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Halloween Hauntings at Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle (Warwick)
Member Name: MelissaRuth
Warwick Castle (Warwick)
Advantages: Full family day out with lots of activities. Historical and educational. Scenic.
Disadvantages: Expensive parking. Not all areas are accessable to people with disabilities.
If you go down to the castle this week beware; pumpkins, skeletons and a few witches have taken over Warwick Castle. The castle has been well and truly Halloweenised from 22nd - 31st October 2011. The first glimpse of the decorations is in the courtyard where you pay to enter the castle, where an old fashioned cart is piled high with pumpkins and staff dressed in medieval costumes dish out bowls of warming vegetable broth to the waiting crowds.
Walking through the turnstiles I gasped as I saw what had been done to the perimeter area of the castle outside of the moat. It looked superb with pumpkins placed tastefully in clumps around the base of wrought iron lights, around the ballista and the stocks where you can have your photo taken with 'witch' or 'drunkard' signs. A grave yard has been set up with grave stones again decorated with pumpkins and even a skeleton emerging from a coffin. My photographs should give you an idea of the artistic manner in which you arrive at the draw bridge to cross the moat and enter the castle under the portcullis. Yet more spooky decorations adorn the central courtyard, the greatest spectacle being the giant steaming cauldron with black raven perched on the edge and purple robed witch standing nearby - a real draw for children to have their photographs taken with. A number of children arrived wearing their fancy dress Halloween outfits which also added to the atmosphere.
It's not just the exterior of the castle that has received the decorative treatment. The state rooms also look decidedly creepy. Three huge pumpkins residing on the vast wooden sideboard have been carved with the words 'THE HAUNTED CASTLE'. The people having lunch in the state dining room seem to have perished a number of years ago, but their skeletons are still enjoying their meal amidst the lavishly strewn cobwebs. The scientist is having fun dissecting bodies and watch out for Dracula as he tries to tempt you into his coffin. Children can come into the state rooms for story time and listen to some ghostly stories or even have a go at making spells and potions. My children are too old for this now so we didn't participate in these activities to be able to comment. For the teenager and adults plenty of scares could be had in the Seance, which is rated on the programme sheet for the day to have the highest scare factor of 'terrifying'. Listening to the warnings that people were being given on entry this activity is not for the faint hearted or people who don't like the dark. It sounded like a walk through adventure where lots of spooky happenings would be going on, but with so many other activities to participate in throughout the day, we never made it into this one.
Of the Halloween specific activities, we did go for the Ghost tour, but left after a while as we were disappointed to discover that actually this was two actors telling stories about the various ghosts who are said to inhabit the towers and not a tour around. The group of tourists who had gathered for this was quite large so I can see that it wouldn't be practical to traipse around the castle together. Information placards were dotted around the castle to give an insight into the castles ghostly history. The owls were out to demonstrate their flying, but maybe they would have preferred to wait until after dark. What a spectacular setting in which to watch the falconer display his birds. A huge eagle owl perched on a post right in front of where we were standing with the backdrop of the castle mound and towers - stunning. The owls could also be visited at other parts of the day along with the other birds of prey at the Birds of Prey mews.
Alongside all of these special seasonal activities all of Warwick Castles' regular attractions are open for visitors to enjoy. Have a walk around the castle ramparts and climb four of the towers to see far reaching views of the historic city of Warwick. A sign at the beginning does warn not to climb if you are not fit or have a heart condition. From personal experience I would advise against climbing it if you are pregnant as I ended up in hospital the day after exerting myself here, with raised blood pressure before I had my eldest daughter. In some other castles you are able to enter some of the tower rooms as you walk around but for some reason at Warwick, all of these doors are closed with no entry available, which I felt was a shame as it is then less difficult to get a feel of what times were like back in history.
If you do want to look inside a tower then one is designated as a special attraction; Merlin the Dragon Tower. A £3.60 entry charge is made to visit this and timed tickets need to be purchased. Having visited Pierrefond Castle near Paris where the BBC programme, Merlin, is actually filmed and having such a fantastic experience there we didn't feel the need to go into this area. Another tour that is available at an additional charge is the Castle Dungeon which is rated as very scary and costs £7.80 per person. We did find it annoying that when people have paid an entry fee that there are further charges inside as well, although there is more than enough to fill the 7 hours between 10 and 5 that the castle is open without needing to do these things. Archery also costs £3 per person.
The Kingmaker exhibition is however free. This is an exhibition within the main castle buildings that incorporates figures made by Madame Tussauds. Walking through a series of stone cellar like rooms with arched roofs, you are led through the preparations of Richard Neville, the then 16th Earl of Warwick's men as they get ready to go to battle to fight for the Lancastrians in the War of the Roses in 1471. This gives a real insight into what life would have been like in the castle at this time. The blacksmiths are making armour and weapons, the wheelwrights are making carts, the large working horse is there wearing his armour and even the women are preparing clothes and food for the army. There is great attention to detail with sound tracks playing and realistic smells helping to take you back 600 years in time. Signs on the walls enable those who wish to read more about the tradesmen's roles in the preparations. This is excellent for young children and should really help to grip their imagination. The tour ends in a typical tourist shop. Shops are also available at the entrance and outside the dungeons and all sell castle themed souvenirs such as books, medieval dressing up clothes for princesses and knights, tea towels and children's stationery items with castle logos and old maps to name but a few. Sweets and ice creams are also included.
