Last Updated on July 26, 2021
Discover, Explore, Relax and Enjoy!
The charming town of Warwick owes its foundation in 914 AD to Ethelfleda, Queen of Mercia, daughter of Alfred the Great. This formidable woman is emerging from her father’s shadow to be appreciated as one of England’s most courageous and astute monarchs. Similarly, as a destination Warwick, often viewed on the tourist trail as a support act to Shakespeare’s Stratford, deserves a reappraisal. Let me give you some great reasons for taking time out to discover wonderful Warwick.
For a historic “Wow!” factor, Warwick punches above its size. Pick up a copy of the excellent Town Trail from the Visitor Information Centre, housed within the elegant 18th century Court House on Jury Street, and you can easily spend a day exploring Warwick’s fascinating story through its architecture and the lives of residents long gone.
If new to you, you’ll wonder why you haven’t heard of the fabulous Lord Leycester Hospital and the surrounding Elizabethan buildings. Incorporating a 12th-century chapel, a 14th-century banqueting hall, a 15th-century courtyard and Guildhall, a 16th-century kitchen as well as a stunningly lovely 16th-century garden, this site is one of the most important and intact mediaeval buildings in England.
For 150 years the meeting place of the mediaeval guilds of Warwick, in 1571 it became a home for wounded soldiers, “the Brethren”, and continues to have residents to this day (a much smaller, older version of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea). It takes its name from the hospital’s founder, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, and some of the pieces on view, the wardrobe she gave him for his now ruined Kenilworth Castle and a piece of curtain purportedly embroidered by his sad wife, bring them vividly to life. In its time this site has had a list of visitors from history which few other buildings could top.
A Great Fire broke out in Warwick in 1694 and raged for five hours destroying much of the mediaeval town centre. The rebuilding that followed has left a delightful legacy of mix and match buildings where the exterior doesn’t necessarily reflect what you’ll find inside: often a Georgian front leading into a Tudor interior.
Such a case is the cathedral-like Church of St Mary, standing at the highest point in the centre of town. With a Norman crypt built to support an even larger structure above, here you’ll find the magnificent tombs of powerful Earls of Warwick, (you’ll meet them again in the Castle), including one who played a part in the burning of Joan of Arc. From the top of the church tower, over 53 metres high, you can see for miles across the Warwickshire countryside.
At a time when many high streets are failing, and searching for an identity, Warwick offers a bustling town centre with a thriving independent retail offer. Begin in the Market Place and amble past long-established jewellers, a proper butcher, a pristine deli, cafes, clothing and furniture shops. Wander into ancient Smith Street, a survivor of the Great Fire, where you’ll find quirky buildings and a wide array of unique small shops. At The Golden Monkey Tea Company, discuss your taste preferences with the knowledgeable team and, like me, emerge with a tea chosen from over 120 on offer, which will give you great pleasure long after you’ve returned home.
You’ve no shortage of cafes, pubs and tea-shops a plenty where you can rest and revive, but you may like to know that you’re never far from a well-kept public park. St Nicholas Park leads onto the River Avon where you can soak up the sun and hire motorboats, canoes and even ride a dragon or white swan pedalo.
The views of Warwick Castle from the nearby Castle Bridge are iconic and enticing (Turner painted this view). But before you storm the gates, take an amble down Mill Street to see the picturesque streetscape of timber-framed houses, the idyllic Mill Garden and the old castle bridge.
A visit to Warwick Castle and offers something for everyone. Whilst miniature knights trip over tabards and happily wield wooden weapons, the family-free can enjoy a fantastic historic site in glorious landscaping. The castle was first opened to the public as a visitor attraction in 1815 by a family struggling to cover its debts and is now run by Merlin Entertainments who have brought top-notch displays and site interpretation together with great customer service.
You’ll find intact outer walls, battlements and towers (one of which you can sleep in) and the original mound on which William the Conqueror would have built his wooden stronghold. This is one of the best-preserved fortress-houses in England. It’s so well-maintained that it’s often hard to remember that it’s ancient, so don’t miss out on a talk from a member of the excellent History Team. We had Charlotte, who in 30 mins managed to cover English history from the magnificent Ethelfleda through to the excesses of the 20th century’s Bright Young Things via the best potted explanation of the War of the Roses I have ever heard.
At the centre of the castle is the fine country house which was built for entertaining and hosted the great and the good in times long past. Sold to Madame Tussauds in the early 1970s, under their stewardship the house was frozen in time with rooms set in a series of tableaux depicting its fascinating past. The rooms are crammed with objects of interest and ghosts of the characters who have left their mark. Follow Richard Neville, 15th century “Kingmaker”, as he prepares for battle and then leap forward in history to see Victorian high society at play in the Royal Weekend Party exhibition.
This Castle and its lovely grounds cover 64 acres, much of which retains the landscaping created by “Capability” Brown during the 1750s. Lots of mediaeval style activities (think sword fights and archery displays rather than beheadings and witch-dunkings) add to the atmosphere and the excellent Falconer’s Quest, featuring beautiful birds of prey in flight, is highly recommended. Civilised afternoon tea in The Conservatory, reached through the delightful Peacock Garden (home to real peacocks) is a lovely way to end your day.
Jenny was a guest of The Rose & Crown, Warwick Castle and Warwick Chamber of Trade. See their website for more information on the places they recommend to stay, eat and drink and click here to see how Jenny spent the rest of her fabulous forty-eight hours in Warwick!
You’ll find The Rose & Crown at 30, Market Place, Warwick, CV34 4SH. Tel: 01926 411117 www.roseandcrownwarwick.co.uk
Book a stay in Warwick Castle or the Knights Village through their website: www.warwick-castle.com/short-breaks
The Visitor Information Centre is located at: The Court House, Jury Street, Warwick, CV34 4EW
Tel: 01926 492212 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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