the front used some children to demonstrate the width of the wall – which helped put it in perspective for them.  As they don’t fire the ballista maybe they could consider having some mini ones set up somewhere so that children, or indeed adults, can have a go to get an understanding and respect for the weapons.

Loading the trebuchetWe then walked around to ‘The Mighty Trebuchet’ which was easily seen and heard as the trebuchet is across the river and the commentator had a set place to stand.  He was also miked up to several speakers that were spread out over a wide viewing area.  It takes quite a while for the trebuchet to be prepared and fired but there is detailed description and historical explanations during each stage.  Facts like using blind people to be the ‘walkers’ as the motion sickness generated from viewing the slates could cause people to fall and break their necks.  Tip bits such as using the trebuchet to send dead animals or beheaded messengers over the walls to spread disease and fight a psychological battle are gruesome enough, images that strangely cause fascination with the use of such devices during sieges ie it’s so much more than just something which throws balls of fire.  Which, to be fair, on its own is an amazing sight and the way our six year old’s eyes lit up when it happened was testament enough that it’s well worth the wait.  I thought it was great that over 18s could volunteer to be part of the team that prepped the trebuchet.  Hands on history is always the best in my opinion.

Eagle with handler Warwick Castle

Eagle with handler Warwick Castle

The ‘Flight of the Eagles’ was held in the main arena so benefitted from speakers and four wooden posts which the man lead each bird to in turn so we easily got a good view of each bird.  Our six year old particularly enjoyed watching the vulture as he was “walking funny”.  The use of questions and answer time to one side after the show was particularly thoughtful as it meant that our shy child was able to ask a question that he wouldn’t have done in front of the whole audience. It also meant that we got a good close up picture of one of the birds.

The ‘Warwick Warriors’ probably held our children’s attention the best as there were three main people involved and there was plenty of appropriate and amusing banter between them.  There were lots of visual demonstrations alongside interesting explanations.  The idea of destroying Hollywood film  myths really did challenge the average concept of what it would have been like to be a knight.  They also included some great references for the children such as comparing how Scooby Doo quickly hides in a suit of armour and yet real knights would have needed someone to dress them.  The actual demonstration of this amplified the point.  Once more humour was used to maintain attention, for example, the fully armoured knight demonstrated that he could run, jump and even do star jumps.

Fire juggler and knight in armour

Fire juggler and knight in armour

Lots of facts were given throughout all these demonstrations and at the time we were not sure just how much our children were taking in but a dinner time conversation a couple of days later reassured us that our visit to the castle was not only a fun day out for our family but also very educational even for a four year old.  Both our children couldn’t say enough about what they had seen and heard when asked to tell their uncle and nan where they had been.  “Did you know that they learnt how to use a sword when they were six and a bow and arrow when they were eight” Benjamin, aged six.

With all of these displays the people leading them were all of an impressive standard.  They all kept the audience’s attention well and had a good mixture of information and humour.  The information was also pitched well starting from small and factual for children to recall, to enough detail for proper historians without boring the more average visitor.  There was also a good mix of visual, audio and kinaesthetic techniques used to involve the audience without overly applying the audience participation which can put some people off.  The use of characters for most of these displays was very well balanced between ‘in role’ and ‘not taking themselves too seriously … often explaining why out of role’.  We loved the delivery, as I’m sure you can tell.

After all these displays we stopped off for a toilet break (of a good standard and easily found) then visited ‘The Mound’, ‘Dream of Battle’, ‘The Tower and Ramparts’, ‘The Kingmaker’ and then ‘The Chapel, Great Hall & State Rooms’ (although the rooms were disappointing – not much information and not really geared up for young visitors).  The Mound and The Ramparts were great for the children to get excited pretending that they were defending the castle.  The Kingmaker was well set out with plenty of mannequins and brief bits of information (both verbal and written) so that it was easy enough for the children to imagine what life might have been like but without being too scary (although our four year old was a little wary especially in the slightly darker areas).

Aeryn in the stocks

Aeryn in the stocks

We ended our visit with the Peacock Gardens, Conservatory (although not much to see in there) and the Rose gardens (which were being renovated and obviously the roses were not out yet but we still appreciated the layout).  Finally, we took photos of our children ‘stuck in the stocks’.

Ben in the stocks

Ben in the stocks

I did weigh up the possibility of taking my father on our next visit. He is disabled and would need the use of wheelchair to experience a day long visit. I do think there would be enough to justify a visit for him. Although I could not find information regarding the price of ticket for a disabled visitor – I hope it is heavily discounted as probably only a third of the whole attraction (if that) is accessible from information gleaned and accessibility assessed on our visit.

We heard later of a spine-chilling new addition to the programme: Witches of Warwick which promises to thrill visitors from March this year – are you up for the challenge?

Karen Fletcher, contributing author

DID YOU KNOW? Just an hour and fifteen minutes by train from London, Warwick Castle is rated by Tripadvisor as one of the most talked about attractions in Europe and is the most visited stately home in the UK. It has a variety of attractions to appeal to families, retirees and mid-30 something culture vultures alike.

Go to the Warwick Castle website for further information and booking online

Photography Karen Fletcher & Warwick Castle

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