Leaving the Kingmaker exhibition it may be time to walk up the winding path around the mound that was the original part of the castle dating back to 1068 when it had a wooden stockade built on it by William the Conqueror. In 1260 a stone keep replaced this, but there is now no trace of this - the top is bare - a missing essential part of a proper castle. However, from here you can see across towards the river Avon and the castle's island. The remainder of the castle was built in the latter part of the 14th century As you leave the mound a path leads to the footbridge across the river Avon and immediately ahead of you is the mighty Trebuchet. This is probably the castle's main attraction and is a fully working mock up of the magnificent weapon that was used at the time of the civil war. Twice a day a team will re-enact the firing of a fireball from this enormous wooden structure. Pumpkins adorned the Trebuchet and I was disappointed to find that a mere fireball would be fired instead of pumpkins! Visitors sit on the sloping banks on the castle side of the river to watch this spectacle. I would highly recommend watching this as it really does bring history alive and both my children were brought to the castle on school trips when they were seven to watch this for just that reason. Safety precautions are in place and the island is fully cleared of visitors 45minutes before firing is planned. Take time to walk on the island when it is open though. Great views of the imposing high walls of the living parts of the castle which abut the river banks can be gained from here. The boathouse is pretty on the banks and the island is a great natural playground with plenty of fallen logs to climb on and places to hide and seek. At advertised times through the year impressive jousting displays with brightly decorated horses and knights are held on the island and are a must to see.
While you are out walking around the grounds it is well worth walking up the conservatory and the peacock garden. The conservatory looks good from the outside but it doesn't have much in it - what a waste, it would look so good with orange and lemon trees growing inside. The colourful peacock garden has 2 types of peacock resident in it, ones sculpted from hedges and the real variety. They were a bit scruffy at this time of year with their tail feathers moulting, so sadly no impressive tail displays from them. The peacocks are free to roam and you may come across them anywhere in the castle, but especially around the picnic area!
Lastly we headed back along the base of the castle walls along the river bank to the mill. Recently the water wheel has been restored and it is so good to see that electricity is being generated at the castle again. A walk through the peaceful rose garden or a play on the Pageant playground, a fort like wooden play area, could nicely finish off your day as you head back to the entrance.
We took a picnic as I remembered that last time we visited the castle there wasn't much food available and what was there was quite pricey. However, that all seems to have changed now and food in plentiful. In the central courtyard and on the walk down to the island a number of medieval tents are home to food vendors. Do you fancy hotdogs, BBQ, jacket potatoes, fish and chips, ice cream or waffles. Our chips cost £2 for a large portion of very hot crispy chips which seemed quite reasonable. Hot and cold drinks were about £2 each, and one scoop ice creams, of every flavour under the sun were £1.90, just to give you a rough idea of prices. The Undercroft restaurant is a carvery with prices of £8.25 for adults and £5.25 for children, and there is a further restaurant at the entrance. Picnic benches are available near the Peacock garden and the river or there is masses of space to lay out a picnic blanket and enjoy the sun.
**Some practical details**
Warwick Castle is part of the Merlin chain of tourist attractions in England, along with the likes of Alton Towers, the London Eye and Madam Tussauds. As such if you have a Merlin annual pass as we do you can get in for free. My daughter was able to use her Blue Peter badge for free entry too and Tesco vouchers can be converted to give drastically reduced entry admission too. For those unlucky enough to have to pay full price several packages are available:
Castle, dungeons and Merlin tower: from £26.88
Castle and Merlin Tower: from £20.64
Castle and Dungeons: from £23.04
Up to 20% can be saved by buying ahead of time online and a second day of entry can be purchased for just £1 if you haven't seen enough first time around.
Access to the castle grounds is good with concrete paths are suitable for wheelchair users, although there are quite a few gentle slopes . I did see some wheelchair lifts giving access to some internal areas. Obviously the ramparts are not accessible.
The postcode for the castle is CV34 4QU. We left the M40 at junction 15 and followed the sign posts to the castle which is only about a mile from here.
The castle charges £6 to park in the grounds, even for blue badge holders. You are required to purchase a token from a machine to operate the exit barrier. This seems excessive, but signs justify that this money is needed for the castle upkeep.
For further information about the castle and for greater historical detail than I have had space to include please go to http://www.warwick-castle.com.
I'd really recommend Warwick castle for a day out for all ages, except babies and small toddlers, and do watch out for special events going on such as these Halloween ones and it deserves a full five stars.
This review also appears on ciao under the same user name, MelissaRuth.
Summary: An action packed day out in the beautiful surroundings of one of Britains best castles.
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