travel & outdoors: A day of knights to remember

Days out: The Magee family took a colourful trip into history at Warwick Castle. By Catherine Stebbings
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The Independent Travel
Warwick Castle punches the sky above the River Avon in celebration of its victory over time and death duties. It is Britain's finest and most complete medieval castle and, since it became part of the Tussaud's Group, the best presented. The castle's dramatic position promises much. As you look out from the battlements, it is clear that the surrounding gardens and "Capability" Brown's landscaped park will not disappoint. Within, the money of corporate leisure and an engaging and unstuffy approach to history combine to exceed expectations.

The castle is divided into periods reflecting its development, and each part uses a different style to bring social, cultural, political and economic history to life. From the impressive armoury and chilling torture chamber you can join Warwick the Kingmaker's armourers as they prepare for battle in 1471; the atmosphere reeks of urgency and horse in a spectacular display in which waxworks and special effects vividly portray the Middle Ages. The Tudor and Jacobean period is presented in the sturdy Ghost Tower which reopened, refurbished, in March.

By contrast, the elegant staterooms reflect the opulent taste of the 17th and 18th centuries: rooms are lined with polished cedar panelling, Bruges tapestries and elegant furniture.

Eventually you can swan elegantly into the company of Edward VII, then still an impatient and incorrigible Prince of Wales, and a bookish 23- year-old by the name of Winston Churchill. These unlikely companions, and a Who's Who of other late-Victorian political power, are trapped in a house party held here in 1898.

The visitors Ceci Magee took her children, Julia, 10, and Freddie, eight.

Ceci: The variety was brilliant. It was such a bonus that both the children enjoyed themselves equally. It was having a chance to experience life through the centuries that really appealed to them. Freddie enjoyed the medieval part and Julia the Victorian era. It was an educational day.

Everything was well laid out and quite subtly presented - there was nothing tacky about it. Even in high summer the place would still feel like an historic castle. Although there was no jousting or special event happening, there was more than enough to do and we benefited from seeing it on a day when there weren't too many people there. I enjoyed the Kingmaker very much: a good mix of evocative smells, subtle music, historical snippets and the eerily brilliant waxworks.

As there was little labelling we really needed our guidebook, which was lavishly produced and good value. Although we talked to the staff, we would definitely have missed out without it.

The admission charge was high but you could easily spend the day here, picnic in the park, and know that the whole family would be entertained. No one could be bored here. That said, I think small children might be frightened by the dark, and strange noises in the Kingmaker and spiral staircases. It's also not very accessible to buggies.

Freddie: In the armoury I tried on a helmet which was really heavy. I tried to pick up a sword but the lady said we could only use one hand and it was too difficult. There was a horse wearing armour with a knight on top and lots of swords, crossbows and arrows. The torture chamber was very scary. I wouldn't like to have been the men they did those horrible things to.

I really liked the Kingmaker apart from the horrid smell of candles and horses down there. We saw everyone getting ready for battle: making armour, a blacksmith making horseshoes, a man making a cartwheel and a man putting arrows together using goose feathers. There was also a horse, a cat that moved its tail and a dog sniffing down the loo. I wouldn't have liked to have lived in a medieval castle because it would have been dark, smelly and cold.

I climbed up a tower on to the ramparts but my legs felt a bit wobbly because they were very windy steps. From the Mound we could see the peacock garden, the river and the park.

In the staterooms there was a huge cauldron where everyone would have eaten from. What they got was "pot luck", and that is where the saying comes from.

Julia: I don't always enjoy history at school, but I thought Warwick Castle was a very interesting place. I really enjoyed the Weekend Party. It gave me a good idea of what it was like in those times - the clothes you would wear, the furniture, the rooms, etc. In one room the ladies were singing around the piano, then in the library the men were reading books and newspapers. Upstairs, the maid was running the bath, the Duchess of Marlborough was getting ready, the Dowager was having her hair done.

I would like to have spent a weekend here as a Victorian. It looked very comfortable, and the clothes were nice but a bit tight; you'd have to wear a corset.

The nice staff in the Weekend Party and in the Kingmaker all wore clothes from the period. I tried on a hat in the Kingmaker and the lady told me about it. She said ladies used to wear tall hats because they were fashionable but they kept falling off because medieval doors were so low, so they tied the veil round their chins to keep it on. Hats got taller and taller. Then the king said enough was enough, and ladies wore sort of wreaths without the top bit, but they kept the veils.

The deal Warwick Castle (01926 406600) is 2 miles from junction 15 of the M40 and well signposted.

Access: limited free parking in castle car park, 10 minutes' walk away. Spaces for the disabled at the stables and a pedestrian entrance for those using the town car parks. Access around the castle and grounds is on foot. There is limited disabled access and baby buggies are allowed only in certain areas. Good paths but some steep climbs. Rampart walk is not suitable for the very young or elderly.

Open daily, 10am-6pm (5pm Nov-March) Closed Christmas Day.

Admission: adults pounds 8.75, children 4-6 pounds 5.25, family pounds 24, OAP pounds 6.25.

Special events: 15-23 Feb, Battles and Duels; 28 March-1 April, Easter Siege; May Day Festival; 24-26 May, Jousting. Entertainment every weekend in June and every day in July and August (details, 01926 406600).

Food: The small Stables cafe serves snacks and drinks. Best for children is the Stables Hayloft restaurant which serves a good lunch, teas and coffee. Baked potato and sausage pounds 3.25, sandwiches pounds 1. 95, dish of the day pounds 5.25. The Undercroft restaurant in the castle is more formal but similarly priced. Picnic areas, ice-cream and drink stalls in grounds.

Shops: Three gift shops sell quality souvenirs, gifts, children's toys.

Toilets: Good. Baby changing.

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